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With Larry Ferlazzo

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Teaching Opinion

Response: We Must Help Students ‘Recognize Their Creative Strengths’

By Larry Ferlazzo — March 20, 2017 19 min read
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(This is the second post in a three-part series. You can see Part One here.)

The new “question-of-the-week” is:

How do we help our students develop creativity?

In Part One, Lorena Germán, John Spencer, Laura Gibbs, Rachel Trowbridge, Amy Sandvold, Jen Schwanke and Howard Pitler shared their responses. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Lorena, John and Laura on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

Today, Laura Taddei, Cathy L. Seeley, Zane Dickey, Laura Fleming, Billy Krakower, Diane Friedlaender, Richard Byrne contribute their thoughts.

Response From Laura Taddei

Laura Taddei is co-author of Teaching the 4Cs with Technology: How do I use 21st centurytools to teach 21st century skills?(ASCD), along with Stephanie Budhai. Taddei is a leader in higher education with a mix of administrative and teaching responsibilities and is currently an assistant professor of Education at Neumann University:

In order for students to flourish in a challenging and complex society, the 4 Cs (Critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity) can help prepare them. Creativity is an essential skill for 21st century learners, but students need our support and encouragement to develop in this area. I have been teaching a creativity undergraduate and graduate course for several years, and working with preservice as well as in-service teachers. One of the key points I stress in this course is to focus on the process not the product. What I have found is that in order for teachers to help students develop creativity, they have to understand why it is important and also experience it themselves. While conducting research for my book, Teaching the 4 Cs with Technology, I became even more convinced of the importance of fostering creativity in the classroom.

The International Society for Technology in Education (2008) (known as ISTE) provides standards for teachers, students, and coaches. The first teacher standard is “facilitate and inspire student learning and creativity” (2008). In addition, the Partnership for 21st Century Learning has identified thinking creatively and implementing innovations as critical 21st century skills (2015). These organizations help support the importance of students not only thinking creatively but also being provided opportunities to practice and act on their creativity. Here are a few ways we can help student develop creativity:

Be Creative Yourself:

Creativity can be lost through experiences we have in life if it is not fostered and encouraged. I usually ask my students (preservice and in-service teachers) to reflect on their own creativity and many times they think they are not creative. Even as adults, they need opportunities to be creative. Being creative means taking a risk and doing something new to them. When teachers model to their students that they are being creative, then this helps alleviate the stress on the student. Try something new and creative and then talk about it with your students or better yet, do it with your students.

Allow Choices:

Providing students with choices is a great way to encourage creativity. I use tic tac toe boards and menu choice boards. Students have opportunities to decide on the assessment they will do and how they will do it. Some students struggle with these options and need a lot of encouragement to think through what they will do. Having students talk with other students in small groups about their choices and what they intend to do for their assignment, helps lessen the anxiety and then also provides ideas to students who may be struggling. Asking students to share their work with each other is another way to facilitate creativity and this can be done through using Padlet or a class wiki.

Using Technology to Redefine Learning:

The students we teach are digital natives. 21st century technology tools can help facilitate creative thought and design. One thing we stress within our book, Teaching the 4 Cs with Technology, is that it is not the tool that matters, it is the learning. Technology can be used to redefine learning and when students are given the choice on what digital tool they can use, this can empower students to showcase their creativity. The students can teach us about tools we may have never heard about. Many schools are implementing makerspaces and innovation labs, and these environments can expose students to different tools and also provide a safe space for creating and making. Even if schools do not yet have makerspaces, teachers can create small makerspaces within their own classrooms. There are many practical ideas on Pinterest on how to create your own makerspace on a limited budget.

We created a wiki for our book, “Teaching the 4 Cs with Technology,” to share information and resources and hopefully continue the conversation

What are some ways you help your students develop creativity?

