Bodacious. Now there’s a word fun to say! And to think about. To be bold or gutsy. Showing a readiness to take risks. Strikingly different or unconventional. Arresting or provocative. Courageous, adventurous, fearless, or daring. Seems pretty close to describing a student “caught” in the act of being creative.
So here’s the dilemma. How can we get students to take more intellectual and emotional risks? Bodacious in their creative thoughts. For most students, keeping their creative thoughts hidden deep inside is a comfortable default mode. They have complete “freedom of thought.” No one can criticize, no one can argue, no one can reject, and it costs nothing emotionally. But it’s only “real” in their imagination! We must see or hear students’ thinking to be able to understand and support their creativity. So how do we get what’s on the inside . . . outside?
Watching a child tearing off wrapping paper, ripping open the box, and diving into a mound of Legos instantly reminds us of what it means to play creatively. The pile of unsorted blocks quickly become spaceships, superheroes, giant spiders, and on and on. Kids just play without interference of forethoughts or afterthoughts. “Did I get this right?” They do so quite naturally. No expectation or pressure of some kind of preconceived product, outcome, or ranking. Playing with things, ideas, or creative thoughts in the classroom have the same basic environmental needs. No external or internal forms of judgement required.
When students share a creative idea or thought, they run the risk of rejection, being laughed at, ridiculed, or even worse. Their idea may be misunderstood and quickly dismissed. If this happens in classrooms, students soon learn to keep their creative ideas and wonderings to themselves. It is easier and less painful.
One difficult part of the creative process for many students is being in a state of ambiguity or uncertainty. They may experience a great deal of anxiety, tension, nervousness, and even physical discomfort. Wondering “Is this right?” “Will this work?” “Is this the correct way?” They are now officially out of their comfort zones! This engagement level is where all creative ideas originate. And a place where many are stymied.
The Fear Of Looking Foolish. You and your students can have fun playing with this acronym. Rick coined this term when he was conducting Humor in Education professional learning sessions with teachers. Students will have to come to terms with F.O.L.F. in their own minds and on their own time. Some will blossom early on, and for others it will take more time and practice to break through this psychological barrier. Practicing thinking creatively in an intellectually and emotionally safe classroom environment builds security and trust. Freeing minds from the fear of possible embarrassment or judgement.
So how can we create classrooms where students feel free to explore and expose their creativity?
Intellectual and Emotional Safety Zones
You may be wondering how you can teach without judgement. There’s a whole lot of necessary grading and directions going on in any learning environment. But less can be more. To make our classrooms intellectually and emotionally safe places for students to grow the mindsets and skillsets of creativity requires that we:
provide feedback more formatively
include more open-ended learning opportunities
establish norms to protect and promote creative expression
Formative feedback and open-ended learning are part of “what we do” as educators. We’re guessing establishing norms to protect creative expression may feel a bit daunting. Something that definitely wasn’t in the “playbook” of your teacher education program. Fortunately, Alex Osborn coined the term brainstorming, creating four rules that are just what’s needed to get started on designing a safe, supportive creative learning environment.
Rules of Brainstorming
Many Ideas – lots and lots – the “more the merrier”
Free-Wheel – go “wild and crazy” – get “out of the box”
Piggyback – feel free to connect to someone else’s idea
No Judgement – in any form – what they say and what they do
Many Ideas and No Judgement seem pretty familiar and straight forward. Be forewarned and on the “lookout” for the many forms of judgement. They can sneak into the classroom wearing many disguises: looks, sounds, actions, and expressions. And the most subtle, but equally harmful . . . body language. Have fun asking your students to show all these forms of judgement to make them realize their impact.
When we are asked, “How will I know when I’ve got it right?” we share two strong indicators we observed in our classrooms.
When you overhear one student saying to another student,
“Whoa, you are breaking one of our rules of brainstorming.”
The best “sign” is when you hear a student express a very unusual idea and you hear and/or “see” their classmates saying “WOW!” instead of “WHAT?”
