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Creativity in education

Are schools conducive to creativity?

Creativity in education is of particular interest internationally. Since the late 1990's creativity has become viewed as centrally relevant to education as it is believed it is critical for future generations to thrive in a rapidly changing world, (Craft, 2000; Craft et al, 2001; Wilson, 2009). “There is a perceived need to train scientists, engineers and designers to be more creative and innovative in response to global competition”, (Fisher & Williams, 2004:p6). As much ‘thinking within the box' can now be done by technology, so the capacity to be one step beyond computers takes on additional importance for the future. Employers now require ‘people who can adapt, see connections, innovate, communicate and work with others' (NACCCE, 1999, p. 13).

Creativity in education has previously been seen as a domain of the arts. This focus has now moved away from the arts to become a core aspect of all education. There was a tendency to only do creative activities within the arts, but due to the constraints of the National Curriculum, music, drama and art have all been severely neglected, and this has appeared to impact negatively on creativity. With the emphasis on the core subjects and SAT's testing, the focus has been on educating children to pass tests rather than educating children who are capable of being original, creative and innovative. Literature suggests that developing creativity is not only good for the individual; it is also good for education and ultimately good for society. Twenty-first century creativity is now seen more as generative problem-identification and problem-solving across life, (Craft, 2000; Craft et al, 2001), and seen as a life skill which will be essential for twenty-first century living.

This renewed interest in creativity was due to a seminal report published in 1999, All our futures: Creativity, culture and education, which proposed the idea that “all people are capable of creative achievement in some area of activity, provided the conditions are right and they have acquired the relevant knowledge and skills” (NACCE, 1999; paragraph 25). Creativity is now seen as essential to unlocking the potential of every young person, (Wyse & Dawson, 2009).

The focus on creativity in education is not a new one. Research on creativity has been going on throughout the twentieth century, in fact creativity was part of standard practise in schools until the introduction of the National Curriculum in the 1980's and an air of distrust prevailed against teachers from Thatcher's regime. Teachers now are accountable to everyone and because of this, teachers are wary of implementing initiatives that may or may not work well.

According to Fisher & Williams (2004; p7), the concept of creativity is “ethereal and elusive”. Years of research has tried to specify what creativity is. We know it when we see it, but struggle with trying to describe what processes it involves. Creativity has been described as “the ability to solve problems and fashion products and to raise new questions” (Gardner, 1993), as “a state of mind in which all of our intelligences are working together” (Lucas, 2001), and as “imaginative processes with outcomes that are original and of value, (Robinson, 2001). Vernon (1989: p94) suggests, it is “a person's capacity to produce new or original ideas, insights restructurings, inventions, or artistic objects, which are accepted by suitably qualified as being of scientific, aesthetic, social or technological value”, whereas NACCCE, (1999: paragraph 28) describes creativity as having four characteristics. “First, they always involve thinking or behaving imaginatively. Second, overall 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.”

NACCCE argues everyone has the potential to be creative, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (1996) believes creativity exists on a continuum and differentiates between big C creativity and little c creativity. Big C creativity is more commonly associated with the extraordinary, and manifested by a very few, extremely talented people, think Einstein, Picasso or Freud. These are people who are very creative within a specific domain, science, painting, music, mathematics, but they are not necessarily creative in another. To be creative in a particular area, an individual needs subject knowledge and how this knowledge can be used. Little c creativity is used in everyday life, as in problem solving is the creativity we more often associate with children. This is the type of creativity NACCCE asserts as “democratic creativity”, the creativity of the ordinary person. Lack of little c creativity may affect a person's capacity to cope with problems throughout life. According to Craft (2000, 2001) little c creativity can be shaped and encouraged and schools have a role to play in fostering it, as it is more of a mind-set or attitude. As Gardner (2008) states “People who are judged creative take chances, take risks, are not afraid to fall down, and pick themselves up, they say “what can I learn from this?” and they go on. “ So there is also an element of confidence that plays a part in creativity, Lucas (2001) argues the NACCCE report confuses creativity with confidence. According to NACCCE creative skills such as problem-solving strategies, self-organisation and divergent thinking are generic, usable in a broad range of contexts, so once learned in one domain, the skills can be used transferred to others. “The challenge for schools must be on developing children who are capable of thinking and doing new things, not simply repeating what past generations have done, but who are equipped for a world of challenge and change”, (Fisher & Williams, 2004:p11). Creativity is then essential for finding new ways to solve problems.

