What Liberates Creativity in School Kids? Learn from the experience of a School Head
In my search for better understanding of Reggio Emilia’s Philosophy of Education, I chanced upon a wonderful video “The Tin Forest” by Rocky View School dated 2nd May 2016. The school had adapted the story The Tin Forest written by Helen Ward, for provoking the students (age group five to six years), to be creative. All the material required including picture books of the story, was within the reach and an amazing tin forest was created by the students. Other than the creative work, what struck me and what was clearly visible among the students was, the total involvement, the team work, the joy and fun, the excitement, the decision making, the open mindedness, the spirit of inquiry, the research work, the sense of satisfaction and achievement, finally of course the learning. Is it not what the 21st Century learning is all about?
Ken Robinson in his talk at Chicago February 2006 had put up very profound thoughts on Creativity. He had said that, “Human Creativity is an extraordinary capacity of what they can do. Creativity is as important in education as literacy and should be treated in the same status. Schools should let the children grow into creativity and not out of creativity”.
The question is, how can teachers encourage and foster creativity among students within the time frame allotted to them? I strongly believe that creative potential of a child can be easily identified, nurtured and enhanced leading to lifelong learning.
During my teaching days, I used to always be on a lookout for something new, something different, something challenging, to make teaching and learning interesting. I used to cherish the look on my students faces when I entered the class … what is she going to do today??
Hardly ever the textbook was opened in my classroom but I relied a lot on bringing in more material related to the topic to the classroom this created massive curiosity among the students, encouraged classroom discussion, individual opinion, framing questions, investigation, creating a new outlook / perspective on the topic. In short creativity and positive learning pervaded my classroom. It worked like magic bringing out the best creative work from the students . The same was encouraged in all the schools where I worked as the Head.
Sharing some strategies that I used to foster creativity in the students.
Analogical Thinking : The transfer of an idea from one context to a new one. A creative way of building and developing relationships as well as solving problems. Analogical thinking is seen in almost every realm of life.
For example : Birds and their movement were the inspiration behind the invention of the aeroplane. For the topic on animals I had made different animal masks for each student, they were asked to come up with invention inspired by the characteristics of the animal. I still remember one of the students had come up with a wonderful idea of a dog robot of course, many ideas seemed crazy to me those days but that’s what creativity is all about. Questions like, What else can be like this? How can I connect? What have others done? What ideas can I modify to fit my problem? Can be asked to stimulate thinking.
Attribute Listing : It is a specific idea finding technique. Students were asked to identify the key characteristics or attributes of the product or process in question, then think up ways to change, modify or improve the attributes depending on their creativity. This I used to take up generally with story books/novels by asking the students to change the component of the story, the characters of the story, depending upon the topic being taken up. It can also be used to modify and improve upon the attributes of various objects, for example a pencil can be changed to a speaking pencil, it informs the child when he is going wrong.
Problem Reversal : I used this strategy very often. The world is full of contradictions. Any idea, concept or attribute will surely have an opposite side to it. State the problem in reverse … what if ? What if the rocks were soft? What if elephants could fly? What if our pets could talk? What if everybody looked alike? Reverse the direction and perspective of the concept. As we say flip flop it. The flow of creative and amazing ideas from the students used to be like water gushing out from the open dam gates.
Brainstorming: Alex Osborn had conceptualized this technique. The key is to devise wild, preposterous ideas to come up with solution to a problem. Save the criticism and evaluation until the process is completed. Allow the students to put forward their views and ideas on the given topic without any fear of right or wrong. This gives them a sense of freedom to think creatively. Topics like: How to protect animals, Inventing a new game for Olympics or How to get more tourists into our country can be taken up.
For Example : How to heat a house more efficiently. The students can be encouraged to create their own mind map after brainstorming.
Trigger Concept: These are words that will trigger fresh association of ideas in the mind. Like a small spark that can lead to a full blown fire. Generate a random piece of information, the unpredictability is important as this new input will stimulate new ideas and perspectives. Again an open receptiveness is expected from the teacher. For an IB workshop on Sustainability in Schools the participants were asked to bring drawings by the students on the topic The World in the next 50 years. I would say this really triggered the imagination of the children, there were paintings showing houses under the sea, floating in the air, road leading to nowhere. These creative pictures were a revelation to all of us on the power of creativity.
Other examples: A new flavour for an ice cream needs to be introduced in the market or a child friendly education system is in the pipeline.
Uses For: Think of an item or an object which is common and is used in daily life like a mobile phone or a pen and set the task of thinking of all possible uses for the object regardless of what the object is normally used for.
Challenging Facts: The facts are stated and considered .The student is then asked to modify the facts , if certain facts are changed or go wrong. Modify in such a way to fit into the current situation better than the original one. The challenge of the fact is the stimulus. I had used this strategy when I was doing the topic Theories of Charles Darwin.
For example : Fact is- Camel lives and is found in the hot desert. Change in fact – Hot deserts have become cold deserts. Students had to come up with survival adaptations .
Escapism Technique: Propose the most outrageous ideas and encourage the students to escape into fantasy to see what solutions could be possible, like the Time Machine or The Martian World. These kind of topics unleashes the creativity in the students and give them freedom to think.
Schools can foster creativity starting right from the Head of the Institution. The creative thinking strategies can be used by them during their staff meetings for solving school issues and in decision making. Teachers can make presentation of their most creative work and present at the end of the year. Every teacher can be given a section of the display board to put up creative activities samples of the students. Connect with parents through newsletter with thinking and creative activities for parents. Creativity days can be marked in the yearly calendar to begin with but slowly and steadily every day should become a creative day and every member of the school community a creative person.
A teacher’s passion and positive attitude towards students, subject and teaching matters, to understand the power of creativity and promote the classroom environment and culture accordingly. There should be lot of excitement and interest generated among the students. The atmosphere need to be relaxed, open and non - threatening. Plenty of imagination, inspiration, guidance, flexibility, planning, involvement is required from the teacher’s side to encourage creativity in the classroom.
Encouraging Creativity in the classroom makes teaching more rewarding and fun, gives children a zest for imagining and learning to last a lifetime. Children who feel free to make mistakes and to explore and experiment will also feel free to invent, create and find new ways to do things. Grant the lasting gift of freedom to children .. Provoke and Liberate through Creativity.
About the author:
Mrs. Pratima Sinha’s career graph showcases three decades of progressive qualitative experience across a wide gamut of functions in the field of Education. A Post Graduate in Education with Diploma in Early Childhood Education and Business English, she has headed schools with CBSE, ICSE, IGCSE and IB programs.
She has also held the position of Regional Academic Head with Pearson Education supporting and guiding schools under Pearson Education. She was part of the Academic Audit, Curriculum Developing and Planning, Teacher Training, Mentoring and Monitoring team of Pearson and visited schools across the country. She is EDEXCEL (Pearson Teacher Training) certified trainer and has conducted various workshops for teachers and Principals.
She has been the external examiner for ICSE examinations, Centre Superintendent and Observer for JEE, CTET, NEET Examinations held by the CBSE Board. She has done extensive research and developed many modules for teacher training and English Enhancement for adults.
Her passion for performing arts has led her to be a member of Nishumbita Theatre Group where she has played many pivotal roles. She is right now working and researching on correlating life skills with theatre and benefits of theatre on autistic children.