Helping students to re-engage with their creative sides

It has been some time since my last post. The past couple of weeks have been full of marking, report writing, TESMC, Language and Literacy Levels and Youth Mental Health First Aid courses. Needless to say, I’m glad to finally have a little time to breathe and get some thoughts up on my blog!

Today I was fortunate enough to attend the launch of a very talented colleague’s second novel. You can find his Facebook page here and follow him on Twitter (@rjbrownauthor). R.J. Brown has an incredible ability to draw even the most reluctant readers and writers into the world of literature and creativity. There were actually two launches of his book – one public and the other one at the school. I was unable to attend the one at school, but from what those who did go have recounted, the event drew together students, parents and staff in a shared celebration of the achievements of someone who is an integral part of our school community.

These events got me thinking. As English teachers, part of our role is to help students develop and apply their creativity through language. Yet one of the biggest obstacles I come across in my English classes is how to inspire students to play with language and engage with their creative sides. So often, when doing a unit on narrative, have I heard students try to use the excuse “But I’m not creative.” I don’t think this is true at all. I think humans are innately creative. Watch children play with their toys. Whether it’s girls playing with dolls, or boys playing with cars or action figures (or vice versa), kids make up story lines. They act out these narratives through their toys, or through the performances that they put on for adults. They are being creative without even having to think about it.

So what happens to make so many students seem to lose confidence in their creative side? It is still there, but it can be a challenge to help them find it.

Perhaps it is the absence of ‘play’?

Or the imposition of rules and limitations on what they should be writing about?

Or a belief that they need to write simply to please the teacher, rather than for their own pleasure?

Or a culture that doesn’t encourage spontaneous reading and writing?

I’m not a hundred percent sure if it is any of these, but I know that one thing I would like to do this year is to help my more reluctant readers and writers to find their creative sides and to use them whether they are writing a narrative or an essay. Another colleague and I are working on a project which aims, in part, to do just this. More information to follow on that at a later date as it is still in its early stages.

In the meantime, I’d love to get your thoughts – how do you help your students engage with their creative sides? What do you do to counter the attitude that writing is “just something they have to do” to get a grade?

4 responses

  1. I think the heart of creativity is in imagination and the secret is to tap into this part of our world. It requires us to slow down and allow our minds to wonder and dream into those aspects we find interesting and challenging. However we have to create that state of mind and with a generation of technology stimulated students it will be a challenge. Nonetheless, persistence and sharing our own passion is a start. R. J. Brown read the first chapter of his new book and it captured my imagination – I want to read more!!!

    1. Thanks, Paul! It certainly does take persistence and creating a state where they engage with their own mind rather than just the computer and social media. But in a world that’s so technology driven that can be difficult even for adults!

  2. Hi Mel.
    I hope you don’t mind me weighing in on this discussion but I found it interesting when thinking about you at the age your students are now.
    I can remember you making that same comment of ” But I’m not creative”. This was despite writing what I thought were some pretty creative pieces. There was one in particular that gave me a good chuckle. You were in Year 9 & if I remember correctly it was called something along the lines of “A week in the life of a Wheelie Bin” and I found it highly entertaining. You’re possibly thinking I may be slightly biased but I truly found your descriptions of how a Wheelie bin might view what we put in it really very funny.
    I guess my point is that you were a highly motivated student with a great love of reading and even you made that comment about not being creative. I agree with P Rijken’s response that you need to be persistent and keep sharing that passion for the written word that I know you have in abundance.

    1. Thanks! Of course I don’t mind – I like that you are still interested in my writing 🙂

      I do remember writing lots of stories when I was young but for some reason i stopped doing that and would only write them as a set task. The story to which you referred was one of the deliberately silly stimuli teachers sometimes give to get the creative juices flowing and it obviously worked for me.

      I think that there is such a focus on the analysis side of English in schools – especially in senior secondary – that creativity sometimes falls by the way side. It’s almost like a different type of paralysis by analysis. In Year 11 & 12 I could churn out an essay with no problems. But ask me to write a story? Well I could do it but it made me nervous to have to dig into the depths of my imagination!

      However I think we forget that writing an effective essay or making effective presentations or audiovisual texts also requires creativity. It is at the core of what we do in English but what we need to do is teach students how to channel that creativity to achieve the requirements of the different text types but with their own style or flair.

      As for me, I’d like to get back into letting my imagination run wild. Think I might make that my project for the next set of holidays!

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