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24  Tips to Stimulate Creativity

Source: Sternberg, Robert W., and Williams, Wendy M., "Teaching For Creativity: Two Dozen Tips," Articles, Higher Level Thinking, Center for Development and Learning, 2003


  • Model Creativity: When you think back to your school days, the teachers that are most remembered are not those that “crammed the most content into their lectures. The teachers you remember are those whose thoughts and actions served as your role model. Most likely they balanced teaching content with teaching you how to think with and about that content … So think carefully about your values, goals, and ideas about creativity and show them in your actions.


  • Build Self-Efficacy: Unconsciously, we may send messages that express or imply limits on students’ potential accomplishments. Students need a strong base of support to feel confidence in their own creative powers.


  • Question Assumptions: Scientists and philosophers have a history of questioning what the status quo believed and thought. Teachers and parents can model this by expressing how we really may not “know” what we think we know. At the same time, we have to learn what kind of assumptions to question, what are good questions (thought-provoking, interesting), how to use facts, and where/how to find answers.


  • How to Define and Redefine Problems: Students need opportunities to create their own topics for projects in order to develop taste and good judgement. Sometimes, students learn by their mistakes. Allow them the freedom. A successful project (1) is appropriate to the course’s goals, (2) illustrates a student’s mastery of at least some of what has been taught, and (3) can earn a good grade.


  • Encourage Idea Generation: Students should have the time to think of numerous ideas without them being criticized as being silly or unrelated. Then, they should be guided to identify and develop the best ideas to high quality projects.


  • Cross-Fertilize Ideas: Creativity is not contained in one academic subject. Cross-fertilizing ideas draw on students’ skills, interests, and abilities, regardless of the subject.


  • Allow Time for Creative Thinking: If too much is crammed into a time period, students aren’t able to think much at all. A reflection of how smart someone may be how quickly they can answer a question. However, creative endeavors take time to process and complete.


  • Instruct and Assess Creatively: Rather than having only multiple choice and easy answer tests, students benefit from learning how to answer questions that require factual recall, analytic thinking, and creative thinking.


  • Reward Creative Ideas and Products: In order to demonstrate the value of creative projects, it should be graded. Even though it’s not as objective a grade as a multiple choice or short answer assessment, it’s better to instruct and assess creative work than to grade only non-creative work. Let students know they are to demonstrate their knowledge, analytical and writing skills, and creativity. It doesn’t have to be original ideas but they need to provide a synthesis between existing ideas and their own thoughts.


  •  Encourage Sensible Risks: Creative endeavors usually involve some risk so students need to learn sensible risk taking. “To help students learn to take sensible risks, encourage them to take some intellectual risks with courses, activities, and teachers - to develop a sense of how to assess risks … Failure to attain a certain academic standard is perceived as a lack of ability and motivation rather than as reflecting a desire to grow.


  •  Tolerate Ambiguity: When first faced with creative assignments, students go through a somewhat uncomfortable period of figuring out what and how they are going to approach it. Usually, ideas and solutions come in bits and pieces. Time is required. Rather than jump to the first project idea or topic, give students time to develop better ideas if their original idea is a less than optimal solution.


  •  Allow Mistakes: It’s easy to get comfortable with status quo ideas but those scientist and scholars who were willing to take risks and make mistakes advance the knowledge in their field even if their work had flaws. Mistakes are often marked with an X and are viewed as shameful. Mistakes should be discussed and evaluated.  Exploring why and how a mistake was made can be learning and growing opportunity itself.


  • Identify and Surmount Obstacles: When something new and creative appears, it is often confronted with opposition, embarrassment, or ridicule. Successful creative people have the fortitude to persevere when faced with negative feedback or inadequacies. Tell stories of people who were persecuted for their ideas or who overcame limitations. Try to remind students not to care too much about what others think to the point of deciding not doing something creative. Praise effort that has been made whether or not it was successful. Teach skills to help present creativity such as public speaking, writing, or presentation. When tackling obstacles reassure students by having them focus more on solving problems instead of being limited by them.


  •  Teach Self-Responsibility: Students often look to something or someone else to express blame. “Teaching students how to take responsibility means teaching students to (1) understand their creative process, (2) criticize themselves, and (3) take pride in their best creative work.” Responsibility is one of the most important traits to learn to become a mature person.


