Creative classrooms for all

Injecting a little creativity can help pupils really engage with a subject, says Loughborough University's Sarah Turner

PaintingCreativity can be the key to unlocking pupils’ enthusiasm for a subject. In the present school curriculum, creativity is already regarded as a necessary skill for students of all ages, but defining and delivering ‘creativity’ in the classroom can prove a challenge.

In some primary schools, a ‘creative curriculum’ links all subjects to explore a topic, and approaches creativity through the notion of ‘play’ or ‘exploratory skills’. In secondary school, creativity can help develop pupils’ critical thinking about ideas and issues, and their evaluation and synthesis of new material.

'Young people think creatively by generating and exploring ideas, making original connections. They try different ways to tackle a problem, working with others to find imaginative solutions and outcomes that are of value.' (Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, 2011, developed for the current National Curriculum)

Enabling pupils to develop such skills in analytical and conceptual thinking can be a daunting challenge for teachers, who may not see these activities as a prime learning concern, as being creative is not necessarily assessed in external examinations. However, I believe that despite the time and difficulty involved, the positive impact of creative activity on pupil engagement and attitude outweighs the negatives.

Creative confidence

To enable teachers to be confident in their delivery of creative lessons, appropriate support and training are imperative. Research has shown that teachers can feel unclear, misguided and cautious about what is involved – it does not just mean allowing pupils to run wild. The reassurance that teachers themselves are creative and are able to support pupils is crucial; having teachers believe in themselves is essential.

Research tells us that both primary and secondary pupils enjoy activities that seem ‘different’ being introduced in any of their lessons, and such activity helps them to remember material and subsequently link it back to the key content being learned.

‘Creative processes have four characteristics. First, they involve thinking or behaving imaginatively. Second, this imaginative activity is purposeful; that is it is directed to achieving an objective. Third, these processes must generate something original. Fourth, the outcome must be of value in relation to the objective.’ (National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education, 1999, p. 29)

Creativity also helped pupils’ attitudes to some harder subjects such as mathematics and sciences at Key Stages 3 and 4. Research on Key Stage 3 showed that pupils felt they learnt from and enjoyed science lessons which involved creative activities. For example, role-play to help learn the history of scientific development, news reports to encourage debates, writing songs or raps to help learn processes, using plasticine to build models, or using their imagination to write stories or flow charts answering ‘what if’ questions. In Key Stage 4 science, creativity was seen as essential in investigative problem-solving, in using tests to solve problems, and in explaining concepts to other age groups using story, mime or cartoons. At Key Stage 5, synthesising new ideas and hypotheses form the basis for developing these skills.

These suggestions point to the need for variety in teaching, so that different thinking skills and activities are incorporated in all lessons, an idea supported by Gardner’s concept of intelligences (1993). For example, the use of musical or linguistic activities in mathematics and science can stimulate interest among pupils who enjoy these subjects. Movement and interpersonal and intrapersonal skills could be more developed in all subjects, to explore social dynamics and consequences related to real-life situations.

Creativity is a vast subject and is personal to the teacher and pupil. Everyone in education should be encouraged to embrace creativity, teachers and pupils alike. Different ideas can inspire all to think about and achieve in areas they had never imagined. Our aim in education should be to produce life-long, enthusiastic learners in all of our classrooms, whatever the subject, and a little creativity could be the spark to initiate this change.

Sarah Turner is lecturer in Science Teacher Education at Loughborough University's Design School

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