Sir James Dyson is a great example of someone who has taken numerous creative emotional and intellectual risks and asked many “What if” questions. For example, he thought, “What if we made a wheelbarrow without a wheel?” “I know, let’s make a fan without any blades.” And perhaps his most famous bodacious creative thought: “How about we design and create a vacuum cleaner without a bag!”
James Dyson has asserted the importance of failure in one’s life. “I made 5,127 prototypes of my vacuum cleaner before I got it right. That meant 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That’s how I came up with a solution. So I don’t mind failure. I’ve always thought that schoolchildren should be marked by the number of failures they’ve had. The child who tries strange things and experiences lots of failures to get there is probably more creative.”
Help students to understand that once they have a creative idea, the next step is to transform it into another state. Draw it. Write it. Sing it. Play with it. Build it. And when it’s time – share it. One of the greatest gifts you can give to your students is the belief and the ability to pursue a creative idea without fear of feeling different. Total creative “freedom of thought.”
“Behold the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out.”
James Conan Bryant
Creativity fuels the meaning of life. It artistically fuels the soul. It emotionally fuels the heart. It’s the fresh and the new! It’s the unique and the different! It’s connecting the dots not previously connected! But creativity always involves change. Every original creative act someone undertakes opens a doorway for change. Help your students embrace change by becoming emotional and intellectual creative risk-takers. Encourage more guessing, taking chances, trying it out, and more playing.
The more students practice these creative behaviors, the more they will begin to stretch out of their comfort zones. Eventually becoming their new default thinking and learning style. Their self-confidence will grow along with their self-esteem when it comes to approaching creative challenges.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
FOR YOUR CLASSROOM
If you want to help your students enhance and embolden their creative thinking, you can begin by “remodeling” your classroom.
Make your students more aware that your classroom is a safe place to take risks, ask questions, guess, fail, and make mistakes.
Provide more time for student thinking, reflecting, revising, tinkering, reviewing, redoing, pondering, and practicing.
Model the behaviors you want to see in your students.
Push yourself beyond the feeling of responsibility for all phases of teaching and learning. Allow students to go in different directions. Let stuff happen.
Use supportive phrases and questions that encourage creative thinking. Ask questions with thinking stems: What if? How might we? How could?
Establish the Rules of Brainstorming as classroom norms.
Frequently ask students to “Tell me your thinking.”
LET’S REFLECT & REMEMBER . . .
Bodacious Creativity (bold, gutsy, unconventional, provocative, courageous) involves both emotional and intellectual risk taking. Seems pretty close to describing a student “caught” in the act of being creative. Strive to make your classroom an intellectually and emotionally safe place for students to grow the mindsets and skillsets of creativity.
Creativity fuels the meaning of life. It artistically fuels the soul. It emotionally fuels the heart. Creativity opens the doorway for change. Help your students embrace it. Expand their intellectual and emotional comfort zones. We must see or hear students’ thinking to be able to understand and support their creativity.
Help students to understand that once they have a creative idea, the next step is to transform it into another state. Draw it. Write it. Play with it. And when it’s time – share it. One of the greatest gifts you can give to your students is the belief and the ability to pursue a creative idea without fear of feeling different.
There’s nothing more rewarding than working with a group of educators excited and motivated to bring creativity into the lives of their students. When we returned from our second session with Atlanta Public Schools Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) elementary teachers, we were amazed to see what they had accomplished in just two short months since our first training.
We held a “Share Fair” during lunch so teachers could display and discuss the products and strategies they used to help students learn using creative strategies and tools.
“I started with Think Tanks templates. My students loved it!”
“Every day in my classroom now begins with a creative brain exercise.”
“It was so easy to start implementing the Curiosita strategies.”
The Idea Generating Power of SCAMPER
We challenged the teachers to use S.C.A.M.P.E.R. to create a classroom of their dreams. In 14 minutes they shared 137 ideas for improving the design of classrooms! Here are some of the unique ideas generated by a group of 75 enthusiastic teachers:
Substitute knee desks, wobble chairs, or treadmill desks for student desks.
