More Lessons in Creativity

Your daily experiences should all be about curiosity, divergent thinking, creative self-expression, and life-long learning!


What did you think of my May blog-post “Lessons in Creativity” (part 1) on this subject? Did you review the sample opportunities to stimulate your brain, build your artistic sensitivity, and nurture your expressive soul… resources like the following?

If you have not read the first article in this series, please go back to For a survey of all blogs on this subject, click on the link (to the right) “Creativity and Education.”

preschool-class-activities2-2-1251386My “soapbox” in this forum has always been that we need to do things in education  intentionally – in the classrooms, written/posted weekly lesson targets, and curriculum. In school, we have spent an inordinate amount of time developing convergent thinking, a.k.a. one-answer-only principles/laws/inarguable facts.What is needed is MORE divergent thinking – multiple solutions or pathways to the resolution of a problem, open-ended “out-of-the-box” proposals – generating fresh views and novel solutions. Best practices in education would be a combination of both convergent and divergent thinking techniques – the ultimate role of our profession – mastery of the essential 21st century learning skill of critical thinking.

Here and in future blogs, “the plan” is to offer more ideas on becoming more creative – improving self-awareness, experimentation, and enjoyment of inventiveness, innovation, and flexibility/adaptability – openness to new and diverse perspectives.

This is a good place to post your opinions and perspective. Thanks for responding with comments to this blog series.

And now, the next bi-monthly installment of research, resources, and my own ramblings to consider….

Cultivating Curiosity

Cultivating Curiosity book - 1I stumbled on a free ASCD webinar for July 28, 2016 that will “detail ways to foster student curiosity through novelty and play; questioning and critical thinking; and experimenting and problem solving.” Based on Dr. Wendy Ostroff’s book, Cultivating Curiosity in K–12 Classrooms: How to Promote and Sustain Deep Learning, the online session will dive into the concept of a structured, student-centered environment that allows for openness and surprise, where inquiry guides authentic learning. “When a classroom is grounded in curiosity, teachers have the unique opportunity to mine students’ deepest held wonder, making their engagement natural and effortless and allowing them to fully open up to learning.” For more information on the workshop, go to

The book Cultivating Curiosity in K-12 Classrooms itself is an excellent find. Dr. Wendy Ostroff defines her rationale in support of curiosity as critical to student success in school:

  • Curiosity jump-starts and sustains intrinsic motivation, allowing deep learning to happen with ease.
  • Curiosity releases dopamine, which not only brings pleasure, but also improves observation and memory.
  • Curious people exhibit enhanced cognitive skills.

The chapters layout a plan to foster student curiosity through exploration, novelty, and play; questioning and critical thinking; and experimenting and problem solving.

 The Artist’s Way

The Artist WayThe “power” of journal writing and brainstorming is so essential to the creative process. Author and educator Julia Cameron has written a series of books on the subject of “unblocking your inner artist.” The Artist’s Way, the title of one of her international best-sellers, has been transformed into a movement of artists helping other artists, a program she says is “used in hospitals, prisons, universities, human potential centers, and often among therapist doctors aids groups in battered woman’s programs, not to mention fine art studios, theological programs, and music conservatories.”

Her lessons included two fundamental tools, morning pages and artist date. Morning pages are three pages of daily longhand writing, strictly free stream-of-consciousness, a.k.a. “brain drain,” absent from any form of censorship or (as she calls it) “logic brain.” Her other tool, artist date, is “a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness…” quality time spent alone with your “creative child.” For painters, 3D artists, writers, photographers, musicians, singers, and actors, I heartily recommend her tutorials The Artist’s Way and for retirees It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond.

More Best of Bonk!

The World is Open bookOne of my “heroes” on the subject of instructional strategies in creativity, critical thinking, motivation, and collaboration is Professor Curtis J. Bonk, Indiana University (Bloomington) School of Education and author of The World is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education. His course materials and creativity exercises are amazing, and he has been very generous in sharing the slide presentations of his classes. If you have not already done so, you should peruse his “Best of Bonk” website at (click on the creativity module), and find out the meaning of these terms:

  • Six hats
  • KWL
  • Reverse brainstorming
  • Checkerboarding
  • Wet ink
  • Second best answer
  • Pruning the tree
  • Fish bowl

