Nuts & Bolts: Including Creativity in the Multiage Curriculum

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Creativity in the Classroom
Russell Yates

Imagination is more important than knowledge.
- Albert Einstein , On Science

Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.
- Walter Lippmann

Creativity killers:
- Surveillance
- Evaluation
- Rewards (if overused, deprive intrinsic pleasure of creative activity)
- Competition (win-lose situations)
- Over-control
- Restricting choices
- Pressure

The human body has two ends on it: one to create with and one to sit on. Sometimes people get their ends reversed. When this happens they need a kick in the seat of the pants.
- Roger von Oech

(note: the above quotations come from the Quotes, Illustrations, Analogies & Profundities in the area of Personal, Teamwork & Leadership Development website edited by Grant M. Bright, citation below.)

In his book, Creative Teachers, Creative Students, John Baer defines creativity as follows.

Creativity refers to anything someone does in a way that is original to the creator and that is appropriate to the purpose or goal of the creator (p. 4).

Although it has been argued that creativity cannot be taught, there are ways to help students become better creative thinkers and to help them refine their creativity. This paper is designed to briefly introduce you to some of these techniques and the ideas behind them, and to help you provide your students with a classroom environment that supports creativity.

Creativity and Tasks

Creativity is task specific. In other words it is not something that one has or doesn't have for all tasks. Translated to the classroom this means that a student may show extraordinary creativity while solving a math problem using manipulatives but solve a similar problem rather mundanely when simply using paper and pencil. This also fits well with Howard Gardner's multiple intelligence theory in which people show greater talent in some areas then others. This is an important concept because it allows for educators to view all of their students as creative thinkers, helping us to realize that we need to provide opportunities for students in many different areas and with a large variety of tasks.

Divergent Thinking

Convergent thinking is what we do when we look for a single correct answer. This contrasts with divergent thinking which "...produces interesting, imaginative, and potentially creative ideas." (Baer, p. 21) Divergent thinking has four components as described by John Baer.

Fluency has to do with the number of different ideas a person can produce.
Flexibility refers to the variety among the ideas produced.
Originality refers to the uniqueness of the ideas that are produced.
Elaboration refers to the depth and the richness of detail in the ideas.

Some techniques used to help students become more creative thinkers focus more on some of these components than others. It is important to include all of these components in order to have a more balanced approach to engendering a creative classroom atmosphere.

Brainstorming is a commonly used technique that supports creative thinking while focusing on fluency. Basically, a group of people list all of the ideas they can come up with as solutions to a problem. To insure its success there are a number of ground rules that must be followed. These include:

  • Positive and negative judgmental statements must be deferred until after the brainstorm is finished. The idea is to get as many different ideas as possible. This is enhanced only when judgmental statements are absent from the initial listing of ideas.
  • "Piggybacking" or "hitch-hiking" on others' ideas is encouraged. Building on others' ideas allows for furthering a creative line of thought.
    Unusual or wild ideas should be encouraged. Even though an idea may sound a bit crazy in the context of the problem to be solved, it may lead to a line of thought through piggybacking that may become the most workable solution.
  • Avoid ownership of the ideas that are listed. As leader of a brainstorm don't refer to "Johny's idea" when discussing them. When it comes time to critique the list and perhaps modify the solutions, Johnny may become defensive and thus slow or even stop the creative group process.

When finished with the idea generation phase, the list can be looked at more critically as to what ideas contain possible solutions. Modification should be encouraged at this point.

Forced Associations is a technique that can help students get out of a "mental rut." It can help students exercise their mental originality muscle. It is similar to brainstorming and the same rules should be followed. The difference lies in the fact that every idea for solving the problem must have a particular noun attached to it. John Baer uses the example of elephant as a noun when trying to solve a problem about a student not completing her homework (p. 54). Appropriate ideas might include having the elephant spray water on the student every time homework is not completed or using the elephant to give the student a ride to school as a reward for completing homework. This "silliness" offers students the chance to have fun with brainstorming in addition to possibly coming up with some very unique solutions.

Plus-Minus-Interesting is a technique that can be used after several possible solutions have been identified. This strategy helps with the elaboration component of divergent thinking and focuses on coming up with ideas in order to evaluate other ideas. To do this create 3 columns on a piece of chart paper labeled Plus, Minus, and Interesting. do this for each idea. Follow the general rules of brainstorming placing each new idea in one column or the other based on where they are best categorized. The ideas that are listed in the interesting column tend to be the ones most often piggybacked on, that is where elaboration really comes into play.


Motivation plays a key role in creativity. Through research it has been found that the type of motivation, either extrinsic or intrinsic, directly affects creativity. Extrinsic motivation, that is motivation to compete a task coming from outside of oneself, can severely decrease creativity. On the other hand, intrinsic motivation, motivation for task involvement coming from within oneself, increases creativity. As educators we have learned a "gazillion" techniques for getting students to do what we want, most of them through either rewards or other consequences, including evaluation and grading. Realizing that all of these control tactics affect a child's motivation which in turn can affect the creative energy given to a task, should give us all pause to question if those techniques are truly useful to what we want to accomplish in the classroom. If the goal is to have the child learn the multiplication facts from 1 through 12 and they have little desire to do so, external motivation can make sense. However, if students enjoy creative writing or responding to literature through art, adding external controls will dampen the creativity employed. (It will also likely lessen the child's interest in doing that activity again in the future. See Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn for a more thorough discussion on this.)

Find Out More

There are many more techniques you can use and many more ways to structure your learning environment that will help your students employ creativity in their learning activities. To find out more, I suggest reading John Baer's book cited directly below. It is an excellent introductory resource on engendering creativity in your classroom. If you wish to look deeper into the motivation issue, I recommend reading Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn. There are also quite a few web sites dealing with creativity, a number of which focus on creativity in the workplace. I have listed several of the most appropriate ones for educators below.


Baer, John (1997). Creative Teachers, Creative Students. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Bright, Grant M. (1999) Quotes, Illustrations, Analogies & Profundities in the area of Personal, Teamwork & Leadership Development (online). Available: (2-10-00).

Kohn, Alfie (1993). Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes. Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Other Resources Online:

Cave, Charles (1999). Creativity Web (online). Available: (2-4-00).

Cramond, Bonnie (1995). The Coincidence of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Creativity (online). Available: (2-8-00).

Edwards, Carolyn Pope, and Springate, Kay Wright (1995). Encouraging Creativity in Early Childhood Classrooms (online). Available: (2-8-00).

Infinite Innovations Ltd. (2000). (online). Available: (2-8-00).

Perera, Gihan (1998). Mind Games (online). Available: (2-8-00).

Read, J. L. (1996). Creativity - Enchanted Mind (online). Available: (2-8-00).

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