Combine computers with student desks and have popup computers on desktops.
Adapt all bulletin boards to be digital to display student work products.
Magnify the size and function of interactive white board. Make them wall size and use them flexibly as Lego walls, touch screens, and virtual reality screens.
Put the closets in classroom to another use, such as making it a recording studio.
Eliminate all outlets and create virtual power pads on each student desk.
Reverse ceiling tiles to be drop-downs that become interactive learning stations at the touch of a button.
S.C.A.M.P.E.R. is a powerful checklist tool created by Bob Eberle. You can use this tool with students to extend the number and types of ideas generated from any brainstorming session. The letterprompts can be used for any problem-solving situation:
Improving a relationship
Designing a new product
Creating a better organization
Decorating a room
Fixing something broken
For Your Classroom
We love it when teachers use their creativity in our session feedback forms. Here are a few of our favorite “Kreative Komments” from Atlanta.
Drawing and sketching thoughts and ideas is also a fun way to get your students inspired to share more creatively with you and their peers. Drawings could capture their day, thoughts about events or happenings, or even . . . content reflections!
Let’s Reflect and Remember . . .
Using tools improves creative output.
S.C.A.M.P.E.R extends and enhances thinking.
Creative teaching energizes, engages, and excites educators.
There are many easy ways to “dip your toe” into teaching with and for creativity.
“The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.”
In Curiosita Creativity-Based Learning we talk about making creativity tangible and teachable. It begins with new mindset interactions. Listening and looking at things differently. When you ask your students to talk about creativity, do they get stuck in conversations involving drawing, dancing, or performing? Do they see the creative cool things around them everywhere? Do they recognize the creativity behind all the big innovations? Do they believe they are creative? Do they think of creativity as something fun to do after all the learning?
Do you believe you can make a difference in how your students understand creativity?
What we are talking about here is shifting students’ mindsets. Shaping students’ mental and emotional internal environments, as well as their physical external environments, to foster creativity. Sounds a bit daunting when we put it that way. Right?
For Your Classroom
Here’s a simple and fun place to start working on creativity mindsets. Designate a bulletin board for the display titled Creative Inspirations and Explorations. Begin by asking students to find interesting photos. Ones that “speak to them” about creativity. Tell them to think of this as building a creativity wall collage together. One that can go on and on and on! Emphasize they are searching for images that excite them, or as we like to say, “Knock My Socks Off (K.M.S.O.).”
You will notice the lines begin to blur between environments as you design your classroom (external environment) in fun, funky, and flexible ways to get brains (internal environment) churning with ideas and possibilities.
Five Mindset Conversation Starters:
What is Creativity: Have students share their thoughts about their favorite photo. Why is it creative?
Ideas, Designs & Stories: Encourage everyone to go to the Creative Inspirations and Explorations bulletin board when looking for fodder for an idea, design, or story they are pondering.
Arts & Sciences: Designate themes: science, space, general creativity, music, etc. Challenge students to recognize creativity in both Arts & Sciences.
Creativity in Everyday Life: Select a photo and have students write for one minute using a creative comment stem like: How might we? What if? I wonder . . . as journal prompts?
K.M.S.O. Creativity: Have students randomly select a letter of the alphabet and search for something creative that begins with that letter. Encourage them to find ones that K.M.S.O. to share!
Plan for frequent meetings at the Creative Inspirations & Explorations wall collage to chat about creativity! Be sure to share some of your favorites!
Let’s Reflect and Remember . . .
Creativity is tangible and teachable!
Creative, cool things are all around you.
You can help shape your students external and internal environments.
Nature gives us glorious creative visions with the coming of each season. Spring is an especially enchanting display of objects that catch our eye and capture our imaginations. We took this inspiring photo as we walked through Denver Botanic Gardens. When we approached the tree from a distance it looked like a tree full of roosting birds. As we moved nearer, we could see it was an azalea tree in full bloom – white flowing petals that looked like cats, helicopter blades, and jellyfish. What do you see?
