Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Promoting Creativity in the Middle Grades Language Arts Classroom

Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Promoting Creativity in the Middle Grades Language Arts Classroom

Article excerpt

Four overarching principles and concrete learning activities help teachers to overcome challenges to promoting rich and authentic creativity among students.

Creativity is not the finding of a thing, but the making something out of it after it is found.

- James Russell Lowell, poet

Middle level educators around the country aim to create a classroom environment and a way of teaching that is developmentally responsive, challenging, empowering, and equitable for every student (National Middle School Association, 2010). One way to ensure this is to include instruction that promotes creativity. This article offers guiding principles and shares instructional lessons that can assist teachers in promoting creativity in the language arts classroom.

We begin by identifying different definitions of creativity. Then, we discuss the importance of creativity and describe defining characteristics and behaviors of creative thinkers. Next, we offer guiding principles to promote creativity in the middle grades language arts classroom, share instructional lessons that reflect these principles, and present samples of student work that resulted. We end with final thoughts on promoting creativity in middle level education.

What is creativity?

Creativity is a complex concept in large part because it involves many definitions and terms, all of which have changed, and continue to change, over time. Traditionally, creativity has been defined primarily in terms of individual personality traits and is evidenced by the creative ways individuals think and behave. For example, a psychometric view identifies traits like divergent thinking and problem-solving skills and focuses on predicting the likelihood of individuals producing creative responses to real-life problems and situations (Fishkin & Johnson, 1998). A social-personality view posits that creativity is connected to a person's motivation, personality, and sociocultural environment. This view identifies common traits in people identified as creative. These traits include "risk-taking, independence of judgment, self-confidence, attraction to complexity, self-actualization, and an aesthetic orientation" (Morgan, Ponticell, & Gordon, 2000, p. 8) as well as ambition and high level of commitment to one's work (Gardner, 1993). Renzulli (in Hong, Hartzell, & Greene, 2009, p. 193) expands this list with task commitment, a trait that includes hard work and determination.

Today, creativity remains complex, maybe even more so because it is defined more broadly. While multiple definitions of creativity still exist, these definitions have shifted from a one-dimensional view (a list of personality traits) to a multidimensional view (Fishkin & Johnson, 1998). This multifaceted perspective perceives creativity as a combination of uniqueness and relevance (Beghetto, 2007); In essence, creativity today is viewed as individuals involved in a creative process-the process of taking an existing idea or problem, seeing the idea or problem in multiple ways with multiple solutions, and solving or transforming it into something new and worthwhile.

Why is creativity important?

Historically, creativity has been the lifeblood for innovation and economic progress in the United States. According to Zhao (2006), the "secret weapon that has helped the United States remain an economic leader and innovation powerhouse is the creative, risk-taking, can-do spirit of its people" (p. 30). This secret weapon has not gone unnoticed by other countries around the world, especially in the area of education. Many countries around the world have reformed their educational systems to intentionally include more creativity in their schools (Zhao, 2006).

However, while other countries are encouraging creativity, it appears that the United States is shying away from it. Creativity scores in children have declined since 1990, especially with children in kindergarten through sixth grade (Bronson & Merryman, 2010). …

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