My favorite activity as a child was hanging out with my friends, riding bikes and climbing trees. Since not all days were sunny and warm we had to spend some time inside as well. It was always hard to stay inside because there is literally less room to play and often we had to use our creativity to transform parts of our house into the land of “Far far away”. In this magical place we defended our pillow castles from dragons and witches, we repelled numerous troll attacks and saved the world countless times. The recipe was quite simple: we had to use our imagination to reenact scenes from our favorite bedtime stories and boy did we know a great number of stories.
Listening to bedtime stories was always an event for me. To put it into perspective I must say that me and my friends grew up on cartoons (back then video games weren’t such a big thing). During the day we could watch cartoons one or two hours at a time but our parents never allowed us to fell asleep watching TV. Instead, my father would read for us stories, fairy tales and legends.
From time to time he would ask us to make him drawings about the stories he read us, to put on paper how we imagined the tale. At the time I didn’t see the point of it, but many years later I realized the true purpose of the whole activity and I will be always grateful for it.
First and foremost, the absolute advantage of hearing stories over watching cartoons is that it trains the imagination of children. They have to imagine the events unfold instead of staring at a screen. And second, putting the imagined stories on paper needs creativity and builds the child’s capability of self-expression and the expression of his/her thoughts.
Are schools doing enough for student creativity to flourish?
Children are creative and their imagination is limitless. Unfortunately this outstanding imagination and creativity is hard to find in grown-ups, as their imagination is often curbed and their creativity is boxed by rules, limits and theories limited by current knowledge. Let’s don’t forget that people used to think that the Earth was flat and that the Sun revolved round the Earth.
It is a widespread opinion that traditional and standardized education has the tendency to hinder creative thinking and imagination in students. You don’t need much imagination (or at all) to read a textbook and then fill out a standardized test. It’s like an inefficient copy-paste, because some information gets lost on the way.
This approach gives less training to imagination, fails to involve students in the learning process and its long term results are not that bright. Many managers told me that young employees who are at the beginning of their careers tend to do their jobs with a high degree of automation, without giving much thought to it. They don’t seek new ways to improve their results nor the workflow itself.
To prevent this from happening, educators and the education system have to give special attention to nurturing students’ imagination and creativity. If we do a quick online research we will find numerous tools and techniques that can help transform the classroom into a space of creation. Each of these come with both advantages and shortcomings. If teachers want to follow through with the transformation of their classes into creative workshops there are two main aspects to follow:
Transform your teaching method
Show students a good example. If you give them hundreds of pages to read and then test them with standardized tests, you can’t expect them to be creative. They might surprise you with their creativity in cheating on tests though.
Instead, the class should be transformed into a true learning experience, and make students to experience the material by involving more of their senses. Create simulations and experiments that involve them in the learning process on many levels, make them think of the material more deeply and inspire them to take it one step further and make it their own.
A simple method to involve students and motivate them to think creatively is to make the learning process a quest or a puzzle. Don’t “serve” fully prepared class content, but make students work on it as they put together the pieces of content and they bring their contribution to it instead.
The flipped class method could help greatly to implement this strategy. My preferred method is to present a subject to students, as engaging as possible, with multimedia elements and demonstrations in order to get their attention. After they are acquainted with the subject I let them to do their research and approach the subject from their own perspective. On the following class we organize an open discussion with the subject where all the different points of view come together and form the whole picture.
According to my observation, if the student gets engaged in the process, it is much more likely to read the class support material as well.
Help students to express themselves creatively
There are assignment types that give a certain degree of freedom and leave room for some creativity. For example, essays and free-form questions may allow students to weave in their thoughts into the answer. But writing an essay and answering free-form questions isn’t that exciting. And if students are not interested in the subject, they probably won’t go the extra mile to put their creativity to work.
There are so many tools teachers and instructional designers can use to create interactive and beautiful classes, beginning with simple tools like Prezi, podcasts and screencasting tools, to more complex solutions like LMSs, video editing software and much more.
The good news is these tools aren’t reserved just for teachers and educators. They can be used by students as well, and it’s needless to say that they are far more interesting and engaging to use than writing thousands-word essays.
Just imagine, given the right tools, every one of your students could become a movie director when they have to create their own video on a specific school topic. This method isn’t just more interesting and engaging, but it motivates students to use their imagination to create content that expresses their opinion on the matter. They also have to use their creativity to make the video materials enjoyable to watch for others. And most importantly, they will learn how to express their thoughts creatively and how to “sell” their ideas to others.
Most likely students would welcome a video assignment. Taking pictures and shooting short videos is so natural to the young generations, as every one of them has a smart phone. They simply enjoy using the camera, and video editing tools are very intuitive and easy to use too. Thanks to technology every tool is a given. Students just have to use their imagination to make the best of them and use them in their interest.
Ultimately, it is the job of educators to maintain and develop the creative thinking of students and prepare them for the life ahead equipped with a mindset that allows them to tackle problems and challenges with innovative and creative solutions.
Zsolt is a Content Marketing Specialist at CYPHER LEARNING and a University Teaching Assistant. When he’s not in the classroom — nor on a motorcycle — he learns about new ways of teaching, education technology, and everything about e-learning.