Are you an educator who struggles with your creative students?
While some students are well-suited to the world of academia, others struggle. Their creativity is a gift, but it may cause them to feel under-stimulated and unfulfilled in a conventional classroom environment.
Inspiring students to express themselves and learn in their own ways is part of your job. Are you up to the challenge?
If you’re ready to commit to improving your classroom, keep reading to learn all about how you can make your classroom friendlier to unconventional thinkers and encourage creativity.
1. Allow "Outside of the Box" Thinking
Depending on the age of the students you’re teaching, you may feel inclined to encourage only one way of thinking. The delivery of facts and figures is difficult and daunting. As a teacher, you know that students will have to think inside of the box most of the time.
That said, by discouraging “outside of the box” thinking, you’re not doing your students any favors.
Consider the following example. You’ve taught your students how to attack a math problem in a specific way. You’ve shown them step-by-step directions that should lead them to the correct answer.
One of your students finds the correct answer through a different method. Do you take points off?
If your answer is yes, you’re discouraging creativity. Part of inspiring students is showing them that their methods are valid, even if they’re unique or unconventional.
Creativity is expected in the world of explorative ventures like writing or drawing. By allowing it in more “strict” fields, like math and science, you’re creating unique thinkers.
2. Encourage Independent Problem-Solving
Some children never develop good problem-solving skills because they have answers fed to them by teachers or other students.
It’s important to encourage students to collaborate (more on that later), but one of the best teaching strategies to encourage creativity is to incorporate independent problem-solving.
Most children are blessed with some form of creativity. Their minds are still elastic and they tend to see things from unique perspectives. They can solve problems on their own if you give them the resources instead of the answers.
By expecting children to figure things out without too much help, you’re encouraging them to discover creative solutions and use their brains. You’ll be shocked by what these young thinkers come up with on their own!
3. Don't Discourage Doodles
Many teachers get frustrated when they notice a child who is doodling or writing non-academic things in the margins of their schoolwork.
While it’s important that your students do all of their work, a student who is doodling while listening, thinking, or after their work is done should be encouraged, not discouraged. Doodling is often the first step on a child’s path toward being an artist. It’s often what leads to powerful stories, movies, and comics.
Even if the child never becomes a full-fledged artist, doodling can be a sign that this child processes information in a different way. Some children doodle while they think.
Some children doodle when they’re trying to stay focused, not because they’re distracted. Consider giving the child a separate sheet of paper for doodling and a place to save, maybe even display, their work. Let them know that their creativity alongside their schoolwork is important.
4. Focus on Strengths
Speaking of allowing doodles, make sure that you teach to each student’s strengths.
This is difficult when you have many students. It requires flexibility and unique lesson plans. The extra effort will make a huge difference in each child’s life.
There’s a saying that goes “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” While this quote is often misattributed to Einstein, it has some truth behind it.
While all children are capable and you should encourage them to do things outside of their comfort zones, you also have to remember that some children have strengths that lie outside of traditional schoolwork.
When you notice that a child isn’t responding to the way that you’re teaching them, why not try something new?
For example, let’s talk about book reports.
Some children love to write book reports. They’re good at analyzing texts and writing about their thoughts. Other children struggle with this, but this doesn’t mean they haven’t read the book or don’t have anything to say.
When you do a final project on a book, why not allow alternative methods?
Students can make picture book summaries, short videos, powerpoints, and more. Each of these approaches can allow the child to show their understanding of the book. It enables them to work to their best ability. Grading students based on the expectations of conventional education instead of their strengths isn’t helpful. Here’s where you get to think outside the box.
5. Set Up a Flexible Classroom
What does your classroom layout look like?
If you’re like many teachers, children are either in pods or individual desks. You may rearrange seats every so often, but overall, students remain in their own spots.
There are benefits to this. If you know that some students can’t work together or can’t stop talking to each other, it’s helpful to keep them apart. That said, is it really the best option?
Consider allowing a flexible seating plan when students are working together.
By allowing flexibility, you’re encouraging students to collaborate and work together on tasks. They learn to get along and talk to each other (which is crucial for their social development).
Encourage children to work with people with whom they’ve never worked before. This makes children think and interact in new ways.
Inspiring creativity by encouraging collaboration and communication is a wonderful way to incorporate unique thinking and problem-solving into the classroom. It also gives your students a level of independence that they wouldn’t otherwise have.
6. Hands-On Learning Matters
How many opportunities do your students have to engage in hands-on learning?
Many children learn by doing or by engaging in unique experiences. While reading a book is good enough for some students, others will flex their creativity muscles when they have the opportunity to be more interactive with their lessons.
Hands-on learning activities are often enriching, fun, and creative. You might have, readily available, manipulative, art supplies, or recycled materials. Consider a cadre of dress-up clothing, masks, and beads and baubles to embellish these items. Imagine the re-enactments and storytelling that might come alive.
7. Create Unconventional Lesson Plans
Speaking of hands-on learning, it’s your job as an educator to create unique and unconventional lesson plans to support and encourage creative students.
Lecturing or reading to students is easy. For new teachers, this is often the most obvious way to adapt to a teaching environment. That said, these approaches aren’t simulating for creative children.
Consider adding unique activities when you’re trying to spark creativity in your classroom. Put yourself in the mind of a student: What would you like to do if you were them?
Sometimes the best lesson plans involve field trips, even if they’re small. You don’t need an expensive or well-planned trip to stretch a student’s mind in new ways.
Can’t take them out of the classroom? Bring the field trip to them by inviting local community members, experts, and hobbyists to visit your classroom and share their knowledge. You might even encourage a joint project with a school around the world or in a neighboring town.
If you’re teaching a science lesson, why not make it into a scavenger hunt? Take children on a nature walk and have them locate local flora and fauna.
You can also create a classroom garden. Have children decorate their own pots and give them seeds to nurture and take care of. This shows them the life cycles of plants in real-time.
When it comes to teaching literature, consider using short plays or others engaging multi-sensory activities to teach the children and encourage their creativity. Let them make small costume accessories and work together to put on brief “shows” for the rest of the class.
By teaching in unconventional ways, you’re making students think in unconventional ways.
8. Use Visual Aids
If you want your children to feel confident when they’re expressing their creativity, consider using more visual aids in the classroom.
Most assignments in conventional classrooms aren’t stimulating. They may cause students to feel bored and uninspired. By adding examples and items to handle, manipulate, and examine more closely you may spark some creative responses.
Better yet, allow your students to help create these visual aids. Let them consider the topic you are introducing, do some research prior to your delivery, and create the materials that you’ll use while delivering your lesson plan.
This gives children more autonomy and responsibility and lets them flex their creativity muscles.
9. Follow Your Students' Lead
When you’re not sure how to support students who need more creative education strategies, try to follow their lead.
You can’t put children in charge of their education, but you can watch them learn what they need. A lot of the teaching process is trial and error, so test out new strategies with your creative students and see what works best for them.
While it may seem silly, consider asking your students what they would like to see in your classroom. It’s possible that students will write down silly things, like extra recess or pizza parties, but many will share ideas that are useful to you. Ask them how they best learn.
Inspiring Students: It Starts With You
Inspiring students is one of the best and most fulfilling aspects of being an educator. You’re molding and shaping young minds and preparing these children for the real world.
While academic education is important, supporting creative students and encouraging their creativity (instead of trying to tame it) will change their lives and outlooks. You might be helping a future creator.
Are you ready to make some much-needed changes to your teaching strategies and educational style? Why not pursue new and unconventional possibilities?
Karen Guiffre is committed to fostering positive learning environments for all students. For tips and mentorships, get in touch today.