Infusing Creativity in the Classroom: The Teacher’s Role

What is creativity in the classroom?

teaching creative thinking activities and lessons

I think this is a question well worth pondering.  For me, a creative classroom is a place where teachers support and nurture interesting ideas.  This can involve lots of student choice, opportunities for varied strategies, and a climate for risk taking.  Today I’d like to talk a little more about  this.  We spend SO much time talking about standards and learning targets and data.  Shouldn’t we spend AT LEAST that much time exploring how we meet those standards?

I could write an entire series of blog posts about creativity–and maybe I should.

But for today, I really want to focus on creating a climate for creativity and what a “creative student” might learn to value and express.  Let’s get started.

building a classroom of creative thinkers

Create a safe culture for risk taking

For many students, getting a “right answer” seems to be the end game.  We need to work to build a culture of learners where interesting, creative, and unique ideas are welcomed, discussed, and considered.  This leads to a sense of safety and community for students.  We want students to be risk takers and to try out new ideas and strategies.  As teachers, we need to celebrate creative and interesting thinking in a very evident to students.  At the same time, I believe it’s important to also explain that sharing “out of the box” ideas can be uncomfortable at first! Students need this reassurance that new things can feel awkward at times–but that’s ok!

Similarly, sometimes students ask questions that appear to be out of left field.  You know the ones!  It can be easy to sweep over them and go on to the intended discussion, but taking the time to probe a little can be powerful.  “What made you ask that?” or “Tell me more about what you are thinking.” shows students that you HEAR them and are truly interested in how their brains are working.

Teachers who work to create positive interpersonal interactions with their students find that their students feel safe and comfortable in the classroom. If you are familiar with the work of John Hattie, the effect size of teacher-sutdents interactions is .72.  This is extremely significant.  If this is new information for you, an effect size of .4 is considered highly significant, so the .72 is noteworthy.

risk taking in the classroom to promote creative thinking

So how can teachers use more creativity in the classroom?

Let’s explore a few quick things teachers can do to nurture creativity in the classroom as they support this relationship with their students.

Students need work on “creativity skills”

How to teach 4 creativity skills in the classroom

Paul Torrence, a creativity researcher, identified four creative thinking skills that deserve a place in our classrooms.  He focused on fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration.  By providing students with tasks that help develop these four skills, we are building a strong foundation for creative work.  Want a bit more info on these four skills?

Simply put, fluency is the act of creating a LOT of ideas.  This is the heart of brainstorming–the generation of many ideas in the hopes of finding that “golden ticket”.  There are tons of different strategies to help students learn to generate MORE ideas.  (Perhaps a blog post coming your way soon!)

Flexibility is the art of being able to generate different TYPES of ideas and to get themselves “unstuck’  by finding ideas that follow different paths.

Originality refers tot he ability to come up with ideas that are unique and NOT thought of by others.  If students are fluent and flexible, the hope is that some of their ideas might be original enough that no one else thought of them.  Can you see how a student might be able to generate a lot of ideas but not have any that are original?  Creativity is multifaceted, to be sure!

Finally, elaboration is the ability to take an idea and run with it!  When students hear ideas that resonate, they can use that idea as a jumping off point to add on to it.  This can be challenging for young students as many simply restate previously discussed ideas.  To be able to “elaborate” by adding more, meaningful information is certainly a worthwhile skill.

So how can we practice these creativity skills?

When teachers plan, keeping these four skills in mind can not only improve creativity in the classroom, but can also tackle standards and learning targets.  Let’s do a few samples.

Literacy Example

Let’s say you are reading the book Fish in a Tree with your class (click here to learn more about why you should!).  Check out how you could use all four skills throughout your work with the novel:

Fluency: Groups of students can work to brainstorm answers to questions such as “What are all the decisions Allie has made to this point?” or “List all the ways people tried to help Allie.” Or, “How can we describe each of the main characters?”

Flexibility:  Students could discuss questions that deviate from the original text.  For example, “What would have happened if Mr. Daniels hadn’t been hired to be the sub?” or “How would the story have changed if Shay had been nicer?”

Originality:   Groups of students could work to write advice letters to each of the main characters.  They can use the information they have learned about each to come up new ideas to help characters solve the problems they are experiencing in the book.

Elaboration: Students could work to “add a chapter” to the end of the book to tie up loose ends.  Similarly, rewriting a scene from another character’s perspective would show an ability to take the ideas from the author and expand upon them.

Fish in a Tree novel study

Math Example

If your learning target is that students can solve subtraction with regrouping problems fluently and accurately, you could try these!

Fluency: Ask students to generate as many subtraction problems as possible that have a certain number (like 4,246) as an answer.  You can set other rules as well to make it more rigorous such as “You cannot use any 0’s in your problems.” or “You must only use 4 digit numbers.”

Flexibility:  Students could work in teams to create sets of subtraction problems that have no trades, one trade, two trades, and so on.  Students could then exchange problems to check for accuracy.

Originality: Students could create a game or activity that helps students practice subtraction in different ways.

Elaboration: Students could write sets of problems that have matching word problems.  Students could match the problems to the stories and then rank them in order from least to most challenging.

subtraction task cards

Creativity in the Classroom Can Be Fun!

Of course, working these four skills into every lesson simply isn’t feasible, but by preparing your brain to recognize opportunities, you certainly can provide richer, more engaging experiences for your students.  If you want some ready-made ideas, check these out!  Click each picture to learn more.

This bundled set of creativity exercises gets students thinking and practicing these skills in a no-prep, easy-to-use way.  When you are short on time, this is a great way to still have students developing those innovation strategies!

creativity exercises, creativity worksheets, creativity lessons

Presenting math in creative and unusual ways is another option.

The first resource is one of my favorites (also available in addition and subtraction) and gets students solving computation problems with a twist.  Students need to follow certain parameters on the challenge cards and then use estimating and computation to find cards that meet the challenge.

Multipllication challenge activity    

The second set of tasks is an example of “low floor, high ceiling” math where students  are able to access the math at a very basic level but have tons of options in terms of solution strategies and sophistication.

Creative math problem solving challenges

Finally, “The Answer Is…” resource is a great example of backward thinking where students are given an answer and need to creatively form the question to match.

Subtraction task cards

All of these are great ways to easily work creative processes into your school day with little to no planning!  See what you think.

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