Teachers can help their students reach higher academic achievements by using a style of teaching that develops “creative knowledge,” deeper understandings that students are more likely to recall and build upon, says School of Education faculty member Keith Sawyer in a new book.
Sawyer, the Morgan Distinguished Professor in Educational Innovations, is the author of “The Creative Classroom: Innovative Teaching for 21st Century Learners,” published this month by Teachers College Press.
“Much teaching today centers on teachers telling students what they should know, followed by students attempting to repeat that content on tests,” Sawyer said. “This is “shallow knowledge” that many students soon forget and doesn’t necessarily lead to deeper understandings of the subjects they’re studying.”
Sawyer, who is a leading researcher on creativity and learning and has written extensively on the subject, said he hopes his new book will help teachers be more successful in helping students gain deeper understanding, or what he calls “creative knowledge.”
Built on research into creativity Sawyer has conducted extensive research on creativity and improvisation, including studies of jazz ensembles and improv theater groups, uncovering the processes creative people and groups use in common. He has applied those findings in how to enhance creativity in business teams, student study groups and teacher professional development.
Sawyer’s book aims to provide practical, research-proven approaches that can be used by teachers in all subjects to move away from an “instructionist” mode of teaching in which they simply tell students what they need to know.
Students today need to prepare for a world in which they are equipped with skills and experience in how to continue to learn new material and adapt to changing circumstances, Sawyer says. Teaching that is centered on creating a classroom environment that encourages creative activity can help students achieve those goals, he says.
The book relies upon research that has determined how to teach for creative knowledge in every subject taught in K-12 schools — from science and math to history and language arts.
Sawyer says that adopting the practices described in the book does not neglect content required to meet curricular standards and requirements of mandatory tests. In fact, he says, using the techniques leads to better subject-area knowledge.
Sawyer prescribes a type of instruction he calls “guided improvisation” in which teachers guide students through an improvisational, creative process of learning, with students devising their own questions aimed determining how to solve problems.
The book identifies learning outcomes in several subject areas that support creativity and offers advice for how to teach to those outcomes. It works to show how students learn content-area knowledge, while also learning to be creative in using that new knowledge.
It also discusses how a combination of school structures, incentives and leadership is needed to support creative teaching and learning.