Creativity is a basic human need to make something new. Creativity is the ability to generate ideas, products, or solutions that are considered novel and useful for a given problem, situation or context (Amabile, 1996; Beghetto, 2008; Plucker et al, 2004; Runco, 2004).
Evidence indicates that highly productive creative thinking is generated by thinking productively, not reproductively.
With productive thinking, the aim is to generate many different approaches. The least obvious must be considered as well as the most likely approaches. With each new approach or perspective, understanding deepens and one begins to understand the essence of the problem. In order to find creative solutions, one may have to abandon the initial approach that stems from past experience and reconceptualise the problem. By adopting more than one perspective, highly productive creative thinkers solve existing problems and even identify new ones.
Reproductive thinking, on the other hand, can produce too rigid thinking. This can produce an inability to solve a problem that resembles past experiences only in superficial ways. Interpreting such a problem through past experience will not be productive. Reproductive thinking produces solutions which we have employed before and not original ones.
The ability to tolerate ambivalence between opposites or two incompatible subjects is thought to characterise highly productive creative thinking. Edison’s invention of a practical system of lighting involved combining wiring in parallel circuits with high-resistance filaments in his bulbs, two things that were not considered possible by conventional thinkers at the time. As Edison could tolerate the ambivalence between two incompatible things, he could see the relationship that led to the breakthrough.
Teachers play an important role as facilitators of their students’ creativity (Cropley, 1994; Fishkin, Cramond & Olszewski-Kubilius, 1999; Runco, 1990; Sak, 2004; Sternberg, 1999). Cropley’s model of teachers’ behaviours, that are necessary to foster students’ creativity in the classroom, includes three aspects: teacher as role model, a class atmosphere that fosters positive risk taking, and instructional activities that foster and reward creativity.
Can creativity be enhanced? The best answer is yes. Runco and Plucker (1999) conclude that “efforts to enhance creativity will not expand one’s inborn potential but can ensure that potential is maximized” (p.670). According to Sternberg (1999), teachers can use the following methods to foster creativity in gifted students:
- Serve as a role model for creativity.
- Encourage questioning of assumptions.
- Allow mistakes.
- Encourage sensible risk taking.
- Design creative assignments and assessments.
- Let students define problems themselves.
- Reward creative ideas and products.
- Allow time to think creatively.
- Encourage tolerance of ambiguity.
- Point out that creative thinkers do face obstacles.
- Be willing to grow.
- Recognise that creative thinkers need to find nurturing environments.
There are many instructional strategies that teachers can use to address some or all of the aspects on Sternberg’s list such as SCAMPER, Creative Problem Solving (CPS), Object Analogy, Attribute Listing, Brainstorming and Synectics.
Creativity can be used as a means of enriching any content area. Given its ability to empower gifted learners to tap into new realms of thinking, creativity needs to be given a front row seat in the classroom, rather than relegated to a dark spot in the back corner.
So, what else can be done in the classroom to encourage the use of the creative processes in any content area?
- First, teach the content as action. We learn new knowledge by doing rather than by passively listening. In the content areas, use real-world problems and have students work as a practising professional would in that field.
- Outcomes, content, process, product and learning environment must all interact. One cannot be missing or be taught in isolation.
- Ditch the cookbook activities. Have students read essays, biographies, and autobiographies of prominent people in the field, paying close attention to the process by which they sought solutions, not just who they were and what they discovered.
- Invite professionals to talk about the processes they use to solve real problems.
- Help students with high ability and interest in content areas to find mentors in their areas of interest.
In order to foster creativity students need to deal with complexity, ambiguity, puzzling experiences, uncertainty and imperfection (Runco & Albert, 1986).
Creativity needs to be infused in all content areas and educational experiences. Dixon and Moon (2006) offer the following 10 ideas to infuse creativity into the curriculum:
- Look for places in the curriculum to encourage flexibility, fluency, originality and elaboration.
- Teach conceptually.
- Use open-ended activities and assignments.
- Help students be tolerant of ambiguity.
- Allow and encourage out-of-the-box thinking.
- Include a design assignment in every subject.
- Teach creative strategies such as SCAMPER.
- Include the study of creative individuals in all content areas.
- Value creativity as a teacher and encourage students to value it also.
- Understand that creativity is a continuum and there are varying degrees of creativity.
Please remember: Mistakes equal learning and
each “no” brings you closer to a “yes”.
Creativity isn’t a single light bulb;
it is a lot of little flashes!
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Beghetto RA (2008) “Creativity Enhancement” (pp. 139-153). In JA Plucker & CM Callahan, Critical issues and practices in gifted education. Waco, Texas: Prufrock Press.
Cropley, A. (1994). More ways than one: Fostering creativity. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Dixon, F., & Moon, S. (2006). The Handbook of Secondary Education.. Waco: Prufrock Press.
Fishkin, A.S., Cramond, B., & Olszewski-Kubilius, P. (1999). Investigating creativity in youth. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
Plucker, J.A., & Runco, M.A. (1999). Enhancement of creativity. In M.A. Runco & S. Pritzker (Eds.), Encyclopedia of creativity (pp. 669-675). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
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Runco, M.A. (1990). Divergent thinking of children: Implications of the research. Gifted Child Today, 13(4), 37-39.
Runco MA (2004) Creativity. Annual Review of Psychology, 55, 657-687.
Runco, M.A. & Albert, R.S. (1986). The threshold hypothesis regarding creativity and intelligence. Creative Child and Adult Quarterly, 11, 212-218.
Sak, U. (2004). About creativity, giftedness and teaching the creatively gifted in the classroom. Roeper Review, 25, 216-222.
Sternberg, R.J. (1999). Handbook of creativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.