Establishing Credibility in the Classroom: Day One Tips

14734962322_45d7fff3e9_zby Mitch Lorenz, Graduate Student, Psychology

My first teaching assignment fell into my lap unexpectedly at the institution where I received my Master’s degree. This seemed like good fortune and a great opportunity to gain some teaching experience. I was excited to transition from student to teacher but, after a brief period of elation, reality began to set in. I only had a few weeks to prepare, and I had so many questions!

To get started I did what I imagine many first time teachers do: find someone who has taught the class and steal graciously borrow their materials. I now realize that there are various approaches to thoughtfully designing a course, but at the time I was less concerned with content and more concerned with how I could convince students that I was a credible and qualified instructor. I had just received my Master’s degree, but what did I REALLY know?

This type of self-doubt reflects what has been called the imposter syndrome: feelings of being unqualified or incapable of a task, leading to lower self-esteem, negative mood, and less goal-directedness within the workplace (Brems, Baldwin, Davis, & Namyniuk, 1994). Being grumpy and less motivated to work certainly isn’t going to help establish credibility. With this in mind, what can be done to establish credibility? Dannels (2015), who devotes an entire chapter to this topic in 8 Essential Questions Teachers Ask, offers a variety of helpful suggestions.

Establishing Credibility on Day One

  • Explain your connection to course content

Share your relevant experience with your students in order to establish your qualifications while also providing some personal insight into you as an academic. You can also use the opportunity to explore students’ experience in the subject area, helping to establish credibility while also demonstrating an interest in what your students bring to the class.

  • Provide a rationale for assignments, policies, etc.

You have likely given some thought to why assignment A is necessary, why your attendance policy is so strict, why you require X comment paper, etc. Sharing these explanations with your students provides insight into your motivations and how you imagine each decision fulfilling your goals for student learning.

  • Provide a course-relevant example not available in the textbook

Sharing an interesting piece of knowledge related to the course that is not covered in the text book, and accompanying it with a relatable demonstration (e.g., video, activity), is a great way to establish credibility while also ramping up interest in the course (did you see that example today?! Oh wow this class is going to be so awesome!).

These examples are only the starting point! Credibility is built over time and a great first day can only go so far if there is a failure to continue demonstrating credibility throughout the semester. The openness and clarity suggested in these day one strategies can serve as the basis for continuing to build credibility within a single class and across semesters. Hopefully, these strategies will help assuage impostor concerns so you can focus on helping your students learn effectively.



Brems, C., Baldwin, M. R., Davis, L., & Namyniuk, L. (1994). The imposter syndrome as related

to teaching evaluations and advising relationships of university faculty members. The Journal of Higher Education, 183-193. doi: 10.2307/2943923

Dannels, D. (2015). Eight essential questions teachers ask: A guidebook for communicating with

students. New York, NY: Oxford University Press

Image courtesy of Texas A&M University, via Flickr

Access and Inclusion in Online Teaching

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

This past weekend (April 1-2), the Reinert Center hosted an Online Teaching and Learning Institute (OTLI) for accelerated courses. This two-day intensive workshop was designed for faculty with minimal teaching experience in an online format. Participant-driven conversations explored effective teaching practices for any discipline, with special emphases given to course goals/objectives, assessment, student engagement, and selecting online tools to support learning activities (e.g., Google Apps to facilitate student collaboration).

An important aspect of each session topic was online access and inclusion for students with disabilities. Participants grappled with the tension of designing for and responding to different accommodation needs—and how they emerge, shift, intensify, and even disappear throughout online learning experiences. During the OTLI conversations, disability became a catalyst for creative pedagogical thinking about more inclusive forms of online course design. Disability Studies scholars describe this creative process as a rupture to normative ways of doing teaching and learning (Gotkin, 2012). As such, starting from the experience of disability allows for alternatives, options, and possibilities to emerge that transcend retrofitted accommodations linked to individual student needs. Rather, we start to design and develop courses for access and inclusion across teaching situations (i.e., face-to-face, flipped, hybrid, online, etc.). This is important critical and creative work that benefits all learners.

