GROWTH AND LEARNING IN THE CREATIVE CLASSROOM: A GUIDE
TO MOTIVATION AND DISCIPLINED SPONTANEITY
A J Valenti
B.A., University of Oregon, 1993
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
This thesis for the Master of Arts
A J Valenti
has been approved
Valenti, A J (M.A., English)
Growth and Learning in the Creative Classroom: A Guide to Motivation and
Thesis directed by Professor Joanne Addison
A classroom created with the keys of motivation and creativity in mind can
foster learning and joy in our students. By looking at the meaning of both
creativity and motivation and by understanding our students as individuals and
their individual learning styles, composition classrooms can be filled with excited
and intellectually motivated students.
The question is how to create this environment of challenging, creative
learning and still accomplish the original goals of teaching students how to write.
By defining creativity in terms of limitations and human ability, as well as
understanding how motivation works in the classroom, teachers will be better able
to create a classroom environment that promotes better writing.
A curriculum guide that clearly states the purpose and goals of a creative
classroom and plans out a thirteen-week course, with complete data assessment is
included in order to show how a creatively based classroom can be run, and how
the course affected the writing growth of many students.
The increase in the use of creativity in the composition classroom has been
accepted slowly, but is still actively being pursued as a challenging and successful
way of teaching. If the theories that are currently being researched can be
integrated into the classroom in a practical manner, then the possibility for growth
and learning in expository writing can happen in every student.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
For Sidonie and Steve with love.
1. MY DESIRE FOR LIMITLESS LEARNING...........1
2. DEFINING CREATIVITY AND MOTIVATION IN THE
3. A CURRICULUM GUIDE FOR A CREATIVE AND MOTIVATED
4. THE FUTURE OF CREATIVITY IN THE EXPOSITORY WRITING
A. ACTIVIITES AND ASSIGNMENTS
MY DESIRE FOR LIMITLESS LEARNING
When I taught my first writing class in the Fall of 1997 at the University of
Colorado at Denver I had twenty-seven students; twenty-six came to the class with
the impression that this writing class was going to be boring. They knew that they
were going to hate it, and came to class defensively prepared. How did I know this?
They told me. I asked them what they thought of writing and they told me that it was
boring and that they weren't interested. I thought to myself, "I am going to change
I didnt change it for many of the students that first term, but because of the
experience of teaching I have been interested in why some students like writing and
others do not. Each time I began a new class I kept a journal of how the class was run
and each student's reaction to assignments, activities, and projects. After studying my
own classroom I found out a few things about my writing pupils. To begin with, I
found that my students were very interested in themselves. They found their lives
fascinating and thought that everyone else should too. The majority of freewriting
exercises and journal entries that students turned in were dedicated to their personal
feelings, accomplishments and troubles. Secondly, students rarely had the
opportunity to engage in enjoyable, creative work in previous writing classes because
many teachers were afraid that if they taught "fun stuff that they would not be
teaching the "important stuff' such as grammar and paragraph structure. Again,
many of my students would tell me that because they were not able to stretch their
creative muscles in either high school or other writing classes, they appreciated the
opportunity to do so in my class. Third, I found that the students were willing to do
anything that I asked, with very little grumbling, even though I knew that they didn't
want to; but I discovered throughout the term by their homework and projects that
they had trouble retaining the information that was passed on to them through long
lectures or rote grammar activities. This was probably the most concrete example of
the lack of motivation that I could find in relation to the lack of creativity
incorporated in the writing classroom. Here, I saw the correlation between creativity
and motivation. When the students were engaging in creative thinking and writing, or
if the lesson had an element of creativity to it, they were more apt to retain the
information and apply it to their own work. It would show up in sentence combining
exercises, in their drafts and in final portfolios. Lastly, I found that when I gave my
students an assignment that had a creative element (inventive, original in nature) to it,
or that engaged their minds in a creative way (evoking originality and spontaneity),
they retained the information, laughed, had a great time in class, didn't notice the
clock, and even waited for a minute or so after the class had ended in order to finish
up reading aloud in class. After understanding what my students responded to and
what they didnt, I began thinking about how I could use this information in a useful
way and share my findings with other teachers of composition. I thought that if there
was a way to motivate students by creating a classroom environment that stimulated
creativity, then the students would enjoy writing more and become better writers.
What I consider to be creative will be defined in the next few chapters.
However, just as important is what is considered not creative and how it appears in
the composition classroom. It can be argued that everything, including grammar, can
be taught creatively. However, there are ways of teaching that I have found through
my own fieldwork as well as outside research, that I consider less creative approaches
to teaching. To begin with, an uninspiring classroom environment that is teacher-
based instead of student-based is the groundwork for a lack of creativity. Students
who are stuck in a teacher-based, lecture style classroom with no arena for
discussion are not going to be motivated, and as I will discuss in chapters three and
four, intrinsic motivation is imperative in a creative classroom. Secondly, activities
and group work that do not inspire thoughtful responses and critical thinking are not
creative. The students are not engaging their own creative abilities, but instead are
regurgitating facts and models that they are shown without a firm grasp on concepts.
When students turn in writing that has no apparent organization, halfhearted content
and skewed focus, you can be pretty sure that they took as many notes as possible, but
didnt understand all of the lecture, and went home to throw something together that
had the apparent structure of what you were talking at them for the whole class
period. I understand that there are certain rules that need to be learned and forms or
models of preparation that can be of great help to the students, but the ways in which
these ideas are presented are what makes the difference in how much the students
understand and retain. Lastly, writing that moves through several drafts with no
apparent display of comprehension of 1) the content of the paper, or 2) the writing
process, shows that the student is not engaged, and this is not creative on any level. It
is not the making or an original construction of anything.
The English Department at the University of Colorado at Denver has
particular standards that each student must meet before passing the composition
classes that are required by the institution. These guidelines are explained in the form
of portfolio standards and are detailed to fit the requirements of all Core
Composition courses. These standards help the instructors to gauge how they will
shape their curriculum, which elements of writing to stress, and the level of
importance of each element. Without these standards the English department would
have no way of ensuring the students the quality of education that the university
requires. When discussing these standards in the norming sessions that are held
once every semester, the faculty who teach either Core Composition I or Core
Composition II are given an opportunity to discuss the goals that the department has
set for the classes that we teach. Within these portfolio standards there are little or
no references to creativity beside control of voice, and for this reason the faculty
are left to themselves to address the issue of creativity in the classroom. The problem
here is that many teachers do not think that the touchy feely kind of teaching that
creativity is known for can help the students to learn how to write critical essays.
David Starkey writes in Teaching Writing Creatively that many compositionists
consider the concept of teaching creatively as a way to soften the class and makes
writing instructors anxious when they think about teaching this way (xv).
From my research and observation, the composition faculty at UCD and a few
teachers from Metropolitan State University think that 1) creativity is a fun way to
give the students a break from the monotony of critical writing, or 2) that the idea of
allowing the students to think outside the box as my colleague Steve Ellison says, is
a way to engage students with the writing process. Many of my colleagues like
Ellison believe that stepping away from the traditional teacher-based lecture styles
into a more group oriented, self-discovery-based classroom is actually helping
students to understand what writing means in their lives and how the power of words
can change the field in which they work (Ellison, 1998). The problem is that, while
teachers like Steve Ellison and I believe in these theories, it is our students who need
more convincing, generally through showing not telling. These students have
shown, semester by semester that their fears about writing are real. At the beginning
of each semester, we are required to pass out surveys that ask students how they feel
about certain aspects of writing. In addition, I have another survey that I give to them
in the middle and at the end of the classes. These surveys, by and large, have shown
that students like more creative kinds of writing, and strongly dislike expository
writing. Many of them fear rewriting, and almost all of my students from my Spring,
1998 Composition I Class didnt think that they would ever understand grammar
fully. So, unfortunately there is not much that I have found that we can do to assuage
the fears at the beginning of the class, except to show them that writing can be
creative and motivational by creating an environment that mimics the curriculum
guide in Chapter 3.
There are still those who think that when one says that they teach writing, they
always mean creative writing, like fiction, poetry, or the memoir. And when people
hear that you teach composition, they automatically think mechanical, structured
essays and boring report-like writing. It is as if the two cannot be connected in any
way. George Kamesiz, an English professor at North Central College in Illinois, says
that he has had difficulties with students and academians who automatically define
the teaching of writing in these limited ways. He says that:
Outside the Creative Writing Oasis there stretches a curricular Wasteland
littered with an unimaginative language in uniform conscripted for various
assigned duties. While there may be exceptions, composition courses find it
hard not to distinguish themselves by the absence of the word creative in their
He asserts that these courses have too long been considered useful only for
future academic or career work and that the understanding of what defines a
composition class needs to be explained differently to the students (31). This
paradigm needs to be given a place in the curriculum of creativity where it would
only enhance its importance and give access to ways of thinking that may have
previously been inaccessible to many students.
I dont want to be the teacher who, as SUNY English professor Roger
Rosenblatt says, "ever desperate to exhibit vital signs, forages for inspirational
material"(98). I don't want to have to desperately dig for mere entertainment so that
my students won't die of boredom in the classroom. I also don't want to teach silly,
uninspiring methods that leave my students wondering whether this composition class
was really worth taking. I want to know how to convey that this information is
essential and how to get across that what is not practically useful is most useful.
Rosenblatt makes us think about teaching to students whom you understand as human
beings, not as someone "other" than yourself. He says that too many teachers think
of students as "salmon in the springtime, and Professor Backwards has one small
porous net. To catch even one or two. (98) I would rather be the teacher who
understands that learning is an individual experience and even though I know that I
will not reach every student with my theories of creativity and motivation, there will
be some that I do and the others may thank me later on in their college careers. I just
dont want any to go away from the classroom thinking that it was a complete waste
What is actually going on in the field of rhetoric and composition differs
greatly from what is being discussed in theory. What critics are deciding are creative
and arguably good ways of thinking about writing are not always accurately
implemented in the classroom. This seems to be one of the greatest limitations that
we are facing today. According to Michael Donals-Bemard, professor of English
composition and critical theory at the University of Missouri, what actually goes on
in the classroom may not mirror the theories exactly and may not even come close to
adhering to what looked very good on paper. As Donals-Bemard says:
Whether you love what's going on in the theory and practice of writing or you
hate it, what you love or hate has little if anything to do with what goes on in a
great majority of writing classrooms in the colleges and universities in the
United States: textbook-driven classrooms where the emphasis is on clarity
and form and on the mastery of academic discourse; or expressivist
classrooms borne of Elbow and Bruffee and Murray where it is assumed that a
multitude of students, each writing from the self in a decentered classroom,
will arrive at a sense of "otherness." (250)
What more accurately describes the teaching of writing, Bemard-Donals says,
is the real gap between the practice of teaching and theory. We say that the field of
rhetoric and composition is in trouble, but what is really in trouble is the simple truth
that we dont always practice what we preach. We need to take these beginning steps
of discovering the connection between theories like cognitive dissonance and
integrate them into our classrooms (Bemard-Donals, 250). We need to take the ideas
and theories, put them into practical activities and use them to put our thoughts into
action. I believe that by integrating such activities as I have designed in chapter
three, our classrooms could become the creative, motivational ones that we have been
theorizing about for years.
