Fostering Creativity

Encouraging Students to Be Innovative

Students Should Feel Independent and Interested

We want the best for our students. Sometimes, we want it so much that we wonder what, exactly, we need to explain to make them understand!

Which is impossible, of course. We can't simply spoon feed our students information — and even if we could, the result wouldn't be an example of good teaching. It isn't enough for students to memorize facts or jump through those hoops of flame scheduled on the syllabus. Instead, we need to help them understand and use their own creative ideas to become more effective communicators in the classroom and in life.

Video — Everyday Genres: Writing Assignments across the Disciplines

Here, students and faculty from CUNY discuss the challenges of fostering creativity among writing students, particularly those who have heavy workloads outside the classroom.

Perspectives on Student Individuality

As a composition instructor who writes science fiction, I'm well aware of the fact that most of my students don't share my exact interests — I don't know of many students who spend hours on YouTube watching astronomy videos about how black holes swallow up reality and then spit it back out as a vapor of bound particles.

(Okay...so maybe my interests are a bit out there...literally...)

To inspire our students to bring their best selves to class, we need to give them opportunities to write about their interests. Very importantly, we should avoid crushing the souls of young writers by dismissing their thoughts. And yes, even well-meaning advice can sting — and some workshop feedback can discourage students from writing.

Here are some pragmatic and theoretical approaches for doing this.

UDL Perspective: Recruiting Interest

As CAST indicates, fully engaging students requires us to Recruit Student Interest in the material. This requires us to ask students about their lives, their goals, and their interests. We want our students to see how, specifically, our courses can contribute to their lives in meaningful ways.

You want to build energy in your classes. You want your students to feel welcomed and valued. One of the best ways to do this is to say "yes!" to their ideas. This is actually somewhat harder than it sounds — we are often predisposed to shoot down "bad" ideas that we simply don't understand.

Online Teaching and "Presence"

One of the greatest gifts we can give a student is our time. And I'll be honest — I struggle with this. There are never enough hours in the day to give all the necessary guidance for each individual student. But building a positive instructor presence can help students feel confident reaching out to you as they engage with their work, and student-to-student social presence helps students build interpersonal relationships that will further creativity.

Because our students lead lives very different from our own, it's certain that they will understand aspects of life that we simply haven't considered. In my eyes, recruiting student interest and saying "yes" isn't simply a practical matter — it's a reality that every individual has unique qualifications. Not all qualifications help with success in academic settings, but as instructors our role is to ensure our courses help enrich the actual lives our students — and we can't customize our courses for this purpose if we don't first invite our students to teach us about their perspectives.