Ask yourself: How will students experience this course online? Consider the aural, spatial, temporal, and visual dimensions of online learning. Consider how cultural, physical, and technological factors can create barriers to online learning. Consider how different online learning activities might eliminate, frustrate, or produce diverse accommodation needs. These (and many other) considerations offer creative “places to start” when developing online courses (Dolmage, 2015).

What experiences do you have providing accommodations in online courses? Do you have creative ideas for designing online learning activities that are accessible and inclusive? Share examples in the comments section of this blog.



Dolmage, J. (2015). Universal design: Places to start. Disability Studies Quarterly, 35.

Gotkin, K. (2012, July 11). The rupture sometimes [Video file]. Retrieved from

Tapping Into Creativity Through Lateral Thinking

Brainby Jeanne Eichler, MOT, OTR/L, MT, Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy

Here is the scenario…. We find ourselves stuck in a method of thinking or doing things that is more out of habit than of passion…. eventually taking all aspects of creativity out of the process and putting us on auto pilot…. leading to stagnation or burnout if we let it go too far….

Everyone who has ever locked into any idea and repeated it several times can likely relate to the above scenario.  In the world of healthcare, this looks like clinicians following a protocol or a standard routine without looking at the person in front of them—never asking themselves, “how could this person in front of me best accomplish their goals?”  Therapists report feeling disconnected, and patients report feeling like they are just a number to be “dealt with.”  In so many cases, this is becoming reality in our healthcare landscape- less time with patients, more paperwork and policy equals less personalized treatment and a (less than stellar) outcome.  It happens in the classroom, as well, in very much the same way- replace “therapist” with “instructor” and “patient” with “student” to see this picture in the context of education settings.

People are made to be creative.  Creativity has endless possibilities and can be fun if given enough time and resources.

I lead a program called Teen Connection to Social Competency.  My participants are college-/career-bound high school students who have difficulty making friends (most have high functioning autism or ADD) and an equal number of college students (future professionals representing a wide number of fields) who help me run the program.  The program started in 2010 at the request of a teen, and we have worked with over 100 teens and young adults since.

For people who are not familiar with a standard therapy group structure, it typically has a gathering/beginning time with some type of icebreaker, a big activity after some discussion of goals that will be addressed and expectations of group members, and a closing/wrap up that acknowledges what has been gained and gives participants ideas of what is coming next.

When I started working with these teens, I learned very quickly that my participants hated the process.  They were rather blunt in their honesty, asking me if we could “just stop” with the small talk at the beginning or eliminate the part where we went around the circle telling the person on our right something that we liked about them.  Some just flat out told me that they hated social skills groups and that this was just another one. Everything I had learned in school and had used for years in practice seemed to hit a wall.  I had to think fast or risk losing them.

I gathered my volunteers, all college students, and we worked together to take the whole group process back to the drawing board, stripped our plans bare, and engaged in some creative thinking.  We used a tool called “Six Thinking Hats,” a lateral thinking technique created by Edward DeBono in 1985 that emphasizes brainstorming in one area at a time, avoiding the phenomenon common in brainstorming sessions where one person negates the ideas of another.  These areas are identified as “hats” and are categorized as follows:

BLUE HAT: This hat is actually the PERSON leading the thinking session.  The BLUE HAT keeps everyone in the same area and determines the best order for discussing the identified topic.

WHITE HAT: This hat contains facts and figures- things that are definitely known about the topic without any interjection of opinion or feeling.  Statistics, descriptors, and definitions may apply in this discussion.

YELLOW HAT: This hat includes discussion of things that the brainstorming group LIKES about the identified topic.

BLACK/GRAY HAT: This hat includes discussion of things that the brainstorming group DISLIKES about the identified topic.

GREEN HAT: This hat is for growing ideas.  Participants are encouraged to generate ideas that may be impossible or are not logistically complete.  No idea is a bad one.  Typically the Blue Hat returns to this area at least twice.

RED HAT: This hat is for emotions.  “I am worried about _______,” “I feel passionate about __________,”  “I am scared that _________ will happen if ___________,” are all examples of acceptable responses in this area.

