When I was in school, I had the privilege of having an excellent art teacher, Mrs. Unger. While I was swamped with honors classes, playing three sports, participating in choir and student government, my art classes were very important to me. I’d stay late to finish projects and even go to the art room during study halls. Why? With all the stresses of high school, why was I making art a priority? Sure, I enjoyed the escape from reading and writing, but I was still thinking, analyzing, and problem solving. Art class wasn’t free time.
Mrs. Unger used to say challenging things like, “That’s a nice beginning.” Wait, what? I thought I was done! Or after making a grave mistake on a painting, she’d encourage, “Mistakes are opportunities.” Wait, I can’t just start over? I need to keep working with this mess?! She’d encourage us to come work on art before sports practices because it got our creative juices flowing. We were encouraged to observe in art and try new things, and those observation skills could carry over to help us make unexpected passes or cuts on the field, as well as help us with our homework when we got home.
These early experiences with embracing the value of the arts, have shaped me not only as a student, but also as a teacher. While we can’t paint with our students every day in math or English class, I believe we can incorporate creative elements that stimulate creative problem-solving and divergent thinking. For some, even the word creativity strikes fear into their hearts. They think, I can’t draw or write a song, I’m just not creative. Creativity is not just about the arts. It is clever problem-solving. What do you do when you run out of sugar? How do you reorganize a lesson when a fire drill happens in the middle of it? What do you do when a student breaks his hand and can’t write for six weeks? You find creative solutions!
Creativity is about imagining different possibilities. Consider a few of these for your classes:
- Would a different set up stimulate a different classroom dynamic? Here are a few suggestions (see diagram).
- Try putting new colors and decorations on the wall – try to find things that are useful and beautiful.
- Plan various ways to start class, such as asking silly questions that involve vocabulary: “Which are you more like: a proton, electron, or neutron?”; displaying images: “What do you notice is different between these two photos?”; or playing music: have a song playing as the students walk in that pertains to the theme.
- Use different informal assessments – Checklists, grids, one-minute summaries, exit slips, create a collage of post-its with their responses, and my personal favorite – “create a snapshot.” For instance, “In a small group, using your bodies, create a scene that shows the food chain.”
- Encourage color – It wakes us up and helps us remember things.
- Encourage movement – Is there something you can do in this lesson that gets students out of their seats or uses actions to reinforce something? I love using for True and for False for an informal assessment that gets everyone involved.
- And the obvious: encourage the arts! – Is there an assignment that you could allow for an alternative assessment of a drawing, sculpture, song or dance? Sometimes specials teachers will even partner with you for a double assignment in which the student earns a grade from both classes.
In closing, I want to take us back to the beginning. The very beginning. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created…” One of the greatest parts of exploring creatively is that we mirror what God has already done. He created everything from nothing, absolutely NOTHING. We can’t do that. But we can experience the pleasure of cultivating something until it looks different than anything else, and in doing so we connect with our Creator in new and fresh ways. Being creative can be risky, but remember even mistakes serve as great opportunities to grow!
Mobilization and Teacher Education Services
Photo Credits: Guerrero, A. (2017, March 30). 20 Ideas to Promote More Creativity in Your Classroom. Retrieved October 20, 2017, from http://www.fusionyearbooks.com/blog/creative-classrooms/
Christy (Ware) Biscocho serves as a Mobilization Coach with TeachBeyond. Twice per year she goes to the Democratic Republic of Congo to offer Teacher Education to teachers at FATEB Kinshasa Academy and surrounding schools. She taught 11 years of middle school science and one year of teaching English in China before joining TeachBeyond in 2013.