Creative Teachers and Their Instructional Methods, Approaches & Activites
Most people, when they hear the word creativity, think of singers, painters, designers, or generally, those who are innately gifted or have the potential to invent interesting things that have never been made before. Creativity is undoubtedly represented in many aspects of human life. It is the process of making connections and, sometimes, it is about productivity, about making something new from those connections (Gardner,1993). However, creativity can be defined at many distinct levels: cognitively, intellectually and spiritually. A common definition of creativity from Webster Dictionary states that “Creativity is marked by the ability or power to create—bring into existence, to invest with a new form, to produce thorough imaginative skill, to make or bring into existence something new”. Generally, according to Sternberg & Lubart, “creativity is the ability to produce work that is both novel and appropriate” (Sternberg & Lubart, 1999). In English language teaching, as an example, creativity is commonly considered to be the quality and/or skill a person has to come up with something truly new and original through the use of imagination and higher order thinking skills. It is a vital skill and/or quality, amongst all the teaching skills and capabilities, needed by every teacher to solve frequent problems they face in the classroom, not only by using imagination and higher order thinking skills, but also by thinking further to come up with novel ideas, from different sources, by means of new and different strategies — it is thinking outside the box.
“In the act of creating, or in solving problems in a creative way, we often go round and round, in endless circles, wanting to pounce on an idea. Sometimes the answer or solution is right before our eyes but we cannot see it. In order to find the solution, find the missing piece, solve the problem, we need to just look at something familiar in a new and different way” (Wilson. L, 2014).
Creative EFL teachers:
In the last few decades, there has been significant research on creativity in general and creative EFL teachers in particular. The teacher, as a central constituent in the classroom, should have a deep understanding of his/her own creativity. In addition, s/he should be equipped with imaginative approaches and a repertoire of effective and engaging activities that, of course, ideally match students’ preferences, needs and learning styles. Creative teachers are those who make use of an eclectic choice of teaching methods, techniques, activities, and strategies in their classrooms. That is to say, they do not choose methods and procedures erratically, but depending on their students’ interests, needs and learning styles.
Irrefutably, teacher’s creativity is of utmost importance to make students autonomous and independent learners as well as to enhance their ability to create or come up with something new and original. Students need a creative teacher to facilitate their learning, make it more interesting and enjoyable, and motivate them to learn and solve problems themselves. However, for more effective teaching, a teacher can be (if not creative) innovative in the sense that s/he implements novel things in the classroom. The common question that might be posed here is: what is the difference between creativity and innovation? Creativity, as previously stated, is the ability to produce work that is both novel and appropriate (Sternberg & Lubart, 1999). On the other hand, innovation means the use or the implementation of novel ideas for one’s own advantage. In teaching for example, as the main concern of this research, the teacher can integrate new tools such as technological tools (ICT) in the classroom to facilitate both the learning and teaching process.
Qualities of creative EFL teachers:
Creativity depends upon the ability to analyze and evaluate situations and to identify novel ways of responding to them. This, in turn, depends upon a number of different abilities and levels of thinking (J.C Richard.2013.5). Creative teachers are endowed with an array of personal and pedagogical qualities and qualifications that make them particularly special in their classrooms. Undoubtedly, we can all remember the teachers who sparked our imagination, inspired us with their individual and special teaching styles, who could deal effectively and cleverly with whatever classroom situations, and those who exploited eclectic methods and a myriad of engaging and effective activities in teaching individual learners with different needs, interests and learning styles. According to J.C. Richard in his research “Creativity in Language Teaching”, there are eight major aspects that characterize some of the qualities of creative teachers:
- Creative teachers are knowledgeable.
- Creative teachers are confident.
- Creative teachers are committed to helping their students to progress and succeed.
- Creative teachers are familiar with a wide range of teaching strategies and techniques.
- Creative teachers seek to achieve learner centered lessons.
- Creative teachers are reflective.
- Creative teachers are risk-takers.
- Creative teachers are non-conformists.
The Teaching Methods and Approaches Adopted by Creative Teachers:
Creative teachers use a variety of teaching methods and a wide range of resources and activities that better suit their students’ interests, needs, and learning styles. “Typically, rather than being bound to a particular method, creative teachers often adopt an approach called: eclecticism. In other words, they don’t choose methods and procedures at random, but according to the needs of their class” (J.C Richard.2013.11). Creative teachers, as effective teachers, decide which methodology, approach or activities to use depending on the objectives of the lesson and the learners in the class. According to Rivers (1981.54) the eclectic approach allows the language teachers to absorb the best techniques of all the well-known language teaching methods into their classroom procedures, using them for the purpose for which they are most appropriate. To illustrate more, teachers who have students with different needs and learning styles cannot use solely one methodology for more effective teaching; they use a variety of teaching methods; that is to say, they implement anything from various resources that is seen as more likely to be useful and efficient for all individual students. For example, in one lesson, the teacher can use relaxing music to entice students to be totally engaged in a certain activity (Suggestopedia); the adoption of Total Physical Response to make students learn vocabulary items by doing; the use of drills as an effective technique to make students practice the target language communicatively, etc. All of these are just some of the techniques and tenets of different teaching methods. A creative teacher is someone who can efficiently use them in an eclectic manner depending on his/her lesson objectives, students’ needs, preferences and learning styles, taking into consideration the context and the availability/ unavailability of teaching materials and aids.
Activities deployed by creative teachers:
Creative teaching means assessing activities and materials for their potential and effectiveness to support creative teaching. However, a considerable research identified a number of dimensions of creative activities. They are said to involve open-ended problem solving to be adapted to the abilities of students and carried out under constraints (Burton, 2010 & Lubart, 1994). Dornyei (2001) stated ten features seen as productive language learning activities:
- Challenge: Activities in which learners solve problems, discover something, overcome obstacles and find information.
- Interesting content: Topics that students already find interesting and want to read about outside the class, such as stories about sports and entertainment on YouTube and the Internet.
- The personal element: Activities that make connections to the learners’ lives and concerns.
- The novelty element: Aspects of an activity that are new and different or totally unexpected—making students curious.
- The intriguing element: Activities that concern ambiguous, problematic, paradoxical, controversial, contradictory or incongruous materials and those that stimulate curiosity.
- Individual choice: Activities that give students a personal choice. For example, they can choose their own topics to write about in an essay or their own group topics and group members in a discussion activity.
- Activities that encourage risk taking: Teachers don’t want their students to be intimidated and feel reluctant to take part in activities. Students should be incentivized by their teachers to take part in whatever classroom activity regardless of their level. For example, the teacher can encourage primary school students to cooperate and work on a certain project such as a school magazine which seems to be arduous and beyond primary school students’ level.
- Activities that encourage original thoughts: Instead of comprehension questions after reading a passage that test recalling, creative teachers seek to use activities that encourage a personal and individual response to what the student has read.
- The Fantasy element: Activities that engage the learners’ fantasy and that invite the learners to use their imagination for creating stories, identifying with fictional characters, or acting out imaginary situations.
This Article has attempted to discuss the main theoretical aspects of creativity in the realm of teaching. We have tried to define and unpack the term creativity in general and creative teachers in particular. Also, I have attempted to cover the eight major aspects that characterize creative teachers according to J.C. Richard. Then, I have tried to elucidate how creative teachers use the teaching methods and approaches, focusing mainly on eclecticism as an approach frequently adopted by creative teachers. Finally, I have stated the main features seen by Dornyei (2001) as productive language learning activities