The goal of this research is to find a link between creativity and motivation
that both enhances students' desires to write and helps them to grow as academic
writers. If we create an environment that both challenges them to think critically and
to discover new ways of looking at writing, and at the same time motivates them to
do these things on their own, could they possibly retain more information and grow as
writers? From outside research as well as through studying students growth and
attitudes in my classroom, I believe that they can. Thomas Armstrong, author of
Awakening Genius in the Classroom, defines creativity as the capacity to give birth
to new ways of looking at things, the ability to make novel connections between
disparate things, and the knack for seeing things that might be missed by the typical
way of viewing life (6). He says that by putting limitations on who should and
shouldnt be given the opportunity to experience a creative classroom, we do not give
each student the same right to a complete education. Creativity is "a part of every
student's birthright, and by recognizing it as such, we can make a good start in
bringing it to the fore in every classroom" (7). By looking at creativity as a tool for
learning in everyday writing, we invent possibility for our students.
In order for to create a classroom lesson plan and activities that will be
accessible to all students, as well as accepted by the university and English
department, we must first understand what creativity means. Mihaly
Csikszentmihalyi, author of Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and
Invention, knows that there must be concrete thought given to what makes creativity
and where it lies. He defines creativity as:
The cultural equivalent of the process of genetic changes that result in
biological evolution, where random variations take place in the chemistry of
our chromosomes, below the threshold of consciousness. These changes
result in the sudden appearance of a new physical characteristic in a child, and
if the trait is an improvement over what existed before, it will have a greater
chance to be transmitted to the childs descendents. (7)
These traits, according to Czikszentmihayli, will most likely not transfer to the
descendants, and therefore, only a few people actually account for this biological
After defining creativity he states that its criteria must also "be couched in
terms that are understandable to others ... must pass muster with the experts in the
field, and finally must be included in the cultural domain to which it belongs" (27).
With these terms came more questions. What is a domain? Who are these "experts"
and why are they considered so important? According to Csikszentmihalyi, a domain
"consists of a set of symbolic rules and procedures" such as those which constitute the
field of Mathematics. I would, then, assume that writing would be included in the
definition of a domain (27). Csikszentmihalyi says that the experts are people who
act as gatekeepers to a domain and whose job it is to decide whether a new idea or
product should be included in the domain (28). The domain of writing, and
specifically expository writing, has gatekeepers who have specific ideas and theories
about what needs to be included in the process of academic writing.
John Baer, who has also been researching creativity since the middle eighties
and has published widely on the subject since 1988, further developed a theory called
divergent thinking that was originally developed by Guilford in 1956. This theory
was a break from the traditional way of thinking about creativity because it included
the mental capabilities involved in creative achievement. The definition of divergent
thinking emphasizes the generation of new ideas from given information and includes
the factors of fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration (Guilford, 1956). Part
of this theory was that each individual possesses the ability to think and act
creatively. We all have access to the cognitive processes that lead to creativity, and
although many people do not use them, they are still available to us. Baer also
discusses the philosophy of connectionism and the difference between it and classical
cognitive science. Classical cognitive science believes that intelligence results from
the "manipulation of symbolic expressions" and argues that it needs specific rules in
order to function properly. This principle, in relation to creativity, makes more sense
to Baer in the connectionist theory. He states that the:
connectionist paradigm ... maintains that what appears to be lawful cognitive
behavior may in fact be produced by a mechanism in which symbolic
representations are unnecessary, and in which no rules are 'written in explicit
form anywhere in the mechanism'. (23)
In other words, creativity may have its own set of rules. Within the
composition classroom, we as teachers may have to research and understand the
differences in the rules that are applied to creativity and the creative process in order
to utilize each students creative being in the most effective way. In this thesis I will
look at different ways of using the rules applied to creativity and the creative process
and attempt to create a classroom structure that uses the creative process in order to
make writing in the composition classroom more motivational for the students.
The fourth researcher whose definition of creativity I am using to build my
own definition of creativity is Eliot Deutsch. In his book Creative Being, Deutsch
defines artistic creativity as the process by which an artwork is made (154), and a
creative act as one that concentrates mostly on the relationship between the craft and
the creator. Deutsch connects the more external aspects of play and spontaneity as
well as the effects of the creation on the creator to the theory of creativity. This last
aspect, referred to as transitivity, deals with how the act of creating something
changes not only the medium (the clay, the canvas, the machine) but also changes the
mind and being of the creator (157).
From these four researchers I came up with a working definition of creativity
that contains three aspects: 1) that everyone has the mental capabilities to perform in
a original and spontaneous way (Guilford/Baer); 2) that there are differing degrees of
this ability, from improvisational to paradigm shifting (Baer/Csikszentmihalyi); 3)
there should always be present a structure of play, disciplined spontaneity, and
transitivity of craft and creator (Deutsch), meaning that there will be a change not
only in the "thing itself' but also within the creator. Each of these authors talk about
writing in their research and how the act of writing is, in itself, a creative act with
varying levels of creativity. I will discuss in more detail these specific arguments and
ideas in Chapter Two.
After creating a working definition of creativity as a basis for my own
research, there needs to be a discussion on the second aspect of this thesis:
motivation. Before incorporating creativity into the classroom as a means to better
motivate our students, we need to know why people are motivated in general. This
will help teachers to understand how specific tasks and activities may motivate the
students and which ones are more linked to creativity. In order to know how to pair
creativity and motivation together, we must first look at each of them separately.
From Johnmarshall Reeve, professor of philosophy at Ithaca College in New
York, and author of Understanding Motivation and Emotion. I created for myself a
base of understanding for why and how people are motivated to do things. For the
purposes of the writing composition course there are three main aspects of motivation
to look at: 1) extrinsic motivation (using attractive/unattractive incentives for
compliant behavior), 2) intrinsic motivation (activities done solely in the interest and
enjoyment inherent in performing the given activity) and, 3) cognitive motivation (the
idea that thoughts are causal determinants to action). There are other important
characteristics and aspects that relate to motivation in general, but for the purposes of
this thesis, we are only concerned with how these aspects effect students in a writing
First, extrinsic motivation revolves around three main concepts: reward,
punishment, and incentive. Reeve asserts that all three of these concepts are
ingrained in our subconscious whenever we have an experience with a particular
aspect. "Human beings are biologically prepared to find food attractive and electric
shock unattractive" (110), meaning that our experiences program ourselves to act and
not act in certain ways according to what we have been exposed. In terms of
classroom behavior and motivation (and this is true for both intrinsic and extrinsic
motivation), if the results of a particular assignment, project or teacher response are
not favorable, then it is likely that a student will not want to repeat that task. When
addressing an aspect of external motivation called classical conditioning, Reeve
asserts that there are many environmental objects that we are bom fearing or liking,
but also many that we must train ourselves to react to, favorably or not. He says that
"people must learn to be attracted to money, smiles and ... people must learn to [be
repelled by] bumblebees, big dogs, and angry faces (111). I don't believe that
scaring students into learning is a process that is healthy. If what Dr. Reeve asserts is
true, then we educators should be creating an environment, including the structure of
the class syllabus, that more fits the classical conditioning which would make
students attracted to writing. We should be using the conditioning of incentives,
rewards, and punishment as a basis for our class structures.
Second, intrinsic motivation is defined as "behavior done solely for the
interest and enjoyment inherent in performing a given activity" (Reeve,141). But it is
not just pleasure from doing something like watching movies or a carnival ride; there
must be a psychological need present for an activity to be considered intrinsic. The
terms usually associated with intrinsic motivation include personal causation,
effectance and curiosity. These psychological motivations are qualitatively different
than physiological and extrinsic motivations in the sense that these needs come from
internal, inherent tendencies that are equated to emotions like joy, excitement, and
happiness. These motivations within the writing classroom are important, especially
when considering creativity. Because intrinsic motivation comes innately from
within when people do act on their curiosity, competence, and self-determination
and master their surroundings, they feel positive emotion (interest and enjoyment) in
doing so (Reeve 142). As students' intrinsic motivation changes to adapt to the
classroom, so will the results of the work that is being done and the knowledge that
the student is retaining. Amabile (1990) stressed the need for intrinsic motivation as
a means of both starting and continuing creative pursuits:
Finding a creative solution requires exploration through maze, a more
heuristic approach to the task. Individuals will only be likely to take this more
creative approach if they are initially intrinsically interested in the activity
itself and if their social environment does not demand a narrowing of behavior
into the familiar algorithms. (86)
Third, in discussing the nature of cognition, Reeve explains that people have
different approaches to understanding the world in which they live, and how they put
that knowledge into action. He says that "when people use knowledge, they construct
plans, goals, etc., in an effort to maximize the probability that they will experience
positive outcomes and minimize the probability of negative outcomes (178).
Students in writing classes use their knowledge of past experiences with other writing
classes to determine how they will act and feel from one activity to the next. If these
experiences are in a classroom that facilitates each student's creative power, wouldn't
it seem likely that they would be more apt to recall that experience and not be as slow
to motivation as they would be in a less creative atmosphere? Although I have no
control over their past, what I can do is use the present a classroom environment to
re-teach or help the student to rediscover the creative process through a better
In looking to connect creativity and motivation in the classroom, lets turn to
researcher Thomas Armstrong who says that "before educators take on any of the
other important issues in learning, they must first have a thorough understanding of
what lies at the core of each student's intrinsic motivation to learn, and that
motivation originates in each student's genius" (Armstrong 2). In Awakening Genius
in the Classroom. Armstrong explains that not only is there the ability for amazing
creative learning in each student, but that in order to teach each student how to access
that creativity, we must know how each student is motivated.
After looking at the inner workings of these aspects of motivation, we must
attempt to try and incorporate this knowledge of them into the classroom. How can
information about Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, MLA documentation, ethos/pathos/logos,
participial phrases and comma splices be integrated into interesting exercises and
activities that are at least interesting enough as not to scare any students off? I have
identified two different ways: 1) to make them responsible for their own learning, and
2) to take the creativity that each student has inside of him or her, no matter how
passionate, repressed, or constructive, and use that to create a classroom full of
excited, information hungry students. Hopefully, this will work perfectly. I really
believe that we need to set high goals like these in order to achieve at least what we
really think is possible; maybe we would even surprise ourselves.
Unfortunately, the lack of motivation has already been fossilized in many of
my students brains. Too many bad writing experiences have left them with Pavlov's
bell going off, but they are not salivating. Instead they shut themselves off and close
off their minds to the possibility that writing can be enjoyable. Its like going to the
dentist for a root canal and having your principal stand over you the entire time
scratching his fingernails down a chalkboard. In other words, its not fun. In the case
of my Fall 1997 Composition I class, they already knew this and many of them were
on the defensive about my class early on. At this point we need to address yet
another question: just because we understand how people are motivated does that
necessarily mean that we have the answers to how teachers can access this motivation
in the classroom? Students have their own agendas about why they dont enjoy
expository writing, but whose job is it to make them excited about writing? It is
generally accepted that the teachers must be the initial external force motivating
them, but we cant do the thinking for them. Instead, we must restructure the entire
environment of the classroom.
