The world doesn’t care how much you know. It only cares about what you can DO with what you know, how you can apply critical and creative thinking to real and present issues. So we must intentionally give students opportunities to create—opportunities to generate, rather than consume, information.

Not only will this help prepare students for college or career, but as we all learned from Bloom’s taxonomy (well the 2001 revised Bloom’s taxonomy), “create” is the highest form of understanding. Just imagine how much deeper learning could be if “creation” was a non-negotiable step in the learning process.

What You Should Know

A few ground rules.

  1. Strive for an innovator’s mindset: With a fixed mindset, a student believes that abilities, intelligence, and talents are fixed traits. With a growth mindset, a student believes that abilities, intelligence, and talents can be developed. That’s great, but let’s go one step further. With an innovator’s mindset, a student believes that abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed so that they lead to the creation of new and better ideas. What’s the use of a growth mindset if it is not applied to real-world problems! (For more on this, I recommend George Couros’s book, The Innovator’s Mindset.)
  2. Expand the definition of creativity: When we say someone is “creative,” we tend to think they have artistic talents—they draw, they write music, they are a chef. But everyone is creative. We can all look at something and think of ways it can be better. We can simplify processes and concepts, engineer a solution, or solve a problem in a different way. All of these require both critical and creative thinking, and all students must feel competent and confident applying this kind of thinking.
  3. Embrace failure and resilience: Taking risks, making mistakes, learning from them, and trying again—these are all necessary ingredients when applying creative and critical thinking. You simply cannot have a culture of innovation without a culture that accepts, even rewards, failure and resilience.
  4. Make creative and critical thinking the norm: If you want students to regularly apply critical and creative thinking, then innovation cannot be an “event.” It must be the norm. It is not a thing you do: “Class, it’s critical thinking time, now!” It’s a way of thinking, of seeing the world, of facing problems, of embracing possibilities. Students should apply creative and critical thinking every day so it becomes as much a habit as checking their cell phones.

What You Can Do

Ground rules are great, but how do I do we apply them in the classroom? Here are two strategies to try with your students to support them in applying critical and creative thinking to whatever content you are teaching. Give them a try and let us know how it goes!

Simplify the Message
Challenge students to take what they are learning and convey it in a condensed form. Working on a single concept? Ask them to describe it in 5 words. Working on a longer unit? Ask them to summarize it in one page. Working on a detailed procedure? Ask them to summarize the message in 5 slides. Simplifying a message is one of the most sought-after skills in the workplace and requires both creative and critical thinking. Tech Tip: Tools such as Flipgrid allow you to set time limits for student videos, giving you a built-in constraint to drive critical and creative thinking!

Put the Work in Worksheet
Worksheets get a bad rap, but in the hands of the right teacher, they can inspire creative and critical thinking. Instead of handing out a worksheet, challenge your students to write their own worksheet. Have them think about what they need to learn and come up with questions, problems, or prompts that require the target learning in order to answer. Creating a worksheet is usually more than enough practice to lock in the content, but if you want to have more fun, have students “answer” one another’s worksheets!