“Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people” – Leo Burnett
“Creativity is not the finding of a thing, but the making something out of it after it is found.”
–James Russell Lowell
Creative learning is not about pure discovery learning it’s about teaching children enough, using creative and engaging strategies, in order for them to then think, question and enquire further to create an idea or thing using their creativity.
Why attack the principles of creative learning?
Recently I’ve been reading a lot of comments about namby pamby creativity and how creativity impinges pupils progress. It’s an issue I’m struggling with. I don’t see how if a school puts creative teaching and learning at the fore of its vision it can fail to have a positive impact . Now I may not have a doctorate or have carried out an action research project (yet) on the theme but I live every day as a head of primary and I am constantly observing, questioning and evaluating practice for impact. So during the last seven years in my current setting I’ve had enough experience of what works and not to make some judgements. These judgements are made in and about my setting;
- A non selective primary school where 98% of students speak English as a second language.
- We take children from age 2 to 11.
- We follow the national curriculum for England
- Some children are the age of the year below in England because of our January to December birth year entry system.
Our setting means we have to adjust the curriculum to suit our learners. The notion of school curriculum is essential for success and the development of children’s language, in order to communicate learning through thoughts and ideas, is our principal concern. Therefore developments in creative teaching and learning do impact on pupil learning and engagement because they are giving our pupils the opportunities they need to experience learning and the language they need to assimilate it. I do however believe what I know is not solely relevant to my school.
What should creativity look like in a school?
I also recently read an article about how labelling what creativity is and is not actually stifles creativity. I disagree, I believe it’s essential staff have a common understanding of what we are aiming for our children to experience in order to make sure a creative approach still challenges and meets the needs of all learners.
Maybe it is best to start with what it is not in my opinion:
It is not simply letting children simply play with resources vaguely linked to a subject
It’s not giving all subjects parity of teaching time
It’s not an opportunity to avoid challenge and differentiation
It’s not about children exclusively leading their own learning
It’s not about knowing every child’s preferred learning style and pandering to it
It’s not doing things in a certain way because that’s how we’ve always done them and someone once said it was creative
It’s not about saying there is no place for text books ever
It’s not about complete freedom but it’s not about doing exactly what you’re told all the time either!
It’s not anarchy although if you’re looking for a bit of fun this book gives some lovely creative starters! Tried and tested by my 3 year old!
So how do we teach creatively and develop enquiring minds? What is it that works?
It’s a common sense approach to teaching and learning.
It’s giving the children a real experience of what they are learning about in order for them to question and enquire further.
We need practice that allows children to live a learning experience before they can be expected to enquire about it or express creative opinions and ideas. Creativity is stimulated by children owning some knowledge, conveyed by a teacher, TA or expert adult, and then using their own logical enquiry and thinking skills to express creative ideas and reasoning to gain more knowledge independently.
For example- they need to visit a castle, walk around it and hear stories about the people who lived in the castle and the climate of that period in history before they can comment on:
- Where is the best place to build a castle?
- Why castles had draw bridges?
- Why there are slit holes in the turrets?
- Describe your day as a knight living in a castle.
It’s teaching to engage learners
Cross curricular projects, the use of props, different media sources, outside speakers, song, dance, links with different countries…… I could go on but the best way to get creative ideas and motivate and inspire learners is through an interesting lesson
Text books can help practise knowledge but once that knowledge has stuck they need problems to solve to challenge and learn more and these must be problems they can get stuck right into.
It’s knowing your school is unique and embracing the school curriculum aspect of the new curriculum
You have to ignore what the crowd is doing and look only at your school and the children and community surrounding it. You must remember one size does not fit all and ensure your development priorities and teaching reflect this. I know I harp on about it but purposeful creativity, that will engage and inspire and have a lasting effect on pupils, will not exist in a school unless it adopts an inside out approach.
It’s having a flexible timetable
There’s a lot of pressure from parents and in some schools senior leadership to plan a weekly timetable that is followed for the whole year. This is a bad idea! Timetables must be flexible in order to allow teachers to respond to the needs of their children as the week goes on. Teachers also need to know they can choose to have a 3 hour art lesson if it suits their learning intentions. There’s nothing worse than getting the clay out and having to pack it all up after half an hour and then the following week get it out again and repeat the process, still without a complete creation and worse still using another 15 minutes to clean up AGAIN. I see the best results and the greatest satisfaction when I send a whole day on clay work and the children have a finished creation by the end of day. This why as well as a flexible timetable special days, special weeks, community projects, participating in school and other competitions, performances, day and residential trips and sporting activities longer than an hour should all be given a place in our curriculum.
It’s providing opportunities away from the classroom to act on ideas
As mentioned above trips are essential and the best trips link with the curriculum. A programme of residential trips that are adventure and environmental focused compliment PSHE and science learning. Trips should also be used to bring alive history learning our castle trip above is a case in point. Within the day the children experience castles through historical role play, they dress like people living in the castle and even eat their lunch as they would have done. Our best trip is a night away linked to the reading of Michael Morpurgo’s Kensuki’s kingdom. The children are taken to a field in an eco farm that we partner and they take part in a series of survival activities which include making their shelter to sleep in for the night, making fire with sticks and glass and cooking their food over an open fire. During the 24 hours to children have to use initiative and creativity- the tasks given to them mean they have no choice!
School clubs are also the sign of a creative school. They shouldn’t just be restricted to sport but embrace aspects we know are important in school but can’t always fit in. Clubs like sewing, photography, Minecraft, gardening and cooking are all curriculum enriching in a creative minded school.
It’s helping children to think independently and make choices
Don’t lock up resources ever! Children need to own their classrooms and know them like the back of their hands. They need to feel confident in leaving their seats to choose their own resources to use to solve problems.
Give children the chance to act on their ideas and lead the adults in the school. Never deny them the chance take an idea and grow it, you’ll be surprised just what a group of children can achieve.
It’s recognising all achievements
Children should be recognised for their ideas and not only rewarded for neatly presented written work afterall verbal and pictorial ideas communicate as much information and thoughts as written ideas. Sporting and artistic success in and out of school should be recognised both in class and in assemblies. Giving one child his/her certificate from an outside activity could turn another child on to an activity they never thought of but also raises the self esteem of the child receiving the certificate. The school should have a process for rewarding good work/effort in all areas of the curriculum.
Crucially celebrating achievements should ensure a variety of aspects are reported to parents. It’s about reporting on the gaining of life skills and special school moments unique to individuals not only academic subjects.
Look for chances to share with parents and the wider community whole school creativity and make every child a star. Exhibitions of work can be organised for any subject and are a fantastic way of celebrating creative output.
It’s still about progress in learning
I don’t see being more creative in our teaching makes us any less accountable for pupil progress. Teacher’s should,as part of good teaching ensure they are keeping records of pupil’s progress against the objectives taught. They should be prepared to explain any lack of progress with evidence. However they should NEVER teach to a test for months of a school year.
In summary the points outlined in this post are my opinions and those that I use to lead the vision of creativity in my school. They appear to be working at this moment in time.
To conclude when I talk about creativity and a creative school I don’t believe that a teacher should specifically teach creativity. I believe that teaching in a creative way makes children more creative and more able to think for themselves.
Teaching by allowing children to enquire, think, experience, question and solve problems means they are being creative.
I truly believe creative minds are essential for success in the world as whatever changes are thrown at a person, a creative mind will cope with it.