Because students were most interested in their own lives, it wasnt surprising
to think that many enjoyed writing if it was on a personal level. In other words, they
were more engaged when the subject touched them in some way that evoked their
emotions through memorable experiences or feelings. Of course, most things mean
more to us if we have some emotional investment in it. When we "create" something-
whether it is a painting, a poem, a garden-we feel closer and more invested in the
outcome of the activity. The same is true with writing. If we let our students explore
originality in the writing process, or if we can create an environment in which
creativity is encouraged, would it not be possible for the students to become more
motivated to learn and engage in writing? The point is to make them want to write
and be proud of what they are writing. They do, of course, need the tools of good
grammar, knowledge of sentence structure, and a clear process of their own in order
to succeed. I argue that even learning these skills could be presented in a more
interesting and challenging way than the past paradigms of lecture style teaching,
allowing students to become more willing and motivated to engage in the process of
becoming a more disciplined and engaged pupil.
An issue that goes hand in hand with the idea of using a more interesting and
challenging method of teaching is that the teacher has to know when creativity is
challenging and when it is not. Csikszentmihalyi says that the teacher has the
difficult task of finding the right balance between the challenges he or she gives and
the students' skills, so that enjoyment and the desire to learn more result"
(Csikszentmihalyi, 175). Students who are given fun, creative assignments and
projects still may not learn a thing if they aren't challenged. The level of motivation
will not move if the student is not challenged. Giving them the tools for motivation
and the guts to be creative is nothing if they do not have a goal to work towards, and
most of the teachers that I have respect for have, indeed, challenged me.
After we understand how creativity and motivation should be applied in the
classroom in a fun and challenging way, it is important to begin to look at where we
will be applying it. According to Csikszentmihalyi, "It may not be so important to
know precisely where the seeds come from. What is important is to recognize the
interest when it shows itself, nurture it, and provide the opportunities for it to grow
into a creative life" (Csikszentmihalyi, 182). From this statement I began to look at
the structure of education and have found the environment of the classroom to be an
integral part of the learning process of every student. The way that the classroom is
set up-from the relationship between the students and teacher to assignments and
activities-affects what the student will mentally ingest and retain. There are certain
kinds of students who excel within their own worlds that they create for themselves
within the classroom. They do not need outside stimulation to motivate them and
prefer to work alone. For these students, the issue of motivation may not be very
important. For other students-those who lack the self-discipline or drive to succeed
on their own-the issue of motivation is prioritized very highly. It is these students
that we need to look at and for whom we need to somehow find a way to create an
environment that is both productive and motivational.
The environment of my classroom Spring semester of 1998 looked to be a
challenge for me. It was filled with every kind of writer: those who loved it and did
not possess the skills to succeed; those who hated it because they were never taught
how to write; the international students who were learning an entirely new style of
grammar and structure; those who excelled at writing the same paper over and over
again, but could not go any further with invention skills. The list could go on. From
this group of very different individuals I had to create an environment that both
brought them together and, at the same time, honored their individualities. I had to
find a level where everyone could come together as writers and then try to find a
balance in what I taught and how I related to each student. I think that because I was
aware of the diversity in my classroom not as a separation but as an opportunity for a
way to expand our minds, the students reflected this energy in their writings, and
possibly learned a lot about themselves in the class.
In Chapter Two, I will look at how I arrived at my definition of creativity. I
will look at how creativity has been defined in the past and what it has come to mean
as the research grows. I will look at the different kinds of creativity, how they are
used differently, and how they affect the way that we look at the world.
Secondly, in terms of motivation, I will look at the how and why we are
motivated to do things. I will look at how motivation works in the classroom and
what new research has uncovered in the areas of teacher/student relations, activities
and projects, as well as how past and present methods of teaching have either
hindered or helped the motivation of the students.
Then I will research how "creativity and motivation" are defined in our system
of education. There are a number of different ways to look at both creativity and
motivation, but how do we use these two slippery and confusing principles and
practices in tandem in order to initiate our students to the world of competent writing?
In Chapter Three I will look at how we can use a more creative classroom
atmosphere, assignments, and projects, to enhance the intrinsic motivation of our
students. What I will propose is a plan for an environment as well as a classroom
plan including assignments, workshop techniques, research projects, student/student
activities and student/teacher activities.
In Chapter Four I will discuss some issues that are being raised about using a
more creative approach in the classroom. I will address the critics who believe that
creativity and play have no place in the classroom. I will look at some of the possible
limitations that have been brought up, as well as the future of research in this area.
DEFINING CREATIVITY AND MOTIVATION IN THE CLASSROOM
I. The Definitions of Creativity
The definition of creativity has been debated, restructured and misunderstood
for many years. Most people who have had little or no exposure to the more
academic definitions of creativity have the impression that it is inherent in all of us,
and that we all are capable of being creative. Webster's defines creativity as:
invention, the stimulation of the imagination, or the ability to create. According to
many researchers, one cannot simply be interesting, inventive, or original to be
considered creative. There must also be a predetermined set of boundaries and
guidelines that must be followed, along with sufficient time given for changes and
revision to the work.
According to Guilford (1956, 59), Csikszentmihalyi (1996), Baer (1993),
Johnson-Laird (1988b), Gruber & Davis (1988), Wallace & Gruber (1989), and
Tardif & Sternberg (1988), creativity is more of an ability to inspire a paradigm shift
(a changing of the culture in an important respect) within the domain in which one is
more than sufficiently successful and regarded by their peers as an elite. There is a
set of guidelines that one must follow to be considered creative, and the phenomena
itself is held up to a high standard that is difficult to achieve. Most definitions of
creativity are structured so that the work of an artisan, physicist, or philosopher is
compared to other kinds of work in the same field.
According to Csikszentmihalyi, creativity has three elements that must be
present for a creative idea, product or discovery to take place. First, there needs to be
a culture that contains specific symbolic rules which provide clarity to the world that
one lives in, sometimes described as standards; secondly, a person within that culture
who brings novelty into the symbolic domain; and third, a field of experts who
recognize and validate the innovation. Csikszentmihalyi compares part of the
definition of creativity to the cultural evolution of the human mind, saying that we are
all equipped with the chemistry that allows for significant changes if the changes that
occur in our environment are learned and accepted by the culture (7). He gives as an
example Vera Rubins astronomical discoveries. One of the reasons that she
succeeded in her domain was because she had a large amount of information about
the domain and her environment allowed for her discoveries to take place.
Csikszentmihalyi also defines creativity as a process by which a symbolic
domain in the culture is changed. This is what is meant by a paradigm shift.
Csikszentmihalyi mentions the possibility that some new books, songs, and machines
can have the opportunity to be products of creativity. Not all new inventions are
paradigm shifting-there is only the possibility that some are and some are not. A
limitation of paradigm shifting creativity includes what Csikszentmihalyi refers to as
sufficient attention. He says that because it takes a great deal of knowledge to be
creative within a certain domain, there must be a great deal of attention paid only to
the task of learning and researching that domain. Because we have so many things to
think about each day, there are relatively few people who have the time, energy,
wealth, or ability to expend enough attention to a specific domain in order to create a
significant paradigm shift within it. Because creativity also generally involves
crossing boundaries of domains, the lack of attention paid to more than one domain
could hinder or even destroy a person's chance of creating something large and
impressive enough to be considered creative by the experts in the domain (7). When
considering writing, it is clear that one needs to be somewhat of an expert in order to
create a paradigm shift. In the composition classroom, and especially at the lower
levels, many students who have not had enough exposure to writing, coupled with an
area of expertise (such as philosophy, medicine, or architecture for example), the
chance for a paradigm shift is not likely. However, I do not want to underestimate
the power of knowledge and the power of the human mind or soul. I believe that
there is always a chance for a paradigm shift, and look forward to seeing it in my
classroom one day.
Csikszentmihalyi believes that people use the term creativity too loosely and
generally, and so in order for others to better understand his specific area of research
he distinguishes three different levels of phenomena that he believes can legitimately
be called creativity. The first level refers to unusually bright people. They are
interesting and stimulating, such as a great conversationalist or original thinker would
be. But unless they do something that has permanent significance, Csikszentmihalyi
does not consider them creative, only merely brilliant. The second level refers to
people who "experience the world in novel and original ways." These people do have
fresh perceptions, insights and important discoveries, but are mostly kept to
themselves. He refers to these people as personally creative. The third level of the
creative being refers to people who have changed the culture in an important respect.
Csikszentmihalyi calls them "the creative ones without qualifications" and because
their achievements are public, they are noticed more. These include people such as
Da Vinci, Edison, Picasso and Einstein. The reason that Csikszentmihalyi
concentrates on the third distinction the most is because these people have brought to
the world some sort of change and left behind visible accomplishments (i.e., the
In terms of this thesis I have divided and identified each level of creativity as
Csikszentmihalyi explains them in order to understand the wide definition of the term
creativity. Each level is important in helping to understand that creativity is not a '
simple theory or process, but has many facets to it and that different people have
accessed creativity in different ways. In the composition classroom there may be
students who fit into one or more of these levels, including the paradigm shifting
level, although this has been said to be highly unlikely.
Guilford, (1956; 1959) whose concept of divergent thinking has been the
theoretical basis for some of the most common assessment tools, describes creativity
in terms of mental abilities involved in creative achievement, or the invention of
original ideas. He defines creativity as the generation of new ideas and his divergent
thinking theory (or divergent production) "emphasizes the generation of new ideas
from given information and includes the factors of fluency, flexibility, originality, and
elaboration" (Weinerman, 1997). Guilford claims that creativity is set within the
guidelines of 16 different divergent-thinking factors. After careful research he
refined these factors gradually in order to organize human cognition into three
dimensions (thought processes that can be performed; contents to which the
operations can be applied; and products that might result from performing operations
on different content categories). Guilford identified 120 mental abilities because he
thought that many people could be very good or very bad at many different things,
therefore, there would have to be more than the small, and general, number of mental
abilities that previous researchers had claimed. From these 120 mental abilities, he
created a list of 16 divergent-production factors that were put into four categories for
identification in creativity:
1. Fluency (word fluency, ideational fluency, associationistic fluency,
expressional fluency) is the ability to produce a large number of ideas.
2. Flexibility is the ability to produce a wide variety of ideas.
3. Originality is the ability to produce unusual ideas.
4. Elaboration is the ability to develop or embellish ideas, and to produce
many details to "flesh out" an idea. (14)
These four categories of identification can be applied directly to the
composition class by simply looking at them from a perspective that incorporates
writing into the ideas. Fluency can be related to a students use of memory in
prewriting, and in invention materials that are required in most expository writing
classes. The flexibility of ideas can be integrated in the ability to manipulate
language and words in order to speak to specific audiences and for specific purposes.
Originality is directly linked to the creative abilities found when identifying new
ways to argue and new ideas to expand on in research and persuasive writing. The
last category, Elaboration, related to the writing classroom because students are
constantly asked to engage in activities that expand their ideas, and increase the
fluency of their thoughts.
Guilford's 1956 development of the divergent thinking theory of creativity,
also called a "neo-Darwinian" process by Johnson-Laird (1988b) is compared by
Baer (1993) with two other definitions of creativity, "Real Time" creativity and
"Multistage" creativity. Baer argues that these three meanings of creativity should
possibly be looked at along a continuum as opposed to side by side. Real Time
creativity, defined as more improvisational and placed on the low end of the creativity
continuum, is defined by Baer in relation to "creative performances within some
genre under time constraints that make performance basically spontaneous, with no
opportunity for revision" (1993). Activities like jazz, for instance, would fall into this
category, but jazz still does not reach the preeminent definition of creativity- the
creating of an original thought, act, or craft.
