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How to encourage creativity in the classroom

More and more teachers are talking about it, but how can you help students become creative? IB World magazine asks educators for their tried-and-tested methods

Creativity3Passing exams is important, but it should never be the sole focus of a student’s school years. Educating a child today involves not only teaching them worthwhile facts and figures, but also providing them with the skills they’ll need to enjoy a rich and successful life, whether that means preparing them for the unpredictable workforce of the future or just empowering them with the ability to solve any problems they may encounter. One such skill – and one that is often mentioned by academics, notable business people and parents alike – is creativity.

A 2010 survey by IBM revealed that CEOs from several different countries cited creativity as being essential for navigating the business environment, and a 2013 employer survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities discovered that 95 per cent of employers prefer graduates with the ability to contribute innovatively to their business.

But isn’t creativity for artists, not business people? “We can think too narrowly about what creativity is,” explains Alane Jordan Starko, author of Creativity in the Classroom. “We think, ‘If I’m not a talented artist, then I’m not creative.’ Creativity is a much broader construct. You can be creative in all kinds of fields, from science and mathematics to literature and politics.

“If you don’t appreciate how creativity functions across disciplines, you can mistake ‘cute’, like a nice drawing, for deep creative thinking,” she continues.

Teachers must also be careful not to confuse teaching creativity with teaching creatively, which is another misunderstanding Starko sees regularly.

“When you teach creatively, you are performing activities to help students learn the information in a way that is creative, so you are exercising your creativity as a teacher,” she explains. “If you are teaching for creativity, you are structuring your classroom in a way that supports creativity in the students’ minds.”

Creativity2So, if creativity is not only about painting or expressing yourself through dance, how can it be developed? Making mistakes is an integral part of creativity, and Starko warns that teachers must be willing to embrace this. “If the classroom is not a place where it’s safe to make mistakes, ask questions and wonder, then it doesn’t matter if on Friday afternoon you ask those students to be creative. It’s not going to happen,” she says. “You need to have a creativity-friendly and a creativity-supportive atmosphere.”

“By making mistakes, people learn to trust themselves because they become more familiar with their inner critic,” notes Karen Kuhn, senior lecturer at the Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland, and a speaker at the IB’s 2015 Peterson Academic Symposium, which focused on creativity. “This allows them to see that the end result is important, but so is the process of arriving there.”

Yuniarti Santosa, PYP 1-2 teacher at the International School Ruhr, Germany, also believes students have to feel it is safe to respond in ways that their teacher doesn’t necessarily expect. “I don’t think structured exercises themselves kill creativity, but teachers can stifle creativity if they require students to produce exactly the same answer,” she says. “Students become demotivated when they are pressured to do a task exactly the same way as the example.”

Just as teachers need to grasp what creativity actually is, so do students. Santosa encourages her class to relate their units of inquiry back to the IB Learner Profile and this has included discussing creativity.

Creativity“We were working on a unit about structures and, as we discussed the unit, students thought about creativity,” she explains. “What is creativity? What do you think about creativity? What does it look like? Are you creative?

“Now, they can explain what creativity could look like in different topics,” she adds.

Starko agrees that encouraging students to apply what they have learned about creativity is extremely powerful. “If we’re going to teach, for example, brainstorming, it would be great for them to use this creative thinking method meaningfully,” she says. “Brainstorming is about problem solving and generating multiple ideas, so you could apply it to a problem in your curriculum, such as what options did Winston Churchill have during the Second World War?”

But, ultimately, Kuhn believes creativity begins with a determined teacher. “If the teacher is passionate about the subject they are teaching, it should be easier to produce a creative environment,” Kuhn says.

Tell us about your “creativity-friendly” classrooms. Email


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