An article by Richard James Rogers
Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati
Fostering creativity in the classroom is more important now than ever before. In fact, Ofsted’s own inspection handbook for schools states, under section 133, that the spiritual development of students is shown by their “use of imagination and creativity in their learning.” I talk about the importance and excitement of encouraging creativity in the classroom, along with some practical tips, in this week’s UKEdChat podcast here.
As service-based and online businesses become more numerous, the need for effective skills in marketing, social media marketing, branding and sales in the workforce will naturally increase too. In addition, the need to solve problems in a new ‘robotic era’ places increased demands on new graduates to be creative thinkers. And that’s one thing robots cannot replace: Human creativity and ingenuity.
Pop: A True Story of Creative Genius
When I reflect on my 12 years of teaching experience, one very obvious example of the benefits of encouraging creativity in school comes to mind.
Back in 2008, Sutthiya Lertyongphati (or ‘Pop’, for short), was my IGCSE Chemistry student at Traill International School. She was always very hard working in Chemistry – considered to be a left-brain, analytical subject; but at the same time, she was also very artistic and creative. She would spend lots and lots of time making beautiful, elaborate drawings in her notes. Take a look at these beautiful Chemistry notes of hers, from way back when she was 16, for example:
When Pop left school after finishing her ‘A’ – Levels, she went on to study Electronic and Computer Engineering at the University of Nottingham. During her third year, back in 2015, I was busy writing my debut book, The Quick Guide to Classroom Management. I needed someone to illustrate my book in a way that would catch the excitement, childish wonder and essence of different parts of the text. Images needed to be attractive and stimulating, so that readers would not only learn from my book but enjoy it too.
So who do you think was the first person to come to mind? The amazing and wonderful student who created those beautiful chemistry notes all those years ago of course: Pop.
Pop agreed to illustrate my book, along with another very creative former student of mine, and Pop’s friend, Khim Pisessith. Just look at these beautiful images they created, now enjoyed by thousands of readers all over the world:
Pop and Khim’s beautiful images were well-received by the readers of the book, who described it as “beautifully illustrated” and “Playfully decorated with tactful drawings that really bring the techniques into context”.
I was so honored and thankful for Pop and Khim’s work, and so happy that I could actually show my readers that my 45 secrets to classroom management actually worked. Pop and Khim were both very hard-working students and were a living testament to what effects personal determination, a nurturing school environment (and Traill International School is certainly that!) and good parental guidance can have on the outcomes of students’ lives.
I’ve been teaching long enough to now to be able to see the end result. I’m still in touch with many of my first students I taught back in 2006 in the UK, and I’m proud to say that they are now all mature, professional, inspiring young men and women in their early to mid-twenties. I see the output that results from encouraging students to fully express themselves through their schoolwork by being creative, and the results are always profound and positive, even after decades have passed.
Pop: The Greatest Illustrator in the World
As well as working full time and doing a regular day job, Pop is now my regular illustrator and a key factor in the success of this well-loved blog you’re reading now. Most notably, she drew up the plans for the 7 Starter activities blog, which is my most popular article ever. The beautiful images on creativity that color today’s article were also created by her.
Who else could I assign this role too? Pop has her own unique style of expressing herself through her art, which my readers absolutely love. Additionally, having known her many years, I know that she is determined and trustworthy. Her reputation speaks for itself.
Creating the Pops of this world
So, how do regular teachers create more Pops – students who are successful, creative, confident and turn out well in life. Well, one of the main ways is to encourage exploration, which is really just another word for creativity. Here are my top tips for encouraging creativity in the classroom:
- Get the students to decide on the success criteria or output. Once your learning objectives have been made clear to the students, (e.g. Describe the stages of cell division), ask them to decide how they can show you what they have learned. Students are nearly always very creative with this kind of task, and Pop always loved using her creative juices with this kind of work in class.
To assist, you can even give them the world-renowned Osborne-Parnes model to work with, which has six stages:
- Mass-finding: Identify a goal or objective
- Fact-finding: Gathering data
- Problem-finding: Clarifying the problem
- Idea-finding: Generating ideas
- Solution-finding: Strengthening and evaluating ideas
- Acceptance-finding: Plan of action for implementing ideas
If you’re doing group work with the kids then you could assign these stages to different students in each group. And that’s another point to remember about creativity: it tends to be fostered brilliantly in groups, especially when a technological output is required. I’ll never forget when I asked my IBDP Biology students to create a summary of DNA replication using technology. One group produced a website, one produced a stop-motion animation, one produced a Prezi and one produced a really funny song about the process. Try using the age-old differentiation technique of heterogeneous grouping: that is to make sure that each group contains a real mix of abilities and skill sets. Doing this, you’ll find yourself rather surprised at the quality and creativity of each group’s output.
Also, try using the technique of Student Teachers. This is one of my all-time favorites. In this activity, you give students responsibility for teaching part of a lesson. You’ll need to give basic instructions regarding the topic, the length of time and essential points to cover. Leave the structure and delivery to them – students are nearly always incredibly creative with this!
Try this list
Allow students to express themselves and the output of a task through:
- Model building
- Art (e.g. posters, infographics, news reports)
- Technology (e,g, creating movies, computer games, simulations, Prezi’s)
- Games such as ‘splat’, ‘mystery word’ and ‘who am I’
- Puzzle making
- Nature (e.g. bringing plants or animals to school to act as analogies)
- Displays (Such as Science fairs and posters)
- Practical experimentation and investigative design