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Incorporating Creativity and Universal Design into Outdoor Teaching

Instruction

Meryl Haque intro

“Creativity comes from looking for the unexpected and stepping outside your own experience.” ~Masaru Ibuka

Imagine you are leading a group of students for the first time who mostly do not seem to enjoy journaling or writing. However, many of your planned activities involve some writing aspect. You find yourself between a rock and a hard place -- do you force your students to engage in writing? If not, how can you encourage your students to engage deeply with the world around them?

Chances are, you already incorporate creative activities into your teaching. However, as a result of widespread and white-supremacist binary thinking, many people view art or creativity as a separate category of activities rather than something that can be woven into most (if not all) lessons. Instead of asking how someone is including creative activities in their teaching, I prefer to ask how they are supporting student creativity throughout their teaching.

This alternative framing draws attention to the truth that creativity exists anywhere there is space for it.
At a very basic level, creativity is like a fire; instead of oxygen, it is fed by opportunities to see and use existing materials in new ways. It is through these opportunities that many diverse needs of students can be met. Universal design is an approach to education that works to minimize or eliminate barriers to learning for students with disabilities and/or who are neurodivergent through flexibility and building consideration for learning differences into curriculum design.

Using principles of universal design, I have created an acronym (SCOPE) with strategies to weave creativity intentionally into everyday teaching:

(S)tudent choice can mean offering students opportunities to offer input on what they want to learn, supporting multiple modes of engagement, or inviting students to suggest ideas. Generally, this works best when starting with smaller choices such as which direction to go on a loop trail, and gradually moving to more complex choices such as deciding how to create a project to demonstrate their learning. This allows students to develop confidence in challenging themselves to try new things, a building block for creativity.

(C)lear expectations can look like providing students with examples of what you are asking for, giving instructions one step at a time, and being flexible to allow for diverse approaches to the same prompt. By encouraging students to self-determine how they can best meet provided criteria, educators empower students to take an active and intentional approach to demonstrating their learning. Through this process, students develop a deeper understanding and connection to the content.

(O)bservation opportunities help students to practice being in touch with the world around them. Through observation, students learn to pay attention to detail and engage mindfully with their surroundings. These habits can help strengthen creativity through offering inspiration and supporting students in reflection on their own connections to humans and more-than-humans. Options for observation activities include creating sound maps, drawing the forest or park from the perspective of an insect, and a caterpillar walk.

(P)ractice Play can involve testing out different creative mediums, challenging students to think creatively, and encouraging students to be silly. Fun icebreakers and team building challenges such as Complete the Image can be wonderful opportunities to practice creative thinking and problem-solving. Another excellent way to do this is asking students to create something new using everyday objects, and can be made to fit in with teaching content through specifying that they are to create a representation of a new vocabulary word or concept.

(E)ncourage Dialogue through practices such as role-modeling asking questions about how a student made certain creative choices for a project, providing space for students to discuss their ideas with each other, and giving students sentence stems to structure the process of sharing and discussing their work (i.e. I noticed, I’m curious about, I think it could work even better if). These strategies can help guide students in engaging with each other’s ideas in respectful and thoughtful ways. Learning to give and receive useful feedback is an important building block for creativity.

It is good practice as an educator to regularly reflect on ways to be more inclusive and flexible to meet the needs and interests of one’s students. I hope that through reading this article, you found some strategies to strengthen your creative teaching skills and stretched your understanding of creativity. Please investigate the references section for more benefits and approaches to teaching creatively, and most importantly, keep creating!

 

References & Further Reading

Ahern, G. (2018, July 31). Move it, move it: how physical activity at school helps the mind (as well as the body). NPJ Science of Learning. https://npjscilearncommunity.nature.com/posts/37205-move-it-move-it-how-physical-activity-at-school-helps-the-mind-as-well-as-the-body 

Ahern, G. (2018, November 4). One man’s trash: how using everyday items for play benefits kids. NPJ Science of Learning. https://npjscilearncommunity.nature.com/posts/40614-one-man-s-trash-how-using-everyday-items-for-play-benefits-kids 

Baker, A.R. (2015). Thinking critically and creatively. In Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom. Open SUNY Textbooks. https://milnepublishing.geneseo.edu/foundations-of-academic-success/chapter/thinking-critically-and-creatively/

Bordreau, E. (2020, June 24). Helping every student become an artist. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/20/06/helping-every-student-become-artist 

Bryant, W. (2017, November 7). At the intersection of creativity and critical thinking. Getting Smart. https://www.gettingsmart.com/2017/11/at-the-intersection-of-creativity-and-critical-thinking/

Caruso, N. (2019, May 13). 5 ways to create spaces that unlock creativity & encourage collaboration. ESchool News. https://www.eschoolnews.com/2019/05/13/create-spaces-that-unlock-creativity/

