“Educators can play important roles to enhance any components of students’ creativity” (Sak 2004). School librarians are no different. School libraries have the staff, resources, and space needed to foster creativity in students and teachers.
There are many definitions and types of creativity. Alfred Balkin defined creativity as “both the art and the science of thinking and behaving with both subjectivity and objectivity. It is a combination of feeling and knowing; of alternating back and forth between what we sense and what we already know. Becoming more creative involves becoming awake to both; discovering a state of wholeness which differs from the primarily objective or subjective person who typifies our society” (1990). This definition says that students can become more creative by becoming more conscious of what it is that they do. I often get caught up in the creative product when I attempt to foster creativity in myself and in my students. I wonder what format the final product will be. How will students make their work original? These questions are important but what really matters, above all, is the process. That we are present, aware, and open to taking risks.
Talent can be expressed in terms other than intelligence; talent is expressed by way of creative performance and creative production. I have noticed many creative performers at my elementary school who have talents in sports, music, and dance. My school library implements a passion projects program where students are given the freedom to explore topics of their choice. Many educators call this type of passion-based learning Genius Hour. With Genius Hour, students are given time and opportunity to develop their own questions about whatever it is they wish to explore. Genius Hour embodies risk-taking and learning through discovery, which gives students the autonomy and challenge they yearn for.
Students also act as creative producers by writing stories, designing STEM experiments, and using computer code to make online games. The school library can support students’ creative production by arranging makerspace activities. Embracing a maker mindset opens new realms of possibilities. Maker education refers to using a wide variety of hands-on activities (i.e., building design, computer programming, and sewing) to support academic learning and the development of a mindset that values playfulness and experimentation, growth and iteration, and collaboration and community (Herold 2016).
There are many ways school librarians can foster creativity in students. For one, we can give students the freedom to choose and pursue problems. I strive to give students this autonomy by integrating elements of project-based learning (PBL) into everyday instruction. My students have the opportunity to use library books and online sources to investigate questions they have about the world. Students share what they learn from these short projects by developing creative presentations. Students enjoy making posts with Adobe Spark, digital posters with Google Slides, and hyperdocs. One student came to the school library recently eager to research Hurricane Katrina. After reading articles and viewing news clips, she decided to create an infographic and a public service announcement in Adobe Spark to inform her peers about current natural disasters. The student’s creative presentation resulted in a school-wide campaign to raise money for the American Red Cross.
Creative students will go beyond what they have read or have been told and come up with original thoughts. For example, I had a second-grade student who recently read the book, One Giant Leap: The Story of Neil Armstrong. She was so intrigued by space travel that she began to conduct additional research by checking out library books and reading articles on NASA’s website. The student created a pamphlet about space travel that provided information on how energy, air, and water are essential to sustain life on the moon. I was very impressed by this young student’s tenacity. All that was needed to support this student’s curiosity and creativity was time and opportunity to access school library resources.
In addition to connecting learning to current events like space travel, we can foster students’ creativity through imagination and fantasy. After a group of my students finished reading A Series of Unfortunate Events, they engaged in a creative writing activity where they decided to tell what happened next. These students read all 13 chapter books in the series, so they were invested in the story’s characters. The students passionately created the “14th book” by planning and recording a puppet show using an iPad app called Puppet Pals. This activity motivated the students involved and mesmerized the students in the audience who watched the performance.
Students need time to be creative and to solve problems. Sadly, educators struggle with finding time for creativity due to tight schedules and other curriculum demands. The school library can provide students with the space, materials, and support they need to participate in the creative process. Engaging in creative activities leads to a favorable interaction between the student, domain, and subject area (Sriraman 2005). In other words, the time students spend being creative will lead to their mastery of learning objectives from any and all content areas. Fostering creativity in the school library spurs higher cognitive skills and insightful work that will transfer among disciplines. Teaching for creativity can inspire students to reach their full potential inside and outside of the library.
Balkin, Alfred. 1990. “What Is Creativity? What Is It Not?” Music Educators Journal 76 (9): 29.
Herold, Benjamin. 2016. “The Maker Movement in K-12 Education: A Guide to Emerging Research.” Education Week (April 11). http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/DigitalEducation/2016/04/maker_movement_in_k-12_education_research.html.
Sak, Ugur. 2004. “About Creativity, Giftedness, and Teaching the Creatively Gifted in the Classroom.” Roeper Review 26 (4): 216-222.
Sriraman, Bharath. 2005. “Are Giftedness and Creativity Synonyms in Mathematics?” Journal of Secondary Gifted Education 17(1): 20–36.
Author: Sam Northern, Ed.D.
Sam Northern is a National Board Certified Teacher-Librarian at Simpson Elementary School in Franklin, Kentucky. He currently serves as President of the Kentucky Association of School Librarians. In 2014, Sam was selected for the Fulbright-Hays Summer Seminars Abroad Program where he spent four weeks in China. Since then, Sam has voyaged to Antarctica as a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow and worked aboard a research vessel on the Atlantic Ocean as a NOAA Teacher at Sea. From January to April 2018, Sam traveled to Finland as part of the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program to research best practices for project-based learning. Connect with him on Twitter @Sam_Northern and Facebook @themisterlibrarian.