We have seen so far how we can organise our classroom work to incorporate the four features of creativity and how we can add the essential element of creative thinking, transition between two ways of thinking to our language learning activities. In this article we will look at fostering a creative environment.
- What we do when we are being creative
- The kind of classroom we need
- The teacher's responsibilities
What we do when we are being creative
To understand more what kind of classroom environment we need to create to foster our learners’ creativity, now we need to look into the question of what we actually do when we are being creative. Roger von Oech distinguishes four main roles in creative thinking and calls them the Explorer, the Artist, the Judge and the Warrior (1). What does he mean by these metaphors and what kind of thinking do they personify?
- The Explorer is our role for searching for new information and resources. The Explorer reads books, magazines, talks to people, goes out, looks around and collects things, goes to the library and goes on-line. In short, the Explorer collects materials and information.
- The Artist is our role for turning these resources and information into new ideas. People often limit creativity to this thinking function, though without the other three, it can not create anything, but beautiful bubbles of fancy ideas.
- The Judge is our role for evaluating the merits of an idea and deciding what to do. Our Judge will tell us which of our ideas best meets the objective and which one is feasible within the constraints of resources, time and talent.
- The Warrior is our role for carrying our idea into action. The Warrior will carry out the plan the Judge selected from the ideas the Artist came up with, using the materials and information collected by the Explorer.
These thinking roles are present in all of us, but some may be more developed and pronounced than the others. We may find that we love to perform one of the roles, but do not like another one.
The kind of classroom we need
Based on these thinking functions that need to be performed during a creative task, what kind of classroom environment do we need to create and how shall we organise the creative process?
- The Explorer needs to get to the information and resources they need. Ideally, they can go to the library, go on-line, talk to each other and the teacher, make interviews, collect things, etc. If resources are not available in the school, the teacher can organise the process in a way that makes it possible for learners to do research outside the school, e.g. in the afternoon. In the classroom, knowing or not knowing something becomes less important. The important thing for the learner is to have the skill of finding the information and resources needed. It also means that the teacher is no longer seen as the provider of knowledge and information, (s)he is considered more as the facilitator of the process.
- The Artist needs to work un-judged. Passing judgement too early stops the flow of ideas. So both the teacher and the learners need to suspend judgement completely for the period when we want learners to come up with ideas. Linus Pauling, Nobel Prize winning chemist said: “The best way to get a good idea is to get lots of ideas.” Emil Chartier, French philosopher came to a similar conclusion though the direction of his thoughts seems to be just the opposite: “Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it’s the only one you have.”
While the first quotation reminds us that we need to be patient and wait until the really good idea comes to us, the second warns us of the dangers of being obsessed by one idea we judge is the best. So we need to make sure that learners have enough un-judged time for coming up with a good number of ideas.
- When it’s the Judge’s turn at last, they need to be sure that nobody is looking for one pre-fabricated, right answer, but they can genuinely judge the possibilities themselves. We need to set open-ended tasks to our learners and give them the freedom of choice. We may also need to help our learners to set their criteria for evaluating ideas.
- The Warrior needs time, space and perhaps some tools. Actively doing something and with other people may not be possible within the old classroom arrangement of students sitting in rows turning their backs on each other. If possible, ask learners to sit in a circle or sit around a table.
With their comments and evaluation, teachers need to encourage individuality, questioning and changing rules.
- Timing needs to be carefully thought out:
- Unlimited time, i.e. inner, personal time is needed for lateral (not focused) thinking and for reflection.
- Limited time, i.e. time controlled from outside e.g. through (flexible) time limits is needed for brainstorming, selecting the best idea, making decisions, researching and actions (e.g. creating a poster, an object or a performance).
- When we plan a creative activity, we may wish to give different learners different tasks matching the thinking roles. We may want to give them a chance to act in their best roles, or we may want to challenge them and give them a role that we think they need to practise. No matter how we decide, we need to bare it in mind that all these roles need to be performed, so we can only guarantee success if we make sure these roles are all present consciously or unconsciously in any group we set up for a creative activity. We may also find it useful to break down a more complex activity into tasks matching these roles.
- The positive and relaxed atmosphere needed for creative thinking is reinforced by establishing a tradition of celebrating students’ work and performance. Clapping, praising, giving awards, smiling faces or any other signal that tells the learner that you and their peers appreciate their work and achievement will strengthen positive attitudes in learners.
To finish, let me quote Neil Postman. He says: “Children enter school as question marks and leave school as periods.”In his opinion, schools turn out people who have lost their innate interest in the world, who forgot to ask questions and cannot think for themselves, or change their minds any more. I’m sure this is not how we would like to think about our work or the result of our work. Making sure that we provide our learners with the opportunity of thinking and acting creatively in our lessons, we will make a step towards invalidating Postman’s often justified opinion. To do this, I wish that you find good resources, have lots of original ideas, form accurate judgments and are able to call on a great reserve of stamina to make it all happen.
By Judit Fehér
International Alliance for Learning