You can’t teach students creativity the same way you can teach algebra or reading. But research shows that creative thinking can be developed and nurtured over time, similar to a growth mindset. The key is to recognize how creativity develops and create environments that foster creative thinking.
Mindprint’s FIVE steps to creative transformation
There is no substitute for a deep foundation of subject-specific content knowledge. The more you know about a topic, the more chances there are to see opportunities. If we want students to be creative thinkers, it is essential that we continuously expand their knowledge base and fill in any gaps that arise along the way in core, subject-specific knowledge.
HINT: Students with weaker verbal memory can surprise us with knowledge gaps. Use these memory strategies.
It’s not just the highest form of flattery. Imitation is essential to developing creative thinking skills. Provide students with authentic practice, imitating the methods and experiences of the original creators. Science experiments that teach gravity, role playing the Constitutional Convention, or even solving a word problem are all examples of useful Imitation. While it might not feel like creativity, it is an essential step.
HINT: Students with weaker spatial skills might resist hands-on activities. Use these spatial strategies.
Assignments that allow students to apply and practice, yet don’t follow a single approach, move students past the basics to begin creative thinking. The personal narrative in ELA or the opinion paper in social studies are two examples. But there are many times when we ask students for Imitation when we could be pushing them toward Variation. Have students write their own math word problems, design their own science experiments or come up with their own writing prompts. These options enable teachers to stick to the curriculum while allowing for creative Variation.
HINT: Students with weaker flexible thinking might resist tasks that require Variation. Use these flexible thinking strategies.
When a student prepares a proof based not only on the current theorem but on a postulate from the beginning of the semester we are witnessing vertical Extension. The student who brings what he learned in history class to create a vivid metaphor for his English essay is engaging in horizontal Extension. Extensions don’t follow the curriculum but they are the AHA moments that demonstrate deeper learning. They are also evidence of intellectual creativity.
HINT: There are structured approaches that increase the probability for Extensions.
Getting students to independently and regularly make Extensions is arguably the ultimate goal of a 21st Century education.
It’s still not clear what magical combination of genetics, environment and luck enables a select few to repeatedly take what exists and make it feel entirely new. We can’t all be Steve Jobs, Marie Curie, or James Baldwin. But as Louis Pasteur suggested, maybe we can all be prepared.
HINT: For those lucky enough to start out with strong flexible thinking, here’s how to help them use that gift.
Creativity Links and Resources
Classroom Strategies to Develop Creative Thinking (Mindprint)
Creativity in Context (Book by Harvard Business School Professor Teresa Amabile)
How to be Creative (YouTube)
Creativity Articles (Psychology Professor Scott Barry Kaufman)
Where Does Creativity Come From and Why Do Schools Kill It Off (Freakonomics podcast)