Each “hat” symbolizes the different hats we wear during each phase of a discussion.  The “blue hat” controls the progress through each phase, returning to past phases as needed. The photo below gives a sense of what the discussion is like:


Photo by J. Eichler. Used with permission.

The difference between brainstorming using critical thinking vs brainstorming through lateral thinking is that critical thinking uses clear reasoning and judgment to analyze a situation and lateral thinking uses a creative, non-linear approach to reach a conclusion not otherwise obtainable by step-by-step logic.

In the case of our Teen Connection program, we decided to start with what a high school student is; the things we know or remember, what we like, what we dislike, ideas (in the context of our group as well as for their overall quality of life); and feelings about what we generated in our discussion.  Nobody was told why their idea would not work or that they were wrong about a like or dislike. Everyone stayed on the same page… and magic happened.  It was in this discussion that we decided to focus on what teens wanted to experience (or learn to navigate) rather than focus on a therapeutic concept or goal.   We thought about milestones that teens experience in high school—dating, going out with friends after a football game, getting along with parents, group projects in class, dances/social events, hanging out, traveling, driving … and our ideas just flew from there.

Together, we decided to make the entire session about the activity that they were going to experience instead of making an obvious therapeutic structure—a strategy I now refer to as “burying the peas in the mashed potatoes.”  The teens loved it and so did we.  We would spend hours figuring out how many therapeutic goals we could bury inside of a simple and common activity, ultimately making something very complex look simple to anyone who might be observing, including our teens.  We took the goals that parents asked us to work on – often presented as complaints about maladaptive behaviors that kept their kids from fitting in – and turned them upside down into fun experiences and challenges that everyone could enjoy.  Volunteers transitioned from being “mentors” to “navigators” – a subtle and important focus on the individual becoming who they really are rather than emulating another person and one more consistent with development at a high school level.  The excitement was electric.  Possibilities were boundless.  Teens were listened to, were always part of the process, and found themselves growing in ways they had not imagined.  College students fearlessly designed innovative strategies for tackling common challenges … all hidden in the context of a simple experience, learning at the same time that it is okay to re-think even tried and true strategies.

For a minute, we forgot who the teachers and learners were.  We were a team, all with ideas and experiences of value to contribute, no matter how out of the box.  We were always thinking and coming up with ideas that we had never seen in action like that before. Oh, and we had to take our client into consideration and get to know them, too.  It became part of the fun and part of the adventure, hopefully shaping the way that the student team works with the people they will serve in clinics, schools, and businesses in the future.

My classroom?  I use this strategy to create assignments that are integrative and very real, requiring hard but self-directed work of interest to the student – again “burying the peas in the mashed potatoes” for college students who realize how much they learn months and sometimes years later.  For example, my junior students spend the entire year taking courses about Occupational Science, the study of what people do.  They are asked as part of their spring semester wellness course to use what they have learned all year to develop a “non diet and exercise” wellness proposal for a non-healthcare community partner.  Students may use the Six Thinking Hats strategy as part of their creative process – asking themselves, “what do we know?” as they list what they have learned that relates to their population. They can interject their opinions by answering one at a time, “what do we like about ____”, “what do we not like about ____”, and how do we feel about ______”.  As they generate ideas, they can list everything from the obvious to the seemingly impossible idea, developed or not.  From there, innovation happens if they trust the process.

My favorite part?  Not one project looks as “expected,” thanks to those hats.

To accompany our 2015-2016 theme of Thinking Critically, Thinking Creatively, spring contributors were asked to share their thoughts about two questions: 1) What does creative thinking look like in your field or discipline? And 2) How do you teach students to do it?

Portfolios as Tools for Reflection

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by Gina Merys, Associate Director, Reinert Center

This past weekend (March 18-19), the Reinert Center co-hosted our annual Academic Portfolio Retreat. Over a two day period, invited facilitator, Dr. Marilyn Miller led 25 faculty members through writing a beginning draft of each of the sections of their academic portfolio for tenure and/or promotion.