But do schools today provide the opportunities and conditions to develop children's creativity? Since the introduction of the National Curriculum, teaching has focused on basic skills and knowledge acquisition. There is a concern that the National Curriculum has been taught in a way that has not met the creative potential of all children, (NACCCE, 1999; Craft et al, 2001), and the realisation that the education system has stifled the creative thinking processes needed. The National Curriculum Handbook (DfEE/QCA, 1999) describes creativity as a cross-curricular thinking skill, implying it can be taught directly rather than fostered. It has now been recognised that creativity is much more dependant upon context and relationships (Craft, 2000; Craft et al, 2001, Fisher & Williams, 2004).

Just how do teachers teach creatively and teach for creativity? “An overwhelming majority of teachers are convinced that creativity can be applied to every domain of knowledge and that everyone can be creative. They also subscribe to the idea that creativity is a fundamental skill to be developed in schools, even if they are more ambiguous about how it can be taught, and less sure still about how it can be assessed” (Cachia et al, 2009). It is clear from the literature that creativity does not represent a single concept with a shared meaning. Craft (2003) suggests that in political, social and economic discourses creativity is currently portrayed as a ‘good thing' but that what this may mean to different people is less clear. The lack of clarity around definition and measurement of creativity makes its inclusion in learning outcomes and assessment criteria very problematic.

Creative teaching is seen to involve teachers using more imaginative approaches in the classroom to make learning more interesting and effective. Teaching for creativity is seen as identifying children's creative strengths and fostering them. NACCCE (1999:p90) suggests teaching for creativity is “to encourage young people to believe in their creative potential, to engage their sense of possibility and to give them confidence to try.” Creative teachers are aware of and value creativity and seek to foster it in others, (Cremin, 2009). Craft (2000: p107) believes “creativity is dispositional and not a matter of ability”. It is more about a ‘mind-set' or attitudes, and an inclination to do so.

“Teachers cannot develop the creative abilities of their pupils if their own creative abilities are suppressed…there are risks of de-skilling teachers and of encouraging conformity and passivity in some”, (NACCCE 1999). Ofsted (2003) say teachers who inspire creativity have a clear understanding of what it means to be creative, and can model this process, take risks and admit when the risks haven't quite paid off. “Knowing and nourishing oneself as an educator in any domain is critical to being able to provide for others. This is because genuine relationship, with oneself and others, is at the heart of the process of creativity.” (Craft 2000: p105). How do teachers recognise creativity? There are creative outcomes that are new to the learner, even though they may have existed previously or outcomes that are unique. Teachers have to recognise the creativity of the learner within the broader educational experience. But for some teachers, there is unwillingness, perhaps based on shaky subject knowledge, to let pupils find their own solution to problems. (OfSTED 2003: 18). Too often creativity is often mistaken for disobedience and naughtiness, (Lucas, 2001:p38), when in reality it is excitement and enthusiasm, just expressed in a bad way.

Creativity is about exploration. Whilst in theory creativity is being encouraged within the school environment, the standards driven approach is seen as highly constraining for schools, (Lucas, 2001). There simply hasn't been time in school because the curriculum has got in the way which has been constricting to creativity. Ofsted inspections, examination pass rates, target setting, demands of league tables, appraisal for threshold payments and the monitoring and accountability initiatives have resulted in teachers and schools to ‘play it safe'. Has there ever been a more constrictive and restrictive environment within the school system. As the NACCCE report stated, “There is now in education unusually high levels of prescription in relation to content and teaching methods”, (NACCCE, 1999:p96). Teaching creatively is a high risk strategy which requires self-confidence and an investment of time and energy from not only the teacher, but the school environment as well. Craft (2003) identifies a number of limiting factors and potential barriers that may affect a teacher's creativity; a lack of understanding about what creativity means in an educational context, conflicts in policy and practice, and limitations of the curriculum and current pedagogical practice

NACCCE (1999:p102-104) distinguishes between teaching creatively and teaching for creativity. Teaching creatively is when teachers use imaginative approaches to make learning more interesting, exciting and effective to motivate learning, whilst teaching for creativity is intended to develop children's own creative thinking and abilities using the above approaches. Teachers cannot develop the creative abilities of children if their own creative abilities are confined and limited. Though creative teaching is regarded as key to developing creativity in children, it does not guarantee that all children will develop their own creative potential, in fact it is very possible according to Craft (2005:p131) that a creative teacher may in fact diminish the creativity of others around them.

