OMG, you’re so creative! How did you think of that?
I really need your help. I want to do something different with my students and you are so creative… Can you think of an activity for me to use with them?
I wish I were as creative as you are. I would never think of that!
These are some of the many utterances I have heard from colleagues over the years, whether in the teacher’s room or at workshops. All of them have something in common, though: the concept that creativity is innate. Moreover, those who have been graced with the gift of being creative will always think outside the box and control their creativity, being able to access it whenever they want or need it.
All rubbish, of course.
Creativity is hard work for the brain. It is connection, resemblance, contrast and link. Plus, as most of what goes on in the brain, it is inertia.
Cerebral activity is mostly guided by inertia due to the fact that doing things the way it has always been done saves energy – and that’s the brain’s ultimate goal. Therefore, if making unexpected connections between external stimuli and recorded memories has been part of your mental activities for a long time, it will happen most frequently.
And what do we usually call people who make unexpected connections in order to create something new or solve a problem? Creative.
I was fortunate to have parents who were extremely fond of arts in general and exposed me to several forms of art from an early age. So I grew up having to deal with these complex connections between visual, auditory and kinaesthetic stimuli. Actually, after some time, that became the modus operandi of my learning process. Nowadays I learn a lot easier when bombarded with multi sensorial pieces of information at a time. It has become how my brain works, all the time.
Most of my colleagues whose quotations were mentioned earlier were not used to making these kind of connections and had traditional educational backgrounds. Their brains were simply not used to linking far-fetched ideas and memories. On the other hand, when it came to focusing on a topic at a time, they were a lot better then me at solving issues or performing tasks.
Then when it came to ‘bringing creativity into the classroom’, they thought they would not be able to incorporate it into their teaching for they themselves lacked the skill.
Everyone has the power to change mental processes and create new synapses. It might be more arduous for some, though not impossible. I was not different from them owing to an inborn characteristic – I had just been doing it longer.
So how can teachers, more or less inclined to being creative, deal with and include innovation and creativity in their classrooms?
A panel about creativity in ELT was presented at IATEFL 2016 in Birmingham and the panelists attempted to shed some light into the matter. Here are some key ideas I personally took from each talk:
-We should try to bring different domains into our classrooms in order to be more innovative as practitioners
-Multimodal communication could be incorporated into our lesson plan, having a topic be explored though different media (text, video, sound, body language, etc…)
-Combination is key for creativity: try to make or elicit link between concepts
-Teachers choose to be creative, it is not inborn. It might seem like hard work to some, but it pays off in the end
-Empowering teachers during teacher training is imperative in order for them to feel confident to be creative themselves
-One concept that might be helpful: seeing yourself as a creative writer when putting your lesson plan together.
-Therefore, engaging in creative writing or attending workshops on the subject might assist with transferring these skills into the classroom
-Another external concept to be considered: teachers, like actors, are improvisational performers. Both have to react to the here ad now, coming up with instant physical and mental responses to issues that may arise. As a result, taking improv lessons or delving into the work of Theatre theorists such as Stanislavski can lead to a practice of disciplined improvisation (structure + freedom)
-Creativity means variety: in content, media, form, etc…
-Ludic behaviour and critical thinking also play major roles in fostering a creative environment in the classroom
-Creative interactions stem from the learners’ engagement
-It is paramount to be creative WITH students, instead of being creative myself, as a teacher
-Affective learning might play a large role in making students feel safe to attempt being more creative in class
-Practical food for thought when planning your class: Does a creative activity necessarily lead to creative interactions in ELT? Does this activity allow students to be creators? If not, how can we ensure students’ creativity will be triggered by the proposed task?
-The teacher’s role has to be redefined if creativity is to be fostered in ELT: from teachers as syllabus followers to actively producing teachers
-We should be ‘doers’, not just ‘givers’
-A suggestion: a 50-50 ratio between attending to syllabus and promoting freer activities
-Writing can be a first stimulus to incorporating creativity in the classroom
-Writing does not have to be an essay, it could be a paragraph
-Stimulate them to think and discuss a topic thoroughly, making enough connections to other stimuli in order to provide them enough opportunity for creative links to be made before they actually put the ideas on paper
-Practical assignments fostering creative writing:
-Vlog: writing a script, instead of making the video
-Lyrics: writing for music ideas that have been muted
-Dramatic texts: gapping lines and filling it out unexpectedly
Well, I hope these ideas sparked new synapses in all of you and that creative thoughts are flooding your brains right now! I know mine is overflowing! May your classrooms and lesson plans be filled with innovative, fun ways to learn English!
And, as usual, have fun with the games!