Response From Cathy L. Seeley

Cathy L. Seeley has worked as a teacher, district mathematics coordinator, Texas state mathematics director for grades K-12, and is a former president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Her books include Making Sense of Math: How to Help Every Student Become a Mathematical Thinker and Problem Solver (ASCD) and Building a Math-Positive Culture: How to Support Great Math Teaching in Your School (ASCD):

STEM (science-technology-engineering-mathematics) is in the education spotlight these days, with employers and politicians calling for more investment in the sciences and related fields. Yes, STEM disciplines are increasingly important in today’s world. But more and more people are recognizing that the STEM disciplines alone don’t represent the full breadth of the education students need, with a growing number calling for the inclusion of the arts into the mix, generating a new acronym, STEAM (science-technology-engineering-arts-mathematics). As a math educator, I’d like to weigh in on behalf of a well-balanced curriculum that includes attention to all of the core subjects--not just the STEM fields--as well as the arts.

There’s more to our children’s education than the subjects we teach, however. If we are to appropriately educate students for their future, we have a responsibility to foster the development of a fundamental quality that makes this nation strong and unique--the ability to innovate, create and think in non-routine ways. Whether a person becomes an artist, an inventor, a businessperson, or a scientist, creativity is widely identified as an important 21st century skill (Friedman, 2011; NCEE, 2008). Teaching for creativity does not need to be limited to the arts. Creativity can also be developed through written and spoken communication, as well as within other disciplines, including mathematics and the sciences.

If we teach in ways that help students develop the ability to solve challenging problems, think, reason, elaborate and justify, any discipline can offer a platform for generating innovative ideas, free-flowing thought, or imaginative creations. Our classrooms need to encourage students to be willing to take risks and offer their thoughts, ideas, and solutions to problems, even if they might turn out to be wrong. Students need to feel safe that their ideas will be respected no matter what. At all grade levels, they need to be taught how to interact respectfully with each other, listening when other students share their thinking and asking clarifying questions when appropriate. We can create classrooms where all approaches to a problem are celebrated, even those that might vary from what a teacher anticipates, and where all voices are welcomed.

If we focus on teaching students how to interact with each other and if we make our classrooms healthy environments where students feel safe taking the risk of sharing their ideas with others, we can help all students develop their most creative qualities, whether producing a piece of art, writing a song or a story, generating a scientific hypothesis, or coming up with an innovative approach to a math problem. Policy makers and administrators can support this kind of classroom by fighting to make our educational system focused not on superficial tests of basic subjects, but focusing instead on our students and their exploring, thinking, reasoning, creating, and deep, lasting learning.

Friedman, Thomas L. That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2011.

National Center on Education and the Economy. Tough Choices or Tough Times: The Report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2008.

Response From Zane Dickey

Zane Dickey, M.Ed, NBCT is currently an AP Coordinator, HS College Counselor and teaches Spanish 1 and 2, Life Skills, ELL, and serves as co-advisor of the Global Issues Service Summit at the American School of Antananarivo (ASA) in Antananarivo, Madagascar. Zane Dickey has been an international teacher in Indonesia, Mali, and Senegal prior to Madagascar. Zane can be reached at Zaned@asamadagascar.org:

Creativity comes in various forms. In defining the word creativity, words and concepts such as imagination, inventiveness, and the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like to create new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations are used. An imaginative mind that transcends traditional ideas means exposure to a variety of perspectives, cultures, concepts, and methods that enable one to “see” or imagine something a form or interpretation.

Through interactions with others - whether it be through travel, dinner with our neighbors, open source programming, or volunteering - we see that ideas, rules, perceptions and patterns can build upon one another and perhaps improve what came before it. Creativity also means being curious, questions, and making connections.

The key seems to be providing opportunities, tools, and ideas that enable the imagination to flourish while not being confined to one person, company, or culture. These windows of opportunity for developing creativity are open, free, and often with little hierarchy. Many tools we have today are available because others wanted to share knowledge from the printing press, radio, TV, the Internet and podcasts like TED Talks and TED Hour, Mozilla FireFox search browsers, YouTube, public libraries offering books, to schools that encourage critical thinking and Theory of Knowledge courses that help students question both personal and shared knowledge while making deeper connections enabling one to imagine how the arts, sciences, maths might improve our lives. The key is fostering the imagination that seems to be a building block to creativity.

