A FRIEND of mine lectures English at a local university. Talking about creativity over lunch one day, she commented: “Give me a marble and I'll tell you 101 things I could do with it in class.”
I was bemused. “Really? Well, tell me a few,” I challenged her. Within minutes, she had rattled off several. I was impressed. More importantly, it got me thinking.
How many of us teachers seriously consider promoting creativity among our students? Or, in the same breath, consider how creative we are in our approach?
How can the ordinary routine of teaching be transformed into the extraordinary, such that it creates interest, stimulates discussion, generates fun and results in true learning?
Culled from creative minds and teachers who are willing to deviate from the beaten path, here are some simple, yet highly successful strategies:
Be open and accepting
Don't negate effort simply because it does not measure up to your preconceived, desired results.
Furthermore, don't shut down and shut up your students. Let them have their say. Be less critical. Your own attitude is very crucial; learn to curtail negative comments and be open.
Use different mediums
Chalk, play, board, computers, posters, slides etc – spice up your presentation and you will spice up your teaching and stimulate thinking.
Set certain limits
Creativity works best in a situation that has some constraints. Don't assume that creativity spells CHAOS, or a situation where all hell breaks loose.
Set limits, such as time given to come up with a solution or the number of answers you are looking for. You can even determine who gets to take part each time and who just sits and listens. Know that you are in control.
Do this often, so that students interact with different kids all the time and don't get stuck with the same group. This way, they get the opportunity to work with kids who think differently from them, or those who have a different type of intelligence.
Listen without fear or favour
Don't play favourites. If need be, discipline, instead of punish. Frankly, one reason why many teachers can't encourage creativity is that they must always have the first and last word. Teacher rules, teacher clamps down and teacher decides. As a result, children are cowed and afraid to speak their minds.
Encourage journal keeping
Children, especially those involved in science projects and language classes, ought to be encouraged to write their thoughts down. Ask them to write down their problems, triumphs, joys and even, frustrations. A free flow of ideas must be generated and this is helped along by a writing habit that must be cultivated.
Play the occasional game
Children love games, puzzles and indulging in any kind of activity that is competitive and interactive; they love to show off and shine. So, let them play. Playing is also an avenue to show that mistakes are okay.
Pique interest through variety
Encourage students to work in different ways, not just write out notes, but draw, act, sing and dance. This works wonders with young children.
Tell stories, show pictures and read out interesting material – these activities are like a breath of fresh air.
I have personally seen the effects of a song on children. Humming or singing can evoke spontaneous response from the class. Heads look up, smiles break out – hey look, the teacher is singing (or trying to sing – Ha! Ha!). By the way, have you played a CD in class as background music while children do their work? Try it.
Let students see what works and what doesn’t. Give them a chance to put their ideas to work and let them work out solutions themselves. Don't spoon-feed them, but encourage them to think for themselves.
Teach the art of reflecting
When you do this, you are engaging the subconscious mind and imagination to help solve problems. So, set some time aside for periods of silent, reflective work.
Power of being positive
Use rewards, praise and uplifting words. Or, at least, smile. These motivate and encourage effort.
Action speaks louder
Every now and then, why not go for role-playing? A little bit of drama can lend a new dimension to meaning and understanding. If you have the flair for drama, I'd say: “Act it out or get the children to do so!”
Treat children with respect
Children are capable, unique and able. Appreciate this and you have the power to unleash all manner of endeavour. Focus on effort and not on result, be positive about their work. Having fun, making mistakes and participating do amount to something, so don't discredit effort. The child who stands in a corner and claps, removes props, gives comments etc is also a participant.
Finally, let your hair down sometimes – don’t be prim and proper all the time. If children can appreciate a break, you can too. Most important of all, make teaching fun and enjoy it. Your students will follow suit. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn from each other when you do things differently.