In the second Multistage definition of creativity, the creator has a "much
wider range of possible solutions than the ... real time model, in which the
constraints on solution generalization must be tight because there is no solution-
evaluation stage prior to performance" (5). In other words, the Multistage model
would be farther up on the continuum because there has been some time for
evaluation and possible rejection of solutions that are determined to be insufficient for
the performance. This type of creativity is most likely found in non-improvisational
music and dance, or social or scientific theories being tested within an already
established paradigm, without the possibility for a major shift. This is the distinction
in which the composition class would most likely fit. Because the creativity is not
solely stream of conscious, and there is room for revision, most expository writing, if
there is no paradigm shift, would be considered as multistage creativity.
The Paradigm Shifting definition of creativity is probably the most widely
accepted academic definition of "real" creativity, or the accepted model for what is
considered, by experts in each field, to be creative. In order to have a paradigm shift,
all of the components of creativity must be in place. One must master the domain in
which they are working; one must have the approval of the gatekeepers; one must be
working in a realm that has specific rules that can be followed. In the expository
writing class, students are the least likely to achieve a paradigm shifting example of
creativity, solely because they have not had enough exposure to the rules or a strong
enough control over the domain.
The final definition of creativity that I choose to concentrate on is focused
more in the realm of artistic creativity than in psychological or formal creativity.
This definition does not deal as closely with the distinctions of paradigm shifting and
conscious knowledge of a specific domain when judged by a group of peers in order
to be considered creative. This definition deals with the more esoteric definition of
creativity-the value of originality and authenticity in every person's world, and the
relationship between the artist and the craft. The definition comes from Eliot Deutsch
who, in his book, Creative Being, discusses six features of creativity that he believes
to be key to the phenomenon: Transitivity of creator and craft, Imminent
Purposeiveness, Cooperative Control, Infusion of Power, Play, and Form.
The feature that is probably the most important to the topic of this thesis
concerns the transitivity or mutability that exists between creativity and what is
created. We sometimes think that the only thing that is changed is the object at the
end of the process. This is not true. It is important to look at the creative agent and
see that we, as creators, do not remain untouched by the act. Because creativity is
self-formative, one is changed in the process of making; we discover ourselves and
who we are or could be through our work. This is why it is important to integrate
creativity into writing- and into expository writing specifically. Students will learn
more about themselves through the creative process, and possibly find a better, more
comfortable understanding and enjoyment of writing.
According to Deutsch, the term Imminent Purposeiveness means that
creativity "guides itself and answers to no other need, aiming only to fulfill the end
that it defines for itself." The purpose of creativity is developed in the process itself
and fulfillment is achieved within the context of the creative act, not because of a
predetermined end or achievement. In other words, creativity does not aim at a fixed
end that can be predicted or governed by universal rules. It autogenously defines
itself. If students in the composition classroom were allowed to believe this, than it is
possible that we would be seeing a lot more risk taking, a lot more students who
follow where the writing seems to be going, and not concentrate so much on giving
the teacher what she wants.
Cooperative Control is the "noncalculative, intuitive grasp of the structure,
principles, or syntax of the medium or domain" (155). So, one works with the
principles and does not exercise force over them. There is nothing that can be
imposed over the natural rhythm of the craft-and Deutsch asserts that all creativity is
craft. There is also an intimacy between the creative act and its object- a kind of joint
effort- that shares equal weight of rhythm during the creative process. Here, the
student understands that the creative ability that she has should not be forced, stifled,
or have anothers will put upon it, including the instructors. They should look to
form and disciplined spontaneity to guide them in the creative act. Even when
revising, a student can still institute cooperative control because it is not the changing
of the act that is in jeopardy, just the growth of the medium.
In discussing Infusion of Power, Deutsch's explanation is more esoteric than
Csikszentmihalyi, calling it a "manifestation of rhythmic force spontaneously
exhibited." He writes that a person with unbending control cannot be held solely
responsible for the act of creativity itself-that at a certain point creativity has its own
rhythm that is separate from the creators. He also looks toward the classical Chinese
idea of spiritual resonance, called ch'i-yun sheng-tung, to describe the rhythm that the
creative act grasps on its own and manifests as expressive power (156). This may be
too esoteric for many composition teachers to adhere to, but there is a point, if one
concentrates on the writing itself, when the writing takes on a life of its own, connects
with the psyche, and creates ideas and transformations of the medium that could not
happen if the writer felt the need to have total power over the craft. That is why
brainstorming and guided imagery are very important to the writing process. It
allows the student to access different parts of his or her being.
Closely related to the idea of Infusion of Power is Form. Form is defined, in
terms of the creative act, as a blending of content and structure that appears as
inevitable- "artwork as a realized end that establishes those relationships that are right
for itself." Deutsch also asserts that creativity is formative because it is a making, a
"techne," which when wholly successful, results in a form that is "radiant by virtue of
the rightness of the relations articulated and the appropriateness of the feeling and
Because creativity is so unique and singular, Deutsch argues that no two
creative acts are ever alike, and therefore gives opportunity to the chance for
unlimited creative acts He states that:
Assuredly it is the case that in some important sense no two human acts of any
kind are ever alike insofar as any act, no matter how routine, takes place at a
given time and place with all its attendant particularities, in asserting the
dissimilarity of creative acts we assert something much stronger than this; we
assert that a special kind of uniqueness and singularity is one of the
distinguishing characteristics of artistic creativity. (157)
One of the main reasons that people create art, or craft, is because we see that
there is no chance for exact repetition. We see who we are-our history, talents, goals,
capabilities, etc.-and see that we have an opportunity to create a non-repeatable act.
One of the reasons that creativity is so desirable to us is, as Deutsch states, because of
the "realization of form infused with power." (156)
The issue of Play is very important to the study of artistic creativity. Play,
defined by Deutsch, is basically "disciplined spontaneity." It is uninhibited exhibition
of emotion and feeling put down on canvas or in writing or through steel, copper or
iron. It is a blind response to an innate calling out for free self-determination. On the
other hand, it is also disciplined and orderly. It is capable of intelligent thought and
understanding. The term "discipline" defined as "ordering relations, through
experience, to achieve just that rightness in relationship that is of the essence of form
(157), controls the medium, or domain through play which makes creativity
formative. In terms of the composition class, disciplined play would give the students
the freedom to explore within academic boundaries including letter writing, role
playing using voice or concentrating on audience.
Although I am only using four published researchers to aid in my definition of
creativity, I also decided to ask those who teach within English and writing about the
subject of creativity in order to understand what they thought creativity was. When I
talked to 30 educators (20 English, 1 Biology, 2 Business, 4 Computer Science, 2
Psychology, and 1 Communications) from UCD with varying experience about what
is and who can be creative I received a continuum of different responses. The
majority said that creative people were people who were original thinkers, painted or
wrote great novels or poetry, and that although they didnt consider themselves
creative, they had grown up with and did know people who were. A smaller
percentage said that everyone is creative in some way, whether it consists of the
ability to think outside the box or experience the world in an original and different
way. These people were able to come up with something about themselves that they
thought was creative. The smallest percentage of people whom I talked to thought
that only a few people in the world and throughout history were Creative. These
people were the ones who changed the way we as a society understood our world and
technology, looked at art, read books, and saw movies. They said that they didnt
personally know anyone who was Creative, but they could name those that were
known to the general population.
It is the latter people whom I want to address in this thesis because it was
these same people who, later on in a different conversation about specific students in
their classrooms, pulled out essays and passed them around so that we could see this
amazing voice, or cavalier approach to an assignment. It was these educators who
let this one slide because the student went outside the box in order to understand or
took a risk that stood out among the other essays, and it was these educators who
praised these writers for constructing original thoughts and writing and creating
something new out of an old assignment. So I ask, how many of our students are
already creating new ways of thinking and original ways of showing it? And how
many of us are just merely looking twice at their work, giving it an A and passing it
After concentrated study of creativity, I have worked out a definition for the
purposes of my own classroom and this thesis, that combines the divergent thinking
qualities including the inherence of specific mental capacities which can be harnessed
by any individual with enough time, energy, and will with Deutsch's ideas of structure
of play, disciplined spontaneity, and transitivity of craft and creator. In the writing
classroom creativity will be defined as: an act in which every individual has the
possibility to engage in that is original in nature, requires disciplined spontaneity, is
bom out of play, has the ability to change both the craft and the creator, and has the
possibility change the domain of writing in some way.
II. A Psychological and Physiological look at Motivation.
When looking at what it takes for a person to learn and retain specific
information in a composition classroom, it is a good idea to know how and why they
mentally prepare for each writing task. While it is true that a good number of
students will resist learning and retaining the parts of expository writing that they
dislike, there is a way of knowing what it is that pushes them to learn it or involve
themselves in an activity anyway. Understanding motivation in the writing
classroom begins with understanding what motivates us as human beings- what drives
us to accomplish and strive for success to fulfill our most basic needs.
According to Johnmarshall Reeve, there are five systems of motivation:
Physiological, Extrinsic and Intrinsic, Cognitive, Individual, and Emotional. As
functioning human beings, we use all five of these systems in order to get through our
lives. The Cognitive, Extrinsic and Intrinsic motivational systems are the three most
strongly related to learning in the classroom, so we will be focusing mostly on these,
as well as other researchers viewpoints on different motivational phenomena. For
the purpose of this thesis, will be using grades as examples of incentives, rewards,
and even punishers. The example of grading can be applied to all three motivational
aspects and, I believe, is a clear way to understand the psychological reactions to
these three acts.
People are extrinsically motivated to do things for three reasons: incentives,
rewards, and punishments. If something looks attractive or appealing to a person, and
if they feel that their life would be enhanced with this particular addition, they are
generally motivated to attain it. This is called an incentive, which occurs before
behavior and creates an expectation from which attractive or unattractive
consequences are going to come about. In the classroom, students are extrinsically
motivated to get good grades, to score well on SATs or GREs or other exams in order
to better their way of life.
A reward is, "an attractive, environmental object that occurs at the end of a
sequence of behavior and acts to increase the probability that the behavior will
occur"(l 10). A punisher is just the opposite: an unattractive environmental object
that occurs at the end of a sequence of behavior that acts to decrease the chances that
the behavior will occur. For example, if we know that we might be receiving an 'F' on
our final papers, we would most likely be extrinsically motivated through the threat of
this kind of punisher to study harder. We learn through experience how to gain
rewards and avoid punishments. We go through a series of incentives, rewards and
punishments each day in order to fulfill our lives. Students may think that if they give
the teacher what she or he wants, then they will receive the grade that they desire. In
writing classes in particular we can see the effects of previous teaching forms vanish
quickly when a new form in given. For the student many times it is more important
to appease the teacher's desires than to think critically and decide for themselves
which form is desirable.
Intrinsic motivation comes from our innate desires and internal motivation to
achieve something. There is a physiological representation of need that occurs when
our intrinsic interests are accessed. When in the writing classroom, the student must
want to leam or want to engage in writing before creativity can happen. As Amabile
points out, students will only delve into a risky and possibly awakening pursuit if they
are "intrinsically interested in the activity itself," (Amabile 1990) and not because a
teacher forces them. When an activity is presented in an interesting and creative
fashion to a student who is initially uninterested, it would be possible to access her
intrinsic motivation, thus creating a stimulus for growth.