The NACCCE (1999:p104) report identifies three main principles for teaching for creativity for teachers to address; encouragement, identification and fostering. Creativity needs confidence, so teachers need to encourage children to “believe in their creative potential, to engage their sense of possibility and give them the confidence to try … other attitudes include high motivation, independence of judgement, willingness to take risks and to be resilient in the face of adversity and failure”. Teachers also need to identify children's creative strengths in different areas, and to foster the creative potential of children by stimulating curiosity through the creative process. Teaching children to learn by doing will help children to understand what is involved in being creative. “Overall, there has to be a relationship of trust … to encourage self-confidence, independence of mind, and the capacity to think for one's self”, (NACCCE, 1999:p106).

However, many teachers feel creativity cannot be learnt, (Lucas, 2001:p38). He suggests thinking of creativity not as an ‘imaginative activity' but rather as a ‘state of mind', whereby environments can be created to allow creativity to thrive. He outline four key conditions for teaching creativity and for creative learning in a school context, the need to be challenged, the elimination of negative stress, feedback and the capacity to live with uncertainty. (p39).

Conceptually, a creative classroom must “allow mistakes and encourage experimentation, openness and risk-taking”, (Craft, 2000:p116). A child must have physical space and time in learning activities, without the teacher intervening too early before a child has had the opportunity to work something out by themselves, “those early interventions often discourage rather than encourage”,(Shallcross, 1981:p15). A child needs space for conversation and interaction. A classroom should welcome innovation and experimentation, be open to new and unusual ideas and encourage children to have a go without the fear of being undervalued. Introducing creativity into the classroom can involve risk on a number of levels. Groth & Peters (1999) suggest fear is one of the major barriers to creativity, fear of the unknown, fear of failure, and fear of ridicule. New and unusual strategies used in the classroom can feel threatening, for both the teacher and the child. Creative activities require more skill and courage than traditional accepted teaching methods. A teacher has to value creativity even though children may express it in a myriad of different ways and acknowledge different personal styles of creating.

Creative activity is capable of rewarding the child on an emotional level. Hennessey (1996) identifies five “sure-fire killers of intrinsic motivation and creativity; expected reward, expected evaluation, surveillance, time limits and completion. These appear to resemble the current approach to education in the UK at the present time.

Do schools foster opportunities for children to be creating?

In 2006 the QCA published ‘Creativity, find it, promote it' and created a website to complement it, offering information and guidance on recognising and promoting creativity, but at the same time, the curriculum was still defined by attainment targets, programmes of study and assessment procedures. To quote best selling author and school teacher John Holt (1990:p141), “Are we trying to turn out intelligent people or test takers?” Holt argues schools are not healthy places for children to be, children are confused by a system that imposes a content-laden curriculum and promotes a fear of failure, therefore children lose their natural desire to learn. What school actually teaches through the drive for testing is the importance of getting the right answer. We must allow children the chance to fail. As the Seligman (1996:p45) points out, "Children need to fail… If we leap in to bolster self-esteem to soften the blows… we make it harder for them to achieve mastery." And as Robinson (2008) says “if you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original” Children lose the capacity throughout school of ‘having a go', as they have become frightened of getting it wrong. School stigmatise mistakes, and as a result schools are educating children out of their creativeness. “In schools that promote creativity effectively, successes and failures are both perceived to provide learning opportunities”, (Ofsted, 2003). The ethos is not supportive of creative risk taking in the classroom, though the government is in favour of creativity, it is only interested when the creative process produces a “winner every time”. The DfES and the QCA give mixed messages, the terms, ‘originality, innovative or creative do not appear in the level descriptions teachers use when assessing children.