Attending this event each year reminds me that more than just a container to “hold” lists and artifacts of various accomplishments, a portfolio can be a powerful tool for reflection. Whether a faculty member’s professional dossier or a student’s final project, the occasion of assembling a portfolio can be one of contemplation and discernment. Curating the contents of a portfolio necessitates a decision-making schema that draws on the ways in which we make meaning out of our experiences and then retells our story to the portfolio’s audience through that schema.

This process requires us to take ownership not just of the artifacts of our experiences (journal articles, courses taught, student evaluations, etc. for a professional dossier or essays, poems, case studies, etc. for a student course portfolio) but also, the process by which we created and accumulated those experiences. We look to the ways that curation process helps us make connections among our experiences and how the collective whole of the portfolio represents an entire narrative of our journey in teaching, research, service, and other activities, thus far.

Do you use portfolios (either formal or informal) as a site of reflection? Share examples in the comments section of this blog.

Creative Thought in Philosophy

critical-creating thinking banner 2015by Luís Pinto de Sá, Graduate Student, Philosophy

At a sufficient level of generality, creative thought in philosophy does not differ much from creative thought in other fields. I suppose that by “creative” we mean both new and interesting. If so, no creative thinker can afford to ignore the work of those that preceded her. Just like a musician learns about the expressive possibilities of her instrument by studying the great works composed for that instrument, so the philosophy student learns about the craft of argument and its possibilities by studying the philosophical masters.

Even more so than, say, the piano, philosophical questions have been with us for a long time. Coming up with something both new and interesting (as opposed to merely new because clearly misguided) is hard. How then to foster creativity in philosophy?

Fortunately, two realities come to our rescue. First, the arguments of the historical greats tend to be forgotten, as the discussion necessarily shifts over time. There is great creative work to be done in philosophy by rediscovering what the great (and not so great) historical figures have to say that may still be relevant to, and indeed inject new life into, the contemporary discussion.

Second, and related to the first, the reader of philosophy is never passive before the text – or at least she shouldn’t be. There is always a work of personal appropriation of the text, of struggling with and critiquing old arguments from one’s unique personal context. Since that context includes highly idiosyncratic features of the reader – her temperament or past intellectual history – this work of appropriation, if done with sufficient depth, often generates new and unique insights.

The teacher of philosophy must therefore:

(1)    First and foremost, foster interest among the students. No personal appropriation of the text can occur as long as the student is simply not interested.

(2)    Relatedly, foster genuine (as opposed to forced) respect for the text. This respect should not come from the mere authority of fame of the author being read. Rather, the teacher’s job is to show how original, deep and important the contributions of said author are – how they are important for anyone struggling with the same issues.

(3)    Concurrently with (1) and (2), to allow students the freedom to engage critically with the text, valuing and nurturing their input while also gently steering them away from what may be logical dead ends (by showing them these are dead ends rather than merely decreeing them so).

Argumentative skills are best developed via oral discussion and thoughtful writing of argumentative papers. I therefore prefer these over tests or exams as tools of evaluation. I’ll end with some practical considerations that have helped me foster both oral discussion and thoughtful writing.

Oral discussion can be fostered in a variety of ways – mock debates or asking provocative and leading questions. One strategy I have adopted is to assign reading questions for each class whose answers students must turn in online at least one hour before class. That way I can look at their answers and know what their first impressions of the text were and so direct class discussion accordingly. If I know that a particular student has given a particularly interesting answer, I may gently attempt to draw that out of him/her, while being careful not to make the student feel like he/she is “on the spot.”

For every paper assignment, I ask that the student present and analyze a given philosophical argument from a text assigned in class. I then ask for the strongest possible objection to that argument that the student can think of (it need not be original, so long as it is cogent) followed by the strongest possible reply to that objection. Finally, I ask the student to give her own take on the argument, weighing in on the objection and the reply. In this way, I attempt to foster a crucial argumentative skill – to be able to put oneself in the position of one’s opponent, and from that perspective, from within so to speak, to find the inner contradictions or tensions discoverable in the opponent’s position.