When comparing these two types of motivation, researchers found that
extrinsic motivation was preferable to intrinsic motivation when the persons intrinsic
motivation is low (Reeve, 149). It is not difficult to surmise then that in classes
where the students have not had the most positive experiences coming out of high
school, the kind of motivating activities must come from the teacher until the student
is able to enjoy it and intrinsically motivate him or herself.
The cognitive motivational system is more directly related to how people
mentally process how they will achieve success and the relationship between
cognition and action. In order to achieve success, the human mind must
accommodate three functions: plan, goal, and consistency. In the planning stage,
people look at models of ideal and present states and try to find a match as to what
would be an ideal state to begin a task. In the composition classroom a student
would look at, for example, a draft of writing, see that it lacks the balance between
what the assignment asked for and what was actually on the paper. She would then
readjust her plan in order to assimilate the two into a congruity.
In the goal stage, people look at what it is that they want to achieve, direct
their attention towards the task, begin working towards the task, increase persistence,
and work within the most successful strategies. Reeve asserts that even though the
person is generally persistent in his or her own motivation towards his or her goal,
feedback from another source can help to show if the individual is working above or
below the level of the goal. Reeve says, "When feedback shows the individual is
performing at a level at or above the goal, the individual feels competent enough to
set a higher, future goal that breeds further goal-directed action" (200). In the
classroom, the students look to the teacher in order to see where they are in relation to
the goals that they have set and the teacher has set for them to achieve.
Addressing the third idea, consistency, there are two areas of research that
have been discussed at length and have direct relationships with cognitive motivation:
cognitive dissonance and self concept. Cognitive dissonance occurs when there has
been a change in the original belief system, behavioral action, environment, or when a
new belief is initiated. These are voluntary choices that people make on their own to
discontinue an action and switch to another one. Self-concept consistency refers to
how people set up their environments and activities in order to keep consistency
around them. It has been shown that people not only prefer to have a consistent
pattern of life, but also achieve more successes when they do not change their
environment drastically. Unless they receive feedback that they need to have a
change in order to succeed at a task, an individual will continue on with the route that
seems to give them the most possible amount of successes. In the classroom, students
need feedback from peers as well as the instructor in order to come to a comfortable
new pattern of writing that is considered successful by both the student and the
Two issues that we run into frequently in composition classrooms are: 1) the
student who has never had any direction prior to college and, 2) the student who has
had too much direction (helpful or unhelpful) and doesnt know how to set his or her
own goals and direction. In the classroom, when students are comfortable with the
way that they learn, and they get no contradictory feedback or any feedback at all,
they will continue with the same plans and goals. For the student who does not know
what he or she is doing or has no concept of self-teaching methods, this system could
be destructive. He/she needs a teacher who will direct him/her and help to set goals
and provide a plan that will lead to successes in learning. For the students who have
had good instruction prior to college or are self-starters and self-motivated, setting
goals and plans may not be difficult; the challenge with these students may be
whether or not they are on the right track. These students may not accept change
willingly, but have the ability to learn how to change their plan with help from a
Whether the students are cognizant of the subject enough to want to establish
their own plans and goals or if they know very little about the subject and will need a
lot of guidance, it is imperative that the teacher have the skills and the motivation to
assist the student in whatever direction they may require. Once the student is on his
or her correct path of learning, the teacher can then stand back and let the student
enroll him or herself in the task. If the task is made interesting and includes the
student's concept of importance, it will make the task more inviting to the student and
possibly increase his or her level of motivation.
III. The environment of a creative and motivated expository writing classroom
We must create a classroom environment that is conducive to the education of
our students. According to Armstrong, the classroom should share at least five
characteristics that "guide their instruction, regardless of content" (60). These five
(1) The freedom to choose
(2) Open-ended exploration
(3) Freedom from judgment
(4) Honoring every student's experience
(5) Belief in every student's genius (60).
In terms of motivation and creativity, when we share these characteristics with
our students, or when they feel comfortable using them, they will be more motivated
to engage in creative thinking and being. These five characteristics show students
that they are in control of their own learning and that they will not be stifled. When
students are given the freedom to choose, they are allowed to write what they want to
write about. They can access their intrinsic motivation because it is something that
they feel like doing, that they want for themselves. When they are allowed to explore
without limitations they are also allowed to access any creative ways of thinking or
writing that they can and want to access. When we do not judge them, and when we
honor their experiences, believing in their genius, we give our students external
motivation that will make them want to write more that can possibly make them
believe in themselves. From this external motivation would come internal motivation
I believe that these five characteristics also relate to the composition
classroom in a number of ways. First, each one puts the responsibility and control
into the student's hands, which is very important. Second, it shows the student that
we believe that he/she is capable and ready for the challenges of the class. Third, it
gives the student the motivation to believe in him or herself, which is probably the
most important factor in excelling in any activity.
Another key to the level of motivation of the students is the way that the
teacher relates to the subject that he or she is teaching as well as to the students. The
Colorado State University research team of Timpson, Burgoyne, Jones, and Jones
argues that teaching is directly related to acting because teachers are always on stage,
always performing. In their book, Teaching and Performing, Timpson et al. describe
their research of four professors, one of whom was in English, and the way that their
classrooms were directed. They looked at the way that the professor of English
interacted with the students and found that the more joyful, adventurous and
spontaneous she was, the more positively the students responded. They state that
even though "some of our colleagues may ... be quite critical of a quality like
spontaneity in a culture seemingly driven by demands for analysis and proof' (113), it
is hard to argue with the students who score higher on national tests who come from
an environment of creativity and invention. They say that it is also hard to argue with
the high ratings that the teachers whom they studied received from their students
when evaluated. Although some experts may also argue that these students simply
like these teachers because they are fun or easy, researchers such as Timpson et al.
say that the evidence shows that students are "remarkably reliable in assessing the
quality of teaching (Marsh, 1987; Andrew, Timpson, and Nulty, 1994.) The fact that
these students are having a good time in their English courses, learning and retaining
information, and succeeding in the classroom suggests that creativity and spontaneity
reflect on what happens when a student gets motivated to learn.
According to Viola Spoilin, founder of American Improvisational
Methodology, students need a "structure that focuses all energies on problem solving
activities," as well as an environment that "encourages personal freedom and the
freedom for them to work with their own creativity" (119). Creativity and
improvisation is not chaos. Everything successful always has a structure to it, and
mapping out a structure for the students will aid them in any kind of writing that they
are involved in. Students like-and many times demand-established boundaries in
which to work. In my classroom, as much as they say "I want to do what I want to
do" my students want me, as the teacher, to tell them how much, how little, how
many pages, etc.
Spoilin suggests that there needs to be a structure in which individuals
learn through experience and develop their awareness of self, other, and the
environment (120). In other words, instead of blasting them "firehose style" with
information, we should allow the students to experience the act of finding,
accumulating, absorbing and comprehending new information firsthand. This gives
the students a sense of total engagement and the feeling that they have the ability to
find things out for themselves. They should be taught that they hold the keys to their
own minds, and that through research and critical thinking they can find the answers
to many of the questions that they come across.
The classroom environment has been changing for many years now and when
Peter Elbow first came up with the idea for challenging the lecture style classroom,
and moved towards a more liberal, group-based learning style, critics debated
whether or not his ideas would succeed. These ideas have been accepted and used in
higher education classrooms because they work. Creativity-based systems have also
been researched and the number of educators, including George Kamezis and Will
Hochman, who are trying and succeeding with them in the classroom is growing. I
will include their ideas for activities in the classroom as well as their visions for the
future of creativity and pedagogy in chapters three and four.
This chapter has attempted to define, through four different qualified
researchers, what creativity is and how it can be applied to the expository classroom.
Because the term creativity has many aspects to it, I have also worked into my thesis
a definition that, I hope, is specific enough, yet broad enough to encompass what I
would like to apply to my classroom in the future. I attempted to look at the most
attributable aspects of motivation in order to come to an understanding of how we are
motivated as people, and then how we as teachers can use this knowledge to create an
environment within the classroom that encourages creativity through both intrinsic
and extrinsic motivation. Finally, I hoped to provide in some detail, the reasons that
we need teachers who provide creative classrooms and why they are integral to the
learning process of each student.
A CURRICULUM GUIDE FOR A CREATIVE AND MOTIVATED CLASSROOM
The following is a curriculum guide to teaching a creatively based
beginning level composition course, levels I and II. We will look at: the purpose of
the courses, course goals, the classroom environment, a 13-week lesson plan which
includes four major projects, assessment of data, and the role of the creative teacher
within the environment.
I. Purpose of the Course
The purpose of composition courses at UCD is to prepare the students for
academic, as well as nonacademic writing tasks through a more creative approach
that allows the students to utilize their creative abilities in order to understand the
power of writing. One of the main goals for my courses is to leave with an
understanding of the value of creativity in each student. The course should also
provide 1) an environment that motivates students to be creative; 2) challenging and
interesting activities and projects; and 3) an instructor who believes in and grows with
his or her students. These three aspects, when implemented into the creative
classroom, will provide better ways to facilitate the kind of learning that I believe is
imperative to the successful composition class.
II. Course Goals
There are two sets of goals that are important to this research. The first are the goals
that the university requires for all students who take either English 1020 or 2030. As
well as preparing the student for academic and nonacademic writing tasks, the
university requires the student to explore and practice various types of research-
based, informative, persuasive and argumentative discourse with an emphasis on
critical thinking, reading and writing. Along with these goals, I wish to extend my
ways of teaching into the creative realm in order to motivate my students to write
better and understand the power of language. The goals that I have for my courses
1) To provide students with the tools to effectively use their creativity
in expository writing.
2) To show students that writing can be a powerful, life changing way
to express oneself.
3) To help students to understand their own process of writing.
4) To provide students with a comfortable place to discover new
ways of being creative in the world of writing.
5) To give students the confidence in their own abilities as writers
6) To assist students in effectively expressing their ideas in their
fields of work.
III. The Environment of the Classroom
The environment of the classroom is the guiding force behind how a student
learns. Although research shows that students leam in many different ways, and in
multiple learning styles, the way that the information is presented is also an important
issue. Just because we dont automatically come to this occupation knowing what
kind of creative dynamics are working in our classrooms, doesnt mean that there
arent any there. What teachers must be aware of is that the energy of the classroom,
the style of teaching, the interaction between the people, are all influences on how the
students learn. Therefore, teachers must understand the different ways that creativity
and learning can be approached. Creativity is working in the classroom all the time,
but sometimes we just arent aware of it. Students are being creative while they
arent listening to your lecture. Armstrong says that it takes a certain amount of
genius to act as if one is involved in a lesson when one has absolutely no interest at
all (40). This kind of creativity comes from being bored in the classroom, and we all
know that when students are bored, they rarely retain information.
In light of this discussion about boredom, lack of interest, discomfort and the
need to combat these issues, I have identified the following ways in which teachers
can make learning more accessible and pleasurable for the students.
If we look at successful classrooms in Japan, we can see that the teachers use
lecture in a different way. They make the students want to hear the lecture. The
professor puts up a problem or issue on the board and groups the children into groups
and asks them to figure it out. Some may come up with the right answer immediately
if it is not a difficult problem. But sometimes students have to think about it and it
may take them a while to understand; or it may never come to them. At this point, if
the answer has not been discovered, the professor then slowly draws it out for them,
either on the chalkboard or overhead, or in lecture. By this time the students are
engaged and want to know the answer, and how it can be applied.