What is perception, and what does it have to do with creativity? Perhaps a helpful way to think of perception is to look at some synonyms: insight, awareness, acuity, discernment, observation, and viewpoint. All may have a different emphasis, but they are similar in meaning.
Creativity involves changes in perception; in other words, a newfound way of looking at or viewing something. Perception allows us to look at something and see something different than that seen by others. This is a prerequisite skill to being able to produce at any level of creativity. In our classrooms we noticed students who were more flexible in changing their perceptions demonstrated higher levels of creativity . . . it’s a sign!
To be more efficient and effective thinkers, we all have mental filters that help us disregard or ignore minor stimuli in our environment. If this did not happen, we would have to pay attention to every minor detail, we would perhaps be prone to sensory overload, and we would never get anything done. However, this very system that facilitates successful thinking often interferes with creative thinking.
Adams (2001) in his classic book Conceptual Blockbusting: A Guide to Better Ideas, refers to these natural filters as perceptual blocks. They can be cognitive, emotional, or environmental in nature and include:
Fear of taking an intellectual risk.
Fear of making a mistake or failing.
No appetite for chaos or ambiguity.
Fear of the unknown or a need for security.
Judging, stereotypes, and preconceived ideas.
Fear of criticism, ridicule, rejection, or just being different.
Acquiescing to: “The way it’s supposed to be” and “The way it has always been” or “If it ain’t broke . . .”
Clinging to reason and logic versus imagination and innovation.
Past Predictions of the Future
Take a moment to consider another category of perceptual roadblocks to creativity in these Past Predictions of the Future. It is amazing to look back at the predictions made by some experts in their fields and see how unrealistic and even laughable they are today. Epicetus stated it somewhat differently, “What concerns me is not the way things are, but rather the way people think things are.”
What if everyone believed the following and acted accordingly:
“This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” – Western Union internal memo (1876)
“Everything that can be invented has been invented.” – Charles Duell, Commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office (1899)
“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” – Thomas Watson, Chairman, IBM (1943)
“There is no reason for an individual to have a computer in his home.” – Ken Olsen, President, DEC (1977)
“640K ought to be enough for anybody.” – Bill Gates, Microsoft (1981)
Logic vs. Perception
Edward de Bono states, “Most of the mistakes in thinking are inadequacies of perception rather than mistakes of logic.” This makes sense, as the emphasis is traditionally placed in the secure truth of logic rather than the ambiguity and capriciousness of perception. In other words, we often continue to see the world as we initially perceive it, not the way it can be.
For Your Classroom
1. Here is the dilemma. Our practical and useful mental filters can get in the way and become perceptual blocks when we need to think creatively. If we want our students to learn to think more creatively, the major challenge is to teach them ways to temporarily suspend or ignore these perceptual blocks.
2. One simple activity is looking at photos like the one above, the clouds or stars in the sky, and creating your own interpretations. You can find our favorites in our book The Curiosita Handbook of Instructional Strategies and by Googling divergent thinking activities.
3. Flexibility exercises must be practiced daily to produce changes in the malleability (stretching) of the brain. This is an essential trait of the creative mind. It opens the doors to changes in perceptions.
4. The ability to form diverse perceptions is one of the essential steps in becoming a more creative thinker. Being aware of the role perception plays in our creative thinking, and knowing we have the ability to actively or intentionally change our perception, is part of the growth mindset of creativity. We can teach students through frequent practice to throw off their mental chains and open their minds to improved creative thinking.
Let’s Reflect and Remember . . .
Creativity involves changes in perception.
The ability to form new perceptions is an essential step in becoming a more creative thinker.
Perceptual blocks interfere with creative thinking.
We have tools to help us temporarily ignore or suspend perceptual blocks.
. . . and finally we will leave you with a new perception of the beautiful blooming azalea flower.
“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.
