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Virginia Journal of Education

Your Classroom


The Creative Classroom: You Can Make It Happen

By Kevin Parr

It’s almost impossible to read anything now that doesn’t mention the critical role creativity plays in the futures of our students and how schools should devote more energy to fostering it. And it’s true; creativity does play an important role in today’s world and schools should be doing more to promote it. Most of what I read, however, refers to what I call creativity with a capital “C” and it seems a bit out of reach for me in my classroom. Examples of creativity with a capital “C” are students creating robots, constructing utopian civilizations in the class Minecraft lounge, or engaging in other activities that seem equally unrealistic for me in my current setting. But there are still ways I can encourage students to pursue their own method of thinking and doing things.

Here are some ways teachers—no matter their circumstance—can foster student creativity.

Ask better questions.
I feel teachers, myself included, often fixate on one right answer and one right way to do things. In supporting this, we ask bad questions. Obviously, there are times when you need to ask basic recall questions that only have one right answer; for example, students need to understand the story they’re reading before they can think deeply about it. Asking deeper questions, however, helps students move beyond the mentality that there is only one right answer for everything. Deeper questions also allow for divergent thinking, yet require students to justify why their responses are reasonable. If a student has a response and a reasonable justification, teachers should try to honor it even if it does not exactly match how the teacher would respond. Teachers can stifle the creativity they’re trying to grow within their students by mandating one right answer all the time. When students are invited to think creatively, everyone benefits because students are exposed to other opinions and ways of thinking.

Assign more projects.
Projects can inspire creativity, especially when students must prepare and present a final product to a real audience. When left to their own devices, it’s amazing what kids will come up with. Recently, I attempted a project approach for the first time with a unit that tied in health and math with cooking. The project differed from my former, more traditional approaches because it allowed room for students’ creativity, from the development of a team name, to the layout of the information, to the presentation of the salads they made. In hindsight, the most amazing thing I realized was that this was just the beginning. I began asking myself, “How can I design this and other projects to allow for even more creativity?” When teachers start thinking this way, they will be well on their way to preparing kids for the ever-changing world that lies ahead.

Let students explore and struggle.
When was the last time you presented something (for example, a multi-step word problem in math) and let students really struggle to make sense of it and figure it out on their own? This is how it usually looks in my classroom: I present the problem and after allowing kids a few token minutes to try it out on their own, a few students share ideas and we pick the “best” way to solve it and replicate that process on succeeding problems. If we really want to foster creativity, we must allow kids time to struggle and create their own understanding and way of doing things. Again, there is real value in direct instruction, but giving students knowledge and telling them what to do with it are different.

Let kids design their own assessments.
My next goal in cultivating student creativity is to allow them to design their own assessments. What could be a bigger honor than outlining what skills and knowledge students need to demonstrate and then having them design the task? Sure, many may choose a traditional testing format, but I can also imagine comic books, nonlinguistic representations, digital media creations, how-to guides and how not-to guides. The possibilities would be endless, and that’s the point.

Fostering creativity is paramount to our work, and the ability to support students’ creativity is not limited to a certain subset of teachers. You do not need a virtual reality lab or a 3-D printer. We can all do it. It will take commitment, though, because efficiency is key in today’s race to the top. Allowing students do it their way will require more time than just doing it the teacher’s way. Then again, we don’t have time not to.

Parr is an elementary school teacher in Washington state and a former Peace Corps volunteer.

A ‘Reminder’ to Stay Connected

By Beverly Owens-Musick

As an educator in Virginia for the past 30 years, I’ve always been on the lookout for innovative ways to communicate with parents and students. While attending a professional conference, I was introduced to a social networking idea that I’ve thoroughly loved. It’s called Remind and I’d like to introduce it to you, too.

Remind is a free, safe and effective way for teachers to communicate with parents and/or students. I began using it at the beginning of the 2012 school year and it’s been so successful that I continue to do so. Teachers are extremely busy people and this is a simple tool to use: It took me about two minutes to register and takes parents and students seconds to join.

Safety is the primary feature for me. I just use my computer, iPad or cell phone to enter a daily message about assignments, and every parent or student signed up gets it instantly by either text or email. I never see any of their phone numbers or email addresses, and they never see mine.

Remind has helped me to have a connected classroom beyond the dismissal bell. Parents and students love it because they are always kept informed. It’s helped me—and my students—take advantage of a great technology tool and freed me up to do what I enjoy most…teach.

To find out more, go to I think you’ll love it, too.

Owens-Musick of the Russell County Education Association, a seventh grade math and science teacher at Lebanon Middle School.

The Mystery of Zack

By Janet Arnold

Zack (not his real name) lived in his own cocooned world, seeing brilliant rays of light dancing in a vivid swirl of color in the air around him. He saw orange and black butterflies flying lightly past, and heard lively echoes and waves of sounds that touched part of him much deeper than his hearing. Zack listened to the hum and buzz of 25 children’s voices at work and play in the classroom, rolling and shaping objects in his hands with pliable ease. Each creation had a shadowed significance. 

The rest of the class watched with curiosity as Zack kneaded and rolled the clay with confident capability. His voice cried out and at times startled the children; other times his noises made them laugh. Sometimes they were too busy to even notice his attempts at communication.

What message was lost at the very origin of his uninterpreted utterances? Occasionally, his voice would mimic familiar repetitious words or phrases. However, his eyes whispered the truth… that his thoughts were buried deep below the rumble of his autism. Then his legs would carry him along a familiar path which led back to the safety and shelter of his own special classroom. There Zack was separated from the confusion and frustration of the surroundings where his words remained muted.  But, somehow, that foreign surrounding he regularly visited always stirred the boy hidden inside him.

Arnold, a member of the Hanover Education Association and a kindergarten teacher at Cold Harbor Elementary School

Asking Yourself the Right Questions

As you get yourself ready to launch a lesson, the questions below may help you to more effectively focus your planning, resulting in a better learning experience for your students and a better teaching experience for you. The questions come from the handbook developed for VEA’s Effective Classroom Management workshop.

• What do I want students to accomplish?

• Is this in line with the Standards of Learning and my school system’s pacing guide?

• Am I making my expectations clear?

• Are those expectations realistic?

• Did I describe the purpose of the lesson clearly?

• Do I know what my students can do?

• How did I consider timing?

• How can I differentiate this lesson?

• How will I assess students’ knowledge?

• How can I remediate and extend?

• How can I collect data and then use it to develop my next lesson?

• Am I encouraging higher-level thinking skills?

• Are students actively engaged?

To learn more about the Effective Classroom Management workshop, and other training opportunities from VEA’s Office of Teaching & Learning, visit the Association’s website at




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