Many teachers think of creativity as something special that applies only to artists, sculptors, and writers, little knowing or understanding how easy it is to create spiritual patterns for learning every week in their very own classroom.
Creativity in teaching can mean that lessons are introduced with something new, something different, something unique. Many individuals mistakenly attribute this ability to the respective births of those who have it, but never think that it can possibly be acquired. They forget the basic lesson taught by the parable of the talents. In that parable, it was clearly foretold that those who develop the talent they possess, however small, shall be endowed to greater heights, but those who make no attempt to develop their talents shall lose what they already have.
Admittedly, there must be a small spark of creativity within the teacher in order to use it for building successful, well-planned lessons. And it is also true that some people possess more of this precious commodity than others. But regardless of how small, any spark of creativity can, through conscientious effort, be fanned into a flame sufficient to ignite the forge of learning within the classroom.
Take the case of Brother Arvin, for instance. He was young, scarcely out of college. He was a mild-mannered and happy-go-lucky sort of fellow and was never known to have been very serious about anything before; in fact, he was considered to be the community jokester. It is little wonder that the Sunday School superintendency was a bit nervous about his first teaching assignment. Would he use his classroom to act like a stand-up comic and waste the precious and valuable time of his students? Would he study his lesson manual and be prepared to teach the precepts contained therein?
The fears of the superintendency seemed to be well-founded when Brother Arvin appeared for his first lesson with two large suitcases in tow. From past experience, they knew these leather-covered boxes could have contained anything from crumpled newspapers to a live snake.
With the aid of a class member, Brother Arvin set up a table in the classroom, and before prayer, meeting the entire table was littered with a collection of many miscellaneous items, some of which looked as though they had recently been snatched from a quiet resting place in the nearest trash can.
After prayer meeting and opening exercises, a member of the superintendency accompanied Brother Arvin to the class to introduce him. After the opening prayer and an appropriate introduction, Brother Arvin stood before the group. He smiled his infectious smile so broadly his molars were visible. Then he began one of the most interesting and absorbing lessons ever witnessed by anyone in that classroom. The subject matter had been fully mastered, and every point was reinforced through the aid of one of the items Brother Arvin had brought in the suitcases.
He hoisted an old ruler aloft. It was so dim with age and handling by countless hands that the numbers identifying the inches were no longer distinguishable. After everyone in the class had looked at the item, he simply asked, “How do you go about measuring the effectiveness of prayer?”
Spurred on by the sight of that old ruler, the class members were drawn into a most interesting and provocative discussion. Even class members who often were content merely to sit and listen week after week without contributing to discussions voiced their views. Lesson manuals that had heretofore never been opened since they were purchased were scanned for clues to words to communicate the thoughts of those class members who sometimes find it very difficult to put their own thoughts into words.
In subsequent lessons, Brother Arvin used more items, smiled more smiles, and taught superb lessons with the aplomb of a master teacher. Perhaps none quite had the creative magic of the first lesson, but his students readily agreed that the lessons got better as time went on.
Why was Brother Arvin successful? Was it possibly because he was so interesting and unpredictable that no one ever knew what he would bring to class in those suitcases?
Brother Arvin’s success was the result of a number of well-applied precepts. In the first place, his lessons were truly creative. His introduction to a subject was so stimulating that his entire class became caught up with enthusiasm. Brother Arvin was always enthusiastic, and the class sensed it and became enthusiastic also. This, in turn, bolstered his own feelings of well-being and drove him to even greater heights of enthusiasm. The entire process was a delightful circle with creativity as the hub.
What kind of creative things may be done in the classroom? Especially if you don’t really feel very creative? The first requisite for creativity is, of course, a willingness to try something new. Many teachers do not wish to depart one iota from a strict lecture method they have developed and used week after week, regardless of whether it motivates their students or not. Some do not wish to try anything new or different because they are afraid they may tend to look foolish if they should make a mistake. Others look upon themselves as resource persons, as fountains of knowledge, ready to dispense with their products to any who will listen. These last individuals are sometimes afraid that creativity might place them in an embarrassing situation in which they would be forced to admit when they did not know an answer. They react as they visualize teachers in the public schools must react, little realizing that most professional teachers are not at all adverse to admitting when they do not know an answer.
A few teachers do not fully trust their students for help. Latter-day Saint students are often receptive, understanding, and able; thus, when a teacher turns a question back to the class because he does not know the answer, many individuals in the class may be capable of contributing helpful information. The Church class is an intricate team. The common goal, for both the teacher and the student, is knowledge and salvation. The student wishes to derive as much benefit as the teacher hopes he will. For this reason, then, students should be encouraged to make a contribution to the lesson and the class discussion.
Occasionally, a touch of humor will help break down the barriers of formality and allow creativity to take its natural course. Tense students often volunteer information as a challenge to an argument rather than for purposes of edification. A simple story, a humorous happening, or just a broad smile immediately before the class begins may help to ease tense feelings, make the students more relaxed and responsive, and open their minds to receptive feelings. All of these are a part of the creative process as it applies to the classroom.
Be creative, then. Smile and remove the tenseness. Don’t be afraid to try new ways to teach the lessons in the manual. Use props if they help. And know your lesson material so well that you do not need your text. A simple outline on an index card will normally hold enough information for a lesson. Always be prepared for the unexpected question or for the unexpected circumstance. Remember that creative lessons are not always completely predictable.
Finally, no creativity is worth using in the classroom if it does not motivate the students to do some very serious, deep thinking about the lesson. To prepare yourself for the creative lesson, therefore, simply ask yourself, and ask in your prayers, how the essentials of the lesson could best be taught. What could really appeal to the students and get them thinking about the subject at hand? If you decide upon a discussion, what could best start the discussion? If it is an object, visual aid, which prop could be used? If it is a social situation (such as role playing or a short report by a resource person), when would it be best to introduce this part of the lesson? And how would the students get the maximum benefit in a minimum of time?
It is not necessary to do as Brother Arvin did and bring two suitcases of materials into the classroom every week in order to reinforce your lessons. But if you wish to have livelier students, more interesting discussions, and enjoy your teaching assignment more than ever before, use creativity in your lesson presentations and spark some enthusiasm.