When we think of creativity, most of us will readily associate it to art, from painting to composing music to writing fiction.
But the act of being creative is much more than that: a person can be a creative thinker even if they never pick up a paintbrush or a musical instrument.
You are being creative when you decide on a catchy slogan for your product; you are being creative when you pitch your own idea for a small business; and most of all, you are being creative when you are presented with a problem and come up with a unique solution.
In a world where having original ideas sets humans apart from machines, thinking creatively is more important than ever and educators have a responsibility to foster, not stifle their students’ imagination.
Rethinking the system by promoting creativity in school
Some subjects are more suited to creativity than others. While creativity is not exclusive to the arts, it is hard to deny that a mathematical problem will only have a limited set of acceptable answers, while a creative writing assignment can be evaluated objectively on aspects such as grammar and punctuation, but will leave students a greater degree of freedom in choosing its content.
Structure and predictability are all well and good, but introducing some unstructured elements into subjects known for their rigidity can be a first step towards fostering creativity. Do not make students feel as though they are being punished for arriving at the correct solution in an unexpected way; take a positive approach to mistakes and encourage them to see them as learning opportunities rather than something to be feared; teach with the aim of personal enrichment first, completing tests second. These are all tenets you can apply to any subject, artistic or not, that will make your classroom a more creative environment.
Encouraging thinking outside the box, letting students get it wrong and try again, and (especially if they are young) engaging them in unstructured play as a learning occasion will not only make them more creative thinkers, but also reduce school-related stress and anxiety and help them feel like they belong in their class.
All of these, however, are tips and tricks that would have been just as valid fifty years ago as they are today; what really matters is how to foster creativity in a changing world where technology is a fact of life.
At its core, technology is a way to make life quicker and easier: from instant communication to carrying a device in your pocket that can take pictures and shoot videos whenever inspiration strikes, computers, tablets and smartphones have blurred the line between amateurs and professionals in many fields. It is now much simpler and cheaper to produce quality material in any medium you choose without feeling too self-conscious about your lack of specialized skills, because wherever your creativity leads you, there will almost certainly be a device or app that makes turning your ideas into reality a more intuitive and accessible process than ever before. With the Internet as a worldwide platform to make your voice heard, self-publishing your work is all the rage and no one has to feel like the fruits of their creativity belong at the bottom of a drawer where no one can see them.
Encourage students to create their own pieces of media as a way to show their understanding of a topic; foster a healthy and responsible use of social media to showcase their ideas and learn how to deal with both positive and negative feedback in an emotionally mature manner; if at all possible, promote the creation of a makerspace in your school where students can access adequate supplies to make their projects a reality.
Creativity is no longer relegated to being apprenticed to a master and spending years honing a craft: with apps at your fingertips that make the act of creation a matter of a few clicks, public platforms where anyone can share their content, and a wealth of teaching resources that make learning less passive and more interactive, there is no excuse not to let your students be creative: all they need is their ideas, and they surely have plenty of those.