Teaching for Creativity

How might creativity be nurtured in learners, teachers as well as existing and future learning environments?

A logical approach to answer this question might be to first understand what creativity is and what its’ value to us individually or socially is. Words we often associate with creativity are ‘fun’, ‘happiness’, ‘expression’, ‘innovation’, ‘art’, ‘inspiration’, ‘imagination’. Yet it is still subjective to describe let alone define. Perhaps that is because it is never in a fixed state, much like learning, but a social, cultural and psychological process.

If creativity is defined within particular cultural contexts, then it might be fair to presume that it also contributes to these environments. It is these cultural perceptions of creativity that shape its’ form. Eastern cultures for instance consider creativity to build on past work –from tradition (Niu & Kaufman, 2013[1]). It is this cultural mindset rooted in the deeper spiritual philosophies common in the Vedanta’s, Taoism and Buddhism that believe in a unified nature of being, which make up people and the environment. This results in valuing the creative process, personal fulfilment and enlightenment unlike Western conceptions of creativity, which value novelty and a departure from tradition, thereby valuing the creative product.

[1] Niu, W., & Kaufman, J. C. (2013). Creativity of Chinese and American people: A synthetic analysis. Journal of Creative Behavior, 47, 77–87.

Structure and process of seed germination | Image from page 233 of “Principles of modern biology” (1964)

If we use the image above to depict this process, culture and context would be the soil enriching the potential of the seed. We need to both understand the soils composition to ensure we can provide the right nutrients for the seed to grow.This builds a strong case to understand the cultural nuances that shape our perception, attitudes and valuation of creativity in our lives, especially in such culturally pluralistic societies as in India.

What do we mean by teaching for creativity?

Let’s first distinguish between the following:

I. Teaching creatively means applying imaginative approaches to make learning more interesting and effective. This can impact the level of ownership and control in learning as well as innovation in thinking.

II. Teaching for creativity focuses on teaching attitudes towards creativity, which develop creative thinking skills and behaviour. This process can focus on encouraging believing in creative identity and abilities through curiosity and learner inclusive pedagogies.

If we apply all of this to the original question of how creativity might be nurtured in learning environments, we can see that teaching for creativity might be where the answer lies. Rather than get caught up in trying to conclusively define what creativity is, maybe understanding what it is not can also help us better understand how to nurture this in our learning environments.

Firstly, there seems to be a false understanding of creativity as an artistic skill, commonly limited to visual arts, music and drama. This can have a negative impact on the creative self-concept of learners and citizens, demotivating and limiting the pursuing of creative projects and goals.

Secondly, the belief that art education’s value is in its’ output is misguided, as its’ critical value lies in its’ ability to develop learners that think like artists.

Our educational environments, homes, schools, market places, digital networks, offices can shift these misperceptions of creativity to give us all the courage to teach for creativity, by focusing on three critical habits that artists’ employ[1]:

1. Comfort with Ambiguity | the ability to manage anxiety and trust the process even when there are no clear answers and the future is uncertain.

2. Idea Generation | The process of creating, developing, and communicating ideas which are abstract, concrete, or visual. It includes the process of constructing through the idea, innovating the concept, developing the process, and bringing the concept to reality.

3. Transdisciplinary Research | Using different disciplines to create new conceptual, theoretical, methodological, and translational innovations that integrate and move beyond discipline-specific approaches to address a common problem.

If we are to inculcate a cultural shift towards life-long learning, integrating teaching methodologies around attitudes towards creativity could impact applications of this process in a plethora of industries, from biochemical engineering to law. The potentials are infinite.

[1] · Cindy Meyers Foley (2014) ‘Teaching art or teaching to think like an artist?’ [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcFRfJb2ONk&vl=en]