  •  Promote Self-Regulation: After students learn how to do what is expected, it’s time for them to self-regulate. Here are some things students can do to promote their self-regulation:


List multiple ideas for an assignment

Assess ideas for creativity and pursue one

Defend your choice

Develop plans for completing the assignment, including how and where to find information, and how and when you will finish the project

Keep a daily log of progress, roadblocks, and how you surmounted problems

Participate in daily class discussions regarding progress on the report and physical distractions (e.g., being hungry or tired)

Discuss teacher feedback on finished project

Assess a classmate’s project and review and discuss peer evaluations.


  • Delay Gratification: A good practice is to allow students to work on a creative endeavor over a period of time. It’s not necessary to always give short term rewards. It’s vital for students to learn rewards are not always immediate. Students should learn the benefits of delayed gratification. Long term projects teach the value of making incremental efforts for long-term gains. Teachers can give examples and stories of people who took a long time to create something and why it turned out better than if they had succumbed to playing around or escaping to social media or television.


  • Encourage Creative Collaboration: Although we often think of creativity being an individual pursuit, working together with others has its advantages. First of all, watching how others solve problems, use techniques, or introduce approaches is a learning process. Working in collaboration with others can be stimulating and can generate energy during a creative activity.


  • Imagine Other Viewpoints: By seeing another person’s perspective, students can broaden their minds and enhance their creative thinking and contributions. Karl Albrecht, recognized expert on cognitive styles and the development of advanced thinking skills, explains that “people with practical intelligence can employ language skills, make better decisions, think in terms of options and possibilities, embrace ambiguity and complexity, articulate problems clearly and work through to solutions, have original ideas, and influence the ideas of others. Part of practical intelligence is learning to understand, respect, and respond to the point of views of other people.


  • Recognize Person-Environmental Fit: Part of the discernment of creativity is the interaction between a person and the environment. The characteristics of an individual may include a person’s biological or psychological needs, values, goals, abilities, or personality. On the other hand, environmental characteristics include such elements as; intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, demands of a job or role, and cultural values. For instance, if a student has an amiable personality but has a hard time making decisions or becomes frozen under pressure, he shouldn’t become a surgeon or a policeman. Instead, maybe a counseling or  a designer job would better suit him. By building a constant appreciation of the importance of person-environment fit, students prepare for choosing environments that are conducive to their creative success. Students should be encouraged to examine environments to help them learn to select and match environments with their skills.


  • Find Excitement: Students get excited and excel when they love what they are doing. Finding what they love is hard and frustrating. However, creativity thrives when it is centered on an interest. Those with less creativity often go on to work at a job to make money and since there is no passion involved, they are usually bored, hate their job, and don’t work to make a difference in their field. It’s better if parents and teachers work with students to uncover their interests going through the frustration together with them.


  • Seek Stimulating Environments: Another goal during schooling years is to help students find the environment that can stimulate their creativity. Give opportunities to explore different environments: Plan a field trip to a nearby museum, historical building, town hall, or other location with interesting displays and ask your students to generate and examine creative ideas for reports. Read excerpts from a book about a creative pioneer in the discipline being studied or the fieldtrip destination you have targeted - a great paleontologist if the focus is on dinosaurs or a great astronaut if the focus is on space travel. Get students involved in role-playing … give them a lifelong gift by teaching them how to choose creative environments that help ideas flow. Students who know their best environment continue to be creative long after schooling has been completed.


  • Play to Strengths: Parents and teachers can share what their strengths are and how they use them. Encourage the students to think about their strengths as well. Let your students know that they facilitate creative performance by merging talent and preparation with opportunity. By helping students identify the exact nature of their talents, you create opportunities for them to express and use their talents.


  • Grow Creatively: After experiencing a period of working on a major creative project or event, it’s not easy to start up another idea. Sometimes fear of not succeeding makes people complacent so their creativity stops growing. Being creative means stepping outside the boxes that we- and others -have created for ourselves.


  • Proselytize for Creativity: Use examples of creative student work, particularly from students who are not gifted in traditional academic abilities, to demonstrate the difference it makes to teach for creativity. Describe how every student can be reached with patience and a few techniques for developing creativity. Tell your colleagues that student projects are more interesting once students have experienced explicit creativity training. Richer, funnier, wilder, and generally far more interesting assignments, book reports, and projects make our lives less boring. It is, in fact, a good example of enlightened self-interest for teachers to give students creativity training, because creative students are more motivated and more involved with their schoolwork, and their work becomes more interesting.


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