2) Wait Time
The same principles were taught to me during a class that I took from Dr.
Richard VanDeWeghe in the summer of 1997 called Rhetoric and the Teaching of
Writing. In this class we learned about how to create an environment that facilitates
learning and how to respond to students. Dr. VanDeWeghe explained a theory called
wait time, closely related to the Japanese style of teaching above, that measures the
time in between the speech acts that occur in the classroom. After a teacher asks a
question, the time that it takes for someone to answer-correctly or incorrectly-before
responding is called wait one (Wl). The next wait time, wait two (W2) is the time
that an instructor waits after the first person has spoken before he or she responds.
This gives the student time to take in what has been said, analyze it and possibly
respond further. This theory suggests that if students are not immediately told the
answer or given the solution, it may actually give them the needed time to access the
information in whatever fashion that they are accustomed to using, in order to come
up with an appropriate response. In my writing classes I have learned to wait as long
as over two full minutes before responding. That is a very long time. Sometimes the
students get uncomfortable and say things like, Just tell us or I forgot what you
asked now (joking) and you just have to wait until someone says something.
Usually after that first response, another student will get the courage or an idea to say
something else. Sometimes theyre just completely wrong and the question has to be
restated in another way. The point is that eventually they will want to know the
answer. This kind of motivation is both extrinsic and intrinsic. I provide the
motivation to get the question answered at some point in time and the students
eventually want to know the answer to fulfill a curiosity from within.
3) Creating a comfort zone
In order for us to engage the student in a process such as the wait time
approach, the environment of the classroom must be one where the students feel
comfortable taking risks and accepting the challenges that are presented to them.
According to English professor Nancy Thompson, creative learning occurs best in an
atmosphere of mutual support, not competition. For a student to measure herself
against someone else is self-defeating (4). If we as teachers support our students
fully in whatever risk taking writing process that they choose, these same students
will be more willing to see us as people who are invested in helping them learn more.
Thompson, who teaches composition classes, says that this system of support will
enable [students] to ignite the sparks of mutual affinity that allow us to see every
other person as our teacher and our teachers as truly human (4).
4) Student-based choices
In the classroom my students should write about what is important to them.
Rather than telling them what to write about, ask them to find something about the
about the subject we are studying and apply it to their lives. When it comes to writing
a three to five page essay about a memorable event, this task would seem pretty easy,
and it usually is. But when you ask your students to write a 10 page paper about an
issue of public concern and all they can think of is the abortion issue and dont care
one bit about it, then it gets a little harder to motivate them and make them really
want to write. This is why teachers should tell them not to write about something that
they care nothing about. From the comments that I have received from my students, I
know that some teachers tell their students that it doesnt matter if the student cares
about the subject. It only matters if the people on the two or three sides of the issue
care. This tells the student that they arent an important piece of the writing and
when a student is discounted in this way, it makes her feel as if she-and her writing-
This is how motivation works in a classroom: you make students feel like they
are always important-because they are-and you make yourself accommodating to
their needs. This means helping them to find an issue or a topic when they cant
figure it out for themselves, showing them one on one how to organize their thoughts,
making a point of finding out if they are a visual learner, ESL, a bad planner, etc. to
see how they are going to look at the project that you are giving them. Knowing that
not all students learn exactly the same way is a good beginning. Knowing how to
motivate them individually is a little trickier.
During the course of the class period check in with particular students to see
how their writing process is going. Try to set up the classroom as an environment of
safety where the students would feel comfortable addressing an issue or asking a
IV. Lesson Plan for 13-week course
This next section outlines a step by step guide to teaching expository writing
that can lead students to discover their love of writing and intrinsically motivate them
through creativity. This will provide a framework for a creative and motivated
classroom, and by studying and executing these activities, it will be clear what an
important role each activity plays in the expository writing class.
Many of the activities engage the student in Deutsch's characteristics of
creativity, such as play, form, cooperative control and imminent purposeiveness. All
the activities are designed to help the student become more motivated about writing
extrinsically as well as intrinsically. Each class session, activity and project
concentrates on a specific area of writing (audience, voice, prewriting) that is
targeted, and explains how the aspects of creativity and motivation are accessed. It
will also address how to gauge the acceptability and response that each task received
from the student. This plan is for a class held twice a week for 11/2 hours. Each
activity can be found in the Appendix in full text.
It is always a good idea to have a number of assignments and activities to help
your class learn the techniques of good writing. It is also preferable to use those that
have been tested, retested and successfully implemented. The ones that will be
addressed have been tested, either by myself with my own classes, or by other
teachers and researchers, such as Thomas Newkirk, David Zemelmen, and Harvey
Daniels, through observation and trial. My own data comes mainly from my teaching
journals, student journals, interviews with other teachers, as well as the actual
assignments and written essays that the students have completed.
Tuesday: Introduction to the course. Guided imagery lesson (Appendix 1).
Thursday: Discussion of Project One. I Search outline (Appendix 2).
Assessment data: Guided imagery has been tested by both Pam Pearce, Zemelmen
and Daniels, as well as myself. My experience has shown that this exercise helped
students to access material from the past and gave them the confidence to trust in
their own writing skills (Personal Journal, 1997;1998; Pearce, 1998; Zemelmen &
Daniels, 1988). The 1 Search outline has helped students in my Fall 1998 Comp II
class to access their creativity and motivation because the subject matter was
personally important to them. For many of the students, it provided a springboard
from which a lot of very researchable issues came about (Personal Journal, 1998).
Tuesday: In class writing workshop concentrating on individual goals for project
one. In this class period, the students will integrate their two page I Search essay
into a plan for Project one. They will spend part of the class brainstorming in group
and the last part of the class freewriting and organizing from the information they
have obtained. The homework for the next class is to create a purpose statement and
goal oriented outline of the project.
Thursday: Using the purpose statement and goal oriented outline, students will create
a series of issues to speculate upon, as well as solutions as to why they occur.
Students will work in groups to brainstorm, and spend 3 minute focused freewriting
for the last lA of the class period.
Assessment of data: Focused freewriting has been useful in my classroom because it
has shown to help the students access their memories, and lead them through a
specific writing process that they can reconstruct for other writing projects.
Tuesday: Audience workshop. As a class read aloud two clearly different essays,
letters, short stories, or other writing that are addressed to different audiences. As a
class discuss the language used, the structure of the writings, and who the audience
may be. In class writing: on the board write two or three strong opinionated
sentences and have the students write a few paragraphs addressing the issue with two
different people. Homework: two page essay on the activities of a bachelor/ette party
addressed to two different audiences (Appendix 3).
Thursday: Structure and Content workshop. Distribute to students examples of
concise paragraphs with transitions. Discuss use of language, correct use of
transitions, and how one idea leads into the next. In class: students pick two major
ideas from their own projects and workshop them into clear, concise paragraphs with
transitions. Group input and sharing of ideas is encouraged. Out loud readings at the
end of the class are also encouraged.
Assessment of data: The homework assignment gave my Fall 1998 students a very
open arena for looking at writing to an audience without the boundaries of it having
to be strictly academic. Through this exercise, my students were able to distinguish
between the people whom they were addressing and make thoughtful decisions about
what language they were going to use to convey their thoughts. Although this was a
nonacademic style exercise, it did cross over successfully into the academic writing
of the research papers. Most of my students were able to identify when they were and
werent writing to an academic audience and were able to revise in order to raise the
writing to the higher level (Personal Journal, 1998).
Tuesday: Zero Draft workshop for Project One. These workshops are designed to
give the students an opportunity to share their work with their peers and get another
opinion besides the instructor. Give the students specific issues to look for in the
projects and are asked them to comment critically and fairly. Homework: revise zero
draft into a final draft for Thursday.
Thursday: Project One due. Begin project Two. Pass out Invention Materials for
Project Two. Give students magazines to browse over and have them find examples
of persuasive advertisements. Homework: find three to five related examples of a
product that the student uses or identifies with. Write a two page essay on how the
products fit together and how they tie into the students life.
Assessment of data: Zero draft workshops have been tested by a majority of the
teachers at UCD, and there has been a variety of responses to the activity. It has
become clear through careful research and discussion (between UCD teachers and
myself) that there needs to be a specific guide that the students need to follow in order
for the results to be successful (Appendix Four). When given specific goals to meet
and issues to address, I have found that the workshopping has proven to be a very
successful tool in writing assessment. Students gain confidence in their writing
knowledge, find new ways of thinking, and become better critical analysts (Personal
Journal 1997; 1998).
Tuesday: Discuss components of classical persuasive essay. Look at examples of
ethos/pathos/logos from student product examples. Reading for Thursday: A Modest
Thursday: Discuss Swifts technique of persuasion. Bring in The Onion, Boulder
newspaper and discuss satire as persuasion. In class: have students create their own
persuasive or informative satirical article (Appendix Five). It may be a good idea to
bring in some topics for the students to choose.
Assessment of data: Because satire is very difficult to understand, many students have
difficulties replicating it in persuasive writing. This is not a quick and easy way to
learn a difficult style of writing, but it has proven to be a good challenge for many of
my writers. The results of my research here have run the scale of total bomb to
complete success, so I always try to use it in the classroom. The most important
part of teaching satire is to be patient and be ready to show a lot.
Tuesday: Content and organization workshop. Have students bring in examples of
great introductions and conclusions. After students have either written them on the
board or read them aloud, discuss why they are good introductions and conclusions,
what makes a good introduction/conclusion and what to avoid. Homework for
Thursday is to write three different introductions and conclusions for Project Two.
Thursday: Workshopping Zero drafts of Project Two.
Assessment of data: Learning what is a good introduction/conclusion is probably one of the most
undesirable and feared aspects of writing for beginning writers. This is why I like to have them find
their own examples and explain them. From my experience, when students know the difference
between why an intro/conclusion is good and why it may be bad, then they can feel free to be more
creative with how they initially address and complete an issue. All but two of my Fall 1998 Comp II
class created amazing introductions for their final research projects because they were able to put
together in their minds what would bring the audience into their world (Personal
Tuesday: Begin Project Three- Annotated Bibliographies. Discuss how research will
affect their future careers. In class: Brainstorm ideas for controversy within their
chosen fields. Use the chalkboard for the whole class brainstorming so the students
will be able to visualize the controversy and possibly connect different issues.
Discuss MLA format and hand out a correctly written annotation as a guide.
Thursday: Project Two due. Tour the Library and show the students where the
newspaper databases are, the periodicals, how to find specific sections of book that
are related in the field and how to get around the computer. Homework for Tuesday:
bring in synopses of two journal articles that pertain to their research.
Assessment on data: Using the chalkboard for whole class brainstorming has been a
very successful way to engage the students and use their creativity cooperatively.
Both Teaching Assistant, Pete Cassidy, and I have also requested that the students
write their brainstorms on the chalkboards and then walk around and add to other
students brainstorming. We found that this interaction creates an energy in the
classroom that makes the students excited about the subjects that they are exploring
(Cassidy, 1998; Personal Journal, 1998).
Tuesday: Examine a completed annotation and discuss academic voice. Discuss how
to write concisely, how to avoid slang, and how to use academic language. In class:
revise the synopsized journal articles and read the two different versions aloud. This
exercise can get very funny if the academic and nonacademic voices are clearly
different. Homework for Thursday: Two page essay on voice (Appendix Six).
