The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Elizabeth Holmes

Encouraging creativity in the classroom

Elizabeth Holmes suggests how schools might drill down into precisely what ‘creativity’ means for both pupils and staff ‘Creativity takes courage.’ Henri Matisse We talk about creativity in the classroom as if it were a widely understood concept, with clear steps towards its achievement and a mutually accepted notion of how creativity works. Can it ever be like that, though? What is the most useful way to consider creativity and the value that it may have in teaching and learning in our classrooms today?

Creativity across the curriculum

Creativity and critical thinking seem to be intrinsically linked. It is generally accepted that innovative and creative responses to problem-solving require critical thinking skills across the curriculum. Long gone are the days when creativity was thought to be purely the preserve of the arts and humanities. If we want our students to respond creatively to the world about them, then creativity must feature overtly in all aspects of their education.

How do we cultivate creativity?

Underlying all this is a key question: how do we cultivate creativity? Is there a formula? Should we model the way creativity is nurtured in the traditionally creative subjects, such as art, and reflect that across the curriculum? Or should we simply, and most easily, leave creativity to chance? It is helpful for schools to consider these questions and their responses to them. In addition, think about what role professional learning may have in supporting staff to give creativity a higher priority in your school.

What can you do?

The ‘Find out more’ section below details some useful resources, should you decide to make creativity a priority in your school. The following points may also provide food for thought in any in-house discussions on the topic.

Facilitate cross-curricular collaborations

Cross-curricular collaborations enable staff and students to experience the creative approaches of others through fresh eyes. Are there ways in which you can readily incorporate these approaches, to determine what benefits you may gain as a school?

Be courageous

Remember that creativity takes courage. It is easy to dismiss it as unnecessary frippery in schools, but is that an excuse for maintaining the status quo? This courage might ideally be felt by both student and teacher, and support for that should be forthcoming. A culture in which failure is feared is unlikely to support the development of creative young minds.

Explore creative links

Explore links between creative processes in different fields. Are there pedagogical strategies that can be learned from creative sectors and employed elsewhere in the curriculum? For example, what does creativity in maths look and feel like? Can that offer anything of value to creativity in, say, the humanities – and vice versa?

Focus on the creative process

Question the extent to which outcomes are pursued in your school rather than the process of work. If students have the impression that the only thing that matters is an end result that can be measured, then the process of creating becomes insignificant. When the focus is on the process itself, outcome is not valued so disproportionately.

Set clear goals

Be clear about what you are trying to achieve – is it creative teaching or teaching for creativity? (See the research by Jeffrey and Craft detailed below.) Unpicking the terminology will help to focus the mind.

Value creativity

We can be serious about our commitment to creativity or we can simply pay lip service to it. If we are serious, we must acknowledge what a challenge it is, not only in today’s educational climate but also with respect to our regard for the importance of creativity in our own lives. If we don’t value it, then we will never be able to convince children and young people to value it.

Further reading

  • The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has been working on developing a greater understanding of how creativity works. While this work is not focused specifically on creativity in the classroom, it will be of interest to school staff seeking to develop creativity across the curriculum. Gone is the belief that there are creative ‘types’; rather, creativity is seen through the light of recent science showing that it can ‘make us happier, our neighbourhoods more vibrant, companies more productive and schools more effective’. The RSA has useful audios, videos, keynotes and animations. These resources could be used to trigger debate in your school.
  • Bob Jeffrey and Anna Craft worked on the distinctions and relationships between teaching creatively and teaching for creativity.
  • Assessment for creativity is a different area of exploration, but if you would like to look into this more, read a blog from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Perhaps most notable is the extent to which creativity is valued around the world. For example, Singapore and Korea are specifically emphasising creativity within subject-based learning as well as in other activities across schools. One of the key aims of this is the creation of resilience, critical thinking and innovative and enterprising thinking too. The blog includes an interesting prototype tool for assessing pupils’ creativity in schools, which focuses on inquisitiveness, imagination, persistence, collaboration and discipline.
  • Bill Lucas, Guy Claxton and Ellen Spencer produced an OECD working paper called Progression in Student Creativity in School. It addresses the differing views on the nature of creativity and how it can best be cultivated in young people. They offer a five-dimensional definition of creativity and describe two clear benefits of assessing progress in creativity (teachers become more confident in nurturing creativity; and young people gain a clearer understanding of what it means to be creative).
  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is one of the pioneers of creativity theory. His 1997 book Creativity: Flow and The Psychology of Discovery and Invention explores the creative process and the ways in which creativity can enrich lives.

By Elizabeth Holmes

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