To educate the whole child, we must nurture their academic, creative, emotional, and social needs. We cannot just teach mathematics, science, language, and social studies, but we must allow time for music, art, and social interactions. There are many ways the educational organization can recognize and nurture creative and diverse students.
One way to nurture diverse and creative students is to allow flexible seating within the classroom. Some students prefer to keep moving or standing. Desks generally are also uncomfortable. A flexible seating option with areas to stand, sit on the floor, use a traditional desk, or sit on a couch give students autonomy to learn in a seat (or not) in the way that helps them learn the best.
School can also nurture creative students by holding talent shows. Talent shows should include an art gallery, music and dance exhibition, poetry, skateboarding, and other talents that interest students. It should not be limited to what can be performed on a stage.
Another way diverse students can be nurtured is by offering a menu in the classroom. Often, projects are assigned with one specific output in mind. However, students can be create and can turn a presentation into a website, a poster, a board game, a video game, or a dynamic slide show. Allowing students to choose any platform permits students to put themselves into the project and make it more meaningful.
An easy way to foster creativity is allowing students to ask why. The teacher should eager answer students as they ask, “Why?” If there’s a question the teacher doesn’t know the answer to, a wall in the classroom can be dedicated to those questions. The questions can be left up while the teacher implores students to research the answer when they have time. As students find the answers, they can present them to the class. Although the questions may not align directly with state standards, it’s an opportunity for authentic learning.
Teachers can also model trying new things in their classroom. A teacher often doesn’t want to try out a new tool if they don’t know everything about it, but working through mistakes of trying something new in front of students shows them it’s ok to mess up some times. In order for students to be truly creative, they cannot be afraid to make mistakes.
Other practices that might eliminate the fear of making mistakes is creating a classroom that is helpful. Setting up a classroom on the premise that the class is a team and supports each other, creates a culture known for picking each other up. Students are more likely to take a risk if they know their classmates are going to help them if they get stuck. In order to begin creating a culture of students that help each other, the teacher must first ask what students are thinking.
This requires teachers carefully asking what students are thinking and reminding students we all think differently. When students are asked what they think something means, they are so scared to be wrong, they won’t answer. However, if asked, “What do you think this means?” can a person be wrong? The answer is no. A person cannot be wrong when asked what he or she thinks something means. The teacher must reiterate this over and over until students believe it. The greatest creativity will begin to show when students realize they are allowed to think freely. Building this type of classroom culture doesn’t stop with free thinking. It also includes teaching students to help each other.
Allowing students to teach each other during the process of this culture building shows the class that everyone has something to contribute to the class. This teaches students that they can admit they might not know everything and they can ask anyone a question to gain clarity. This means the questions and answer students state must be validated.
When students answer a question in class, teachers should be careful to respond in the same way to both correct and incorrect answers. Prompting the student to justify their response or explain why will reveal their thinking and provide the teacher with more insight to continue questioning in a way that will lead the student to a better understanding of the topic. It also models to students how to respond to someone when they may not understand a concept completely.
Lastly, educators must give students the opportunities to make mistakes. Teachers cannot create classrooms that keep students safe from mistakes. On the contrary, there must be opportunities for students to fail within a classroom culture that will support them. The teacher must teach students by modelling how to assist or redirect someone when they make a mistake. After correct modelling and encouragement, students will follow suite and begin to help their classmates when they need it.
As I work with teachers daily in my role as an instructional coach I work with them extensively on asking students what they think while reiterating this a time they cannot be wrong and responding to both right and wrong answers in the same way. It is incredibly important for us as educators to make students ashamed to share their thoughts. It is also a shame that we don’t respond to all students the same whether their answer are right or wrong. No matter what a student answer, as educators we should primarily want to know why they believe that is the answer. This goes along with wanting to know what they think. Knowing the reason behind a student’s answer or what they believe something means tells the teacher how to proceed. Knowing why a student thinks something helps us decide on a path for remediation or extension. Knowing what a student is thinking helps us create lessons that are meaningful to the specific population of students in our classes.
I have lead and will continue to lead professional learning opportunities on how to respond to students when they answer questions. These sessions allow teachers to practice and get feedback on their typically responses. I also request teacher record themselves teachers, watch the recording, and reflect on how they respond to students during class. When they identify their personal bias toward students who answer questions correctly versus incorrectly, they create a script for themselves that they can use generally for all students that answer a question, right or wrong. Teachers who have implemented this with fidelity, said they saw great success. Students who were shy to answer before are now eager to answer as the act is now perceived to have a lower risk.
Overall, I hope that all educators continue to learn about and implement practices that advocate for all students. The ten items described above are limited and certainly not the only ways to help students lose the fear of making mistakes. I also hope I continue to model these practices in my role as educational leader.