Response From Laura Fleming & Billy Krakower

Billy Krakower is the Computer Technology Instructor and Gifted & Talented Teacher for grades three and four at Beatrice Gilmore Elementary School in the Woodland Park (N.J.) Public School District. Billy is an ASCD Emerging Leader and co-author of three books: Connecting Your Students with The World, Using Technology to Engage Students with Learning Disabilities, and 140 Twitter Tips for Educators.

Laura Fleming has been an educator in New Jersey for 20 years, as both a classroom teacher and media specialist in grades K-8 and currently as a Library Media Specialist for grades 9-12. Recently, Laura created a digital badge-based professional development platform which can be found at www.worlds-of-learning-nmhs.com. She is also the author of the best-selling book, Worlds of Making: Best Practices for Establishing a Makerspace for Your School:

The pendulum in education has seemingly begun to swing away from focusing on preparing students for the rigors of high stakes, standardized testing to pedagogies and instructional practices that embrace and are even driven by creativity. Inquiry-Based Learning, Reggio, Open Pedagogy, Project-Based Learning, Maker Education, Montessori, Design Thinking all offer a myriad of creative educational approaches. Adopting any one of these is certainly small undertaking and can, in some cases, even be narrow in focus. A hybrid approach, which draws upon the richness of all of these approaches, may be most effective. Here are some ideas and examples for how educators can effectively do that in order to help develop the magic of creativity within all learners.

Promote creativity with questioning

The deliberate application of questioning strategies promotes inquiry, nurtures critical thinking and promotes creative thinking. As educators, we want to create a learning environment where questioning is encouraged. For creativity to flourish, It is imperative that we nurture questioning skills so that ultimately learners begin to formulate their own questions.


Mike Terborg, Elementary School Library Media Specialist in Maryland, uses primary sources to get his students thinking and questioning, with very little teacher intervention. He often sets up a primary source sequence from the Smithsonian or Library of Congress on a topic, such as maps from Early Americana, to Revolutionary war era, and then Civil War and uses questioning strategies to spark student-driven, creative discussions. His students once had a discussion that flowed from Rev War -> Slavery -> Star Wars 3D!

Empower students to want to create

Students should be encourage to build, create, explain, draw and demonstrate their abilities in a format that fits them. They crave the desire to create and explore we as educators must encourage them do so.


STEAM Educator, Andrew Deir, from Singapore, believes in letting students come up with and justify their own processes for making and creating, with thoughtful guidance from teachers. Along with a 2nd grade level team, their students worked on a project in which they had to design and sell a product to a peer. Given the freedom and flexibility they had for choosing their own processes for making and creating, some students developed their own ways of data handling, from market research, to investing time and ‘money’ into a product, and even advertising.

He believes the success of something like this is directly dependent upon a teacher’s level of comfort with inquiry.

Provide opportunities to make and create across all content areas

Creativity should not just be limited to the arts but incorporated across all content areas. Opportunities for exploration, experimentation and play have a place in all disciplines.


California High School English Teacher, Barton Keeler, told his students, ‘Make Me Something- Anything'. The only parameter students were given was that their creations had to be connected to something they had read in their class that year. They were given random, varied art supplies as options for materials for making their creations. Mr. Keeler describes the results of this as nothing short of stunning. He learned that student choice is a powerful tool of engagement, that reluctant students can thrive with the right assignment, and wide parameters are a creative spark.

Inspire students to want to create

Students cannot be forced to be creative. To help develop their creativity, we need to create the conditions to inspire them to want to create. This can be as something as simple as a dynamic read-aloud or something as detailed as tailoring a dynamic learning space that maximizes the potential for students to create.


Milltown Primary Principal, Mr. Matthew Lembo, in Bridgewater, New Jersey took creativity to another level by putting stations in his school cafeteria. His school saw their Cafeteria (Cafe) as an extension of the learning environment for the children. They built “stations” (reading, math, science, arcade cabinet, making, Lego, board games, carnival games, art) that allow children to play, talk, solve problems, and create. He says that allowing children the freedom to create and explore during their lunch/recess time has virtually eliminated discipline referrals from the Cafe, has fostered great opportunities for creativity, and provided engaging learning/social opportunities that differ from the rest of the school day.

Make real-world connections

Perhaps the most meaningful way to help develop our students’ creativity is to connect what they are doing to the real-world. Being able to look at the world, recognize a problem, and to create a solution, is probably one of the most powerful, authentic learning experiences there is.