Danyew, A. Field notes on music teaching & learning: Zig zag: the surprising path to greater creativity on apple podcasts. (2021). Apple Podcasts. Retrieved June 7, 2021, from https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/zig-zag-the-surprising-path-to-greater-creativity/id1494988923?i=1000474345729

Day, E. & Liebtag, E. (2017, November 3). Philadelphia is reimagining arts & creativity education. Getting Smart. https://www.gettingsmart.com/2017/11/ed-philadelphia-arts-integration-program-post/ 

Exploring the creative process. (n.d.). Retrieved June 8, 2021, from http://www.globalonenessproject.org/lessons/exploring-creative-process

Hatin, B. (2021, February 17). The key to learning is fun. Npj Science of Learning Community. http://npjscilearncommunity.nature.com/posts/the-key-to-learning-is-fun

Johnson, B. (2019, January 16). 4 ways to develop creativity in students. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/4-ways-develop-creativity-students 

Mendis, L. (2018, February 12). The link between creative thinking and learning. NPJ Science of Learning. https://npjscilearncommunity.nature.com/posts/30076-the-link-between-creative-thinking-and-learning 

Moeai, P. (2015, May 12). Teaching students creative and critical thinking. Minds in Bloom. https://minds-in-bloom.com/teaching-students-creative-and-critica/ 

Pedagogy of play. (n.d.). Project Zero. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from https://pz.harvard.edu/projects/pedagogy-of-play# 

Schordine, A. (2011, September 8). The 5 ps of the creative process. The Inspired Classroom. https://theinspiredclassroom.com/2011/09/the-5-ps-of-the-creative-process/

Stepping into the wild: Creative outdoor learning. (n.d.). Action for Healthy Kids. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from https://www.actionforhealthykids.org/activity/stepping-into-the-wild-creative-outdoor-learning/

The Kennedy Center. Arts integration and universal design for learning. (n.d.). The Kennedy Center. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from https://www.kennedy-center.org/education/resources-for-educators/classroom-resources/articles-and-how-tos/articles/collections/arts-integration-resources/arts-integration-and-universal-design-for-learning/ 

Universal design for learning and adaptive design. (n.d.). Children’s Museum of the Arts New York. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from https://cmany.org/schools-and-community/staff-development/universal-design-learning-adaptive-design/

 

Meryl Haque intro

“Creativity comes from looking for the unexpected and stepping outside your own experience.” ~Masaru Ibuka

Imagine you are leading a group of students for the first time who mostly do not seem to enjoy journaling or writing. However, many of your planned activities involve some writing aspect. You find yourself between a rock and a hard place -- do you force your students to engage in writing? If not, how can you encourage your students to engage deeply with the world around them?

Chances are, you already incorporate creative activities into your teaching. However, as a result of widespread and white-supremacist binary thinking, many people view art or creativity as a separate category of activities rather than something that can be woven into most (if not all) lessons. Instead of asking how someone is including creative activities in their teaching, I prefer to ask how they are supporting student creativity throughout their teaching.

This alternative framing draws attention to the truth that creativity exists anywhere there is space for it.
At a very basic level, creativity is like a fire; instead of oxygen, it is fed by opportunities to see and use existing materials in new ways. It is through these opportunities that many diverse needs of students can be met. Universal design is an approach to education that works to minimize or eliminate barriers to learning for students with disabilities and/or who are neurodivergent through flexibility and building consideration for learning differences into curriculum design.

Using principles of universal design, I have created an acronym (SCOPE) with strategies to weave creativity intentionally into everyday teaching:

(S)tudent choice can mean offering students opportunities to offer input on what they want to learn, supporting multiple modes of engagement, or inviting students to suggest ideas. Generally, this works best when starting with smaller choices such as which direction to go on a loop trail, and gradually moving to more complex choices such as deciding how to create a project to demonstrate their learning. This allows students to develop confidence in challenging themselves to try new things, a building block for creativity.

(C)lear expectations can look like providing students with examples of what you are asking for, giving instructions one step at a time, and being flexible to allow for diverse approaches to the same prompt. By encouraging students to self-determine how they can best meet provided criteria, educators empower students to take an active and intentional approach to demonstrating their learning. Through this process, students develop a deeper understanding and connection to the content.

(O)bservation opportunities help students to practice being in touch with the world around them. Through observation, students learn to pay attention to detail and engage mindfully with their surroundings. These habits can help strengthen creativity through offering inspiration and supporting students in reflection on their own connections to humans and more-than-humans. Options for observation activities include creating sound maps, drawing the forest or park from the perspective of an insect, and a caterpillar walk.

(P)ractice Play can involve testing out different creative mediums, challenging students to think creatively, and encouraging students to be silly. Fun icebreakers and team building challenges such as Complete the Image can be wonderful opportunities to practice creative thinking and problem-solving. Another excellent way to do this is asking students to create something new using everyday objects, and can be made to fit in with teaching content through specifying that they are to create a representation of a new vocabulary word or concept.