To accompany our 2015-2016 theme of Thinking Critically, Thinking Creatively, spring contributors were asked to share their thoughts about two questions: 1) What does creative thinking look like in your field or discipline? And 2) How do you teach students to do it?

Fostering Self-Reflection at Mid-Term

Reinert Center RIT_circle_2014_solid_082214by Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

Mid-term can be a powerful time for reflection – reflection for you on how you’re experiencing your teaching, reflection for students on how they’re experiencing their learning.

For students who have found course content challenging during the first half of the semester, it can be a time when the proverbial lightbulb turns on, when connections begin to be made, when things start to “click.”  For students who have found the first half of the term fairly easy, it can be the calm-before-the-storm, the quiet before final projects rev up, before course content becomes more challenging.  For most students, mid-term is a time to get through as quickly as possible, more focused on passing exams than on deepening learning.

We can help students experience mid-term as more than just a high-stress exam period by asking them to engage in a mid-term reflection.  The importance of self-reflection is underscored in the research on motivation, self-regulation, and meta-cognition, among other important areas of study. The following questions may serve as a starting point for mid-semester reflection:

What has surprised you about your learning so far this semester?

Where have you felt most drawn in or energized in this course so far?  (This could be topics, readings, problems studied, cases examined, and so on.)

What in the course content has challenged you this semester?

Where in this course have you seen connections to other courses, other learning, other experiences you are having this semester?

What could you do to deepen your own learning for the rest of the semester?  Identify one concrete action you can take to engage more deeply in this course for the rest of the term.

Ask students to jot down their responses to these questions (or others like them), either in-class or at home.  If students are comfortable sharing their responses with you (particularly for the first three questions), you’ll gain important insight into how they are experiencing the semester.  You might even consider jotting down your own responses to the questions and sharing them with the class as a way to model self-reflectiveness.

Have other ideas for mid-term reflections?  Share them in the comments section.

Upcoming Events: March 2016

Reinert Center RIT_circle_2014_solid_082214

Teaching with Technology: Effective Practices for Lecture/Lesson Capture

March 3, 3:00-4:00 p.m., Des Peres 213

To register, click here.


Ignatian Pedagogy Institute

March 10, Il Monastero, St. Louise Room

During this day-long institute, participants will increase and deepen their knowledge of Ignatian Pedagogy as an extension of Ignatian spirituality using the lens of imagination. Through multiple interactive sessions, participants will engage in imaginative thinking strategies focused on deep discovery and social justice learning that may be adapted to a variety of disciplines and pedagogical purposes.

Please visit the webpage for schedule details and registration.


Where Teaching Meets Copyright©

March 16, 3:00-4:30 p.m.Boileau Hall

Following an introduction to copyright and fair use, this workshop will address copyright topics that commonly arise in teaching and learning environments. These include use of images and films, student work, posting of materials on class websites, and associated ethical and legal issues.

Georgia Baugh, M.A., MALIS – Pius Library
Chris Grabau, Ph.D. – Reinert Center
Miriam Joseph, Ph.D., MLS – Pius Library
Donghua Tao, Ph.D., MS, MLS – Medical Center Library

To register, click here.


What is Thinking Creatively in My Discipline?: A Panel Conversation

March 30, 10:00-11:00 a.m., CGC Seminar Room 124

The Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning invites you to attend “What is Thinking Creatively in My Discipline?: A Panel Conversation”. During this event, faculty panelists will explore what thinking creatively looks like in their disciplines and highlight how they help students to learn how to do that thinking work.

Faculty Panel:
Lauren Arnold, Epidemiology
Brad Carlson, Marketing
Colleen McCluskey, Philosophy

To register, click here.

Designing Effective Lesson Plans

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by Kelly McEnerney, Graduate Assistant, Reinert Center

Imagine you will be teaching a class next week without textbook-prescribed course modules, chapters, and PowerPoint slides that dictate what students should know and how learning should take place. In such a case, what would you use to structure class time? In the absence of the textbook script, you would likely be forced to consider what you think students should learn – what they should understand and be able to do at the end of the class period that they were unaware of and unable to do at the start of the class period. You would need to establish a set of learning objectives, a vehicle for achieving those objectives, and a method for assessing them—in essence, you would design a lesson plan.

