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Classroom Management

How to Foster a Creative Learning Environment

7 Min Read
Classcraft ow to Foster a Creative Classroom Environment

While writing this article, I decided to conduct a small experiment. I reached out to 50 different elementary and secondary teachers. I’m connected to many of them through my personal experience as a classroom teacher. The others are members of an online teacher support group that allows educators to network with other professionals.

I had only one question for those I spoke with: “What is a creative learning environment?”

Most of those who answered online gave vague, somewhat circular answers like “a place where all students can be creative” or “a classroom that includes art.” Many of those I asked in person gave me deer-in-headlights stares.

You see, many people—even educators—cannot fully articulate what the word creativity means because it’s such a subjective and general concept. I must admit that I’ve struggled with coming to terms with it myself.

According to Robert Franken in his book Human Motivation:

“Creativity is the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and dealing with complex situations.”

When considering this definition of creativity, one could conclude that creativity should be integral to the teaching process. Wondering how you can foster a creative classroom environment? Start with the seven ideas below.

7 Ideas to Construct a Creative Classroom Environment

1. Focus on flexible seating

Bean bag chairs, exercise balls, and cushion mats are all the rage in elementary classrooms around the country. Still, many teachers are hesitant to embrace flexible seating. Before you completely dismiss the idea of bringing in low-lying desks or allowing students to stand in class, consider the benefits:

  • Comfort equals better focus.
  • Flexible seating is better for collaboration.
  • Choice helps students feel connected.
  • Flexible seating assists with multisensory learning.

One final benefit of including flexible seating as a part of a creative classroom is that it allows students who have trouble sitting still to stand or move around a bit. Having the opportunity to learn in a position that is most comfortable for you can take academic achievement to a new level.

2. Use creative grouping

While you are getting creative with your seating, you should also think about shaking up the way you group students. Buttons and shapes, paint swatches, and secret ballots can all breathe some life into your classroom layout. There’s a grouping strategy out there that can help you reach maximum collaboration and engagement—it’s up to you to find what works best for your students!

3. Create visual goals

Most adults know the value of goal setting, but did you know that it can work wonders in the classroom as well? Bonus: The implementation is totally up to you and can be as simple or involved as you want it to be. Here are a few ideas:

  • Set-up a classroom bulletin board labeled “Sticking to Our Goals.” Have students write their daily/weekly goals on a sticky note and post them on the board.
  • Have students track their own progress toward goals using markers and stickers.
  • Create individual vision boards to keep track of what students want to accomplish throughout the year.

4. Find unique resources

As a 30-something, I’ve noticed that my days in the classroom as a student and as a teacher have been noticeably different. We used physical textbooks when I was in school. Nowadays, they’re pretty much a thing of the past.

During my first few years of teaching, I found this difficult to accept. Truthfully, I still like a good textbook (especially for math). However, I also realize that using one cookie-cutter source is not going to help students reach their highest academic potential. For this reason, I often venture outside the assigned curriculum and find supplemental resources that help students embrace creativity. Here are a few of my personal favorites:

  • Picture journal prompts
  • Dice games for spelling, math, and reading
  • Math coloring sheets
  • Interactive notebooks

5. Embrace alternative assessments

Take a moment to think about the point of an assessment. There are a few different reasons we test students, but the main three are to:

  1. Guide current and future instruction
  2. See where students are with a skill/subject
  3. Determine how close students are to reaching a goal

Now, who says that paper and pencil tests are the only way to accomplish these goals? Building a truly innovative and environment requires changing the way student knowledge and growth are evaluated. Here are some creative classroom ideas:

  • Have your students create their own infographics, interactive posters, podcasts, or videos.
  • Pair them up and assist them in creating tech-based presentations.
  • Use fun games for online polls or test preparation.
  • Let your students show what they know by conducting interviews, writing a how-to manual, or writing a persuasive letter.
  • Allow open-book exams or retakes to more accurately model the real world, where everything is essentially “open notes.”
  • Have them choose between creating a collage, making a comic strip, coming up with a pitch or sketch, or designing a concept map.

The more engaging you make your comprehensive assessment system, the more your students will want to show you what they know.

6. Encourage autonomy

One of the greatest accomplishments of any educator is successfully teaching autonomy in the classroom; this requires shifting our traditional understanding of what a teacher is. We’re not there to lecture—our most important role is ensuring that we’re equipping our students with the skills necessary to be independent, lifelong learners.

You might be thinking, “Sure, but what does this have to do with creativity?” A creative learning environment isn’t one where students are thinking outside of the box. It’s one in which students make the box better or ditch it altogether and design something new. If we force students to do things our way, we stifle their ability to develop original ideas. Instead, we can:

  • Tie learning to personal interests. Students are much more likely to take charge or dive in when they connect to what they are learning. Connecting students’ personal interests to learning takes a little creativity on the teacher’s part, but it’s doable. Start by giving students a quick interest survey. Then, when you’re planning your lessons throughout the year, find ways to incorporate things that your students said they were into. You’ll be amazed how taking a few extra minutes to work on a student’s favorite topic can change the way they view school and learning.
  • Let them struggle. Instead of jumping in to help, give your students time to figure things out on their own. If they ask for assistance and have tried to solve a problem, provide help as needed, but don’t spoon-feed them. It’s still important to require students to use their thinking skills! After all, you lose what you don’t use.
  • Encourage self-assessment. Students should be responsible for assessing their own progress. Sure, we as teachers have a role in assigning grades and determining if our learners are on track, but this does very little for a student in the grand scheme of things if they don’t take an active part in that process.

If students aren’t allowed to evaluate and take ownership of their finished products, they will always feel disconnected from learning. Self-assessment opportunities are a way to bridge this gap.

7. Encourage discussion and collaboration

One of the most important parts of a creative classroom is constructing an environment that encourages discussion and collaboration.

Connecting with others is one of the best ways to improve critical-thinking skills, as is learning to defend one’s opinion. You want to encourage real, thought-provoking conversations. Guide students to take part in these experiences through the use of:

  • More group work
  • Conversation stems
  • Think-pair-share alternatives

Set the bar high and allow your students to meet your expectations! When you do, you’ll find yourself a part of a creative classroom environment with students excited about learning and reaching their goals.

***

This article was adapted from a blog post initially developed by the education technology company Classcraft, which was acquired by HMH in 2023. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.

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