We all want to have well-managed classrooms and students who reach their potential. Creativity, curiosity and independent thinking and learning (think lifelong learners), are certainly things we hope for with our students. But, what makes for the best environment to promote these in our students? Well, it starts with something that seems counter-intuitive to creativity and independence, structure.
“I have finally realized that the most creative environments in our society are not the kaleidoscopic environments which everything is always changing and complex. They are, instead, the predictable and consistent ones— the scholar’s library, the researcher’s laboratory, the artist’s studio. Each of those environments is deliberately kept predictable and simple because the work at hand and the changing interactions around that work are so unpredictable and complex.”
Lucy Calkins, The Art of Teaching Writing p. 183
Earlier in this book, Lucy talks about how she used to constantly be changing things up in her classroom and how that created unpredictability and instability for her students. In fact, it inhibited their ability to be creative and to be independent learners because they never knew what the next day would look like. Life was always in flux and her students were dependent entirely on her, the teacher, and her plan the day.
Without structure, the teacher has to constantly consulted for every decision. Students need structure to operate within the expectations and feel safe in trying something new because then there aren’t so many other new or unpredicatable factors to consider. If they can rely on all of this, then your students can feel free to take risks in their learning, to be creative, to work independently and to try new things.
Think of your classroom as a laboratory. You have to take all the guesswork out of the conditions in which your students will work. This will free them (and you) up to get down to business and really learn, gain independence and be creative. For example, if you have flexible seating, there needs to be a strong set of norms around that and training for students so abiding by them is a HABIT. No one has to think about how to handle it, they just do it because the rules and process don't change.
Create a schedule. Create systems. Make life as predictable as possible so students don't have to think about or worry about what's ok and when or how to do something. They can just get on with the business of learning. This also gives your students the ability to be become independent in the majority of tasks in the classroom freeing you, the teacher, up from being the task manager. Self-managed students? That's a win!
This is not to say that you shouldn't mix things up once in awhile. You should. But, mixing it up should be on occasion, not the norm. If you want to promote creativity in your students, you need structure first so they feel safe and have strong habits (ie. don't have to think about all the details in classroom life). Then, you can encourage them to take risks, be curious and try new things in their learning and thinking. This is what leads to lifelong learning. I don't know about you, but that's what I'm always reaching for.
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