Thursday: At this point, grammar concerns will be apparent, and although most
research classes concentrate mostly on higher order concerns, it is still favorable to
concentrate on grammar and sentence structure, since it does affect academic writing.
Hand out grammar quiz. Give 40 minutes to complete. Correct and discuss in class.
Collect and record issues that are still apparent. Homework for Tuesday: revise all
annotations for grammar.
Assessment of data: The annotation exercise was pretty cool according to one
student who seemed to be having trouble with academic language. It made him look
at the difference in meaning that certain words and sentence structure provided, and
he commented that it was pretty funny to hear the way his writing sounded before
and after. I gave the grammar test in both my Spring and Fall, 1998 classes. The
students seemed to think that it was less painful than rote grammar lectures or take
home assignments because of the creativity of the test. The sentences that I used as
well as the tense paragraphs and sentence combining had an element of humor to
them which, the students commented, made them fun to read and engaged their sense
of humor. A few told me that they slowed down in order to re-read some of the
questions for humor, which made it easier for them to find the mistakes, or use the
correct grammar (Personal Journal, 1998).
Tuesday: Thesis statements and purpose statement workshops. Bring in good
examples of essays with implied thesis statements. Discuss with students what the
essay was trying to say, its purpose and then create a thesis for each.
Thursday: Workshop Zero drafts of Project Three. Homework for Tuesday: prepare
a concise thesis with a clear indication of side for Project Four.
Tuesday: Project Three due. Begin Project Four. Examine controversies and thesis
statements. Discuss methods of arguing using common topic that is not being used
by student. Remember to utilize the chalkboard for this. Homework: Read two
essays with conflicting opinions on an issue of public concern (handouts).
Thursday: Courtroom style argument (Appendix Seven).
Addressing data: Again, using the chalkboard for whole class discussions was a
successful way to engage the students creativity and motivate them to immediately
begin working on their own writing. The courtroom style argument gave the students
a sense of control because I gave them the opportunity to run the class for the day. I
have only tried this once, but my colleague, Amelia Rau, who has used this exercise
many times, reported that she has had a lot of success with it. My results were
favorable, as my class only had 12 students who were easily separated into groups
and were very disciplined and serious about arguing their points. The one hesitation
that I would have with this activity is that it may not work with a large class (Rau,
1998; Personal Journal, 1998).
Tuesday: Workshopping organization of ideas. Hand out examples of previous
research projects and examine what made them good arguments. Examine a faulty
argument and why it was feeble. In class: have students workshop their own
arguments looking for fallibility or clarity. Share aloud both examples and workshop
as a whole.
Thursday: Discuss MLA and grammar concerns for full research projects. Open
discussion for any concerns that students have about project, confusions, etc.
Assessment of data: Throughout the many discussions that I have had with my classes
on various writing techniques, I have found repeatedly that students really prefer
ripping apart, as one of my more colorful students puts it, the more feeble of
arguments. My thoughts on this are, if they are enjoying themselves and engaging
their critical thinking muscles, then it is a good thing. If they want to figure out how
to improve an argument, then they have succeeded in evoking intrinsic motivation,
which, according to Johnmarshall Reeve, is the most favorable kind (Personal
Tuesday: Zero Draft workshop.
Thursday: Project Four due. Discuss portfolio standards. Hand out evaluations.
Tuesday: Project Four returned. Workshopping all projects for final portfolios
Thursday: Turn in Portfolios. Presentations of achieved goals.
V. The role of the creative teacher in the environment of the classroom
Teachers in the classroom should also access their own creativity in order to
direct a creatively motivated classroom. If youre going to teach writing, write!
Everyone who has heard the phrase, Those who cant do, teach, know that it is a
lousy cliche and is untrue about most subjects. It is especially untrue of teaching
writing because in order to be a good writing teacher one must write. Natalie
Goldberg, Peter Elbow, Maxine Hariston and Richard Hugo constantly try to press
into our minds that writers need to write daily. In order to teach the theories and
practices of writing to our students, we must put ourselves into their shoes every day.
I also like to share my writing process with my students.
Students may think that writing comes easily to us, that we have this magic
ability to sit down at our computers and come up with 60 page theses in one night- no
revisions needed. It makes them more comfortable with their own process to know
that we too struggle through organization and focus in our writing. What this does is
make the teacher seem human to them, and our students need to see us as human
beings as well as the golden well of knowledge that we are. Sometimes students are
not as extrinsically motivated because they think that they are not smart enough or
that the assignments are tough only for them. When they see that learning is a
process for us, too, then they are apt to become more extrinsically motivated. When
they see that we are creative beings, and that the joy and control that comes out of
being creative is a good thing, then they may be more willing to attempt to access
their own creative abilities.
Many teachers have had students who excelled in their classes with ease.
Some of these students did so because they studied hard, took tests well and spent late
nights at the library researching and writing until early morning hours. Others
excelled because they had teachers who allowed them to go outside the traditional
boundaries of learning and discovery and allow them to use the creative talent that
they possessed in order to let them learn in any way that they desired.
One such teacher was Graham Webb, a university professor in Ireland who
took his class on a geology field trip and persuaded one student to work within a
creative realm (one that inspires originality and spontaneity), rather than stay within
the strict boundaries of rote scientific study, solely because he saw a potential in that
student that could not be ignored. Webb saw that Barry was keeping a journal and
writing some poetry on his own for the first few days that the class had traveled to
England. Webb saw an opening for creativity to contribute to the education of his
student and gave Barry the opportunity to be the historian for the class instead of
writing the same part of the project that his group was working on. Webbs
confidence and acceptance of his students talent helped Barry to utilize his talents for
storytelling to learn about geology is a different way, and give his classmates a
different perspective on their contributions to the trip. Because Webb showed Barry
that using his creative abilities was an important way to examine a scientific study,
Barry felt more comfortable in the group. The result was a successful encapsulation
of the three weeks that the class spent learning about the texts that they had only been
reading about in the classroom. The work that Barry had done was appreciated by not
only his peers and Webb, but by the academic community of the university (89).
Will Hochman writes of Richard Hugos book, The Triggering Town, that
Hugo asserts that writing tools are personal and whatever it is that works for you to
help your process along, is okay for writing. In his section Nuts and Bolts, he gives
his own personal rules for writing and while Hochman says that a few of them may be
a little quirky, the point of the chapter is to show:
how a writer guides himself through the act of writing [and that] Hugo is
really suggesting that each writer must develop his or her own nuts and
bolts and that its appropriate for each writer to include the personal elements
that enhance ones writing process. (47)
Hugo also is defended by Hochman in his own defense of creative writing
classes as the only place in the university to get some humane treatment. Hugo shares
a short story a fellow student had written about his first sexual experience in a
whorehouse. He says that the story was honest and moving and if it had been written
in any other class the student would have been kicked out of school, but that the
raved approval, and we realized we had just heard a special moment in a
persons life, offered in honesty and generousity, and we better damn well
appreciate it. It may have been the most important lesson one can teach. You
are someone and you have a right to your life. Too simple? Already in the
Constitution? Try to find someone who teaches it. Try to find a student who
knows it so well he or she doesnt need it confirmed (qtd in Hochman, 48).
It is because of the person we are not because of the person that we learn to be
in school that we understand that this must be a large percentage of what teachers
should bring to the classroom. I am not a teacher who can give rote grammar
assignments, lecture at my students for 40 minutes and tell them to write about
something that is important to lawmakers and radicals unless they are the lawmakers
and radicals. We shouldnt expect students to learn how to write by memorizing
where a comma goes or regurgitating facts from eight different sources that they will
never read again. Students should engage themselves in their writing because it
means something to them-not because it means something to us. Teachers must try to
make them understand that they only way that it will mean anything to us is if we can
see that it has changed them in some way.
THE FUTURE OF CREATIVITY IN THE EXPOSITORY WRITING
On the coast of Oregon there are hundreds of miles of forest trails that wind
along the beach. Because these trails have become so popular, the forest service has
put up markers that show the hikers where to go, how many miles they have hiked,
and how to find their way back to civilization if they happen to get lost. The markers
represent a system of control that is accepted by the majority of hikers as well as the
forest service. However, the most beautiful parts of the forest do not happen to be
along the trails that are marked; they are instead off the path and deep into the forest.
Whenever I think of the system of education, and composition courses in particular, I
always juxtapose the concept of creativity with those same trail markers and
imposition of control over the forest. Many teachers and administrations have long
been steering the curriculum into safe territory, and unknowingly hiding some
practices and ideas from view. The future of creativity in the composition classroom
depends upon whether as teachers we are willing to follow a path other than the one
that has been trod upon for so long. We must look to other avenues in order to
present our students with fresh, challenging ways of writing, and let them discover
their own paths to motivation and inner growth. In this chapter I will look at the
limitations of creativity in the composition classroom, as well as what the future will
and should hold in order for these ideas and paradigms to work.
I suppose it is every teachers dream that their students will come to the class
energized, creatively ready to write their best work yet. Every new term that I get
ready to teach I hold in my mind a hope that I will have a class full of students who
love to write, want to find the creativity within themselves, and follow me into the
deeper parts of the writing forest. Every term I do have a small number of students
who have already accessed their creative genius, but I also have many more who are
terrified of the word poetry, let alone any other deeper creative paradigm. I have to
teach these students not to hate writing. I know that motivating them to be creative
will be extremely difficult, but I still do it. I do this not because I feel that if I only
reach one student, just one, I will have done my job in the heart of the creative
process, but because I grow as a teacher. These students may not have changed in my
classroom, but I still hold on to the hope that they have learned that there is not one
way to learn, but many. And that some of those ways may be a little more risky or
cavalier than others, but the fact is, they still learn.
Although the changes within the field of composition have been slow in
coming, many theorists agree that "current trends in higher education are pushing for
more active opportunities for students, more challenges to think more critically and
creatively" (qtd in Baer, 1993). This suggests that the system of higher education is
looking at research that has been done in the classroom and deciding that there needs
to be some changes toward a more spontaneous, creative and exciting environment.
Active learning is where the education system is heading and, according to scholars,
active learning helps students to "acquire a deeper understanding .. strengthen
learning, and reveal misunderstandings" (80). When students understand and realize
what it is that they don't understand or don't know, then they can acquire the ability to
solve problems on their own.
The future of creative and expository writing is moving away from the
concept of using writing to achieve clarity and mastery of a language, and into a more
self-conceptualized idea of how we think and how we write. Through creative
assignments and ways of thinking in the expository writing classroom, we may once
again be able to connect the two pedagogues together, instead of separating them
further. The academic community needs to use the creative talents of their faculty to
access the potential of every student through creativity and motivation, and I suggest,
as Bemard-Donals does, that time is ripe for reform once again (251). It is not
enough that we expect our students to engage in creative thinking and writing; we
must show them how it is done. Isnt that what teaching is about anyway? The future
of this research depends not only on the students and how much they learn to enjoy
writing and how much better they get as writers, but also how we, as educators, use
these tools to enhance our own growth as teachers. This is why it is imperative to not
only study and research this issue, but also turn its theories into practice.
The future of creativity in the expository writing class is just as uncertain as
any pedagogical change in the English departments in every college in America.
