Teaching Originality and Creativity to Students

For educators, one of the biggest challenges trying to teach students how to create truly original work and to think for themselves.

This can be difficult because so much of education involves learning, processing and repeating what others have created before. Whether it’s interpreting literature, understanding scientific principles or remembering key individuals in history, students are expected to expand their knowledge, not break new ground.

However, teaching critical and original thinking is still a crucial skill for students to learn and it’s probably the most difficult to teach. Fortunately, Kelly McBride, the head of the Ethics Department and the Writing and Editing Department at the Poynter Institute sat down with Jason Chu at Turnitin to explain some ways that teachers may be able to turn their students into critical thinkers.

For McBride, the first step to teaching creativity is to curb expectations. Students are not going to suddenly become creative thinkers overnight, “We cannot move you from zero to 60 in one semester,” McBride said to a hypothetical student, “But we can bring you along.”

To bring those students along, McBride encouraged a focus on the basics. One of the first steps is helping students distinguish between what is fact and what is opinion. “One of the things that you can do is rather than having them write in text form, have them write in bullet form,” McBride said.

From there, students can separate what what are facts and simply opinions that they’ve heard and are repeating without thought. From those facts, students can begin to do their own analyses and, in the long run, even draw new and original conclusions.

Another suggestion McBride has was to have students bring in things that they think are original and talk about why the are or are not. The goal is to get students better able to spot original thinking and writing versus things that are merely aggregated or reshared.

The issue is that there is that, when it comes to creativity, there’s a lot of static online. Many people are rewarded heavily for sub-par work on the Internet while original thought often gets drowned out by shared and aggregated content.

But while it’s important to have conversations about originality and encourage it, it’s also important to remember that there’s only so much a student can bring to the classroom.

“The problem with writing is, often when we ask students to write, it’s not possible for them to transform the material,” McBride said, “They're not a scientist. They're not going to do original, new research on a topic.”

Furthermore, when students are able to strike out and be creative, it’s important to tell them that it’s ok to fail. Even the most creative and original thinkers can’t hit a homerun every time they try.

The classroom needs to be a safe place for students to experiment with creativity and that means being allowed to fail. While schools aren’t always known for being understanding when it comes to failure, it’s a reality of creative and original work and a reality educators must learn to work with.

After all, creativity is a skill and skills require practice to master. Fortunately, educators have many great opportunities to give students just the practice they need.

Related Resources:
How Not to Teach Writing: Literary Playdough, Six Points of Soul, and Assessments That Make Me Queasy
Finding Integrity Beyond Integrity