advice, aha moment, Be the change, being a teacher, creativity, students

How to Unleash the Uncreative Children

image from icanread

I was a dreadfully uncreative child.  Sure, I would draw trees, flowers, animals, but whenever someone told me to unleash my creativity, my heart sank and my page usually stayed empty.  Writing was slightly better, but I tended to stay on tangents so much that even I couldn’t tell my stories apart after awhile.  And singing?  While I loved to sing, I couldn’t just create something out of thin air no matter how hard I wanted to.  No, I would never be a jazz singer.

When I look back on my childhood I see that I was probably not alone.  Many of my friends weren’t explosively creative either and while these days when we have uncreative children we tend to blame our school system, I think it was just the way we were.  We didn’t know how to be creative so we weren’t.

I see this play out in my classroom as well.  I ask students to come up with whatever type of project they want and they go into a slight panic, not quite sure where to go with that much choice.  Or tell them to write a story about anything they want and some of them are so stuck in a writers block that they actually sit there frozen, never even lifting their pencils.  So what can be done with those kids that are stuck in a panic battled with creativity?  How can we unleash their potential?

  • Give them limited choice.  I think choice is one of the biggest gifts we can give to students, however, to some the  thought of free choice limits their imagination rather than urging them to create.  So give them some choices and then urge them forward.
  • Give them examples.  I know this sounds counter-intuitive to spark creativity but often some students simple need to see what is possible before they venture out on their own.  Sure, they may borrow ideas from what we show but in the end they still create.
  • Check in often.  While we tend to think of creativity as an adult-less venture, those kids that struggle with the process need check-ins and reassurance letting them know they are on the right track and help getting unstuck.
  • Celebrate the small risks.  We tend to look for the impressive but when it comes to some students, we need to celebrate even the little ventures into creativity.  Boost their self-esteem and let them know that what they are doing is right.
  • Praise, praise, praise.  As an uncreative child I always thought I was doing it wrong, if someone had told me I was doing it right, I would have had more faith in myself.  Often lack of creativity comes from the same place as lack of self-confidence.  Make sure it is not empty praise but rather specific and to the point.
  • Give options to collaborate.  I almost always give students the choice to have partners in projects simply because they spur each other on.
  • Break the mold of creativity.  We tend to only allow for creativity within certain subjects but why not open up all of our subjects to creative thought and exploration?  Some students will do better unleashing their genius within math than literacy.  Make room for them as well.
  • Be persistent.  I was almost allowed allowed to give up on projects as a child whenever they failed rather than see them through, and while we should know it is ok to abandon something, as teachers we should also encourage our reluctant students to push forward.  While it may not be the best creation, it is something, and that is always worth celebrating.
  • Highlight everyone.  Part of not being creative was that I knew who was considered creative in my class.  Those kids were given special attention every time.  I was never in the group therefore I quickly deduced that I was not creative.  Be careful that we don’t let our labels of students stymie them.

I am a passionate (female) 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” will be released this March from Powerful Learning Press.   Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

authentic learning, being a teacher, creativity, Innovation Day, Student-centered

4th Grade do Innovation Day

Once again my students astounded me.  Given the opportunity for a full day to just create and inovate, they showed me that if we truly trust our students, they will be able to manage their time, create an exciting product, and have fun while doing it.  On Monday we did our very first Innovation Day, an idea being integrated in other schools around the globe but originating from companies who call it FedEx Day.

The idea is simple: the students get to pick a project to work on for a full day and it has to be done within that day.  the requirements were minimal:  They have to learn something, they have to produce something, and they have to be able to present it the following day.  We decided as a class too that it would be best if no more than 2 students worked together.

Two weeks prior to the day students were given a brainstorming sheet, supplied by Josh Stumpenhorst and modified for 4th grade.  Immediately the excitement grew.  “A whole day where we get to decide?  That’s not what you do in school!”  Some students knew right away what they wanted to study such as Aidan and Erik who were keen to build and research a Celtic castle due to their heritage.  Other students changed their minds almost overcome with the idea that they could do anything they wanted to.  After some conversation even the most excited were able to choose.  They had to outline their process more detailed as the day grew closer and we spoke of how they would proceed Monday morning, finally,  they were ready.

Monday morning I was as excited as my students: would they be able to pull it off? Watching them walking super fast down the hallway told me they were as anxious to get started as I was.  Indeed, right after announcements we jumped into it.  The room quickly erupted in noise and paper, which can be seen right away in our video.  I stepped out of the way and let them work.  As the teacher, the hardest bit of this day was to truly get out of their way!  Instead of me solving problems, they were solving their own, using all of the resources that we have discussed throughout the year.  It was incredible to watch them work together and other own.  Throughout the day students would show me their progress, parents would pop in as well as other teachers.  I live tweeted the event and even some videos.  The kids were so into it they asked to skip recess and lunch.  As the clock wound down and students started mellowing out; I knew that this was a must do event!

So what did we learn, well, students created:

  • A huge cardboard model of Big Ben
  • A painting of the Golden Gate Bridge
  • Scrapbooks from kindergarten to 4th grade
  • Snowflakes and their patterns
  • A Celtic Fortress
  • A board Game called Advance
  • A dream house out of Lego’
  • A model of the Washington Monument
  • A model of the The Pentagon
  • A model of the The Capitol
  • A T-Rex
  • A commercial for Fleels (flats that can be converted into high heels)
  • A model of D-Day
  • A model of Apollo 11
  • A clay model of Big Ben
  • Glogsters on favorite basketball players
  • A paper zoo
  • And many research papers

And what did I learn?

  • That staying out of the way is a great thing.
  • That trusting your students to create will result in magical things happening.
  • That students will use the resources they are taught to use.
  • That innovation and creativity is alive and thriving, the problem solving that occurred in my room that day was just incredible.
  • And that some students do need help when picking a project to ensure it is enough for the whole day, although that was remedied by adding research components to it.

As the year comes to a close and these incredible 4th graders look more and more like 5th graders, I am thankful that we had this opportunity to learn together.  The students showed me how much they are capable of, how much learning can transform them, and how school should indeed be fun.

My students made a video trying to convince other teachers to do Innovation Day, I think they say it best.