Tips for a Caring and Creative Environment Based on Collaborative Learning - Research Based

Updated: Apr 26

In order to build a creative environment there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Well-known and very respected educational approaches combined build the foundations for an environment supporting creativity, SEL and PBL.

Maria Montessori advised on an environment full of stimuli that invite exploration. This connects us to the first of the 5 E’s: Explore. The thing is this approach is mostly implemented for young children in the physical environment. Yet exploration of the mind can be experienced through an inspiring story. For youth the stimuli can be more complex: like watching a painting to start a conversation about a scientific phenomenon. They can be more abstract: like nurturing curiosity through a challenging creative question. Yet flexibility of the physical space supports flexibility of the mind. For both children and youth, we want to design a setting, in which furniture can change places to accommodate group collaborative work.

The thing about such learning tasks is that they are active. They enable students to make friends, and that enables meaningful learning and skills acquirement. I know it’s intimidating to start leading such classes. New norms need to be established in class: such of mutual respect and open-mindedness. Those are very important – they are the building blocks for a creative atmosphere. So, equip yourself with patience and practice the following useful tips:

  1. Start with working in pairs, then in triplets, until you get to lead learning groups of 5-6.

  2. Give your attention to a group, while still noticing the whole class.

  3. Solve problems quickly and with a caring smile.

  4. Before leaving a group to move on to the next, make sure the children know what to do next.

  5. It’s great that the students are practicing creative tasks. Yet those are open-ended and not totally structured. Just make sure in advance that the children understand the overall process and their personal contribution to it.

  6. Be aware of cultural differences. Some children are more individualistic, they were raised to fulfill themselves with self-esteem. Such children move learning forward with confidence. Other children were raised according to the collectivistic approach, praising contributing to the community for it to thrive. Such children cooperate better in groups.

  7. Help the students reflect about their contribution.

  8. Invite learning tasks that connect to real-life problems, so they will be relevant to the young learners.

  9. Co-learn with the students, constructing the learning tasks together.

  10. Talk with the children about how to define questions so they will better communicate with their peers. Discuss with them how to answer questions, as well.

The collaborative tasks are great opportunities to implement the next E’s: run an Experience connected to the learning materials Examine the ideas students drew on, Elevate them, then Express in conversations or in writing.

We have set the stage and choreographed the dance. In the mean-time students have practiced problem finding and problem solving. They learned to communicate and collaborate – essential 21st century skills.

And what is our approach directing this scene? Such that lets go of the rope, and that is optimistic and caring. You see, stress impedes creativity, while humor enables it.

Without even noticing we have practiced Nel Noddings’ ethics of care. We have created mutual relationships with the student. This kind of relationship is a creation of itself. Caring makes us more professional not only in elementary, but also in middle and high schools.

Each one of us is a parent, a grandparent, an uncle or an aunt. There is this kid that love that brightens our days. When deciding how to approach students, think how you would have treated that kid, and let it direct your strategy.

This is the way to create meaningful interactions in class. We become facilitators. The students are intelligent human beings in the process of growing. And we are there to lead the way.

Best of luck,

Michelle Korenfeld

Raising Creative Thinkers - 21st Century Project-Based and Social-Emotional Learning lesson plans, stimulating teacher training, teaching tools, and best children’s STEAM book.

The insights and ideas in this article are based on the following essays:

  1. Nel Noddings, Care Theory and Practice, in Luigina Mortari (Ed), The Phenomenology of Care, in Press

  2. Mergendoller, J.R. & Marchman, V.A. (1987). Friends and Associates, In V. Richardson-Koehler (Ed.), Educators’ handbook: A research perspective (pp. 297-328). New York: Longman.

  3. Richardson , C. & Mishra, P., (2017), Learning environments that support student creativity: Developing the SCALE, Thinking Skills and Creativity, 27 (pp. 45-54).

  4. Rotshtein-Fisch, C. & Trumbull, E. (2008), A new way of thinking about class management, Ch. 1 in: Managing Diverse Classroom (pp. 1-20). Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, Virginia, USA.

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