by Michael Eddens, director of arts education programs
"Creativity training” is quickly becoming the new buzzword in public education. Educators and legislators across the country are looking for ways to inject more creativity training into the classroom. One might assume that adding more fine arts classes in k-12 schools is the answer, but perhaps there’s more to it. Could it be that there are things we can do in our existing arts programs that will enhance the level of creativity training?
All too often nurturing creative work in students is the most difficult thing about teaching. So where is this disconnect that often takes place between the classroom and the playground?
While some creativity experts like Sir Ken Robinson believe that school kills creativity, others like F. David Peat claim creativity cannot be taught, but is a natural process. Peat believes that rather than attempting to teach creativity we need to find ways to feed it. Research even points to the association of high levels of creativity to individuals that have a "childlike" mind.
At any age we can do certain activities that do wonders for creative and intellectual growth, and one's general well-being. Here are a few:
Play - play time is important to self expression and accessing the imagination and subconscious. Researchers of creativity have discovered that when given time to play, and explore the mind is loosed from the constraints of rules and logic which can inhibit creative problem solving. When students are allowed time for structured play in the classroom surrounding an idea, topic, technique or skill wonderful learning experiences can emerge.
Limit the limitations - yes it?s true that we must have rules in a classroom setting, but consider whether it is possible to allow for explorative activities with a minimum of rules. Select rules that govern student safety, emotional and personal respect, and regard for the learning environment, while considering throwing out many of the standard rule just for a brief time during class. During that specific learning/exploratory activity students may have the freedom to explore without restriction in order to solve a creative problem (As always clear this approach with your school or program administrator first..).
Be weird - encourage students to make odd or uncommon associations with the creative themes you present to them or that they generate. Present a short list of possible creative approaches and then have students add several potential approaches of their own as a solution to a creative problem. Young people love anything different and strange so this approach is sure to be a hit.
Encourage curiosity - ask students a variety of "what if" questions. Create a “what if” question box inside which you and students may pose a variety of questions. Ensure that the questions are relevant and appropriate then add them to the box. As opportunities arise to utilize one of the questions randomly draw a question from the box for individual students, small groups or the class to respond to creatively. Reward the originator of the question with something they value in order to encourage more curiosity.
Play in the dirt - yes, that’s right. Get dirty. You’ve probably noticed that today’s youth often hate to get dirty. But you probably hadn’t considered that the fear of dirt learned over time. The most creative people also know that in order to be most successful you have to make a LOT of messes. Whether that be in visual art or in the performing arts, students need to be given safe opportunities to just plain make a mess. When we are too concerned with the outcome of creative work in students we stifle creativity. Why not have structured time in our classes for students to take risks regardless of the outcome. By creating an environment of no judgment teachers can have “Improv Days” in their classes during which students most create on the fly? and regardless of how good or bad their work is they are praised and encouraged by everyone in the classroom. If you do this enough, eventually every student will have had the opportunity to create a “Mud Pie Masterpiece.”
Down time - many researchers have found that creative “Ah-ha” moments often happen when the creator isn’t doing much of anything. Structured quite time in your classroom can reap incredible benefits to you and your students in terms of creativity. One obvious point is that tired minds are neither creative nor productive. But it is also not uncommon for the greatest ideas to emerge during times of stillness. Turn off your lights and play soft music, read a passage from a poem or short story, have students sit in silence for 5-10 minutes with heads down after having delivered some dynamic learning activity. When you return to creative work you may be surprised as what emerges.
As we remember the things we enjoyed most about school - recess, story time, group learning and problem-solving games, music, art, and nap time - perhaps we can revive some of the things? that helped make our educational experience so valuable and rewarding.