Tips for Guiding Students to Think Creatively

These simple creativity challenges can encourage students to have the mindset of an artist, a designer, and a change-maker.

July 26, 2023
Sam Falconer / The iSpot

We’re living in an era when the thinking process is becoming increasingly more important in a student’s learning journey: the ability to be reflective, adaptable, flexible, and nimble during times of constant change.

While an answer, statistic, or other random “product” can be found by simply asking the ever-growing breadth of artificial intelligence options, the process of creative and critical thinking cannot.

How might we shift toward a culture of thinking that’s process oriented in our learning spaces? What types of thinking would be most beneficial during a constant state of flux? Here are three ways of thinking that can help prepare students for career, life, and, most important, humanity. 

Thinking like an artist

In a world that’s moving at breakneck speed, thinking like an artist is about slowing down to uncover the nuance, complexity, and emotion of the world around us. Thinking like an artist is about developing the skills for meaningful expression. Adapted from the Columbus Museum of Art’s Making Creativity Visible project, this process focuses on the dispositions inherent in thinking like an artist.

Artists are playful and imaginative, and they experiment with ideas. They generate original ideas and approach the world with an insatiable curiosity. They’re comfortable with ambiguity and persist through failure. They value questioning, collaboration, and reflection. They communicate ideas and celebrate the beauty of thinking in unique and whimsical ways. What if you asked students to think like an artist in your learning space? What would that look, sound, and feel like?

Imagine if you asked students to find an object in the room and to write a series of questions they would like to ask the object. Then have them pick a question and answer it from the object’s perspective. Ask the students to use some simple materials like tape, paper, and scissors to make something connected to the answer they came up with.

This is a quick creativity challenge that can help create the conditions for students to think more like an artist in your space. If we want students to slow down and be more playful with their thinking, we must give them opportunities to exercise these dispositions. 

Thinking like a designer

We currently have a surplus of problems facing our world. Our students see, hear, and/or feel the problems that surround us every day. Imagine if we asked our students to think like a designer in our learning spaces. What if we facilitated learning experiences as an opportunity to identify and solve problems?

Designers find inspiration in the people, questions, and problems of their community. They use this inspiration to generate human-centered ideas. Designers prototype and implement a variety of possible solutions. They reflect and iterate on these solutions until they find one that has a lasting and meaningful impact on those most closely connected to the problem. Inspired from the work of IDEO, a design firm in Palo Alto, California, thinking like a designer can help students see how learning can be a more collective act, as opposed to the more individualistic one common throughout schools today.

How might you create space in your classroom to empower students to think more like a designer? Imagine if you had the students at the beginning of the year write down one worry they had about the upcoming year on a sticky note. Next they each found a partner and shared their worry. You gave them the time to conduct an empathy interview to get a better understanding of the worry. Then, with simple materials like tape, paper, string, scissors, and markers, you tasked them with designing an artifact that would help relieve some of the stress of their classmate’s worry. After students completed their artifact, they took turns sharing the artifact, its meaning, and how it addressed the worry of a classmate.

The purpose of this creativity challenge is to recognize the power in thinking like a designer—finding inspiration in those around us and gathering ideas from deep, meaningful conversation and creating solutions that matter to others.  

Thinking like a change agent

One element we need more of in our schools is meaning. Students know that much of what they’re learning is isolated and devoid of meaning. They know that the majority of what they’re learning is to satisfy state measured assessments. What if we asked students to think more like an agent of change in our learning spaces? What might that look, sound, and feel like?

Pulling from the work of the Columbus Museum of Art and Project Zero’s Cultivating Creative and Civic Capacities project, I and my colleagues have identified some essential dispositions of thinking like a change agent. Change agents must be able to imagine a more beautiful, just, and sustainable world for everyone. They must be able to slow down to investigate the complexity of taking action. They must be able to harness the power of influence to inspire change. Lastly, they must be able to explore the tensions between the individual and the collective society we all live in.

How might you create the conditions in your learning space for students to think like a change agent? Imagine if you took your students on a noticing stroll around the campus or community. What if you asked them to identify meaningful issues, problems, or questions that they observed along the way, and to investigate some of these noticings to dig deeper into the interconnected nature of the causes and impact and where there might be opportunities for transformation?

Students could then take time to imagine new possibilities. How might your students design possibilities that influence others to take action and enable student experiences to be more beautiful, just, and sustainable?

The purpose of this creativity challenge is to help provide a process for students to find meaning by thinking like a change agent. What if we moved from maintaining the status quo to challenging it?

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Filed Under

  • Creativity
  • Teaching Strategies
  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

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