Creative Decisions

Recently, I was a guest of Teacher's Mutual Bank at the Schools Spectacular in Sydney. Witnessing the creativity and enthusiasm on display, got me thinking about the classroom. 

I blogged in November about how teachers can help students to adopt a creative attitude at school. Today, I would love to extend that discussion with some thoughts and ideas on how we can provide for creative decisions. 

As teachers, one of our end goals is to have students who are creative. That magical moment when they stop being directed on how to 'create' something, and start making their own choices and decisions. Based on my experience in the classroom, I don't think it has to be as decisive as that. I see students performing at various levels, and accessing both their own 'creativity' and 'teacher direction' simultaneously. 

Providing opportunities for students to make decisions with their own work, and with things they 'make' will support their creative development and help them grow in confidence to eventually rely on their own abilities and ideas. 

The key is the word 'opportunities'. It does not mean that your students get to choose the direction of every single experience in the classroom. It is not possible, nor practical. I would suggest glancing over your weekly plans and doing a quick stock take of how many opportunities are provided for your students to make a decision. In visual arts lessons for example, how many times are you doing a 'directed lesson' and how many times are there opportunities for your students to make some creative choices. 

There is room, and need for both. 

It can be scary, I know. Especially in the early years, when it is difficult enough to manage 20-30 'little people', let alone all their varying choices. Here are some tips that might help

1. Small is good! A decision like 'choosing a colour' may not seem like it is all that important to you, but allowing students to select their own colour to use in an artwork, for example, is a great place to start. It is a decision, regardless of how impactful you as an adult thinks it is. Your students will experience a decision and see what result it has. Perhaps when you next do a directed activity, give directions for everything except one factor, like colour. Your students will begin to consider the impact of creative decisions when one is highlighted for them so prominently.

2. Discuss decisions. Take a deep breath and allow your students to talk about their choices. It can get noisy, but the more you encourage and accept discussion in the classroom, the easier it is to handle. Tell your students that there are times when they need to complete work, as the teacher has directed, and that at other times, they need to show how they can complete something on their own. Talk to them about the difficulties and obstacles of both. Tell them that you are going to support them as they learn to make decisions for themselves. 

Talk to your students at the end of the activity about the choices they made, and the impact this had. Would they make a different decision next time?

3. Be organized. You might think that the most creative teachers have a big old messy classroom filled with paper, paint and feathers. From what I have experienced and witnessed - organisation is the key. Having an organized classroom, cupboards and system for sorting your resources and supplies will often result in more creativity. Both from students and the teacher. I think this is largely because it frees up time. I've always said that 'time' is a key commodity for teachers and if you have 'time' you can achieve anything. With organisation comes time, and with time, you can carefully plan exciting and motivating classroom lessons. Having your resources and materials organized allows you to easily cater for choices and differentiation in your lessons. It could be as simple as offering oil pastels or water colors. Allowing your students the option to choose, can have a profound effect. If they are easy (ie. organized) for you to access, it doesn't become an obstacle in your preparations. 

4. Be clear. Offer to your students, very clear goals in simple language. When they hear the word 'choose' or 'choice' your art lesson on 'Gingerbread Men' can quickly become a display of blood dripping vampires. How do I know this? Well.... let's just say that I speak from experience. 
Help your students to be aware of the task and what you want them to achieve by the end of the lesson. 

Our goal should be to have students that are confident to make decisions and choices in their own work when it is appropriate. They need assistance and practise in learning to do this. 

By making decisions, students are actually 'being creative' and also developing a creative mind. 

One downside to student choices, is that we will find some students who find it difficult to cope with "mistakes" - especially in practical activities. It take time for them to understand and deal with what they may see as a 'mistake'. Click on the image below to find a printable poster - display it in your classroom as a springboard for discussion!