Help Students ‘Recognize Their Creative Strengths’

Please note:  This post originally appeared on the EdWeek blog. To read the post in its entirety, click here.

How do we help our students develop creativity?

This important question was posed on the EdWeek blog and here is the response myself and my colleague, Billy Krakower provided.

The pendulum in education has seemingly begun to swing away from focusing on preparing students for the rigors of high stakes, standardized testing to pedagogies and instructional practices that embrace and are even driven by creativity.  Inquiry-Based Learning, Reggio, Open Pedagogy, Project-Based Learning, Maker Education, Montessori, Design Thinking all offer a myriad of creative educational approaches.  Adopting any one of these is certainly small undertaking and can, in some cases, even be narrow in focus.  A hybrid approach, which draws upon the richness of all of these approaches, may be most effective.  Here are some ideas and examples for how educators can effectively do that in order to help develop the magic of creativity within all learners.

Promote creativity with questioning

The deliberate application of questioning strategies promotes inquiry, nurtures critical thinking and promotes creative thinking.  As educators, we want to create a learning environment where questioning is encouraged.  For creativity to flourish, It is imperative that we nurture questioning skills so that ultimately learners begin to formulate their own questions.


Mike Terborg, Elementary School Library Media Specialist in Maryland, uses primary sources to get his students thinking and questioning, with very little teacher intervention.  He often sets up a primary source sequence from the Smithsonian or Library of Congress on a topic, such as maps from Early Americana, to Revolutionary war era, and then Civil War and uses questioning strategies to spark student-driven, creative discussions. His students once had a discussion that flowed from Rev War -> Slavery -> Star Wars 3D!

Empower students to want to create

Students should be encourage to build, create, explain, draw and demonstrate their abilities in a format that fits them.  They crave the desire to create and explore we as educators must encourage them do so.


STEAM Educator, Andrew Deir, from Singapore, believes in letting students come up with and justify their own processes for making and creating, with thoughtful guidance from teachers.  Along with a 2nd grade level team, their students worked on a project in which they had to design and sell a product to a peer.  Given the freedom and flexibility they had for choosing their own processes for making and creating, some students developed their own ways of data handling, from market research, to investing time and 'money' into a product, and even advertising. 

He believes the success of something like this is directly dependent upon a teacher's level of comfort with inquiry.

Provide opportunities to make and create across all content areas

Creativity should not just be limited to the arts but incorporated across all content areas. Opportunities for exploration, experimentation and play have a place in all disciplines.


California High School English Teacher, Barton Keeler, told his students, 'Make Me Something- Anything'.  The only parameter students were given was that their creations had to be connected to something they had read in their class that year.  They were given random, varied art supplies as options for materials for making their creations.  Mr. Keeler describes the results of this as nothing short of stunning.   He learned that student choice is a powerful tool of engagement, that reluctant students can thrive with the right assignment, and wide parameters are a creative spark.

Inspire students to want to create

Students cannot be forced to be creative.  To help develop their creativity, we need to create the conditions to inspire them to want to create. This can be as something as simple as a dynamic read-aloud or something as detailed as tailoring a dynamic learning space that maximizes the potential for students to create.


Milltown Primary Principal, Mr. Matthew Lembo, in Bridgewater, New Jersey took creativity to another level by putting stations in his school cafeteria.  His school saw their Cafeteria (Cafe) as an extension of the learning environment for the children.  They built "stations" (reading, math, science, arcade cabinet, making, Lego, board games, carnival games, art) that allow children to play, talk, solve problems, and create.  He says that allowing children the freedom to create and explore during their lunch/recess time has virtually eliminated discipline referrals from the Cafe, has fostered great opportunities for creativity, and provided engaging learning/social opportunities that differ from the rest of the school day.

Make real-world connections

Perhaps the most meaningful way to help develop our students' creativity is to connect what they are doing to the real-world.  Being able to look at the world, recognize a problem, and to create a solution, is probably one of the most powerful, authentic learning experiences there is.


The seventh grade students of Middle School STEAM teacher, Kevin Jarrett, in Northfield, New Jersey, recently worked with a team from one of their local hospitals, on finding ways to make pediatric patients more comfortable and less anxious in the hospital setting.  Student creations included a maker box, an app, and a 'smart' stuffed animal.

Co-create learning spaces

Instead of deciding for your students what type of learning environment would best spark their creativity, allow students to design and create their own spaces! Co-creating learning spaces is a great exercise in creativity, but also ensures that you will have an environment that works best for your students.


Mrs. Marina Basille, the Elementary school Library Media Specialist for Amerigo A. Anastasia School, in Long Branch, New Jersey, worked alongside her students in creating a collaborative learning space in her library, by creating a seating solution that doubled as storage for her makerspace items.  The students made the fun and inspiring seats out of buckets and created the seat cushions using the lids, foam and fabric!

Create physical makerspaces that allow for students to have the opportunity to become creators and not just consumers.

Makerspaces come in all shapes and sizes.  Some are in a library, some in a classroom, others even in hallways or cafeterias. One thing they all have in common is that they are places in which students are able to create, explore, develop and share their own ideas.


Germantown Academy, in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, takes makerspaces to another level, with their Nature Nook.  This outdoor makerspace began with students transporting natural materials from the woods into this space to be able to build and create. The space evolved into a multi-sensory nature-based play area, complete with a water pump, shovels and a range of natural materials with which to build and create.