Making Creativity a Habit

Talking image“…but the real secret is that they do this every day. In other words, they are disciplined. Over time, as the daily routines become second nature, discipline morphs into habit. It's the same for any creative individual, whether it's a painter finding his way each morning to the easel, or a medical researcher returning daily to the laboratory. The routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration, maybe more. And this routine is available to everyone.” - Twyla Tharp in The Creative Habit

The tensions between curriculum accountability in schools and the essentials of creative process are obvious in multiple facets of curriculum structure:

  • Idea collecting is messy, not targeted as curriculum scope and sequence is
  • Incubation time for creative process is limited by prescribed time in schools
  • Chances to repeat, cycle back, or start over before “finishing” conflicts with curriculum sequence and end points: “these steps, in this order, by this time” (the test, end of semester, end of course, the day GRADES go in!)
  • Sorting/discarding ideas (for possible use later) is counter to a prescribed scope of curriculum.
  • The discarded but interesting ideas in an idea bin may not coincide with “eligible content” for test.
  • Open-ended creative cycles that spawn more questions stage a tug of war with standards and assessments based on benchmarks.
  • Creative process includes sharing points, but not necessarily END points.

Twyla Tharp's observations on making creativity a habit offer a suggestion for how creative process can be a successful overlay to our curriculum, in spite of the tensions. The habits of creative process are:
Making creativity part of class “supplies”
Making creativity a habit in question asides
Making creativity a habit in timing of projects for incubation
Making creativity a habit in class assignments -- Students act as collaborators in creating assignments
Making creativity a habit in open-ended projects – or projects intended to be revisited
Making creativity a habit by documenting and reflecting on personal creative process
Making creativity a habit in opportunities for sharing, publishing


Making creativity part of class “supplies”
Just as we establish routines and a school supply list at the start of school, we can establish creative spaces and routines in our classes. In our supply list:
  • every student has an accessible idea bin/collection space for ideas, questions, web links, favorite quote, images, videos, etc. Ideally, it is electronic and accessible from anywhere. Try tools (linked to reviews) like Wallwisher, Evernote, Google Docs, or Linoit. Here is an example of an idea bin used in preparing this presentation and page.
  • every student has a place to share products (a class wiki, a blog, or class publication spaces, online or offline)
  • the teacher has the same spaces, and he/she models using them as part of routine. Show them where you collect links and ideas before a new unit! Let them add to it, too!
  • every student has a chance to investigate their own creative process* (and can keep it private)
*This applies ONLY to students who are developmentally ready to reflect and talk about their own creative process.

Making creativity a habit in question "asides"
"What is the difference between funny and creative?" "How would a creativity habit look if it were clothing?"
Remember the old theatrical practice of stepping to the side of the stage and whispering something to the audience or to oneself? That kind of aside is a valuable creativity habit. As Elizabeth King suggests in her blog post , we all need to make room for the off the wall question. Both teachers and students should relish these ideas that pop into our heads. If we share them, they sprout new ones, spreading the creativity habit.
Share question asides:
  • on an IWB sidebar (interactive whiteboard space for students to write things during class)
  • in back channel chat using tools like TodaysMeet
  • on a butcher paper wall
  • an “I wonder” wiki
Promote fluency, flexibility, originality!

Making creativity a habit in timing of projects to allow for incubation
  • Start idea collecting very early in a unit or the school year. This is a similar concept to offering Big Idea Questions at the start of your units, but having students collect and generate the questions.
  • Provide idea collecting days or partial days: "Collect everything you can about the carbon footprints."
  • Talk about upcoming projects early, while other lessons are going on. Keep mentioning them the way TV shows run positive promos, so students anticipate and have them in the back of students' minds. Promos should be a tease, not a threat. Don't tell them the actual assignment yet.
  • Offer idea bin sharing time and tools, a social time like sharing trick or treat bags. "I'll trade you my link for that image."
  • Share your teacher idea bin!
  • Offer public and private idea collecting (IWB sidebars)
incubation is often the parent of originality!

Making creativity a habit in project assignments -- Students act as collaborators in the assignments
  • Part of the assignment is adding something from their own idea bin, perhaps changing the project's focus a bit.
  • Select their best suited options for the project – based on personal creative process (similar to multiple intelligences?)
  • Include documenting process as part of a rubric.
  • Permit remixes—students state in the assignment what they will reuse (disclosure). It could be content they dropped from a previous project or used before. It could be a tool/process step (Promote flexibility, originality in combining the unusual, elaboration in revisiting and adding more detail.)
  • Suggest students find a creativity buddy as a project partner (To include the sharing/verifying phases described by artists, scientists, and writers).
See a sample high school project assignment with room for student collaboration in the process and a sample rubric for this project.
(Use and adapt both as templates for your own projects.)

Making creativity a habit in open-ended projects – or projects intended to be revisited
  • ASSIGN as if the student may revisit the project later. What is shared (turned in) should include both the idea bin and the product, so the idea bin is valued for its future potential.
  • Use individual idea bins/walls/repositories that can be retained and reused in later work (web based are great).
  • The collection bin is a required, (assessed) step.
  • Use a wiki or google doc (anything that records or keeps versions/dates) as the "turned in" item so students can revisit it later and make a new version.
  • Repeat and reuse – encourage remixes of parts from old projects…disclosed as such. Connect new ideas with past ideas or unanswered questions! (Promotes flexibility, originality). You will be amazed how much more students retain.
  • Offer do-overs for a re-grade? Maybe once a marking period? (Think about whether you as a teacher can handle this.)
See a sample middle school project assignment with room for works-in-progress or future "revisits." (Use and adapt as a template for your own projects.)

Making creativity a habit by documenting and reflecting on personal creative process
  • Investigate student personal creative process early in the year (Use Creative Process links and "Creativity Interview" idea).
  • Spend a day sharing people’s blogs on creative process, perhaps related to your field of study, but also others (to address multiple intelligences and interests among students)
  • Have students collect an idea bin about/describing their own creative process (encourage them to include YouTube videos and other things that matter to them!)
  • Continue to use FFOE terms in class so students become aware of their strengths/challenges in generating creative ideas
  • Have students show/share their brainstorming/idea bin steps (see Tools)
  • Have students show drafts along the way to their completed projects, even the ones they "threw away" (Remember what Pixar said about their process!)
  • Try tools such as Etherpad so students can watch their writing process playback
  • Use tools like Google Docs or wikis—anything that remembers versions
  • Have students comment on screenshot images of their own drafts using Voicethread

Making creativity a habit in opportunities for sharing, publishing
Publishing to an authentic audience is a step we already try to do as teachers. Online publishing and commenting are terrific, if we know our students will not receive "crank" comments. As you proceed, think about these questions:
  • Does leaping ahead to this step without supporting the full creative process, thereby forcing this step alone, assume too much of our students and violate respect for their creative process?
  • If we assign the sharing without the prior steps, are we actually forcing something INauthentic?
  • Do we ever ask kids (about a project/product), “What do you want to DO with it?”
Offering options for publishing may be the best approach, assuming we ask students to eventually "release" their projects.