If these intrigue you, take a gander at Dr. Bonk’s blog TravelinEdMan where he reflects on his speaking experiences around the world, and posts articles, recommended reading lists, links to other bloggers/sites, etc. at

He also shared his book, 100+ Activities for Motivating and Retaining Learners Online, available as a free download from

Two Ideas for Music Teachers

cornet-593661_1920For school music directors, I would suggest to offer a weekly “create a warm-up” opportunity run by student conductors. Many well-intentioned “school maestros” are guilty of setting up the rigid format of a “benevolent dictatorship” (“my way or the highway”) and not allowing the individual participants to share any input in running practices or interpreting the music. For the first five minutes of the rehearsal, ask student volunteers to choose the articulation or key of a scale, and even create a drill from the challenging rhythmic motives introduced by the music in the folder. Variations on tempo and dynamics can be lead by the student leaders.

My mother had an elementary lesson of free association, “rapid writing” in response to looking at a large picture posted in the front of the classroom. Although probably not as valued by her unimaginative principal (to be fair, this was in the 60s, and phonetics drill was preferable over creative writing), her concept is much like the nonjudgmental practice of brainstorming… “do not stop to edit or evaluate what comes out of your head” and “there are no wrong answers or interpretations.” Save any proofreading and assessment of merit, categorizing, prioritizing, spellchecking, and fixing punctuation or grammar for later drafts. This artistic process can be adapted for singers or instrumentalists. Take two minutes out of a practice, post a giant photograph of just about any scene, and have the musicians express their feelings via random improvisations, communicating “on the spot” what they see, feel, and think about from their observation of the picture. Encourage the communication of their “views” using contrasts of the various musical elements: major/minor tonality, tempo, rhythms, articulations, dynamics, phrasing, etc.

Until next time…

clay-1220105_1920As quoted on the back cover of the Cultivating Curiosity in K-12 Classrooms, “We learn by engaging and exploring, asking questions and testing out answers. Yet our classrooms are not always places where such curiosity is encouraged and supported.” As important as literacy and logic, how can we nurture creativity in the schools? For this forum, can you share your thoughts on additional lessons in creativity?


© 2016 Paul K. Fox

Other Blogs on Creativity in Education at This Site

Creative Teaching & Teaching Creativity – PART III – Creative Techniques

Reprinted from the Winter 2015 issue of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association music teachers’ state journal of PMEA News.

“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” — Alan Alda


“Creative thinking” riddle of the month:

An ordinary American citizen, with no passport, visits over thirty foreign countries in one day. He is welcomed in each country, and leaves of his own accord. How is this possible? (Answer printed at the bottom on this article.)

The final segment of this three-part series for all educators addresses many of the “how-to” aspects of using imaginative approaches to make learning more interesting and effective (teaching creatively) and strategies of teaching that are intended to develop students’ creative thinking or behavior (teaching for creativity).

25 Ways to Develop Creativity

Probably one of the best resources I found in my research on creativity is the book How to Develop Student Creativity by Robert J. Sternberg and Wendy M. Williams (ASCD 1996). Sternberg and Williams provide a detailed guide with personal experiences on instructional techniques in creativity, including how to choose creative environments, expose students to creative role models, identify and surmount obstacles to creativity, direct students to question assumptions, generate new ideas, and promote self-responsibility.

Steinberg and Williams refer to “the investment theory of creativity,” which asserts that “creative thinkers are like good investors – they buy low and sell high. Whereas investors do so in the world of finance, creative people do so in the world of ideas by taking a unique, typically undervalued idea, and convincing other people of its worth.”

Their 25 tips “in a nutshell” are:

  1. Modeling Creativity
  2. Building Self-Efficacy
  3. Questioning Assumptions
  4. Defining and Redefining Problems
  5. Encouraging Idea Generation
  6. Cross-Fertilizing Ideas
  7. Allowing Time for Creative Thinking
  8. Instructing and Assessing Creativity
  9. Rewarding Creative Ideas and Products
  10. Encouraging Sensible Risks
  11. Tolerating Ambiguity
  12. Allowing Mistakes
  13. Identifying and Surmounting Obstacles
  14. Teaching Self-Responsibility
  15. Promoting Self-Regulation
  16. Delaying Gratification
  17. Using Profiles of Creative People
  18. Encouraging Creative Collaboration
  19. Imagining Other Viewpoints
  20. Recognizing Environmental Fit
  21. Finding Excitement
  22. Seeking Stimulating Environments
  23. Playing to Strengths
  24. Growing Creatively
  25. Proselytizing for Creativity

