Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Inspiring Creativity

This was the second year that the Composition Program at my school held a poster contest, in which second-semester students represent their research visually. I allowed my students to submit a poster in lieu of their final paper. I was very hopeful that this year's crop would be better than the last. I showed them submissions from last year, and we talked about their strengths and weaknesses. I showed them pictures of the winners. And we looked at and discussed a website, Creating Effective Poster Presentations.

Overall, I was disappointed. The posters that were creative in design were poorly executed, no doubt from waiting until the last minute. The ones that were well-done visually didn't have much information or else had lots of information in large chunks. I was envious of the posters submitted by my office-mate's students. They seemed much more professional and creative than mine. What accounts for the difference?
Maybe it's just luck. After all, every group of students is different. If that's the case, I shouldn't expect his students to consistently create interesting projects--but I do.  I think it's him. And I think what he does is be playful and to encourage chaos.*

I try to be a creative teacher. I make creative assignments and design creative in-class activities. But I'm not playful and I don't like chaos. When students ask me how to be more creative in their thinking, I've suggested the following things:
  1. Build on your own experience. Your experience is different from anyone else's.
  2. Try pairing two things together to see what each shows about the other. Creativity can often just be about matching.
  3. Be playful. It's when we play that we open the doors of thought, that we step outside our narrow boxes of the way things should be.
I suspect that if we played more in class, my students might be more inspired to be creative.

What are your secrets for inspiring creativity?

*It's also possible, nay likely, that I'm being too critical. The 3 posters that I chose from my 2 comp classes, when placed beside the other submissions, didn't seem too bad.**

**Not too bad indeed! One of my students won 2nd place. My office-mate's students won 1st and 3rd.

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