3 Ways to Teach Original Thinking

I’m always intrigued by articles on “teaching creativity,” and recently ran across an interview on NPR with author Adam Grant. He has a new book out titled, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.

This book is a guide to support you in being more creative and how to communicate new ideas. Also, it includes advice for teachers and parents and how they can encourage and support their kids to be original, too. 

As I read his book, I thought about ways I could support my students to embrace their own curiosity, take sensible risks, and be confident where their minds wander. Here are my takeaways from the book and how I might encourage a culture of originality with 3, 4, and 5 year old children: 

1. Conditional vs. Absolute

The book highlights evidence to show that kids are more likely to think in original ways if you teach them in conditionals versus absolutes.  

Example: Instead of saying, “this is pinecone,” you can say, “this could be a pinecone, but could this also be a X or Y.”


2. Jigsaw Classrooms

The idea of jigsaw classrooms is most evident in schools that do project-based learning. With a project, children are assigned roles and responsibilities. Grant explains that “if the kids need to put together the pieces, just like a jigsaw puzzle, they are more likely to listen and respect each other.” The group collaboration is a method to see alternative ways to create the project together as opposed to one way.

Example: If the children are building a firetruck out of cardboard boxes and materials, we might assign roles: researcher (looking at books and learning about them), writer (finding out how to spell fire truck and practice writing it), artist (painting the fire truck), publicist (make an invite to the community to see their final product), etc. 

3. Teaching Values vs. Rules 

This strategy focuses on what are the values that matter to you and ask children why they’re important. Grant describes this further in that rules can set limits in which children adopt a fixed view of the world around them. Teaching values can support and encourage children to interpret the principle for themselves. 

When you study the parents who raised kids who go on to do greater things — like become some of America's most creative architects — you see this. That they focus much more on teaching values than rules. Instead of, "Here's the list of things that you're allowed to do and not to do," they say, "Here are the principles that are important in this family, and let's talk about how you want to express them. — Adam Grant

Example: In our classroom, we’ll discuss and practice the values that are important to us such as compassion, respect, responsibility, gratitude, perseverance, and honesty. Also, in Reggio schools, they value teaching kids to be good citizens of the world. Through our many projects, the kids learn about problem solving, cooperation, and how to resolve conflict. 

While I still have so much to learn, I hope to keep these ideas in mind as we grow into Roots & Wings and find our place in the community.