Janice Skowron (2006) has written on the topic of preparing effective lesson plans that hinge on a larger pedagogical context. From this context, the instructor uses learning objectives to shape her own and student activities, as well as to assess learning.  The following guide outlines the process of preparing effective lesson plans, going beyond the textbook script.

The first step to designing an effective lesson plan involves establishing a set of learning objectives, or outcomes that are concrete and measureable (Skowron, 2006). You can think of learning objectives in terms of the descriptive actions students will use to demonstrate their learning, such as analyzing, comparing, predicting, and creating.  These objectives establish a way to be purposeful in selecting content and activities most essential to the learning process. For a class on the experience of living in Saint Louis, for example, one might establish these objectives to include students being able to objectively evaluate the pros and cons of living in Saint Louis.

Once you have established your objectives, the next step is to plan how you will assess those objectives (Skowron, 2006). Assessment can be formal, such as when you establish a set of criteria, or an answer key, to evaluate students’ strengths/weaknesses and content knowledge/thought processes. However, assessment can also be informal, such as when you observe students’ performance, often at different stages of a learning activity or task. Assessment criteria allow students to monitor their progress towards achieving learning objectives. They also allow instructors to plan activities that accommodate students’ current understandings and scaffold new learning. Importantly, the assessment criteria should align with the course’s learning objectives, as well as students’ current approximations to them. Indeed, the assumption is that students do not enter the class demonstrating the target objectives; their learning begins with understandings/abilities that are more basic or incomplete. The purpose of the learning activity, the final component of the lesson plan, is to scaffold students’ learning in the direction of course learning objectives.

As noted, learning activities are vehicles that help students achieve course learning objectives (Skowron, 2006). The activity should be congruent with students’ current abilities, as well as push them to acquire a measure of learning, as defined by the learning objectives. Jensen (2000) outlined a list of “engaged learning activities,” or activities that require students to “do” something with the course material, which encourage students’ approximation to course learning objectives. In the early stages of a course, these activities might involve graphic organizers, or concept maps, that allow students to visually represent the relationships between different events or concepts. For example, students might use concept maps to delineate the order of a series of historical events.  Creative retelling is another engaged learning activity that allows students to link events by telling a story. In the later stages of a course, these activities should encourage students’ closer approximation to the course’s learning objectives. They might involve role-playing in which students play the part of different historical figures. Students might ultimately take part in a debate, for example, negotiating the pros and cons of living in Saint Louis, an activity closely aligned with the course learning objectives.

Thus, in the process of moving away from the predictable textbook-dictated modules, chapters, and PowerPoint slides, learning, as the teacher defines it, becomes more focused and planned. The instructor’s role moves to that of a facilitator who provides students with the background information/material needed to perform engaged learning activities, and, ultimately, achieve the desired course objectives.

To learn more about how you can streamline effective lesson plans in your courses, I encourage you to attend our March 23rd Teaching Essentials workshop, Designing Effective Lesson Plans. You can access the registration link here.



Skowron, J. (2006). Powerful lesson planning: Every teacher’s guide to effective

instruction. Corwin Press.

Jensen, E. (2000). Brain-based learning. San Diego, CA: Brain Store.,204,203,200_.jpg



Is Your Flip Flopping?

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by Sandy Gambill, Sr. Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Have you put in countless hours recording lectures for a flipped classroom, only to find the model isn’t working as well as you had hoped? Perhaps the students don’t seem engaged during classtime or are complaining about the amount of work expected outside of class.

Technology is only one factor in making a flipped model work. If you are interested in more student engagement and retention of content in the flipped model, you might want to check out Julie Schell’s blog, Turn to Your Neighbor.

Schell, who is part of Eric Mazur’s group on innovative pedagogy at Harvard, has just started a three-part series on “Why Flipped Classrooms Fail.” Her blog is a wonderful resource if you’re interested in exploring emerging trends in cognitive science and how to apply them to technology-rich courses.

