Fostering Creativity in Special Education

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

If you are a special educator, you probably spend some time thinking about what you can do to foster creativity in your students. This lesson gives you some ideas that might help as you work toward this important goal.

Why Creativity Counts

Ms. Thompson has been teaching special education in self-contained and inclusive settings for over a decade and knows that she is good at what she does. She forms strong, lasting relationships with her students and helps them meet the goals stipulated by their IEPs (individual education programs). Ms. Thompson's students often make significant academic gains during the time they spend with her.

Lately, though, Ms. Thompson feels that something is missing. She has become so focused on academic instruction that she has lost track of the creativity of each child, which is what drew her to education in the first place.

Ms. Thompson knows that the pressures, requirements, and even bureaucracy associated with special education can make it very hard to foster creativity, that aspect of the individual that leads to unique, open-ended reflection and self-hood. She sets about figuring out some ways to build more creativity into her special education work.

Remembering the Whole Child

The first thing Ms. Thompson realizes is that she needs to remember the whole child approach to education. This means that she spends some time stepping back from each student and asking the following questions:

  • What are this students strengths, in and outside of the school setting?
  • What is this student passionate about? What are the things they love and enjoy?
  • What does this student say or do that makes them different from others around them?

These reflective questions help Ms. Thompson see her students as unique, whole beings, more than what is listed in their IEPs. This in turn helps her think about what she can do to foster their creativity and engagement with the world around them.

The Beauty of the Arts

Though creativity is not limited to the arts, Ms. Thompson sees right away that engaging her special education students in more artistic activities is a powerful, concrete way to foster their creativity. She decides to try to incorporate one of each of the following activities into each week's instruction:

  • Visual arts like drawing, collage, clay, and painting
  • Performance arts like acting and dancing
  • Music including singing, music appreciation, and instrument exploration

Ms. Thompson's students thrive on the new program. Additionally, she finds that her literacy and math instruction are also enhanced by the new instructional approach she is taking.

Questions, Questions, and More Questions

Another thing Ms. Thompson starts to understand is that encouraging students to ask questions will help her access her students' creativity while simultaneously helping her students express themselves. She dedicates class periods explicitly to teaching her students what it means to ask an open-ended question, one that does not have a clear and obvious answer.

Then, a few times a week, Ms. Thompson passes out sticky notes and asks her students to write one open-ended question apiece about the content they are working on. This encourages her students to think for themselves and think outside the box. When she reviews the questions, she is able to see the different and creative approaches her students are taking to the material she has presented.

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