Hands-on Ideas for Building Creative Learning

In Teaching Creatively and Teaching for Creativity, presented by the British Council (Eltec/Jordan), United Kingdom’s international organization for cultural relations and educational opportunities, the task for teaching “for creativity” is defined as:

  • Encouraging – Highly creative people are driven by strong belief in their abilities and a positive self-image.
  • Identifying – Creative achievement is driven by “a person’s love of a particular instrument, for the feel of the material, and for the excitement of a style of work that catch the imagination.” We must help students find their creative strengths
  • Fostering – “Creativity draws from many ordinary abilities and skills rather than one special gift or talent.” Therefore, “the development of many common capacities and sensitivities can help to foster creativity.”

“Creativity itself is a mode of learning,” a combination of three features:

  1. It involves a thoughtful playfulness – learning through experimental ‘play.’ It is serious play conjuring up, exploring and developing possibilities and then critically evaluating and testing them.
  2. It involves a special flexibility in which there may be a conscious attempt to challenge the assumptions and preconceptions of the self – an unusual activity in which there is an active effort to unlearn in order to learn afresh.
  3. This process is driven by the find, introduce, construct or reconstruct something new. It seeks actively to expand the possibilities of any situation. In this sense the learning of creative thoughts is not neutral; it has a bias towards the innovative.

The British Council proposes many tips for building creative learning:

  • Start simply, and build progressively.
  • Find easy ways in to creative learning. Start with the classroom environment. Move on to how pupils and staff use speech and questions. Keep it manageable, keep the focus tight. Show and share tangible changes. This will develop confidence to go further.
  • Be a ‘creative advocate.’ Create a presentation or materials that you can use both within your school to convince colleagues and out of school. This will help to build a whole-school ethos around creativity.
  • Focus on one area at a time, for example, in developing more creative learning in math, and use this to raise awareness and encourage staff to think about applications in other subject areas and spaces in the school.
  • Organize an enquiring minds-type project where pupils have an opportunity to negotiate the aim of the project and are instrumental in designing how it is carried out (resource:
  • Set-up an inventor’s club after school.
  • Transform one small area in the school as a space designed for creativity and imagination.
  • Make sure that the pupils have some ownership of the project.

Return to the “Best of Bonk”

More hands-on tools and ideas can be found at the aforementioned website of Indiana University of Bloomington Professor Dr. Curtis Bonk’s (but, let me warn you, you can truly get lost perusing all of his class materials for the course Instructional Strategies for Thinking, Collaboration, and Motivation): He is very generous in sharing his materials. It is worth exploring his class notes and lecture presentations (PowerPoint) posted at the “Best of Bonk” website.

Here are a few of my favorite excerpts from his handouts:

Ten+ Creative Thinking Ideas

  1. Brainstorming: More ideas/wilder the better, no evaluation, combo to improve (examples – How to study better? How to raise test scores? What are better teaching techniques)
  2. Reverse Brainstorming (examples – How to study worse? How to lower test scores? What are worst teaching techniques)
  3. Creative Writing and Story Telling (examples – object obituaries, tell a tall tale, cartoons, jokes/quips, story starters, wrap-a-round’s, forced responses, newsletters, object talking, etc.)
  4. Idea-Spurring Questions, Checklists, or Cards (e.g., Osborn’s SCAMPER method): How do we substitute, combine, adapt, modify/max-min put to other uses, eliminate, reverse/rearrange?
  5. Six hats (wear different color hats for different types of thinking)
  6. Free Writing/Wet Inking (write without lifting pen for 3-5 minutes on, e.g., best teacher ever had)
  7. Checkerboarding, Attribute Listing, Morphological Synthesis (analyze or combine 2 key variables/components in grid/matrix; e.g., CT & CR)
  8. Analogies, Metaphorical Thinking, Synectics, or Forced Associations (This school is like a ____; An good presenter is like a ____?)
  9. Semantic Webbing/Chaining/Linking/Mapping of Ideas, Free Association Activities (What is a greenhouse effect? What is a good curriculum? What is effective teaching?)
  10. Simulations and Role Plays (Computer simulations, act out plays or literature, simulated games or performance)
  11. Other techniques
  • The Second Best Answer, What else, > 1 Right Answer (What else applies)
  • Elaboration/Explanation (Another reason is)
  • Diaries, Personal Journals (When in the field, I want to jot down…)
  • Just Suppose/What If Exercises (What if we had cooperative exams?)
  • Creative Dramatics/Improvisation (imagine hearing, seeing, feeling)

Bonk provides an exhaustive set of creative thinking techniques, including activities in visual thinking, idea listing, writing, group interactions, and process-product oriented.

