By Elisabeth Bostwick, 2020 CCIRA Featured Speaker
It always fascinates me that perception really is in the eye of the beholder. Although some people consider our youth to be unmotivated or lazy, I want to challenge that perception and make the claim that our youth are remarkable. They’re capable of greatness–– just look at this list of the 25 Most Influential Teens compiled by Time. We have young entrepreneurs and activists making waves and creating an impact in our world. Shouldn’t every child be provided with the opportunity to connect with their strengths and interests, along with learning experiences that support their success? Additionally, our youngest learners are insatiably curious. But, that sense of wonder seems to diminish the older our students become. When we spark curiosity and create meaningful learning experiences, we increase the desire to learn. All of this is possible through inspiring creativity and incorporating Design Thinking within learning.
As an educator myself, I know that many of us seek to create experiences that empower learning, spark curiosity, and inspire creative thinking. It really is an amazing time to be in education because of all the capabilities we have at our fingertips. We can connect with experts who contribute to deepening our understanding, collaborate globally with other classrooms, and have the potential to leverage technology to accelerate learning. We can also share our learning and outcomes with authentic audiences, and gain feedback to grow.
Culture is the Springboard for Every Successful Classroom
Of course, it’s the foundation of relationships and a culture of thoughtful risk taking that foster the conditions to empower learning. Culture has to always be on the forefront of our minds, it should never be an afterthought. Culture is the springboard for every successful classroom. To explore how you can foster a culture that supports thoughtful risk-taking and innovative thinking you may be interested in reading Promoting Empathy in Learners: Develop Deep Connections, Fostering Communication Skills to Deepen Learning, and Proactive Approaches to Support ALL Learners: Moving Beyond the Behavior Chart.
Nonetheless, due to various reasons, it’s not uncommon for teachers to fall back on what is most comfortable to them. Due to time constraints, mandates, and even our own teaching and learning experiences, we may have the tendency to engage in more direct instruction as opposed to inquiry-based learning–– fostering both agency and curiosity. We may push the pause button on opportunities to infuse creativity or amplify student voice and choice into learning because it feels like ‘one more thing.’ With that said, I want to clarify that direct instruction certainly has its time and place. As educators, our classrooms are like a canvas; we and our learners are the artists who can mix and match colors and techniques to create colorful masterpieces of learning and discovery together. We can incorporate teaching and learning strategies as needed to enhance learning. It’s essential that we ensure we’re responsive to each individual and not relying heavily on any one approach.
We Can Create Cultures Where Creativity and Innovation Flourish
However, all too often our learners are still positioned to go through traditional models of school ie. teacher is the beholder of all content, content is siloed, students rotate based on a bell schedule, and they complete work to be assessed by their teachers for a grade–– often without useful feedback.
Don’t our learners deserve more?
Don’t our learners deserve opportunities to connect with their inner ideas and topics that are meaningful to them, sparking deep curiosity and fostering passion?
When we create authentic learning experiences and empower student voice and choice, we begin to inspire intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is essential when it comes to learning to persevere through failure. We cannot hold back any longer when it comes to fostering the conditions where creativity and innovation flourishes.
From my book, Take the L.E.A.P.: Ignite a Culture of Innovation, I share:
“The disconnect that often occurs between traditional school and the world in which our children are growing up leaves students ill prepared for life outside the classroom. In bright contrast to education’s slow rate of change are companies such as Uber and Lyft, which offer peer-to-peer ridesharing in answer to the challenges of public transportation. Behind these companies—and so many other innovative companies like them—are creative entrepreneurs who look at problems differently, then find ways to revolutionize entire industries. It may very well be a learner sitting in your classroom who has the next big idea that will contribute to significant improvements in our world. Every single child deserves the opportunity to unleash inner potential. But that kind of innovation will only come from people who are encouraged to explore ideas, try new things, and to challenge the status quo.
“Our schools ought to be places where students explore, inquire, and create new-and-improved ideas within a supportive, collaborative environment. Of course, our learners require all the basics to be successful, but the approaches we employ are what foster empowerment.”
One step we can take is to encourage learners to look at things differently. In education, we often place emphasis on convergent as opposed to divergent thinking.
- Divergent thinking promotes the creation of multiple solutions to various problems and is characterized by diverse and creative thought.
- Convergent thinking is defined as seeking a single correct answer to a question and is necessary for engaging in critical thinking and being able to analyze problems using information and logic.
Although both are critical to the process of learning, fostering divergent thinking promotes the creation of new ideas or unique wonderings. If we place emphasis on finding one right answer by primarily focusing on convergent thinking through frequent multiple-choice assignments, students are eventually influenced to stop considering all of the possibilities. They learn, instead, to focus on mastering specific skills or facts to memorize. I’m certain that we can all think of that one student who just wants to know the ‘right’ answer.
What if, instead, we created opportunities for learners to think of multiple possibilities rather than simply one correct answer?”
