In order to stimulate the imaginations of students, many teachers try to develop a more creative curriculum. Designing lesson plans that encourage self-expression and the use of out-of-the-box problem-solving skills can be challenging for teachers. However, the rewards that come from successfully overcoming such a challenge are certainly worth it. Not only do creative curricula increase the probability that students will be involved in deep learning, they also increase student investment in educational outcomes. With a creative curriculum in place, students are challenged in ways that excite them about learning. As a result, they will be more interested in attending school.
Donald J. Treffinger has led the research on creative learning and how it can be used to achieve rigorous educational objectives. In his paper “Encouraging Creative Learning for the Gifted and Talented,” Treffinger outlines three levels of creative learning and the cognitive and affective dimensions of each. Called the Model for Creative Learning (MCL), it is a helpful tool for crafting a creative curriculum.
Level 1: Divergent Functions
At this level, students are introduced to the basic skills and techniques that will allow them to use information in a creative way. The emphasis is on keeping students open to and receptive of the diverse range of information that is available in the world. The cognitive traits of fluency, flexibility, originality, elaboration, cognition, and memory are developed at this stage, along with the affective dimensions of curiosity, willingness to respond, openness to experience, risk taking, problem sensitivity, tolerance for ambiguity, and self-confidence.
Level 2: Complex Thinking and Feeling Processes
The next level involves the extension and development of the cognitive and affective aspects of Level 1. The goal is to move toward thinking critically about the skills, processes, and information that have been instilled in students. Cognitive goals of this level include application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation, methodological and research skills, metaphor and analogy, and transformations. From an affective viewpoint, students will engage in awareness development, values development, fantasy, and imagery.
Level 3: Involvement in Real Challenges
This is the highest level of creative learning. It takes students out of the purely theoretical or hypothetical realm and asks them to apply what they have learned to solve actual problems in the world. Cognitive elements that further this goal are independent inquiry, self-direction, resource management, and product development. These are supported by the affective processes of the internalization of values, commitment to productive living, and a move toward self-actualization.
Teachers can use MCL to develop a curriculum that touches on all three of these levels.
Developing a Creative Curriculum Based on MCL
Creative curricula based around a certain current event in the world often work best when trying to engage students in all three levels of MCL. For example, a social studies lesson could revolve around a proposal to build a dam on a local river. At first, students will be exposed to the effects of dams on local communities, wildlife, energy production, etc. This first foray into the lesson should promote the openness to inquiry characteristic of Level 1. Expose students to many differing opinions about the possible effects of dams, as well as relevant information about their construction and operation.
In the next phase of this model curriculum, activate students’ interpretive and critical thinking skills by asking them to develop their own ideas about whether they support the construction of the dam. Allow students to form their own opinions based on their own critical analysis of previous research.
Finally, cap off the unit with a class-wide debate. Ask students that are against the proposal to come up with alternatives that would have the same benefits as building a dam. Conversely, those who are for it will have to account for any negative consequences that the dam’s construction may entail. Ultimately, in arguing for their ideas with their peers, students will begin to think critically about the world.