More Resources

Too comprehensive to list here, but an excellent summary, the TeachThought “101 Ways for Teachers To Be More Creative” at, posts ideas for finding creative inspiration, capitalizing on the creative spark, inspiring students, the creative classroom, creative activities, sharing and collaborating, and educate yourself.

Check out the Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching website section entitled “Techniques for Creative Teaching” at!

On the Friendship Circle blog, “How to Teach Creative Thinking to Concrete Thinkers” shares ten ideas from a parent’s perspective at

Numerous music education specific sources are available. One of my favorites, Teaching Music Creatively by Pam Burnard and Regina Murphy (Routledge 2013), offers a comprehensive approach in the delivery of a creative music curriculum. Key topics included:

  • Creative teaching, and what it means to teach creatively;
  • Composition, listening and notation;
  • Spontaneous music-making;
  • Group music and performance;
  • The use of multimedia;
  • Integration of music into the wider curriculum;
  • Musical play;
  • Cultural diversity;
  • Assessment and planning.

Finally, from my favorite issue of the ASCD Educational Leadership, February 2013 “Creativity Now,” the starting point for much of the research for this three-part series, I recommend reading Danah Henriksen and Punya Mishra’s article “Learning from Creative Teachers,” who provide insight and practical applications from “outstanding teachers who share how they teach creatively in an age of scripted lessons and accountability.” You can find the text online at ( They discuss these areas:

  1. Connect Your Interests with Your Teaching
  2. Link Lessons to Real-World Learning
  3. Cultivate a Creative Mind-Set
  4. Value Collaboration
  5. Take Intellectual Risks

Arrival of the New National Music Standards!

No discussion on creativity would be complete without embracing our national music standards. The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards launched the Core Arts Standards on June 4, 2014 after extensive public review. You are urged to go to their new “official” website The National Core Arts Standards are organized into four processes – Creating, Performing/Presenting/Producing, Responding, and Connecting – in order to develop a philosophical foundation and lifelong goals towards artistic literacy. The three common anchor standards include the following.

Students will:

  1. Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
  2. Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
  3. Refine and complete artistic work.

Are we intentionally doing these in our music classrooms?

Creativity vs. the Common Core? and Final Thoughts for the Future

Creativity is one of the 21st Century learning skills, and many educational visionaries declare it to be a one of the most essential for the students’ future success in career and personal life. Bloom’s Taxonomy and Depth of Knowledge charts put creating at the top level of higher-order thinking. In an article “Creativity on the Brink” (2013), Alane Starko connects creativity to deep understanding: “If we want students to master the content, they must do something with it beyond simple repetition. They must use it in meaningful ways and make it their own.” Catapult Learning sums this up best (see “As teachers transition towards the Common Core Standards, they are certainly being asked to attend to each of the aspects expressed through creativity: increased rigor and higher-order thinking, the application and transfer of knowledge, and the ability to communicate effectively through 21st century technology tools.”

Our music technology colleague Jim Frankel reminds us to define our “personal mission” in music education, to realize how important it is to remain “student-centered,” and that our kids “want to create content in the same medium in which they consume it.”

He adds, we should be focused on students “wanting to make ‘cool’ music/projects/websites/whatever.”

What better way to teach creatively and “teach for creativity” than to use the magic of music?

What are your thoughts?

Answer to the creative thinking riddle: The man is a mail courier who delivers packages to 30 foreign embassies in the United States. The land of an embassy belongs to that country of that embassy. [Attributed to Visual Thinking Puzzles by Michael A. DiSpezio (Sterling 1988)]

For a list of additional resources for further research, please go to the bottom of my main page on creativity at this WordPress site: Creativity in Education – Are We Ready for a New Paradigm Shift?


© 2015 Paul K. Fox