Many of us are familiar with convergent thinking — a way of thinking that encourages conformity by restricting students to a single standard solution for a problem. After all, in school, students are rewarded with good grades for their ability to reiterate the desired answer that teachers are looking for! How do we avoid limiting the creativity of students in this manner?
At Edupivot, we embrace divergent thinking — the ability to explore many different potential solutions to a problem. This helps in generating creative ideas that go beyond conventional expectations. It also opens students up to the possibility that there can be more than one way of solving a problem. When students are given the freedom to explore a topic without much restrictions, their interest in a topic will increase. Thereby, generating more motivation to do well in it. Such an approach also gives students the chance to work on a question in a way that they deem suitable for themselves, instead of a one-size-fits-all method that might not suit their needs.
Here are some ways to encourage divergent thinking in classrooms:
Provide Feedback By Asking The Right Questions
As teachers or parents, defer your judgement when a student’s idea seems absurd at first. After all, one of the main reasons why divergent thinking fails to be developed well is because unconventional ideas are often poorly received. Ask the right questions to understand their thought process — “I noticed that _______”, “Why did you _______”. Answering these will not only help you understand their thought processes better, it will help them jumpstart a healthy process of self-reflecting on their ideas. Avoid interrupting them as they are explaining themselves. Gently insert yourself into the conversation if you need to steer a student back on track. Seeing their teachers and parents showing interest in the way they think will encourage students to verbalize their thoughts and be daring in their imagination. This will further expand on their ability to find a variety of solutions to problems.
Normalize Failure As A Learning Tool
The classroom should be a safe space to fail! As educators, we often get so caught up in getting the correct answers out of students that the individuality of these students are lost in the process. Students become afraid to speak up about their own unique ideas out of fear of being ‘wrong’. Instead of penalizing students or shooting them down when they make a mistake, use failures as a starting point for reflection. Allow students to speak up about what didn’t work for them and get them to share these thoughts constructively with their peers. This expands on the opportunities to learn derived from divergent thinking.
Encourage Self Expression Through Art
The simplest way to open up divergent thinking is through art forms such as poetry and visual arts — mediums where there are no right or wrong answers set in stone. Without rigid guidelines to follow, students are free to express their ideas in their own creative ways. If we as educators can find a way to work in creative assignments into math and science education, we can help our students foster their own creativity and wild brainstorming!
Encourage Inquiry-Based Learning
Instead of simply feeding students with knowledge in the classroom, encourage them to come out with questions. Get them to look for answers to those questions and share what they know with their peers. An inquiry-based learning allows students to be more engaged in their learning which renders productivity. Instead of quizzing students with multiple-choice questions, give them open-ended questions where they have to think more deeply and concisely for the answers. Furthermore, ask students divergent questions which prompt students to reflect. This way, students can be more responsible for their learning and better understand what they are learning.
Allow For Revision of Work
Divergent thinking is about taking creative risks. Students are allowed to make mistakes and learn from them. To help students understand that they are allowed to make mistakes, allow for resubmission of work. Knowing that they are allowed to resubmit their work, students will try to revise the work they have handed in previously and amend the mistakes they have spotted. This encourages divergent thinking as students are able to re-examine and revise their learning without much restrictions. With divergent thinking, students are allowed to make mistakes which they can learn from — making their learning process much more efficient.
Being curious is important in fostering divergent thinking. When students are curious, they would try their best to search for the right answer to feed their curiosity. During the process of searching for answers, students would be able to come up with creative solutions as well. This makes their research much more fun and purposeful. To foster curiosity in students, encourage students to cultivate the habit of asking themselves quality questions. Good questions usually contain “why”, “what if”, and “how”. Developing this practice helps students to expand the limits of their mental capacity. It also inculcates the habit of being more thoughtful and deliberate in whatever they do. Being curious can increase students’ self-awareness and involvement in their own learning journey, leading to a positive feedback loop!
Allow students to form groups in the classroom for discussions. Come up with challenging problems for students to brainstorm together for solutions. However, do take note not to set the problems so broad that it becomes difficult for students to come up with possible solutions. Try not to set the problems too specific as well. Give students the opportunity to hunt and think for solutions. When forming discussion groups, encourage students to keep the number of members small. This is to ensure that everyone is on par with one another and nobody gets confused. Furthermore, encourage students to form groups with peers who have relatively different perspectives. This way, students will be exposed to a variety of ideas and mindset, helping them gain better insight of the world.
There are many benefits of divergent thinking and it is exceptionally important today where employers value skills over knowledge. Students need to be exposed to divergent thinking as young as possible so as to boost their creativity and problem-solving skills. Divergent thinking can be easily adopted in the classroom and should be encouraged so that students learn to think critically. As educators, let’s play our part to encourage divergent thinking in the classroom!