CDTL    Publications    About
   
 
 
Jul 2004  Vol. 8   No. 2  

........   TEACHING METHODS   ........
Making Your Teaching Creative and Interesting
Dennis Sale
Section Head, Educational & Staff Development Department
Singapore Polytechnic

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. 77).

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 developing expertise.

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 for students:

  • 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 process:

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.

References

 

Print-Ready

Search:

Embedding Graduate Attributes in Assessment Tasks
A Quick Self-Check
Challenges of Teaching a Mixed Bag
Meaningful Online Discussion

Web-Based Digital Archive of Selected Architecture Students' Project

TLHE 2004

CDTL's Workshop on Research at Raffles Institution

Welcome to CDTL

Calling All Writers...

Teaching & Learning Highlights



Email Editors

   
© 2012 CDTLink is published by the Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning. Reproduction in whole or in part of any material in this publication without the written permission of CDTL is expressly prohibited. The views expressed or implied in CDTLink do not necessarily reflect the views of CDTL.