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How to Build Students' Creative Confidence

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate
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I recently visited a school district where teachers are experimenting with Genius Hour. Sometimes called 20 percent time after the Google practice of reserving a day a week for individual research, Genius Hour offers students a regular time each week to tackle projects that reflect their personal interests and passions. (Blogger A.J. Juliani explains the reasoning behind 20 percent time.)

When I stopped by an elementary class during Genius Hour, I found students with no shortage of project ideas -- from rocketry to the history of ceramics. Their main challenge was finding enough time in the coming weeks to get to all the wonderful questions they were eager to explore.

It was a different story in middle school. A seventh-grade teacher confided that many students seemed stuck when she invited them to come up with research ideas. Instead of trusting their own curiosity, some went right to Google and searched for "project ideas for Genius Hour."

If we hope to inspire a generation of innovators, we can't have students second-guessing their own ability to ask good questions. As Einstein cautioned, "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing." Curiosity and creativity are closely linked, and both are essential for generating innovative solutions. Similarly, both can be hampered by a lack of confidence or fear of failure.

The Case for Creative Confidence

Creativity gurus (and brothers) David Kelley and Tom Kelley are on a mission to protect and promote what they call "creative confidence." In their new book, Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All, they argue that everyone has the capacity to be creative. What distinguishes the innovators from the rest of us, they add, is "believing in your ability to create change in the world around you."

The Kelley brothers make their case with stories galore, from Einstein's lab to today's social innovators working to improve living conditions in the developing world. David Kelley is the founder of both IDEO, the global design firm, and the Stanford, a hotbed of design thinking. Tom Kelley, a partner at IDEO, is the author of The Art of Innovation.

Sounding a bit like personal trainers, they suggest that creative confidence "is like a muscle -- it can be strengthened and nurtured through effort and experience." They also warn of the lasting damage of "creativity scars...At the right age, a single cutting remark is sometimes enough to bring our creative pursuits to a standstill."

Ideas to Borrow

What can you do in the classroom to revive your students' curiosity and build their creative confidence? The Kelleys offer a wealth of practical suggestion, such as:

  • Teach students how to represent their ideas with simple sketches
  • Encourage "why?" questions
  • Put up a community chalkboard where anyone can post questions, make observations, or invite others to add to a rough idea
  • Expect failure as part of the learning process
  • Encourage daydreaming and "thought walks"

But that's not all. OpenIDEO is an online forum for creative collaboration and problem solving. A recent prompt invited solutions to this design challenge: How might we inspire young people to cultivate their creative confidence?

More than 600 ideas were submitted from around the globe, setting a new record for OpenIDEO participation. Community feedback and prototyping sparked project improvements. In December, nine winning ideas were announced. They include the "Electronster," a traveling truck that collects used electronics so that kids can take them apart and remix the components; a creative confidence toolkit; and Thinker Teams, a cross between debate clubs and maker spaces.

Best of all, these ideas are all open source. That means anyone is free to borrow, adapt, or build upon any of the 600 submissions.

Which wild ideas fire up your curiosity or, better yet, get a thumbs-up from your students? Which ones might be worth tackling in your own version of Genius Hour? Please share your reactions in the comments.

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GybhsEducation Jalandhar's picture
GybhsEducation Jalandhar
Premier educational solution provider

Dear Suzie

You really gave the very best idea's to build up the confidence in students. And research of you on elementary class and upper standard class is very informative, which shows that with upper level of students how creativity getting over. Thanks to share such a nice article.

I am Bullyproof -Lessia Bonn's picture

Trying to encourage a creative way of teaching music within the school system these days is very frustrating. Choir teachers, Kodaly teachers, and traditional teachers are the norm. And they all, it seems, keep drinking the same kool aid. Jump one inch out of the box and one is discounted as disrespectful to the cause. (keeping up the status quo)

I find it very disheartening that classroom teachers eagerly embrace our progressive approach to mixing SEL with music, while traditional teachers continually say things to us like "Where is the written music? I can't just pull music out of the air! I only teach with old folk songs. They are valuable. New music is not." In the meanwhile, classroom teachers have no trouble pulling music out of the air with their students-- and greatly see the value of anything fresh and inventive. Hello. Doesn't this seem a little backwards?

Coming from a family of classical musicians, I understand that the fear of new teaching approaches comes from fear of the unknown. What makes me sad is that, because of this-- in the field of music, even when there IS a budget in a school for music, the teachers hired will almost always be a traditionalists who don't teach with much imagination. So how will then will students ever learn to be imaginative and endlessly creative musically? How will they learn to pay attention (and hopefully write their own) deep lyrics etc etc. when none of those kinds of things are taught or encouraged?

My choral music publisher showed a funny, SEL lyrics based four part choir piece to a giant group of choir teachers at a convention. She is an older, highly respected, rather traditional herself music educator who found the piece refreshing, funny, and insightful. She was assuming this "breath of fresh air" piece would make her publishing company a bundle. Boy, was she wrong. She complained to me upon returning from the convention; "What a bunch of by-the-book stick-in-the-muds I deal with! It was so frustrating!." Her arena is choral music for schools. And trust me-- she is NOT a modern person. She's a lovable older teacher/publisher. And if she got nowhere... Pretty scary.

I love this article and will pin it on all the music boards I am part of on pinterest. I will also pin it on other teaching boards. My guess is all the re-pins will be from non music teachers. Here's hoping some day that will change.

PS I love the Einstein quote. We actually have a song that encourages creativity and new thought called "Einstein." :-)

Chris's picture

Hi Suzie,

I know this is an old entry however, I am trying to find the 600 open resource ideas and am having truoble. Wondering if you could direct me in the right direction.


Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Hi Chris! Did you look here? I think you'll find those there.

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