Introduction and context
In this short paper, I offer some reflections on certain findings from
a research project which seeks to understand how teachers do what they
do to make their teaching creative and interesting. Details of the research
and methodology are beyond the scope of the paper.
Though what constitutes ‘creative’ and ‘interesting’
can be subjective, they are often considered important attributes of quality
teaching in general. As Tuckman (1995) has pointed out, “…defining
or describing the ‘competent’ teacher is neither an easy nor
an obvious task” (p. 57). Similarly Ornstein (1995) argued, “…few
facts concerning teacher effectiveness have been established” (p.
What do we mean by being creative and interesting
in the context of teaching?
Creative teaching resembles creativity in any other domain. Primarily,
it involves the combining of existing and new knowledge to create some
other knowledge to get a useful result. As Amabile (1996) suggested:
A product or response will be judged creative to the extent to that
(a) it is both a novel and appropriate, useful, correct or valuable
response to the task at hand, and (b) the task is heuristic rather than
algorithmic. (p. 35)
Teaching is certainly heuristic, and such ‘responses’ in
the context of teaching are anything that contribute to student learning
in a positive way (e.g. building rapport, making learning meaningful,
improving the students’ learning state, enhancing students’
beliefs). Not only is creative teaching often a result of a teacher’s
conscious planning, it is also the consequence of what I refer to as situated
invention—a teacher drawing on his/her existing professional
knowledge and improvising it to meet the demands of an unforeseen situation—as
teaching is a dynamic human encounter in which much of the student responses
cannot be predicted in advanced. Thus, teachers often have to think on
their feet, quickly reframe what they are doing and deal with the perceived
emerging reality. When situated invention occurs, a teacher has been creative
at that point in time. Sometimes (but not always) this produces a desirable
result. In many ways, this process of creating ideas is analogous to Schon’s
(1987) notion of ‘artistry’, which he defines as:
...the kinds of competence practitioners sometimes display in unique,
uncertain and conflicted situations of practice. (p. 22)
The new knowledge that results from the creative act is now a resource
for the teacher to use in the future. In other words, it becomes part
of his/her personal stock of professional knowledge and contributes to
From my observations of video-recordings and personal interviews with
many teachers, there are some teachers who continually try to be creative
(either in their lesson plans or in the flow of dialogues during the lesson),
and others who recalled situations during lessons when an idea (e.g. a
powerful metaphor, a insightful question, a novel example) sprang to their
minds and translated this into productive communication to the students.
Sometimes when an idea cannot be developed in situ, it is later
reflected and elaborated on, and subsequently developed and used as a
teaching/learning resource for future lessons. Sadly, some teachers give
little thought to make their teaching interesting; their focus is simply
on relating the subject content to stated learning outcomes. Further,
many teachers are more preoccupied with covering the content rather than
making the learning process interesting for the students. As one teacher
commented, “the content must be covered”.
In terms of what constitutes as ‘interesting’, I take a
normative view. If students perceive a teacher as being interesting, then
he/she is interesting (at least to the students involved). The more interesting
question (no pun intended) concerns how these teachers do what they do
that result in students perceiving them as ‘interesting’.
Teachers who continually seek to make their teaching
interesting are inevitably creative
Did the above header get your attention? I hope so. Cognitive psychology,
neuroscience and professional experience clearly identify ‘interest’
as central to the processes of attention, motivation and learning. To
quote Csikszentmihalyi (1990) in this context:
The shape and content of life depends on how attention has been used.
…Attention is the most important tool in the task of improving
the quality of experience. (p. 33)
Csikszentmihalyi’s statement is not particularly surprising given
the nature of teaching. Effective teaching is probably one of the most
difficult jobs. To encourage motivation, promote self-esteem, gain rapport
and make learning meaningful for a wide range of personalities and competence
levels require massive effort and skill. Making teaching interesting—which
really means making learning meaningful for the students—is a continual
challenge for teachers.
Invariably, teachers differ in terms of their own motivations and attributes
in this area. Some teachers continually look for ways to make their teaching
interesting through either systematically planned lessons or situated
inventions as doing so is consistent with their values and beliefs.
It is important to mention that in addition to the students, teachers
can benefit from the process of making learning interesting for the students.
This is because the process requires the teachers to continually combine
elements of their existing professional knowledge with applications in
the classroom. By doing so, teachers will create new knowledge, develop
better skills of communication and be more competent in actual practice.
What constitutes creative and interesting teaching?
When students perceive (and rate) teachers as interesting, caring, knowledgeable,
etc., these are constructs that the students derive from the sensory experiences
provided by the teacher, but not necessarily what the teacher intends.
Bandler & Grinder (1990) pointed out: “The meaning of your communication
is the response you get” (p. 61). From the research so far, the
following are some ways in which teachers can make their teaching interesting
- Communicate in a clear, concise, engaging and friendly manner with
the aim of achieve rapport with students
- Imbue students with positive beliefs about self and learning
- Enhance student’s psychological states
- Make learning meaningful for the students
- Engage students in challenging activities with achievable goals
- Use stories and metaphors to create emotional anchors
- Use relevant real world examples to sustain students’ interest
- Use humour constructively
- Use varied audio-video materials to engage senses
It is important to note that the above list presents only a sterile
view of what really occurs in classrooms when teachers are making learning
interesting and being creative. Various other teaching materials are strategically
combined (both consciously and tacitly) to create sensory experiences,
which can energise and motivate students to participate fully in the learning
process. Perhaps the following metaphor might convey the essence of this
If we visualise each teaching resource as a key on a piano, the interesting
and creative teacher typically plays a consistently good tune. Occasionally,
he/she improvises the tune with the desire to provide something new
to engage the audience’s senses. Likewise, creative teaching occurs
when a teacher ‘improvises’ his ‘tune’ (knowledge),
to make a productive contribution to the learning process.
Amabile, T. A. M. (1996). ‘The Meaning and Measurement
of Creativity’. Creativity in Context: Update to the Social
Psychology of Creativity. Colorado: Westview Press. pp. 19–40.
Bandler, R. & Grinder, J. (1990). Frogs into Princes:
Neuro Linguistic Programming. Middlesex: Eden Grove Editions.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology
of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper & Row.
Ornstein, A. C. (1995). Teaching: Theory into Practice.
Needham Heights, Mass: Allyn & Bacon.
Schon, D. (1987). Educating the Reflective Practitioner:
Toward a New Design for Teaching and Learning in the Professions.
San Fransisco: Jossey Bass.
Tuckman, B. (1995). ‘The Competent Teacher’
In Ornstein, A. C. (1995) Teaching: Theory into Practice. Needham
Heights, Mass: Allyn & Bacon. pp. 57–72.