Creativity requires children, and teachers to take risks. But does the environment provide opportunities to go with a risky exciting idea, therefore running the risk of inviting failure or do they play it safe to guarantee an outcome. The outcome at the end of the day doesn't have to be the be all and end all. It's about the processes you go through to get there. We need to reward failure, but how does assessment fit into this? Will children take risks with creative ideas if possible failure is likely to be criticised. Evidence shows teachers, as well as children need to be confident in a supportive environment before risks are to be taken.

In order to foster creativity, teachers need to understand how children learn to learn, (Lucas, 2001) and have respect for the individual learner in order to encourage creativity. He lists a variety of ways in which this can be fostered, among these are some of the following; respecting each child, encouraging active learning and individual interests rather than the standardised curriculum, recognising individual learning styles (VAK) and multiple intelligences and using strategies in the classroom that incorporate these learning styles in the classroom, using open-ended questioning, moving the classroom to other environments and encouraging social learning, (p40).

Fisher & Williams (2004:p14-18) believe the keys to fostering creativity are; motivation, when children are passionate about something, they are engaged, inspiration, stimulation of curiosity can be inspired from knowledge, observation, questions and peers, gestation, allowing time for creative ideas to develop, and collaboration, ideas need to be created, examined, shared and tried out.

Teachers cannot expect children to suddenly become creative. It is a process that takes time and commitment. Teachers also have to be aware of their own influence as stimulators for creative learning, (Jeffrey, 2005) by modelling characteristics of creative learning. If teachers do not implement their own creative strategies in their teaching, they prevent children from developing their own creative strategies. Difficulties arise when teachers are lacking in confidence in their own subject or pedagogical knowledge, as it would be difficult to be creative or even help others to be creative.

A study in ten European countries, Creative Learning and Students Perspectives (Jeffrey, 2005), was a project that looked the strategies and their effectiveness in developing creative practices in educational contexts from the child's perspective and the teachers. They looked the situational factors that increased creative learning practises and identified common features of creative learning contexts. The study found when teachers promoted creative learning; they had a genuine enjoyment of the subject and/or of teaching; they provided opportunities for children to take risks, were willing to take risks themselves and sometimes take on the role of a learner; they drew on the interests of the children and aimed to capture the imagination and use children's own imaginations, teachers saw creativity as a way to enhance learning thereby raising motivation and therefore achievement. Some dominant themes were also identified from the children's perspective: The children were given some prior knowledge as a foundation before being asked to do anything with it, but then were able to use their own ideas as they learned, giving them control and ownership of their own learning; they worked in collaboration with others to solve problems, construct models, presentations and to investigate new knowledge; and were inspired by the teacher, (Jeffrey, 2005).

What can schools do to encourage creativity? First and foremost we need creative teachers with the confidence to take creative risks, who are themselves, creative and reflective practitioners. The concept of failure can be very off-putting, therefore this severely limits creativity and innovation. “It takes a willingness to observe, listen and work closely with children to help them develop their ideas in a purposeful way … this focused engagement with the individual … is common to all creative work … and good teaching”, (Ofsted, 2003:p5).

School leadership that is committed to promoting creativity is vital, (Ofsted, 2003), but in terms of classroom practice, a warm and encouraging ethos is needed, an amount of structure and freedom, too much can restrict a child's capability to develop ideas, and too much freedom may confuse the child. A balance must be found, and that ultimately is down to the teacher's skill in recognising how a child responds and engages with the activity, (Craft et al, 2007). Creativity needs to be perceived as something that can be developed in all areas of the curriculum, and not just a preserve of the arts. Too many projects only associate creativity with the arts. Outside agencies and individuals are also vital to promoting creativity. The expertise of artists, designers, drama groups, museums, galleries, and scientists or science centres can be invaluable. These external resources can provide real world experiences and contexts upon which creative work can be developed.

