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The emerging role of creativity in the classroom

By June 26, 2014June 13th, 2016One Comment

If I were to create a word cloud of emerging concepts that I find most exciting in education today, it would include “creativity,” “design thinking,” and “maker spaces.” It seems that a grass-roots movement celebrating art and design, partnered with practical problem-solving, has taken hold in nearly every aspect of our culture. Some examples of this movement are:

  • Conferences, such as ISKME’s Big Ideas Fest, Aspen Ideas Festival, or Wired magazine’s inaugural Wired by Design,that encourage participation and problem-solving while learning from today’s creative leaders.
  • Maker spaces or innovation labs in museums that change the role of the museum visitor to one of an interactive participant and innovator.
  • Incorporating design thinking into our classrooms by creating an environment in which students work collaboratively to define a problem and develop solutions.

This shift—on however small a scale it may be—in how we run our classrooms heralds a profound and welcome evolution in defining the roles of the student, the teacher, the classroom, and school in general. It signals that we have at last stopped talking about moving classrooms away from Industrial Age models to actually doing so.

The challenge, of course, then becomes how to assess creativity, innovation, or design thinking. McREL’s Power Walkthrough® team delved into this concept last year by creating a walkthrough template to formatively assess creativity in the classroom. This template, informed by our own research as well as others’, was our first attempt at trying to capture the nebulous characteristics of a “creative” classroom. Not surprisingly, the overarching theme throughout the template is one of flexibility—in terms of how, when, and where the student learns. Included in these look-fors are characteristics such as flexible classroom structures, teachers in facilitative roles, and students having multiple options for acquiring knowledge and demonstrating what they’ve learned. Within each of these are more detailed components, such as flexible seating options or flexible schedules. In other words, students have as many options as adults enjoy during professional development sessions.

In thinking about your own classroom, consider the degree to which you currently incorporate flexibility into learning. How have you done this in the past? What are new ideas you could try next year?

If you are interested in seeing a demo of the creativity template and our new Power Walkthrough Coach™ software, please email Lisa Maxfield at


Hubbell_200x200Elizabeth Ross Hubbell is a principal consultant in the Center for Educator Effectiveness, and co-author of Classroom Instruction That Works (2nd ed.), Using Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works (2nd ed.), and The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.

One Comment

  • Pat Buoncristiani says:

    It’s about reframing education as process instead of product, right? That’s tricky because we love to measure and evaluate, and processes are slippery things to tie down without resorting to tight definitions of end products. Throw in the need for creativity and the slippery process becomes a real shape shifter. It’s a challenge we must rise too!

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