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Teachers Must Encourage Student Creativity

Laura Preble

Teaching CreativityIn today's Common Core dominated, test-taking, data-driven schools, creativity is often like everybody’s favorite eccentric aunt: we all say we love her just the way she is, but nobody wants to actually be responsible for taking care of and nurturing her. And she’s really inconvenient, immeasurable, erratic, irascible and unpredictable.

So many teachers are forced to teach to state tests that, little by little, creative projects and critical thinking have been forced to the back of the educational closet.  This isn’t because teachers like it this way; they feel it’s a necessary evil given the idea that student test scores play a large role in how teachers are evaluated.

Why Fight for Creativity in the Classroom

I am here to stand proudly for creativity, in all its messy, out-of-the-lines glory.

Why? Because ultimately, creativity not only improves those pesky test scores, but it also contributes to what should be our ultimate goal as educators: inspiring students to become curious, engaged, and interested in the world around them and within them.

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“The great engine that drives innovation and invention in society comes from people whose flame of creativity was kept alive in childhood. Research shows that, if not nurtured, creativity takes a nosedive by fourth grade. Young children who were awesome artists in preschool no longer color the sky orange and pink just because they love the glowing colors,” says Alice Sterling Honig, PhD, of Syracuse University.

In large part, this happens within the confines of the classroom walls. We train them to spit out the answers we want rather than find the answers themselves, because it’s quicker and gets a more consistent result. But is it the right thing to do?

The Bottom Line on Creativity

Every invention, both practical and whimsical, was the product of creativity. The car you drive, the clothes you wear, the music you hear, some television shows you watch, the books you’ve read, medicines that have cured your ills—all these came from a creative mind, someone who could take existing information and knowledge and tweak it slightly to make something totally new and original.

“Creativity has always been prized in American society,” according to author Po Bronson, “but it’s never really been understood.” Bronson and co-author Ashley Merryman wrote a cover story for July’s Newsweek Magazine titled The Creative Crisis. The writers note that “while our creativity scores decline unchecked, the current national strategy for creativity consists of little more than praying for a Greek muse to drop by our houses. The problems we face now, and in the future, simply demand that we do more than just hope for inspiration to strike.”

As teachers, it is our duty to introduce and nurture creative thought in the classroom. It’s messy and often difficult to measure, but this is the stuff that dreams are made of, and America desperately needs dreamers. Of course, they still need to be able to read, write, and do arithmetic, but emphasizing those skills at the expense of critical and divergent thinking is a mistake, not only in a practical sense, but also because we are called to inspire and ignite young imaginations, not shove them into a box with a scantron.  

How to Bring Creativity into the Classroom

It really depends on your subject area and/or grade level, but all teachers can sprinkle some pixie dust on their curriculum:

Get Visual

  • Allow students to look at photos or paintings and make up stories about them.

Integrate Music

  • Play different kinds of music and ask students to visualize the scenes that might be going on while the music is playing, and have them draw or write poetry, or create a short, short story.
  • Remember the old Schoolhouse Rock? I learned more about the Constitution from those little segments with music than I did in all my high school classes.

Historical Creativity

  • English teachers really have great opportunities to infuse creativity, but other subject areas lend themselves also: in history or social science, have students write letters form the point of view of an historical character, or write a scene of dialogue between a historical character and a modern-day politician or pop star.

Math & Science

  • Math and science might be more of a challenge, but consider letting students create homes or buildings out of geometric shapes, or write a song about basic math principles.
  • There are also many resources for creative projects emerging, since the issue is gaining attention. Look for project-based instruction, or constructivist learning, and you might find some interesting ideas that may inspire creativity in you.

Now, it's your turn! Tell us: how do you encourage student creativity? Share in the comments section!