Teacher and Student Perceptions of Creativity in the Classroom Environment

By Fleith, Denise de Souza | Roeper Review, April 2000 | Go to article overview
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Teacher and Student Perceptions of Creativity in the Classroom Environment


Fleith, Denise de Souza, Roeper Review


Interest in creativity as an area of educational research dates from the second half of the twentieth century. Since then, creativity research findings have had an impact on educational objectives, teaching strategies, administrative practices, and the physical school environment (Torrance, 1983). Educators have emphasized the importance of favorable conditions for developing the creative potential of students. Consequently, several educators and researchers (Alencar, 1993; Henessey & Amabile, 1987; Runco, 1993a; Starko, 1995; Sternberg & Williams, 1996; Torrance, 1983) have suggested ways to cultivate creativity in an educational environment. Some efforts have also been made to discuss factors which constitute barriers to creative classroom behavior (Adams, 1986: Amabile, 1989; Von Oech, 1983).

Despite recognition that the educational environment plays an important role in developing students' creative expression, few attempts have been made to examine teacher and student perceptions about the extent to which creativity has been enhanced or inhibited in that context. According to Fryer and Collings (1991), most studies have approached teachers' views in an indirect way through measuring attitudes before and after creativity workshops, or concentrating on teachers' attitudes towards the personality characteristics associated with creativity. The purpose of this study was to investigate teachers and students perceptions about stimulants and obstacles for the development of creativity in the classroom environment.

The Influence of the Environment on Creativity

Studies in creativity have tried to conceptualize the term creativity and explain the process involved in the creative act. No consensus exists, however, about how to define creativity. The various conceptions of creativity can be divided among four categories which form focal points for researchers and persons interested in the developmental process (Feldhusen & Goh, 1995): person, product, process, and environment. According to Tardiff and Sternberg (1988), the definitions that focus on the creative person include three aspects: cognitive characteristics, personality and emotional qualities, and experiences during one's development (e.g. being a first-born, having many hobbies). The second category of definitions emphasizes the characteristics of the creative product. It must be novel, powerful, valuable or useful to society. The third category concerns process, or how to develop creative products. The creative process can involve an original way to produce unusual ideas, to make different combinations, or to add new ideas to existing knowledge. Finally, the definitions grouped in the fourth category emphasize the role of the environment in promoting or inhibiting creative abilities. In this regard, Csikszentmihalyi (1988) suggested that the most fundamental question in creativity is "where is creativity" and not "what is creativity."

Some authors (Amabile & Tighe, 1993; Csikszentmihalyi, 1996; Gardner, 1993; Sternberg & Lubart, 1991) include social, cultural or historical dimensions in their conceptions of creativity. The zeitgeist, as much as the culture, sets standards for labeling products as creative. These standards can direct an individual's potential or inhibit a creative attempt. From that perspective, creativity cannot be understood by isolating individuals and their works from their context, as "creativity does not happen inside people's heads, but in the interaction between a person's thoughts and a sociocultural context. It is a systematic rather than an individual phenomenon." (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996, p. 23)

Thus, the creation of an enhancing, harmonious and meaningful environment can contribute to the development of creative potential. In the educational setting, an environment that fosters creativity should include the following components: allowing time for creative thinking; rewarding creative ideas and products; encouraging sensible risks; allowing mistakes; imagining other viewpoints; exploring the environment; questioning assumptions (Sternberg & Williams, 1996); finding interests and problems; generating multiple hypotheses; focusing on broad ideas rather than specific facts; and thinking about the thinking processes (Starko, 1995).

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