Grandpa was in the garage working on building a dollhouse when eight-year-old granddaughter Ella walked in and asked, “Can I help?” “Sure,” he replied. “Why don’t you hand me a screwdriver?” She paused for a moment, her eyes sparkled, and she asked, “Do you want the “plus or minus?” Grandpa got a puzzled look on his face and then broke into a big grin and said, “Oh, I get it – please pass the “Plus” screwdriver!” Ella said, “See, this one looks like the plus sign we use when we are doing addition in school and the other one reminds me of the minus sign we use for subtraction.” Grandpa’s eyes sparkled and he said, “Wow, Ella that’s really fun thinking – from now on that’s what we’ll call the Phillips and Flathead screwdrivers!”
Ella’s association of a screwdriver with the mathematical symbols of minus (-) and plus (+) represents an individual level of creative thinking. What’s important to realize is that every time a student, anywhere around the globe, has the same “aha” moment with screwdrivers, they are demonstrating the same individual level of creatively. Perhaps you might wonder if this is a novel or unique way of thinking. You can test it out by asking a group of adults how many have made the plus and minus association with screwdrivers – prepare to be surprised!
Levels of Creativity
As students continue to make creative connections, their individual expressions of creativity will rub off on classmates. Professional group levels of creativity may someday lead to innovations in organizations, countries, and even the world. There is an “exponential potential” in recognizing and finding value in creativity at all levels. Kaufman and Beghetto (2009) formally identify four developmental levels of creativity:
Mini-c: Any time one attempts a new task, a level of creativity is involved. What one creates is not revolutionary, but new and meaningful to them. Example: Your first time sketching a picture. You feel pretty good about it – perhaps feeling some degree of self-satisfaction.
Little-c: Improvements are made in your skill level and content, and the creation may be of some value to others. Example: You share your sketch with others who encourage you through feedback.
Pro-c: The ability to be creative at a professional level. You would have had many years of practice and training. Example: You take classes and enter works in juried shows. Eventually your works hang in galleries and you are recognized by art experts and critics as being creative.
Big-C: You and your body of work are now remembered in history books. Example: Your works hang in famous galleries and are regularly discussed by experts. Decades from now, you will be considered one of the greatest artists of all time.
Creative Response vs. Teachable Moments
Although well intentioned, viewing all interactions as “teachable moments” derails creative exploration. The moment Ella picked up the screwdriver, Grandpa could have said, “Now Ella, we call that a Phillips head screwdriver.” The conversation, the thinking, and the creativity would have ended right there – a sure fire method to weaken the curiosity-creativity link. So, the next time you are about to provide your student with a “correct answer” question, stop and consider asking one of these provocative questions:
Would it be possible . . .?
Have you explored . . .?
What if . . .?
How else might . . .?
I wonder . . .?
Wouldn’t it be funny if . . .?
What other . . .?
Can you imagine . . .?
Creativity often begins when simple observations meet up with child-like curiosity. This open-mindedness, coupled with a desire to learn more about the world, changes the way children interact with their environment and each other. Encouraging comments like the ones Grandpa shared with Ella nurture and support the development of future “curiosity-creativity links.” Grandpa’s modeling of his own creativity in his “doll-house” workshop will forever be imprinted in Ella’s memories as a fun and engaging moment. And even more importantly, when Ella enters the world of work in 2030, she will have practice using the mindsets and skillsets needed to be creatively productive and successful.
For Your Classroom
The conversations that spin off from the provocative questions mentioned above strengthen the curiosity-creativity link – opening doorways to wonder and exploration. Here’s one you might try with your students. Ask them, “How many ways might you come to school?” Note the word might. What a difference in excitement and engagement levels when the word might is emphasized! It affords the freedom, yes, even the permission, to think creatively. Our favorite response so far – a magic carpet ride!
Let’s Reflect and Remember . . .
There are four developmental levels of creativity.
Well intentioned “teachable moments” can derail creative exploration.
Asking provocative questions can strengthen the “curiosity-creativity link.”
“Discovery (creativity) consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different.”
~ Albert Szent-Gyorgyi
Live, learn, and lead creatively!
Patti and Rick
Originally published in Innovate, Issue 5 March/April 2019