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Creativity in Schools

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Creativity in schools

Traditionally the role of teachers has been to tell students what they need to know and then evaluate how well they have learned this. Student´s role has been relatively passive. This approach does not leave much room for creative or critical thinking and does not allow learners to take full responsibility for their learning. With the paradigm shift in education, creativity has become more valued. The modern world is changing quickly and a person who can think creatively and find innovative solutions for everyday problems can adjust more easily. This essay describes very broadly only a few of the factors that influence student creativity in schools.

There is no standard definition of creativity. However, the main two criteria are the singularity and usefulness of the creative activity’s result. Creativity has been grouped into two main categories: Big-C Creativity and little-c creativity. Big-C encompasses mostly people with very unique talents and/ or skills (Mozart, etc) and scientific discoveries, paradigm shifts, etc. Little-c is a term for a much more widespread kind of everyday creativity. For example finding new ways to use ordinary items. A more specific example: turning a car into a sauna.

Little-c creativity is the kind of creativity that everyday life in schools should pay attention to and develop. The type of thinking that is associated with creativity, is divergent thinking. It often happens spontaneously and generates lots of ideas, associations, etc. Unfortunately, mostly only convergent thinking has traditionally been encouraged in most school subjects. Convergent thinking follows certain steps to find the right answer. It is a myth that only art, music, crafts, etc can develop student´s creativity and divergent thinking. It can also be done for example, during a physics, chemistry or math lesson. Finding solutions to everyday problems and open-ended questions can help. Students could also think about something they would like to learn more about and find the answer, solution, etc. For example, a group of students could find out the felt air temperature while driving a convertible car at the speed of 100 km/h at 30 C air temperature. Thinking styles however, are not the only factors that influence creativity in schools.

Another important factor is the center of motivation and whether it is internal or external. Only internal motivation has a positive influence on creativity. It means that the student is learning for him/herself and grades are not the main goal of learning. The summative assessment that is used very often in schools tends to tip the motivation towards external. Therefore, using formative assessment more often would help support internal motivation. Summative assessment can also lessen the sense of security while raising the students fear of giving a wrong answer. That can discourage creative thinking. For example, in the Maslow´s pyramid of needs, self actualization is at the top and can only be easily reached when all the lowers levels (including sense of safety) are fulfilled. In a school context, sense of security can also mean not being afraid of harsh criticism (not constructive) or bullying.

Keeping Maslow in mind, teachers also have to consider what kind of backgrounds their students are coming from. Whether or not they get enough to eat, sleep etc. The sad truth is that students from higher socioeconomic status background tend to do better both academically and also quite often are more creative. That is most often explained by parenting styles, time and resource they have to invest in the development of their children´s creativity. Individual approach could help here: if a teacher knows that a student can´t eat breakfast at home, he/she could offer this student tea and a sandwich before the lessons start. Of course, this is not usually in a teacher´s job description.

Teachers who feel a greater autonomy are more likely to act in ways that are pro-social, approach students individually and do useful things that are not part of their main work. This feeling of autonomy is reached when a teacher takes active part in a school´s decision-making process and also feels that his/her opinion is valued. Not only on a school level but also on a broader scale of educational politics. That is unfortunately still a problem in Estonia: practicing teachers did not take part in composing the national curriculum. It is not a trivial matter. This supports a passivity among teachers which can be very “infectious” both between colleagues and teacher-student relationships.

These were just some of the broader topics that play an important role in student creativity. There are many factors on the classroom and student-teacher interaction level. For example, the tasks and activities the teacher uses and what kind of motivation and thinking style do these methods help develop. The broader political climate also has its direct (planned skills, information and values) and indirect (unplanned influence on the broader educational climate) role in a classroom and the values and skills that are supported.

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