Cultivating Creativity

At the International School of Estonia, where I work, we are focusing on the concept of creativity as a higher level of thinking.  We are examining what this kind of thinking looks like and feels like, as well as what practices and environments nurture creativity.

In his recent TED Talk, “Where Good Ideas Come From,” author Steven Johnson lends some insight into how we can steward the growth and birth of creative ideas.

Johnson uses the coffeehouse as a model of the kind of place where creativity thrives, highlighting the conversational environment as key.  It is a myth, he says, that new ideas are born in isolation.  Rather than thinking of innovation as a singular idea, he suggests we think of it as a network of ideas.  Similar to the brain, which develops new ideas through connecting previously unrelated neurons, creativity is often the result of the meeting of minds.

One of the ways I do this as an elementary school teacher is by creating time for sharing.  We do this at the end of our literacy mini-lessons, where the students share what they are working on.  When I asked this year’s third graders  why we authors share ideas, they immediately picked up on the notion that it is a way to get inspired by another person’s idea or technique.  During our units of inquiry, I also to carve out time for students to share their thinking.  We do this throughout the unit as we share our questions and learnings (often through the use of a KWL wall).  Johnson calls this kind of environment an “open platform,” using language from the internet’s social media movement to describe how ideas can connect when we are willing to hear and listen to the ideas of others.

But, sharing ideas is not the only important factor.  According to Johnson, time is essential to the birth of good ideas.  He calls it the “slow hunch.”  Good ideas need time to brew.  I call this “composting.”  This is why the writer’s notebook is important for emerging authors.  It is a place to let ideas fester until they are ready to be explored in a rough draft.  Time is one of the hardest things to provide in a fast-paced, standards-driven classroom.  I am very protective of my instructional time.   Yet, I realize that some crucial lessons can only develop out of independent explore time.  If I state our goals early in the week, use the method of guided discovery, along with literacy mini-lessons and class meetings to address social and emotional issues – I think I can foster a more open and creative learning environment.

What are your thoughts?  How is your classroom like a coffee shop?  What kinds of strategies do you use to cultivate creativity?

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