The seventh grade students of Middle School STEAM teacher, Kevin Jarrett, in Northfield, New Jersey, recently worked with a team from one of their local hospitals, on finding ways to make pediatric patients more comfortable and less anxious in the hospital setting. Student creations included a maker box, an app, and a ‘smart’ stuffed animal.

Co-create learning spaces

Instead of deciding for your students what type of learning environment would best spark their creativity, allow students to design and create their own spaces! Co-creating learning spaces is a great exercise in creativity, but also ensures that you will have an environment that works best for your students.


Mrs. Marina Basille, the Elementary school Library Media Specialist for Amerigo A. Anastasia School, in Long Branch, New Jersey, worked alongside her students in creating a collaborative learning space in her library, by creating a seating solution that doubled as storage for her makerspace items. The students made the fun and inspiring seats out of buckets and created the seat cushions using the lids, foam and fabric!

Create physical makerspaces that allow for students to have the opportunity to become creators and not just consumers.

Makerspaces come in all shapes and sizes. Some are in a library, some in a classroom, others even in hallways or cafeterias. One thing they all have in common is that they are places in which students are able to create, explore, develop and share their own ideas.


Germantown Academy, in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, takes makerspaces to another level, with their Nature Nook. This outdoor makerspace began with students transporting natural materials from the woods into this space to be able to build and create. The space evolved into a multi-sensory nature-based play area, complete with a water pump, shovels and a range of natural materials with which to build and create.

Response From Diane Friedlaender

Diane Friedlaender, PhD, is a Senior Associate at the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE):

What are the building blocks of creativity? Creativity often gets talked about as taking action to make connections between things in new and different ways. But what skills and orientations do children need to be able to take that action? They need a bent toward risk-taking in a space where they are not constantly judged. They need expertise; deep conceptual understanding to be able to put things together in different ways. They need a holistic understanding of ideas so they can be examined from multiple perspectives.

We are facing monumental challenges in our present and our future such as violence sparked by inequities of tremendous proportion and the decreasing habitability of our planet. Nurturing and supporting the creative muscle of our children is essential to our very survival.

Unfortunately, most schools in this country, particularly those that serve the most disadvantaged children, are doing little to support children’s creative development. Schools that embody the conditions to nurture creative development need to be places where children and teachers have space to explore, discover, take risks and engage in learning in broad and holistic ways. One such space is within the Waldorf-Inspired public schools.

Our research shows, that the Waldorf-inspired approach differs from many other public schools in the extent to which it extends its focus beyond providing students with specific knowledge and skills to prepare them for college and career, to also preparing children for meaningful lives in the broadest sense by developing them for physically, socially, artistically, and cognitively meaningful engagement with the world. Students are deeply involved in a full range of expressive arts - ranging from watercolors and music to knitting and physical activity; they learn science by gardening and investigating natural phenomena, mathematics by designing and building things of practical value, history from studying biography and the human meaning of historical events, English language arts by writing their own books and extended accounts of what they are learning.

You can learn more about these schools, the positive outcomes they have for students and the conditions necessary to establish schools that foster creativity in the public system, at //edpolicy.stanford.edu/publications/pubs/1386

Response From Richard Byrne

Richard Byrne is a former high school social studies teacher best known for developing the award-winning blog Free Technology for Teachers. He has been invited to speak at events on six continents and would gladly go to Antarctica. Richard’s work is focused on sharing free resources that educators can use to enhance their students’ learning experiences:

All students have creativity inside of them. It’s our job to help them recognize their creative strengths. One of the ways that I try to do this with high school students is help them understand that creativity doesn’t mean developing new things from scratch.Creativity can be taking an existing idea and modifying it to fit a particular need. That’s what Napolean Hill referred to as synthetic imagination in his 1937 work “Think and Grow Rich.” From a practical standpoint this means that I try to introduce students to a variety of tools that help them find existing ideas then collaborate with others to further develop those ideas. Google Docs with its built-in research tool is good for this process as is the brainstorming tool Realtime Board.

Thanks to Laura, Cathy, Zane, Laura, Billy, Diane and Richard for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

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