“My creativeness has been maximized. I have nothing left.” I was shocked to hear these words come out of the mouth of one of my students the other day. In my IB History class I push my students to think and share their ideas in a variety of ways. I believe that they expect to be asked to unpack in history in unfamiliar fashions. So, when I thought of creating a Graffiti Wall to reflect the ideologies of Fidel Castro, I believed I had a surefire formative assessment. I was excited because I thought that a graffiti wall would allow students to express their understanding through drawing, words, and be literal or metaphorical. I thought that they would like choice in their creativity. To help them tune in we took a virtual walk down Batman Alley in Sao Paulo for some graffiti inspiration using Google Streetview. Students were excited and intrigued. I put up a giant butcher paper, rolled out the markers, and got ready for some graffiti magic. It never came.
Students approached the paper and just started at it. I grabbed a marker and contributed some graffiti in hopes of inspiring my students to create. Slowly tentative contributions began to unfold on the paper. I moved around, asked questions and tried to provoke thinking. Still, not much creation.
As I engaged with my students what was shared in one way or another is that they felt they were not “creative” and “did not know what to put.” My students were afraid that they would create something “lame” or “childish” or “stupid.” Cue Ken Robinson.
It’s not that I had dismissed Robinson’s idea that schools kill creativity. However, I was shocked to see it right in front of my face. These particular students are seniors in high school. While on daily basis I am excited about all the good they will bring to the world, I also became saddened thinking of what they might hold back from sharing if they don’t tap into their creative selves. In my class there are students who I think can really do some amazing things. However, will they be able to tackle the world’s problem if they are afraid to think creatively? When they are outside of the structures of IB Paper 1s and Paper 2s, will they think in a way that is still creative, analytical and innovative?
It is up to teachers to break the mold, disrupt the norm, and to encourage creative thinking. While schools systems and administrators play a role in this, teacher’s are the key link. It will be the daily challenge of creative thinking opportunities created by teachers that will help students hone their creative and critical thinking skills. Stacey Goodman provides suggestions on how to help students hone their creativity in his article on Edutopia. Goodman stresses heavily on the development of divergent thinking as creative thinking. Divergent thinking does not have to be combative thinking. Combative thinking is simple. Divergent thinking is complex. Divergent thinking is thinking outside the box to be a creator. Combative thinking is selfish and focuses on consumption — the me-me-me mentality.
It is important that we provide students the opportunity to be creative and divergent thinkers. To think in new and different ways takes practice. Students are told to conform so often and to not question. As teachers let’s break that mold. Let’s let students think about things in new ways. Let’s empower them to share their ideas. Let’s be divergent thinkers ourselves. With new thinking comes development academically, socially, and emotionally. If we as educators can consistently provide an opportunity for students to practice their creativity, then we hold hope for future graffiti walls and more importantly, for future societies.