Sep 18, 2020 2020-09-18
On the laundry list of skills and content areas teachers have to cover, creativity doesn’t traditionally get top billing. It’s usually lumped together with other soft skills like communication and collaboration: Great to have, though not as important as reading or long division.
But research is showing that creativity isn’t just great to have. It’s an essential human skill — perhaps even an evolutionary imperative in our technology-driven world.
“The pace of cultural change is accelerating more quickly than ever before,” says Liane Gabora, associate professor of psychology and creative studies at the University of British Columbia. “In some biological systems, when the environment is changing quickly, the mutation rate goes up. Similarly, in times of change we need to bump up creativity levels — to generate the innovative ideas that will keep us afloat.”
From standardized tests to one-size-fits-all curriculum, public education often leaves little room for creativity, says EdNews Daily founder Robyn D. Shulman. This puts many schools out of sync with both global demand and societal needs, leaving students poorly prepared for future success.
What can education leaders do about it? For starters, they can make teaching creativity a priority. Here are five reasons to encourage teachers to bring more creativity into the classroom:
1. Creativity motivates kids to learn.
Decades of research link creativity with the intrinsic motivation to learn. When students are focused on a creative goal, they become more absorbed in their learning and more driven to acquire the skills they need to accomplish it.
As proof, education leader Ryan Imbriale cites his 9-year-old daughter, who loves making TikTok videos showcasing her gymnastics skills. “She spends countless hours on her mat, working over and over again to try to get her gymnastics moves correct so she can share her TikTok video of her success,” says the executive director of innovative learning for Baltimore County Public Schools.
Students are most motivated to learn when certain factors are present: They’re able to tie their learning to their personal interests, they have a sense of autonomy and control over their task, and they feel competent in the work they’re doing. Creative projects can easily meet all three conditions.
2. Creativity lights up the brain.
Teachers who frequently assign classwork involving creativity are more likely to observe higher-order cognitive skills — problem solving, critical thinking, making connections between subjects — in their students. And when teachers combine creativity with transformative technology use, they see even better outcomes.
Creative work helps students connect new information to their prior knowledge, says Wanda Terral, director of technology for Lakeland School System outside of Memphis. That makes the learning stickier.
“Unless there’s a place to ‘stick’ the knowledge to what they already know, it’s hard for students to make it a part of themselves moving forward,” she says. “It comes down to time. There’s not enough time to give them the flexibility to find out where the learning fits in their life and in their brain.”
3. Creativity spurs emotional development.
The creative process involves a lot of trial and error. Productive struggle — a gentler term for failure — builds resilience, teaching students to push through difficulty to reach success. That’s fertile soil for emotional growth.
“Allowing students to experience the journey, regardless of the end result, is important,” says Terral, a presenter for the upcoming ISTE Creative Constructor Lab.
Creativity gives students the freedom to explore and learn new things from each other, Imbriale adds. As they overcome challenges and bring their creative ideas to fruition, “students begin to see that they have limitless boundaries,” he says. “That, in turn, creates confidence. It helps with self-esteem and emotional development.”
Nicole Krueger is a freelance writer and journalist with a passion for finding out what makes learners tick. She blogs for ISTE.