Teaching Creativity

By CRAIG KUNCE

So far we have defined creativity, discussed the origins of creativity, and studied some of the personality traits exhibited by creative people in order to assess where their creative education could begin. Let's turn our attention to the practice of teaching, encouraging and developing creativity and focus on suggestions and idea from teachers and researchers on how to develop creativity.

 

How can teachers encourage and develop creativity?

In the many articles about creativity, teaching creativity, and encouraging creativity in business, personal life and in the workplace, I found many helpful activities, philosophies, and ideas to use in my classroom.

Mitchel Resnick (n.d.), with the MIT Media lab wrote an interesting article titled, All I Really Need To Know (About Creative Thinking) I Learned (By Studying How Children Learn) in Kindergarten. In his article
he suggests that the rest of the world should embrace the atmosphere abundantly found in a kindergarten classroom. One that encourages students to constantly design, create, experiment and explore. Resnick as a good point. I have found that this approach is helpful when I am trying to get students to engage themselves fully in a project. If I allow some freedom of choice and exploration, and even go as far as to tell them, “It is okay to fail as long as you are pursuing something diligently, passionately, and worthwhile,” I have found that they will take more ownership of their projects, be more interested in self-directing themselves, and be proud of their accomplishments because they found their own way.

Resnick also suggests a creative process that he sees students take when they create something. This “spiraling” process includes:

  1. Imagining what they want to do
  2. Create a project or process based on their idea
  3. Play with their creations
  4. Share their creation, results and ideas with others
  5. And finally, reflect on what they experienced

Then this spiraling process begins all over again. This process is much like the graphic design creative process, so it fits nicely into my field of study. My action research will focus on stage one, imagining what they want to do. By introducing the brainstorming wheel to my students I will help them tap into their own imaginations and to tap the imaginations of their classmates to create new ideas for their brand identity projects.

From an artistic standpoint, Kathleen Schonauer (1991), an Art Specialist at Bridgeview Public Schools in Bridgeview, Illinois, tells us that offering new art mediums to students and allowing them to experiment with the new media is an excellent way to begin opening their creative minds. Once they have had time to experiment, Schonauer suggests helping them along with “idea starters.” Idea starters are suggestions and motivational directions given by teachers to students to help them reach the next level of actually thinking of the idea or thought they want to pursue. Similar to Mitchel Resnick’s spiraling process, the students learn to go from exploration into creation. Teachers
can suggest things like taking imaginary trips where students envision themselves in a different place and then draw or paint it when they return to “reality.” Another suggestion is to have students tell a story and then draw pictures that they created from the story they made up. This helps students create with words before they create with art. I feel these are excellent ideas. These two suggestions, imaginary trips and story telling, are exactly what I am trying to recreate with my action research brainstorming wheels. I ask students to take their problem (in our graphic design program it is usually a marketing or brand message) and imaging themselves standing in the imaginary retail store that they are trying to create. Then, through brainstorming, I ask them to write down what they are experiencing. Theses words from the brainstorming wheel then become their “story” that tells their client what the brand identity will look, sound and feel like.
In his article Creativity Exists in All of us, Thomas Keen (2006), professor of marketing at Caldwell College in Caldwell, New Jersey, suggests several activities and techniques that can encourage creativity. He suggests:

  1. First identify the problem, and state it in clear, straight-forward language that everyone can understand. And instead of thinking about what is wrong, focus on the solution and how you want things to be. This gets ideas working for you and in the best direction.
  2. Use various techniques like brainstorming to get fresh ideas out there. Then take the best ideas and test them in real-life scenarios.
  3. Be sure to share your ideas with other people. Collaborate to see if there are better ideas or if anything was missed. Also use this time to sell your idea to others.
  4. Build off of ideas. Never think you are “done” solving a problem. New ideas may present themselves after a solution has been implemented.
  5. Remain relaxed and reduce stress. Breathing exercises, aerobic exercise, listening to music, and stress reduction techniques all help the thinking process and encourage creativity.
  6. Don’t wait until the last minute to solve a problem or finish a project. Stress from a looming deadline can reduce creativity and clear thinking.
  7. Make sure you are properly rested. Mental and physical fatigue can also reduce creativity and the thinking process.
  8. Be positive and confident in yourself. Insecurity and a lack of confidence can greatly reduce your creative output.
  9. Be a creative leader. Don’t wait for others to be creative, lead the way and start the creative process with your own ideas.
  10. Allow for zany and “out there” ideas. Do not stifle outlandish ideas, promoting openness and new thinking can lead to ground-breaking solutions.

Keen also tells us to be aware that creativity is not an easy thing to acquire. But, with courage and confidence you can tap into your own creativity and start thinking out-of-the- box yourself.

 

Jessica Kraft (n.d.), in her article Unlock Your Creativity, offers her own research- based suggestions to increase personal creativity. She explains that creativity is, like Resnick suggested, natural to kids because they are free to be creative and free from judgement and self-imposed limitations. Kids are naturally free to let their creativity roam and just enjoy what they are doing. For the rest of us, who have been forced to grow up, Kraft suggests some time-tested techniques to help “cultivate your creativity.”

  1. Relax and get inspired. Try the bed, bath, and bus. Creativity coaches suggest these three places for people to relax and get in the right frame of mind to be creative and get ideas flowing. Let your mind wander and see what happens.
  2. Study your own creative patterns. Remind yourself what you were doing (or not doing) the last time you were creative. Now try to replicate that setting and feeling.
  3. Change your daily patterns, get up and move around, or switch up your schedule. This will get you thinking in new environments and during different times of day.
  4. Utilize the morning hours for creativity. Creative experts agree that most of us are
    most creative right after a good night’s sleep.
  5. Day dream. Find time each day to just sit and think of anything. This time often
    reveals new and insightful thoughts and ideas.
  6. Always wonder, “what if.” Never accept things as they are, or as they seem. Get in
    the habit of exploring alternative solutions and ideas.
  7. Rethink the familiar. Break out of your regular routines. Eat at a new restaurant,
    drive a new route to work, buy a new outfit, or ask a new friend to dinner. These ideas not only make your day more interesting, they also sparks new thoughts and offer you new verbal and visual stimulation to draw from.
  8. Allow for everyday activities to inspire you and encourage your own creativity.
    Gardening, shopping, cooking, crafting, playing with children, or word puzzles can
    lead to a meditative state that gets ideas flowing.
  9. Do what you love! A sure way to keep your interest, curiosity and passion alive is
    to do what you love. When we are doing what we love, we are constantly trying to do in it new ways and with new tools and processes. A person who loves their job is usually very good at it because they continuously apply their creative energy to it.
  10. Collaborate with others. Creativity is contagious, so getting around other people and sharing ideas will only help increase the amount of motivation and creative power that is generated. Creative genius “loners” are the minority—long-term creativity usually requires many people working together, challenging and motivating each other toward a similar goal.

I know, first-hand, the difficulty teachers face when trying to encourage creativity in their students. My hope is that by introducing these tips and techniques to our students, and then having them try some of them, they will begin to appreciate the investment that they need to make in order to increase their own creative output.

I have found so many sound and useful ideas in my research that I am confident that each student, no matter what learning style they prefer, will find some that fit their needs and help them grow and increase their own creativity. My own classroom research has focused heavily on collaboration since this is an area that most artists don’t always embrace. Most artists like to work alone and nurture their own ideas until they are happy with them—only then do they share their work with the world. I hope to break them from this comfort zone and show them how other people can increase their creativity while still allowing them to keep their own ideas—which are sacred to an artist’s originality and creativity.

Now that we have several useful and creative ideas to try out in our classroom, let's discuss the next step, testing and evaluating creativity.