In 2002, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport set up the flagship creative learning programme, Creative Partnerships, designed to “develop the skills of children and young people across England, raising their aspirations, achievements, skills and life chances”, (Creative Partnerships Website, 2008). Since 2002, Creative Partnerships have worked with schools all over the country to develop creative skills by enabling children, teachers and creative professionals to work together in both education and cultural buildings such as museums, galleries and theatres. Research has shown it has had a positive impact not only on the children, but also the schools and wider community. In 2006, Ofsted in its report Creative Partnerships: Initiative and Impact recognised that many of its projects had been highly effective, enabling children of all ages, from many diverse backgrounds to develop “an ability to improvise, take risks, show resilience, an collaborate with others”, (p2). Creative Partnerships show how working with other professionals can broaden and enrich teaching and enhance creativity. These skills, how to think creatively and how to collaborate have been lost due to the culture of intensive testing in schools today, “tomorrow's world will require adults who have been taught to draw on a wider range of capabilities and competencies; who are curious, resilient, self-disciplined and self-motivated”, (Young, 2009).

Creativity also needs time to develop. Rather than having individual lessons, many schools found lessons could be put into blocks and easily extended to allow time for bigger projects. Whole afternoons, a day or even a week can be devoted to a particular project, enabling children to work at length and in depth to complete work. All too often in school there is not enough time to finish work, let alone to have time throughout the creative process. Primary schools have opportunities to be extremely flexible within their timetabling arrangements compared with secondary schools

Though schools and teachers can understand the concept of creativity, there can be “some uncertainty or vagueness” about what creativity is and how to enable it, (Ofsted, 2003:p17). Sometimes creativity is perceived as just doing something differently, and can often have little educational value. Other barriers to creativity can be an inability to recognise creativity when it is happening, a teacher's own lack of subject knowledge may not recognise a child's creative processes, or may have an “unwillingness” to let go, and let children find their own solutions to problems. Spurious links between subjects also serve to undermine the creative processes. But as Ofsted (2003:p19) says barriers to creativity can be overcome. Teachers and school leaders need to recognise the place of creativity and that the development of creativity is essential, and then establish an appropriate climate.

Personally I am drawn to the conclusion that though there is a lot of talk and debate about creativity in schools, schools are actually diametrically opposed to creating the supportive culture needed to foster creativity and risk-taking. Teachers have little personal autonomy to experiment and are often reduced to curriculum deliverers. The pressure to produce good results is one of the main inhibitors of risk-taking creativity in all subjects, so it seems unlikely that true creativity can be achieved in schools except as a concept referred to by government documents. “The curriculum should enable pupils to think creatively and critically, to solve problems and to make a difference for the better. It should give them the opportunity to become creative, innovative, enterprising and capable of leadership, to equip them for their future lives as workers and citizens”, (DfES/QCA, 1999: 11). Though there is an encouragement for teachers to encourage creativity, and be themselves adventurous in their approaches, the assessment system does not encourage this. “The space formerly available for spontaneity, creativity and attending to unanticipated learning needs of children and young people has contracted as teachers struggle to attain government targets for achievement and fulfil associated bureaucratic demands”, (Day, 2004: 14)

As a trainee teacher, there has been little opportunity to observe creative practice, teach creatively myself and understand the nature of children's creativity. Research by NESTA (2002) suggests the training of teachers is a key inhibiting factor. Though we have a prescriptive and tightly controlled educational system, a new national curriculum has been proposed for 2011, which states “It must provide all pupils with a broad and balanced entitlement to learning which encourages creativity and inspires in them a commitment to learning that will last a lifetime”, (DCSF, 2009). This new curriculum also recommends implementing cross-curricular topic or thematic work, which will offer plenty of opportunities to develop creativity. Schools and teachers will supposedly have more autonomy over how they organise the curriculum and the methods they use to teach. “The balance between ensuring that basic skills are learned and encouraging creativity is delicate, as an overemphasis on skills can too easily lead to a restricted curriculum, which is less likely to foster creativity”, (Wyse & Dowson, 2009:p105), who propose a new curriculum should place the individual's ‘self' in the centre, as it is the individuals “motivation to learn and their interests that will sustain learning through life”. Only time will tell what the future will bring for the children of today and tomorrow. There is also a concern about the mental health of children in the UK, those with low educational attainment tend to suffer from emotional disorders, (Young, 2009). If education can encourage children to develop potential, talents and capabilities,

Schools need to have more flexibility and imagination in the curriculum


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