We can foster creativity by developing divergent thinking in learners and employing structures that encourage creative thought. In our schools, we need to be creating experiences that encourage learners to consider and explore new ideas within a culture where all individuals are supported in developing new ways of thinking, promoting more in-depth learning.
Foster Creative Thought in the Classroom
Divergent Thinking Within Literacy
The goal is to spark curiosity in our learners and shift from asking ‘right there’ questions or questions that yield only one correct answer. We want to encourage learners to dig deep and ask questions themselves. As teachers, we can also pose questions that would generate multiple solutions or various responses. Through divergent thinking, learners generate many ideas or solutions.
Divergent thinking includes:
- Drafting ideas independently.
- Combining and building on ideas with others.
- Growing and taking create risks to share wild ideas.
- Developing unique or alternative solutions to problems that may differ from what was written in the text.
- Creating alternative extensions to stories or imagining what would might have happened if ______ occurred instead?
We can incorporate questions such as:
- Reflecting on [book/passage], what might have happened if [character] decided to [verb] earlier in the story?
- Imagine that [event] never occurred, what might have occurred to [the environment/life/relationship] as a result?
- How might we design a better experience or find a solution to [the problem] for [character(s)]?
- What if [the character’s] trait, setting, conflict, etc. changed? How might it affect the entire outcome of the book?
- How would you rewrite the ending if the conflict within [the book/passage] changed?
Within literacy it’s important to pose questions that encourage making predictions, using information, summarizing, making connections, inferring, critiquing and analyzing. From my experiences, educators tend to place emphasis on convergent thinking, which is definitely an important skill. If we can carve out time to also incorporate divergent thinking, we encourage learners to think of other possibilities and generate unique ideas that inspire creative thinking. Imaginative thinking can lend itself to developing greater problem solving skills through considering multiple solutions to problems or scenarios.
Wonderwalls Can Inspire Curiosity
Dedicating wall space as a ‘wonder wall’ in the classroom can serve as a platform to inspire student generated questions. The purpose of a wonderwall is to encourage learners to post and share questions they ponder. You can opt to have wonderwalls that are specific to content or one that is dedicated to anything learners wonder, in general. Or, you may have space to do both. For example, if in connection with literacy, you may have a wonderwall that connects to a mentor text or trade book. Learners would pause as they read to post their individual wonderings or perhaps craft a question in connection with a specific passage. Often, we request our learners to respond to questions in connection with the text rather than encouraging them to pose questions. Student-generated questions put learners in the driver’s seat, fostering autonomy. Encouraging learners to ask questions also helps to develop greater metacognition.
Incorporate Design Thinking
Design Thinking is a systematic process that encourages individuals to create new, innovative solutions or ideas. It is human centered and places the needs of the user first. Within Design Thinking, learners formulate questions to help guide their understanding. For instance, ‘How might we…’ questions are often used within Design Thinking to foster empathy for the user. When we can connect with the needs of others, we are able to connect through empathy and create solutions or products to meet their needs. Design Thinking also inspires Divergent Thinking as individuals are required to ideate. Later, during the prototyping and testing phases, learners shift to think more convergently to analyze their ideas and retool their work.
Design Thinking can be interdisciplinary; we can combine literacy and STEAM by empathizing with a character and the problem or conflict they face. From there, we can engage in divergent thinking to ideate. Learners could be empowered to consider how they might design a solution to a problem that the character is facing or even ideas for creating a product that may have helped them in a situation. Learners then shift to convergent thinking to analyze and narrow down ideas to create prototypes. Following ample time to consider various ideas, learners then benefit from reflecting and retooling their work, which again, entails convergent thinking.
We Can Empower All Learners to Explore Possibilities
As demonstrated, one type of thinking is not better than the other. Rather, we just need to remain cognizant that we are indeed fostering divergent thinking leading to creative thought processes in our learners. Doing so has the potential to help learners see that they can be both problem finders and solvers–– not learners who are just complacently seeking the right answer day in and day out. We want to foster the mindset that every single individual has the potential to create change. That change begins with asking frequent questions and considering possibilities.
As a teacher myself, I understand the need to foster all skills required to develop literacy. All elements of english language arts are critical. We just need to ensure that we also create experiences that encourage learners to think differently in all areas of learning. The more we nurture a sense of wonder and place learners in the driver’s seat to generate questions and ideas, the more we will empower learning. More than ever in today’s world, we need to empower learners to explore new possibilities and ideas by fostering divergent thinking, thereby expanding on creativity.
Elisabeth Bostwick is a multi-award-winning educator who is passionate about creating the conditions to spark curiosity and unleash creativity to empower learning. She is the author of Take the L.E.A.P.: Ignite a Culture of Innovation and co-author of Education Write Now, Volume II: Top Strategies for Improving Relationships and Culture. As an instructional coach supporting K-12 teachers, Elisabeth works alongside colleagues to deepen learning leveraging highly effective strategies that engage and empower all learners to maximize growth. Find her on Twitter @Elisabostwick