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Just Imagine! Cultivating Creative Minds

“To know is nothing at all; to imagine is everything.”

—Anatole France

Creativity is the metaphoric power of a nine-year-old who calls her unkempt Shih Tzu a “dirty ol’ dust mop.” It’s the vision of a photographer who sees Easter Island sculptures in a series of back-alley shadows. And it is the inventiveness of a gardener who feels the stirrings of a story after digging up an arrowhead.

In Writers INC, writer Randall VanderMey captures the essence of creativity in the following scenarios:

Where dull thinking (DT) plucks a sandbur off his socks and throws it away, creative thinking (CT) invents Velcro. DT stays angry after having his iPod ripped off. CT wins $100 in a literary contest with a story told from the point of view of the thief.

So What?

Creativity is a wonderful thing when we experience it; if you’re a teacher, you surely appreciate your creative students. However, I would guess that creativity, per se, probably doesn’t get much attention in your classroom. Your focus is on meeting the demands of your curriculum and getting your students ready for their district or state tests. Creative activities, if they are implemented at all, serve as fillers in between the important stuff.

I would suggest that just the opposite should be happening. Creative thinking should be of prime importance in all classrooms and in all content areas. And opportunities for students to be inventive, to think outside the box, should be built into each and every unit of study. It’s all well and good (and important) for students to learn their facts and formulas, but it’s just as important for them to think about new concepts and ideas, both creatively and critically. By applying higher levels of thinking, students will better understand and appreciate what they are learning.

In report after report, business leaders state that they want employees who are effective communicators, team players, and creative thinkers. Of course, businesses value creativity because it leads to innovation, new products, new markets, new opportunities, and on and on. If creativity is so important in today’s workplace, surely it should be just as important, if not more so, in our schools.

Principles of Creativity

These five principles underlie creativity. As you read through this list, consider if your curriculum, and your approach to instruction, fosters creative thinking and learning.

  1. Creativity develops when someone is interested, challenged, and motivated.
  2. Creativity is open-ended thinking, not one-way thinking looking for right answers.
  3. Creative thinkers are willing to take risks and make mistakes.
  4. Instruction that promotes fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration produces creative thinkers.
  5. The positive, but honest, give and take of ideas promotes creative thinking.

As these principles suggest, creativity is neither a step-by-step process to learn nor a formula to follow. The best you can do is provide opportunities for creativity to happen—opportunities that open the mind—and then encourage students to shape some of their most inventive ideas into something worthy of sharing.

Creative Thinking in Action

If you’re interested in making your instruction more creative, implement simple activities like the following.

  • Beginning-of-the-Year Questionnaire: To set a creative tone in your classroom, have students fill out an offbeat questionnaire with the following types of directions: Write your name backwards. Imagine what your address will be sometime in the future. Name one thing that hasn’t happened to you. (You get the idea.)
  • Brainstorming: Whenever possible, have your students list, cluster, and freewrite. Make sure that students work rapidly to unlock their best ideas. (Brainstorming activities promote fluency.)
  • First Impressions: Ask students to describe something related to their coursework as if they were seeing (and/or tasting, feeling, hearing) it for the very first time. (This types of activity promotes flexibility and originality.)
  • Modeling: Provide students with a brief piece of writing (article, passage, poem, quotation, etc.), a piece of art, a graphic, or something else to use as a model for their own piece of writing, art, or so on. (This type of activity promotes originality.)
  • Journaling: Have students keep a journal of a person, place, object, or idea during a unit of study—not just one or two entries, but a whole series of them over a number of days. (This type of activity promotes elaboration and originality.)

French writer Andre Gide said, “We can never discover new continents until we have the courage to lose sight of all coasts.” If you promote creativity in your classroom, your students will become risk takers and explorers, and they will “discover new continents.” They will also make your classroom an engaging, simulating place to be.

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