Teachers want the department and the disciplines to grow, but many are unsure of
stepping away from traditional classroom styles. Nancy Whittier, a professor of both
creative and expository writing as well as literature, talks about taking risks and
trusting yourself and others in the classroom. A teacher has to trust herself enough to
try new ideas and step outside the box herself; students need to trust that the teacher
knows what she is doing, and trust that they have the capability to engage creatively
in the assigned work. Within this trust and risk taking is where the changes will
occur. The rewards of these changes would be valuable renewal for the teacher,
remission from cynicism and boredom for the students, and self-discovery for all
(167). Whittier notes that the secret lies in being accessible not simply to change, but
to transformation. So, if we are really invested in bringing about a true
transformation of the pedagogy, we cannot just give lipservice to these new ideas and
theories, but we must also believe in them as well as ourselves.
Not only are the ideas and trust levels of some educators limited, but the
actual assignments and projects are as well. Unless someone comes up with a new
practice for the students to engage in, we could go on for a long time spinning our
wheels and coming up with great reasons for the need to grow and change without
actually ever really changing anything. Whittier says, I had become aware, too, of
the limited forms of academic writing whether the tired thesis paper, the so-called
personal essay, or the current but already stale exercises like journals and portfolios -
vis-a-vis what is actually being written by contemporary authors (Whittier, 167).
This is why theory only goes so far. Unless we can put down in practice, in the
classroom, what it is that we have been taking about in the field, then what is the use
of changing paradigms of thinking and learning about writing?
Whittier also found herself stepping away from the well established pedagogy
of teaching essay writing and getting bland regurgitation until she redesigned her own
way of teaching. Her colleagues, as well as many students, were trepidatious about
following her into an environment with fewer boundaries and more alternative
styles. She credits this unwillingness to jump in head first to some of her own
limitations, saying that, perhaps my own academically induced fear of chaos is still
too strong, but also says that despite these sporadic bursts of reluctance, she still has
the desire to teach against the grain, making no attempt to second- guess my
students' abilities or interests (167). Her own desire was and is to teach against the
grain, whatever form the grain might currently take.
Although critics like George Kamezis would probably not agree with me, I
think that the future of creative writing in the expository writing class is moving away
from the current curriculum. I dont agree that we separate the creative, the
personal, and the imaginative from the allegedly more prosaic and public forms of
writing (31), as Kamezis states, but that we are actually looking at students as
individuals with multiple processes of learning and using creativity to the benefit of
the class. I say this because when I veer from the traditional trail of non creative
teaching, I find others who have joined me and who have explored creativity and
motivation as well. I have read many books, essays, articles and news stories on the
subject and there seems to be as many, if not more, progressive studies and accounts
of successful empirical studies from teachers of composition and creative writing
including Czikszentmihalyi, Whittier, and Webb. Educators are more excited about
the prospect of creativity in the classroom than they are afraid of the changes that it
may bring to the core curriculum. I am one of those teachers. I believe in what I see
in my classrooms, and even if bringing creativity and motivation to students through
their own creative genius doesnt reach every student every time, I still have hope that
someday it will at least show them what they have the potential to be. So, when my
students decide to step off of the trail and follow some other way of learning and
thinking, they will be able to open their minds to the possibility of creativity and, in
effect, create their own path in writing.
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Invention. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. 1997.
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behavior. New York: Plenum. 1985.
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Hawaii Press. 1992.
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systems approach to creative thinking. In R.J. Sternberg (Ed.), The nature
of creativity. Cambridge University Press. 1988.
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Guilford, J.P. Personality. New York. McGraw-Hill. 1959.
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David Starkey (Ed.), Teaching Writing Creatively. Boynton/Cook Publishers.
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Marsh, H.W. Students evaluation of university teaching: Research findings,
methodological issues, and directions for future research. International
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Evanston, IL. 1983.
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I. Guided Imagery
A favorite activity of a colleague of mine Pam Pearce, is to take her students
through a guided imagery exercise. She asks the students to close their eyes and clear
their minds of everything-school, the terrible traffic, lunch, homework-and
concentrate on her voice. Pam tells them to recall a person, anyone that they know
who makes them feel a strong emotion. The first person to pop into their head is the
person that they should concentrate on, friendly or hostile. She then asks them to
look at the face of this person. What does he or she look like? Are they happy,
angry, sad, frustrated? What are they wearing? Who is this person in your mind?
After about a minute of pressing the students to remember this person she asks them
to open their eyes and write a description of who this person is so that the class will
know exactly the same things that the writer knows about this person. I think that this
is a great activity in both descriptive writing and in helping the student to motivate
herself to write more. It connects the personal with the practical and puts the student
at ease with her surroundings. No one can tell this person that the description is
incorrect, because no one else knows who it is. The only risk involved is the
emotional attachment that the student has to the person, and in my colleagues class if
a student doesnt want to share, it is not required.
II. I Search
When I have students research I like to start with an. I Search or what I call
the What Do I Want To Be When I Grow Up essay. It is only a few pages and has
students look at what they would do if they were given a magic one year in which
they could do anything that they wanted and get paid for it. Even if the job were not a
traditional job or an existing field, even if it was generally a low paying,
unappreciated one, the students could still claim it for a job. They would decide what
they should be paid, what hours they would work and where in the world they would
be. They would explain what a typical day in their life would be with this new
occupation. They would examine what effect their work could have on the world and
humanity. They would look at and describe which part of their life it would fulfill for
them. They would then try to place it in a career or vocation that they saw as
realistic. This may take a little or a lot of creative compromising on the students
parts. From this real, possible job the students have created, I would ask them to
brainstorm controversial issues. They would choose one issue and research at least
three sides. After examining all sides they would choose one and argue for that side.
For their audience I would ask them to choose either of the two remaining sides to
I use this assignment for some of the same reasons that I would use the guided
imagery. This allows the students to activate their memories, and create an
abundance of pre-writing for a larger project. Because it is something that interests
them and is important to their lives, they would be intrinsically motivated to research
an area of their lives that they have always dreamed of having as a reality. This
assignment would also engage their sense of play, disciplined spontaneity and
because it could possibly turn into something very real in the future, transitivity and
mutability of both creator and craft.
III. Voice/Audience Activity
A great activity for audience that my students (as well as the students of quite
a few of my colleagues) seem to enjoy is what I call The Best Bachelor(ette) Party
Ever! In this exercise, I ask my students to start with this line as the first sentence to
two different letters. One is written in answer to your best friends request to hear
about the party. She, unfortunately, couldnt attend and pleads, I must have every
detail! The second is to either your mother or your priest/rabbi/Zen master/clergy
person. Write a page or more to each describing the nights events. Use the language
and voice that you would when talking to each of these people. When I assign this
particular activity, I find that my students are immediately motivated, both
extrinsically because I can hear their comments and see the expressions on their faces,
and intrinsically because the writing I get back is risky, challenging and fun, without
having been asked to be so.
IV. Reader Response Guide
1. What is the authors thesis?
2. What does the writer assume about you as an audience?
3. What words, ideas, etc., does the writer fall short in describing, or where
do you get lost in the narrative?
4. Where are the inappropriate changes in tense?
5. In what ways does the writer engage you as a reader?
6. Give some examples of descriptive writing. What do you see? Hear?
7. How do you feel after reading the introduction? Are you engaged or is
it boring? Why is it engaging or why are you bored?
8. How do you feel after reading the narrative as a whole? Is there a
change in the way you feel, or are you still bored? Why?
9. Find the mechanical errors and write down the main three that seem to
be repeated throughout the narrative.
10. Does the narrative flow from one point to the next?
11. Are the paragraphs coherent and unified? What makes them well
connected, or, if they arent well connected, why not?
12. If you were confused at any point, indicate where and what you
thought was going on in the narrative.
13. What is the writers epiphany? Is it believable? Why?
V. Satire Activity
One of my assignments in my Fall 1998 research methods class was to study
satire as a form of persuasion and then have my students write their own satirical
essay. We read a few of the stories from The Onion, a satirical newspaper from
Boulder. The paper takes the mundane, normal issues of life, politics and youth and
turns them into humorous articles. After assigning students into groups of threes,
they were asked to come up with an issue that is current in todays world and create
their own Onion article. After brainstorming ideas for about 10 minutes, one group
had their idea. They came up with a news-in-brief snippet about the Taco Bell
Chihuahuas demise and the aftermath of the pending search for suspects. The group
agreed that they had fun not only coming up with an idea, but also trying to find a
logical way to present the issue without having the article sound fallible. The class
also discovered how difficult it is to write satire without having it sound corny and
weak. A few of the students actually ended up writing their projects in a satirical
fashion. I allowed them to do so because I believe that if a student is learning to write
in a composition class, it doesnt matter to me if they take a route that is different than
the one I had planned for them. This activity helps students to look at how language,
voice and tone can help in constructing a logical argument without losing any
credibility in the readers eyes.
VI. Voice/Audience Activity
An activity that is always a lot of fun for my writing classes is one that I
retrieved from Thomas Newkirks. Nuts and Bolts: A Practical Guide to Teaching
Writing. It is a study in both voice and audience. As a writer, the student is asked to
take on the persona of a cab driver and a very rich person. The situation that lends
itself to the assignment is one of observation. The scenario is as follows. A normal
cab driver from New York or LA has picked up a fare. The fare happens to be a very
rich, snobbish person who is in a hurry to attend a function. Unfortunately, because
his/her limousine is not available, a cab is the only solution. After an interesting ride,
the cab pulls over and the fare steps out-right into a large pile of dog droppings. The
assignment is to write a letter to two different people. The first letter is written in the
voice of the cab driver and is written to his or her cousin in Queens or East LA.
recalling the events. The second letter is written from the rich person to the editor of
the society newsletter, urging that something be done about the travesty of the events
VII. Courtroom Argument Activity
The best exercise I ever did in class on argumentative style was a court room
style group debate on capital punishment. At the time I only had 12 students in my
class, which made the group size perfect for the amount of speaking that had to be
done. Two of the students who were unsure of their position on capital punishment
were asked to be the judges. The others were split into the for and against
positions. Even though I let the students argue for their preferred side, I also think
that it could be a great way to learn about refuting opposition if the students had to
argue for the side that they were against. The students had come to class with two
opposing arguments read from our text, Critical Thinking. Reading, and Writing, and
were given 15 minutes to discuss their defenses. They wrote opening statements,
established credibility, wrote logical and emotional arguments and closing statements.
Each team picked a person to read the opening statement and then had six minutes to
defend their position. After the arguments were given, each team had three minutes
to refute and counter argue against the other team. They were then given two minutes
for closing statements. After the courtroom drama was over the judges adjourned to
discuss their decision. The groups talked about how they thought the arguments
went, what they could improve on, the facts that they should have included, and how
the opposition compared in their presentation of the argument. When the judges
came back with a verdict, they explained how they came to the verdict and gave
suggestions to each side about how to improve their arguments. This exercise gave
the students a chance to control their own learning. They loved the role playing-
some students even got up and walked around the room, gesturing-and they had to be
responsible for a part of the process. I just sat back and watched, rarely having to
intervene to tell the two sides to take turns or bring the court to order. The students
were very excited and lively, and all but two of the shyest students got up to talk.
This exercise really showed me that they had learned something about argument. I
had spent seven weeks showing them how to think about and write argument, but I
was nervous about giving the whole classroom over to them at such an early juncture.
The fact that they expedited the entire exercise without me having to guide them,
except to say Time! showed me that they were totally in control of their own