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Reviving creativity in the classroom

By Marcus Sean Hall on Jan 23, 2012 02:52 PM
Photo: Harvey Finkle

How can we ensure students remain as creative and excited about learning as this preschooler?

A kindergarten student begins drawing a picture of God. Using various colors and shades, she draws a descriptive portrait of the divine. Her teacher soon approaches, looks at the drawing, and asks, “What are you drawing?” The child says “God” and the teacher responds, “But no one knows what God looks like.” The child responds, “They will in a minute!”

While I'm not sure this scene ever actually happened, my point is that all children have the potential for wondrous, revolutionary creativity. Once students enter the school system, it is often a struggle to keep that creativity alive. What can we do to support our students' creativity?

The kindergartener in this scene is expected to retire in 60 years. No expert can definitely say what the world will look like in five years, let alone 60 years. Since no one knows for sure what the future holds, we have an opportunity to think creatively also – for the future that we imagine, what kind of education should students receive now?

Pablo Picasso once said that, “all children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist once he grows up.” Our children become products of a national education agenda that prioritizes certain subjects and skills over others. We prepare students for agrarian or monotonous careers that require more systematic completion compared to intellectual creativity, and inside our classrooms, success is celebrated while failures are chastised – this is a perfect recipe for the creative destruction. Failure and mistakes are often necessary steps toward the path of innovation.

As teachers and educational leaders, let’s think about reviving creativity:

  • Stop making the child believe value comes to those who are correct. Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally recognized leader in the development of education, creativity, and innovation states that, “Children are not frightened to be wrong. If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.” It is through our mistake that many extraordinary discoveries have been made.

  • Embrace kids as kids and not as automatons. Most kids have lost the capacity of imagination when they become adults; this is because we are educating people out of their creativity. Information regurgitation for the purpose of a one-time exam serves the same purpose as forcing them through the system

  • Look for creativity in your own school practices. Many teachers, especially those in failing schools, are required to implement very structured curriculum. Normally, there are certain entry points for imaginative and creative moments in your lessons – albeit small!

According to a TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson, UNESCO estimates that over the next 30 years more people worldwide will graduate from school than since the beginning of history. How do we, as teachers, school leaders, and policymakers, want to prepare our students to enter that world? 

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Comments (10)

Submitted by I Teach in Philly on January 23, 2012 4:59 pm

"Most kids have lost the capacity of imagination when they become adults; this is because we are educating people out of their creativity. Information regurgitation for the purpose of a one-time exam serves the same purpose as forcing them through the system"

Amen to that! my students are turned off by classes that stress on testing and don't have time for creativity or exploration. It's all about "Test Taking Skills." They're learning to hate school.

No job requires Test Taking Skills. Instead, critical thinking, imagination and thinking outside the box (bubble) can take you a long way.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 23, 2012 5:04 pm

Send your kids to a Waldorf school. :D

Submitted by Teach (not verified) on January 23, 2012 6:16 pm

There are schools in Philly where teachers are written up for allowing their students to use crayons. It's all about AYP. I hope more students will be permitted to allow their creativity to bloom.

Submitted by Samuel Reed III on January 23, 2012 10:47 pm

When we limit students' creativity and prevent teachers from engaging in innovative lessons what kind of future are we preparing young people? Some call it the  School to Prison Pipeline...

Submitted by Nijmie Dzurinko (not verified) on January 24, 2012 1:26 am

Well put, Sam.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on January 24, 2012 10:18 am

Now that is the most important discussion we need to have -- instruction.

I led a remedial reading program for almost 20 years at UCHS and we never dreamed of turning our program into drill and kill. in fact we threw that trash where it belonged -- in the trash can.

Our most successful teachers were those who used the most creativity in their classrooms. They created and owned what they taught and used interesting authentic materials to create a love of reading and a thirst for reading.

Our most successful teachers were those who inspired real growth in reading comprehension, fluency and vocabulary gain. We used mostly informal diagnostic techniques with a standardized pre and post test -- the MAT - 6. We never ever even thought of cheating on tests or teaching to the test.

We just taught our kids how to improve their reading and expand their background of experience. We taught to their interests and made it fun. It was fun going to school and teaching that way. We all had our own styles and were free to innovate as we saw fit.

WE were professionals and were treated as professionals by our principal, Dr. Davis B. Martin, and the District leadership.

Oh, the "good ole days" when teachers were allowed to be teachers. Hopefully, for our children's sake, the pendulum will swing back.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on January 24, 2012 11:16 am

Ps: We taught them how to think, too. Analytically and critically -- you know, Piaget, Bloom, Dewey, et al. We taught them to think for themselves and see the world around them. A proper dose of poetry does wonders for seeing the world for what it is....

So does a proper dose of Socratic questioning....

Submitted by Samuel Reed III on January 24, 2012 10:31 pm


President Obama, State of the Union Address which addressed teaching and innovation may be a sign that the pendulum may switch. Unfortnately politics will muddy things up or create a system of schools that all allowed to innovate and those that are not.

Submitted by Arts Educator (not verified) on January 24, 2012 10:50 am

We have to give our children and youth something to get excited about when it comes to going to, being in, and staying in school. Creativity is a natural thing. We're born with it. Is it our intention to squash that out of our young people? Or is it rather our responsibility to unlock, grow and nurture this creativity in them each day, so that they can find out what they are passionate about, tell us what they know, and become the kinds of citizens who can imagine the world in new ways... We must do better... Time will not wait for us to get this right!

Submitted by paraRels (not verified) on November 26, 2012 8:52 pm
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