(E)ncourage Dialogue through practices such as role-modeling asking questions about how a student made certain creative choices for a project, providing space for students to discuss their ideas with each other, and giving students sentence stems to structure the process of sharing and discussing their work (i.e. I noticed, I’m curious about, I think it could work even better if). These strategies can help guide students in engaging with each other’s ideas in respectful and thoughtful ways. Learning to give and receive useful feedback is an important building block for creativity.

It is good practice as an educator to regularly reflect on ways to be more inclusive and flexible to meet the needs and interests of one’s students. I hope that through reading this article, you found some strategies to strengthen your creative teaching skills and stretched your understanding of creativity. Please investigate the references section for more benefits and approaches to teaching creatively, and most importantly, keep creating!

 

References & Further Reading

Ahern, G. (2018, July 31). Move it, move it: how physical activity at school helps the mind (as well as the body). NPJ Science of Learning. https://npjscilearncommunity.nature.com/posts/37205-move-it-move-it-how-physical-activity-at-school-helps-the-mind-as-well-as-the-body 

Ahern, G. (2018, November 4). One man’s trash: how using everyday items for play benefits kids. NPJ Science of Learning. https://npjscilearncommunity.nature.com/posts/40614-one-man-s-trash-how-using-everyday-items-for-play-benefits-kids 

Baker, A.R. (2015). Thinking critically and creatively. In Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom. Open SUNY Textbooks. https://milnepublishing.geneseo.edu/foundations-of-academic-success/chapter/thinking-critically-and-creatively/

Bordreau, E. (2020, June 24). Helping every student become an artist. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/20/06/helping-every-student-become-artist 

Bryant, W. (2017, November 7). At the intersection of creativity and critical thinking. Getting Smart. https://www.gettingsmart.com/2017/11/at-the-intersection-of-creativity-and-critical-thinking/

Caruso, N. (2019, May 13). 5 ways to create spaces that unlock creativity & encourage collaboration. ESchool News. https://www.eschoolnews.com/2019/05/13/create-spaces-that-unlock-creativity/

Danyew, A. Field notes on music teaching & learning: Zig zag: the surprising path to greater creativity on apple podcasts. (2021). Apple Podcasts. Retrieved June 7, 2021, from https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/zig-zag-the-surprising-path-to-greater-creativity/id1494988923?i=1000474345729

Day, E. & Liebtag, E. (2017, November 3). Philadelphia is reimagining arts & creativity education. Getting Smart. https://www.gettingsmart.com/2017/11/ed-philadelphia-arts-integration-program-post/ 

Exploring the creative process. (n.d.). Retrieved June 8, 2021, from http://www.globalonenessproject.org/lessons/exploring-creative-process

Hatin, B. (2021, February 17). The key to learning is fun. Npj Science of Learning Community. http://npjscilearncommunity.nature.com/posts/the-key-to-learning-is-fun

Johnson, B. (2019, January 16). 4 ways to develop creativity in students. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/4-ways-develop-creativity-students 

Mendis, L. (2018, February 12). The link between creative thinking and learning. NPJ Science of Learning. https://npjscilearncommunity.nature.com/posts/30076-the-link-between-creative-thinking-and-learning 

Moeai, P. (2015, May 12). Teaching students creative and critical thinking. Minds in Bloom. https://minds-in-bloom.com/teaching-students-creative-and-critica/ 

Pedagogy of play. (n.d.). Project Zero. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from https://pz.harvard.edu/projects/pedagogy-of-play# 

Schordine, A. (2011, September 8). The 5 ps of the creative process. The Inspired Classroom. https://theinspiredclassroom.com/2011/09/the-5-ps-of-the-creative-process/

Stepping into the wild: Creative outdoor learning. (n.d.). Action for Healthy Kids. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from https://www.actionforhealthykids.org/activity/stepping-into-the-wild-creative-outdoor-learning/

The Kennedy Center. Arts integration and universal design for learning. (n.d.). The Kennedy Center. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from https://www.kennedy-center.org/education/resources-for-educators/classroom-resources/articles-and-how-tos/articles/collections/arts-integration-resources/arts-integration-and-universal-design-for-learning/ 

Universal design for learning and adaptive design. (n.d.). Children’s Museum of the Arts New York. Retrieved June 8, 2021, from https://cmany.org/schools-and-community/staff-development/universal-design-learning-adaptive-design/

 

About the Author
Meryl Haque
Author: Meryl Haque

Meryl Haque is a queer Asian Indian-American educator, artist, and member of the 2021 graduating class of IslandWood. They strive to make their teaching as inclusive and equitable as possible through centering the identities, needs, and skills of their students, and to create a world where everyone embraces their inner creativity.