6 Researched Based Steps To Enhance Divergent Thinking Within Your Students

Last week, I wrote an article that centered around a video that discusses the importance of including divergent thinking in all learning environments.

This week I present you with 6 Researched-Based Steps to develop divergent thinking within all of your students that still meets curricular goals and standards….PLUS a free 7-page PDF to help your students plan their Innovative Learning Projects. [more…]

What Is Divergent Thinking?

I’ll first tell you what divergent thinking IS NOT in order to clear up any prior misconceptions….

The video from last week, states that divergent thinking IS NOT synonymous with creativity.

Divergent thinking is required for our students to think creativity.

Divergent thinking is not a single thinking process….

Nor is it the skill of brainstorming…

Sadly, divergent thinking is what we are stepping away from in our classrooms, clinics, resource rooms and even some of our homes.

Divergent thinking is a technique used to produce a pool of ideas.

Divergent thinking is the backbone of quality questioning….

When we engage students in activities that require them to think “divergently” we require students to not solely find a single solution to a problem, we ask that they find multiple solutions.

Instead of taking the obvious step-by-step thinking, one looks at different aspects of situations and creates different results.

The video from last week provided the example of the uses of a paper clip.

One with exceptional divergent thinking skills would change the concepts of already existing thinking and ask such questions –  can the paper clip be 10 meters tall or can it be made of rubber and so forth….

WE ALL have the capacity to think divergently, but during the years of schooling, this capability deteriorates drastically.

The Creativity Crisis

The United States is suffering from a creativity crisis….

To think creatively one requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).

Step into many Pre-School Kindergarten classes….two or three years ago… and divergent thinking was taking place in every corner of the room.

Students building with blocks, playing in the kitchen, role playing, free drawing, etc.  They were creating.  There were not worksheets, no strict directions.  This was their free play time.

George Land and Beth Jarman (in their book Breakpoint and Beyond) describe a longitudinal study conducted on 1,600 Preschool and Kindergarten children aged three to five.

They gave them eight tests that assessed divergent thinking and 98 percent of the children scored enough to be classified as creative geniuses….

Five years later, they re-tested the same children, now aged eight to 10 and only 32 per cent scored in the creative genius category….

Five years later only 10 per cent of the children scored in this category….

In tests of over 200,000 adults over 25, only two per cent scored enough to be classified as creative geniuses….

What happened????

Our schools, our classrooms, our pre-packaged curriculums happened.

We encourage students to adopt a fixed mental model of how things work because we need to quickly get them mastering a particular skill and move on to the next….

We discourage creative thinking and problem solving simply because…..there is not enough time??

I write the above as a question rather than a statement because I really don’t understand how we can neglect such an important component to learning.

A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future.

If this is the number one skill that will equate to a successful future, how can we possibly say that we simply don’t have time to teach students to think divergently?

As I have said many times before, I will never ask that teachers abandon standards.

I believe in standards and the theory behind the Common Core State Standards.

I believe that if the standards are followed the way they are intended to be followed than divergent thinking will occur in every teaching environment.

The problem is not the standards, the problem is the scrutiny educators are under….

How Other Countries Are Doing It?


The European Union designated 2009 as the Eurpoean Year of Creativity and Innovation and held conferences on the neuroscience of creativity, financing teacher training, and instituting problem-based learning programs, curriculum driven by real-world inquiry.


A widespread education reform is taking place to extinguish the drill-and-kill teaching style.

A problem-based learning approach is being adopted in every learning environment.


The British secondary school curriculum – from science to foreign language – was revamped to emphasize idea generation with a focus on divergent thinking assessments.

How Few Schools in the United States Are Doing It?

A public middle school sits in Akron, Ohio.  Poverty-stricken diverse.

Mindful of the new standards and curriculum requirements, the school’s teachers came up with a project for their fifth graders – How to Reduce the School Noise in the Library.

The library windows faced a public space, and even when closed it let through too much noise disrupting the students and staff.

The students had four weeks to come up with a proposal…

Students worked collaboratively in small groups engaging in activities that allowed them to search for facts. (Fact-finding)

How does sound travel through materials? What materials reduce noise the most?

Then, problem-finding, anticipating all potential pitfalls so their designs had the highest chances of being successful.

Next, the students generated as many ideas as possible (idea-finding).  Varieties of ideas were brainstormed: drapes, plants, large kites hung from the ceiling to baffle the sound or perhaps a white noise running all day long to mask the noise?  Even a proposal to fill the space between the panes was created.

Next, students engaged in the solution-finding.  Students analyzed which ideas where the most effective, cheapest and aesthetically pleasing.  One group concluded Fiberglass absorbed sound the best but wouldn’t be safe.  Another group questioned….would an aquarium with fish be easier than water-filled panes?

Each team developed a plan of action….

They built scale models and realized there was more to the project than met the eye.

If aquariums were to be placed in the library to mask the noise, a janitor would need to be persuaded to care for the fish during vacation time, so the students needed to come up with a strategy to entice the janitor.

Some groups did so well with the persuasion process, that groups decided to combine projects

Finally, they presented (Presentation of Knowledge) designs to teachers, parents, and Jim West, inventor of the electric microphone.

Throughout this innovative learning project, students defined the use of creativity.

The alternated between divergent and convergent thinking throughout the entire project at arrived at innovative ideas.

And still met a handful of Ohio curriculum and Common Core Standards understanding sound waves to per-unit cost calculations to the art of persuasive writing.

The school received their standardized test scores and because of projects like these, it placed them in the top three public schools in Akron.

42% of the students living in poverty….

They were mandated to follow curriculum and standards…..

Yet still….

allowed their students to think divergently which led to innovative learning….

We can no longer encourage our students to spring ahead to the right answer.  We simply can’t.

Not if we truly want to see progress…

Not if we truly want to see creativity….

Not if we truly want to see them succeed…

And I cannot think of one teacher that does not want that for his/her students…

Click on the student planner to the right to view the 7-page Innovative Learning Student Planner.

In just 4 short weeks I will be releasing my newest manual, Innovative Learning that teaches you exactly how to get your students analyzing, problem-solving, critically thinking, collaborating and creating.  Here are 7 pages for FREE.

Next week, we’ll take a look at the brain and how a few simple activities can enhance divergent thinking….