Teaching with Creativity

May 10, 2019
Todd Kettler

It might not be what you think it is.

Myth: Having your English students write a rap about Macbeth -- after you have finished the unit assessment -- is a great way to add a creative element to your teaching.

Reality: Creative and critical thinking activities should be integrated into every aspect of the learning process, as you move through the steps of teaching, modeling, activity and assessment.

Myth: Creativity is a personality trait; students (and teachers) either have it or they don't.

Reality: Creativity skills can be developed over time with proper learning opportunities and experiences.

Illustration of Ideas and Lightbulb

While challenging these and other teaching misconceptions, Dr. Todd Kettler is more than a myth buster in his new book, Developing Creativity in the Classroom. He's a reliable resource for classroom teachers, possessing both the research and the practice credentials to help teachers transform their classrooms into incubators for tomorrow's leaders.

Kettler -- along with co-authors Kristen N. Lamb, PhD, and Dianna R. Mullet, PhD (both former students of Kettler's) -- created a book that merges the theory of creativity with the theory of learning and then presents a highly practical guide for teachers and administrators to make creativity a part of the learning experience. After offering an overview of scholarly research on creativity and learning, the authors include 20 specific strategies and tactics that can be used in any classroom from elementary to high school, covering specific examples for all of the core content areas of English, mathematics, science and social studies.

"We are trying to promote an integrated approach," Kettler said, "integrated into how you teach, how you model, how you design activities, how you assess."

Flowchart of Integrated Pedagogy of Creativity

Citing the research of Dr. Richard Florida on the "creative class," Kettler argues that students need creativity skills to succeed. Today, the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics classifies more than 30 percent of jobs as "creative," and the metro areas with the greatest concentrations of creative workers are those with the most robust economies. To survive and thrive in this economy, students must learn the process of critical thinking, Kettler said.

"Creative cognition is not a luxury in the classroom," he said. "It is a necessity."

But building a Styrofoam model of a cell is not a creative process, he said. Finding a cure for cancer is a creative process.

Cognitive creativity involves idea generation, conceptual combination, problem finding or problem solving, Kettler said. "What we see in Silicon Valley is that the problem finders are incredibly valuable," he noted. "Once you define the problem, it's easy for engineers to find a solution. Sometimes articulating the problem is the most creative activity."

Kettler first developed an interest in creativity while a student at Baylor, under the tutelage of Dr. Susan Johnsen, longtime faculty member and now Professor Emeritus following her retirement last year. He maintained an interest in the topic for 25 years but only focused on scholarly research when he transitioned from K-12 to higher education. Prior to that, he taught middle and high-school English, was the gifted education specialist at a regional education center, and was director of advanced academics at both Waco ISD and Coppell ISD. He earned his bachelor's degree in philosophy (1991), MSEd in Curriculum and Instruction (1994), and PhD in Educational Psychology (2012) from Baylor.

Kettler was assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of North Texas from 2012-2018 and joined the Baylor School of Education faculty in fall of 2018. He serves as editor of the Journal of Advanced Academics. His book, Modern Curriculum for Gifted and Advanced Academic Students (Prufrock Press), won the Legacy Award for the best scholarly book in the field of gifted education in the United States in 2016.

Kettler's experience as a teacher, K-12 administrator and education researcher positions him uniquely to bridge the gap between research and practice.

Dr. Jennifer Robins -- clinical assistant professor and the new director of Baylor's University for Young People, a summer program for gifted students -- said that the new book is pivotal in the field because of that.

"The book looks at creativity in a different way, approaching it by discipline and subject matter," Robins said. "Our general definition of creativity as teachers has been fun, artsy projects. But it's a higher level of thinking. There may be some phenomenal teachers and schools, but for the most part, it's not currently being done in schools, not even in the gifted and advanced programs. And Todd has taken the lead. With these strategies, he takes the next step."