by Dr. Shanthi Thomas
Many teachers lament that standardized testing has sounded the death knell for creativity in the classroom. Because of the backwash effect of standardized testing, many teachers are compelled to teach to the test, and it leads to repetitive and boring teaching, which is more like coaching for a competitive examination. However, even in these challenging circumstances, some teachers manage to retain the spark of creativity in their lessons. Let us see how they manage to do that.
The very first step to introducing creativity in the classroom is for the teacher to let go of a ‘closed’ mindset and adopt an ‘open’ mindset. This means that the teacher should believe that it is possible to be flexible and open to new ideas even if the curriculum does not allow room for it. It takes a certain degree of confidence and courage also, to try out new methods that is different from the status quo.
Fun and enjoyment go hand in hand with creativity. When you decide to enjoy teaching, you will find ways to make it fun, and you will be creative in designing the lesson. Since ‘fun’ is a highly subjective experience, each teacher will use her creativity in a different way to make her lesson fun. For example, a creative teacher can find videos related her topic and let students watch the video, and later can have a class discussion on the video.
Think outside the box of just lecturing the students. There are so many activities that can be used to teach. For example, an English teacher who wants to teach how to write an argumentative composition on the topic ‘’Should animal experimentation be stopped’’, can first begin by forming two groups of students; one group can be ‘for’ the topic and the other ‘against’ the topic. Let them have a debate. This is a creative way to teach what can otherwise be a very dull topic.
Get rid of a narrow view of education as something that is needed to pass a test. Education is the process of enabling a child to be all that he/she can be. Therefore, certain skills that are necessary for a fruitful life as an adult, for example, oral communication skills, should be taught using activities. How is this possible? For example, in a science class, students can take turns to talk to the class about famous scientists. This way, students gain knowledge as well as get practice in public speaking.
Teachers with a flair for creative writing can prepare question papers for small tests and exams in myriad colorful ways. In a language exam, usually there is a writing exam and reading exam. For example, in the GCE O’ level English examination, there is a writing component, reading component and speaking component. In the reading component, students are supposed to read a passage and answer questions. Teachers who are creative writers can write the reading passage by themselves, thus customizing it to the students’ needs.
The conventional worldview of teaching and learning is that teachers know it all and students know nothing. This is far from the truth. Students bring with them a host of experiences and viewpoints which continuously rearrange and adjust to the new information from the teacher. This being the case, a creative teacher would make allowances for students’ knowledge to shine, and tailor the new information to that knowledge. One of the practical ways to do that would be to give the students a chance to teach. Peer teaching is another method to make use of what students know.
What does this mean? Very often we do creative activities such as creative writing, or a new way of teaching as a one-off activity; it is not repeated. When you make creativity a habit, you are essentially making activities that you deem to be creative a part of your daily routine. Thus, it becomes a habit for you to be creative. For example, imagine that in a particularly creative moment during your teaching in your Biology class, on the topic of plants, you ask the class to go out into the school garden, observe and record how many types of plants are there: how many flowering plants, how many nonflowering plants, how many shrubs, how many trees etc. Don’t let this kind of activity be just for that day. Make it a habit to teach students whenever possible in a real life context. For example, when you teach about pollution, you could take the students to the nearby beach and show them how polluted it is.
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