Rooted in Creativity: Promoting Experimentation and Creative Thinking in the Classroom
Rebecca Melaragno

I am a middle school and high school art teacher at a local public school in Connecticut. Because of this experience and training, I understand how education functions. I know what schools, teachers and students are expected to do in order to be considered ‘successful.’ These expectations have led me to notice a problem in our current education system.

We praise good grades and test scores rather than learning and process. Our society standardizes every class in order to achieve the same outcomes. We teach using a model that has been around for hundreds of years that we only alter slightly to fit new requirements. As a high school art teacher, I witness this as negatively affecting creativity and the creative process. It teaches students that failure is a bad thing and experimental risk taking with your work should be feared, rather than embraced. It stifles new ideas and approaches to the making and teaching content.

As educators, we are teaching students to understand how they learn, in order for them to continue to be active learners for the entirety of their life. We should teach students how to actively learn through engagement and accept failure as part of the process and a means for growth and development. If this process is used, it would promote creativity and innovation. There is a huge stigma in our society that you are either good at art or you are not. It is not thought of as a skill that can be practiced and improved. 

My classroom is not  to be a place where the already talented are praised, but a place where experimentation and learning occurs.

When thinking of my design and art education, I recall a specific moment during my undergraduate degree that has stuck with me to this day. I was a sophomore in college and we were told to design a poster based on a poem, keeping in mind the meaning and message of the poem. On critique day, each student hung their piece on the pin up wall and stood back ready to critique and hear feedback. But I nev- er had my piece critiqued. My professor went through each piece on the wall and selected the pieces that we would discuss based on their ‘merit’. The pieces not selected were ‘too wild’ and seen as ‘unprofessional’ and would “never make it in the real world.” Final product was praised over conceptual meaning and process. Funny thing is, all the pieces selected looked very similar. This happened a couple of times and I remember realizing that in order to succeed in the design class, I would need to conform to the standard given. They were essentially standardizing an acceptable look for work. 

We were taught in this way, so educators naturally (subconsciously) use a similar style when they teach–because that’s what they know. If I want to promote creative thinking, the development of individual and conceptual ideas, and execution of those ideas through risk taking, the guidelines must be clear and achievable for all students and types of learners.

I must show examples in my classroom of successful work that isn’t always technically refined and polished. It is focusing less on product and more on concept. The idea behind the work is equally as important as the final outcome, maybe even more. I want to address and research the idea of standardization and how we can break this current model to increase creative and critical thinking through two perspectives:

  1. Myself as a maker, expressing meaning through tools and process.
  2. Myself as an educator, in my classroom. I can address this through the way I teach, assignments I give, and through creating an environment of trial and error.

“Creativity is the greatest gift of human intelligence. The more complex the world becomes, the more creative we need to be to meet its challenges”- Ken Robinson

What does it look like when creativity is being practiced within a daily activity or a way of thinking?

Creativity can take on many different faces but is achieved through experimentation. Pushing your limits and boundaries. Developing conceptual ideas even over technical form. It is trying a new technique, skill, or method. It is combining methods to communicate a message. It is thinking with your other senses. It is pulling from associations, metaphors, connotations and different subject matters and topics. Experimentation is crucial to development and creativity. It leads to new discoveries, thinking outside the typical boundaries, memorable experiences, conceptual meaning, experimenting with materials and techniques, and limiting comparison amongst peers. By completing field work and using data from my classroom, creating an environment that encourages ‘process work’ in my classroom, researching current and past practices of education, and practicing this idea with my own work, I believe I will be closer to answering;

How can we, as educators, step away from the constant standardization of our education system and further echo experimentation and encourage failure as a normal practice in the classroom?