Peggy is a content developer for Clarity Innovations, working primarily on educational content for the Web and for online and face-to-face training in project-based-learning and technology integration. Read more...
The Gift of ChaosPeggy Grant | April 5, 2012
"One must have chaos within to give birth to a dancing star." Friedrich Nietzsche
We’re hearing a lot these days about preparing students for the more complex world of the 21st century by emphasizing skills like problem solving and creativity. In some ways, however, environments that nurture this kind of thinking are exactly the opposite of what many students want in school. Most students, and not just students, but people in general, like to know exactly what they’re supposed to do and how to accomplish it. But the “dancing star” that makes life meaningful often comes out of chaos and confusion.
We know that creativity flourishes in environments where processes and outcomes are open to original thinking. It’s hard to be creative with activities that focus on memorization or following directions although, as all teachers know, there are students who manage to pull off creative responses with the most mundane of tasks. The rest of the students, however, need a bit more support. How can we make our classrooms chaotic enough to nurture creative problem solving without overwhelming and frustrating students into catatonic states?
Here are some strategies that I have used with students to help them learn to embrace the chaos.
- Explain to them why you’re subjecting them to these uncomfortable situations. Depending on the age of the students, you can even share some research or theory on the subject. Students are more adventurous when they trust that their teacher knows what they’re doing.
- We want students to stretch their boundaries when exploring alternatives, but we also want them to create ideas that are worthwhile. Participating in discussions about criteria that describe high-quality processes and products without specifying what they should be help students self-assess their ideas.
- Make sure that when you give students an open task, it really is open. You may have some preconceived ideas of what ideas students will come up with, but students will know pretty quickly if you genuinely would like to see creations you never expected.
- Give students tools and time to expand their thinking and their skills with technology and praise their efforts more than their products. An emphasis on what they do rather than on what they make builds risk-taking attitudes.
Introducing a little chaos into your classroom can be a gift for your students, a gift that not only adds meaning to their lives but also prepares them for life.
More about chaos and creativity
Developing Creativity: Embrace Chaos
A blog by a psychologist that discusses the role that chaos plays in creativity
The web site of one of the world’s most influential thinkers on the subject of creativity
Research Summary: Fostering Creativity
A nice synthesis of the research on creativity, with some practical ideas for classroom practice
Sir Ken Robinson
The web site of the world-renowned expert on creativity, Sir Ken Robinson, with multimedia resources. Be sure to check out the Changing Paradigms animation in the Watch section.