If you want to talk more about how it’s going in your own flipped course, or if you want to share your own successful strategies, contact the Reinert Center at

Divergent Thinking as a Path to Creative Problem-Solving

critical-creating thinking banner 2015by Gina Merys, Associate Director, Reinert Center

Much of the learning students are called to do in academic courses, especially at the introductory level, focuses on convergent thinking—thinking that aims to identify one right answer. At its best, this process requires students to learn how to use logic, analyze choices, and make decisions; in essence, convergent thinking is critical thinking. While one could argue, and I often do, that convergent thinking requires a measure of creativity on the part of students, it can also be said that, on its own, convergent thinking runs the risk of moving students away from creativity into rigidity.

Partnered with convergent thinking, divergent thinking obliges students to use imagination, generate possibilities, and create solutions. At its best, it causes students to experience fluidity among answers and ways to synthesize multiple perspectives to reach a common goal. Lauded by artists, mathematicians, and executives, a pedagogy of divergent thinking is often used when looking for new ways to approach challenges.  When one examines the eight types of fluency characteristics associated with divergent thinking, as classified by Guilford in her germinal text on the subject, it is clear why this style of creative reasoning is appealing in so many different disciplines. These characteristics are as follows:

1. Ideational fluency—the ability to generate many new and different ideas in a situation relatively free of preconceived expectations and restrictions

2. Associational fluency—the ability to produce words and phrases in a new context with individual meaning by transferring vocabulary and concepts from other areas of literacy

3. Expressional fluency—the ability to disassociate from one’s perceived organizational patterns to envision another form of investigation and expression

4. Spontaneous flexibility—the ability to produce a variety of possible ideas, strategies, visual figures, calculations, etc., in the moment freely or in response to a prompt

5. Adaptive flexibility—the ability to reconstruct a problem or situation allowing for and encouraging in-depth investigation, dissection, and understanding

6. Elaboration—the ability to supply unlimited details to complete and/or expand a given outline or initial skeletal form

7. Originality—the ability to produce uncommon, remotely associated, and/or clever responses

8. Sensitivity to problems—the ability to recognize that a problem exists from multiple perspectives and needs attention integrating resources and interconnecting participants (Guilford, qtd. in Gallavan and Kottler, 166).

When designing a divergent thinking project, assignment, or exam, it can be helpful to use the list of fluencies above as a way of categorizing the objectives one has for students. Of course, these characteristics can work both as individual characteristics, as pairings or as a set, depending on the project at hand.

Creative problem-solving that uses divergent thinking strategies can be included in many different disciplines as an approach to active learning. For instance, asking students to find the commonalities between two or three different theoretical approaches, setting up brainstorming activities, assigning students to grapple with case studies that do not have one clear solution, presenting challenges that can be solved through multiple processes, organizing problems as sets that would not ordinarily be solved together, or providing readings from multiple genres and viewpoints, could each stimulate creative thinking. Ultimately, the most holistic approach to learning creates opportunities for students to practice both divergent thinking and convergent thinking, which can be especially effective when used in concert on one project or set of projects. In this way, students learn to use their abilities to think creatively and think critically as part of the same process, preparing them to do the kind of thinking work that will be required of them throughout their lifetimes.

To learn more about how to incorporate divergent thinking into your teaching, contact the Reinert Center at

Works Cited:

Gallavan, Nancy P. and Ellen Kottler. “Advancing Social Studies Learning for the 21st Century with Divergent Thinking. The Social Studies (2012) 103, 165-70.

Guilford, Joy Paul. 1968. “Factors That Aid and Hinder Creativity.” Studies in Educational Psychology, R. G. Kuhlen, ed. Toronto: Blaisdell Publishing. 334–341.

To accompany our 2015-2016 theme of Thinking Critically, Thinking Creatively, spring contributors were asked to share their thoughts about two questions: 1) What does creative thinking look like in your field or discipline? And 2) How do you teach students to do it?