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Creativity is about having original thoughts and ideas, being flexible with these and about solving and finding problems. Craft (2003) describes this as "little c creativity", and advises:
"Little c creativity is not necessarily tied to a product - outcome, for it involves exercising imaginativeness. It involves having some grasp of the domain of application, and thus of the appropriateness of the ideas. It involves the use of the imagination, intelligence and self-expression." (p.148)
In order to comment on how creativity might be used to support learning we must understand what is meant by learning. Kyriacou (1997) definition of learning states, 'pupil learning can be defined as changes in a pupils behaviours which take place as a result of being engaged in an educational experience'. This reference suggests that if there is change, whether that is: greater knowledge, different attitude towards certain issues or ideas, improved ability, better understanding, or the capacity to do something different, then learning has occurred. Therefore, in this commentary recommendations of how creativity might be used to support learning must result in a change in pupils' behaviours according to Kyriacou's definition.
Learning, "the change in a pupil's behaviour which takes place as a result of being engaged in an educational experience (Kyriacou, 1997, p. 22)" is the ultimate goal of the teacher and student. By the time the student arrives in the Further Education classroom he/she may well be arriving already under the perception that they are failing, strategies at school will have been tried and could well have failed; leaving those adults with SEN often without tangible qualifications. There is little point repeating strategies that have failed in the past, there is everything to gain by engaging the student with a creative and fresh approach.
There may be a fear in teachers today to 'come off the script' and depart from the plan, as they are so often watched and monitored that to do something different, and be seen to do so, is to take a great risk should something go wrong. Yet in fact, in response to this, Robert Fisher suggests that what we actually need is teaching that is 'not trapped in defensive or routine thinking, but teaching that is innovative (Fisher, 2004, p. 12). The question is whether innovative teaching is still possible, in an educational climate that appears to favour highly proscriptive curriculum that looks toward exams. More than anything the learner needs to feel that what they do is worthwhile and personal motivation is a key to success throughout our lives (ibid, p.14). The Teaching4Learning website notes the fact that in post secondary education the teacher is too often concerned with passing on facts, whereas this leads to surface learning without understanding (Charles Darwin University, 2011). What is really required is more learner centred, flexible and creative teaching (ibid) and this essay will seek to discuss how this may be achieved.
A Critical discussion and evaluation of some key concepts/theories and initiatives regarding creativity in teaching and learning within SEN - Learning Difficulties and Disabilities in Further Education.
In their book on teaching in the Post-Compulsory sector, Reece and Walker describe the good teacher as someone who knows their students as individuals and is willing to be flexible and change approach depending upon their student's needs (Reece & Walker, 2000, p.16). This is echoed in the notes on the 'Come Read With Me Conference' which was on teaching adults with developmental difficulties. The conference raised the fact that to teach effectively in this regard you must have the belief that your students can learn. It also raised the fact that many of us learn in layers with the ability to process one piece at a time and in doing so we may well incorporate more than one modality(way of learning) at any time (Downey, 2007). The more rigidity in the teaching approach, the more some members of the class may be excluded from the process. It is not that every lesson needs to try to accommodate all learning styles, but there should be some acknowledgement over a longer time frame of different methods of learning. Also, although teachers aged forty and over still represent the generation brought up on listening to the radio, LP vinyl records and living in a childhood with no mobile phones or internet; the young generation coming through come from a visual and computerised generation who are used to different methods of gaining information. If the classroom is to appear connected, rather than disconnected, from the world they inhabit outside, it is necessary for teaching to adapt and be creative with regard to teaching this digital generation of learners.
This idea of different layers in the learning process is reflected in the thinking of
Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) who saw the process of education as an active process, one in which the student requires scaffolding to reach the next level (Scales, 2008, p.66 citing Vygotsky). An analogy to scaffolding is the child learning how to ride a bike whilst using stabilisers, as the child grows in confidence the stabilisers are taken away. For some of the adult learners who have learning disability it may well be that the scaffolding has been in place for some considerable time and it may not be possible to entirely remove this scaffolding. Once such example would be for Down's syndrome adults who it is shown are still highly dependent upon support in their learning to cope with everyday life.
Figure 1Chart adapted from Buckley et al(2002)
This chart shows the high level of dependence that these young adults still have is reflected in the present governments 2011 Green Paper: 'Support and Aspiration- a new approach to special educational needs and disability'. One clear message from the paper is that support should not stop when the children leave the school gates as "too often the opportunities and support available to disabled young people and young people with SEN fall short of what they need to make a successful transition to adult life (Department for Education, 2011, p. 80)." The green paper advocates a single assessment procedure that takes the SEN child/young adult from birth through to the age of twenty-five, targeted support enabling the individual to participate in education and training (ibid pp.81-83).For some of my SEN learners this access to further training and education into their mid twenties may be essential to enable them to live fulfilling adult lives. Teachers need to consider creative attempts to allow students to 'evaluate and self monitorâ€¦metacognition can enhance young people's control over creative activity (Department for Education and Employment, 1999, p. 92).
For adults, and indeed children, Bruner saw learning as a social process (Scales, 2008, p. 64); and for my students with learning difficulties/disabilities it is perhaps especially important that they are able to be helped understand the world through communicative interaction. Bruner saw four elements in the theory of instruction, these being: readiness, structure (for understanding), sequence and motivation. This can be compared to Kolb's learning cycle which was heavily influenced by Piaget and Dewey (who saw learning as a structuring of experience or 'habit') and shows the ongoing modification of ideas, thus allowing more creativity of approach from a teacher 'in which the teacher can look to take the learner from where he is to where the teacher wants him to be (Hillier, 2012 p.111 citing Lovell 1979).'
This cycle is heavily connected into the concrete experience that enables us to have an experience and learn through it, taking the learner out to experience a castle rather than just look at one in a book; to watch Shakespeare in the theatre rather than read it only in the classroom. This makes learning memorable, it gives the concrete experience that can then be reviewed and reflected upon. The student should then conclude and learn from the experience before you plan out what you do. Linking to Bruner, this creative approach allows for the acquisition, transformation and evaluation of learning, evaluating the utility of new knowledge (Scales, 2008, p.64).
Within learning theorists there is not uniform agreement about the advantages of 'discovery' learning. David Ausubel was not an advocate of discovery approach preferring a teacher led approach that nevertheless meant that learners had to make their own meaning; it is up to the teacher to provide the structure and link everything to previous learning (Scales, 2008, p.67 citing Ausubel). However although readiness is a result of our past learning experience, 'people usually do not know what they know, where they have got to in their learning, nor where they are going (Minton, 2005, p. 71). From Minton comes the importance of pace in any lesson, pace generates enthusiasm and broken down tasks stops students from stagnating during a lesson, it keeps focus tight.
Assessment can make this an integrated part of learning. Since the 1998 'Inside the Black Box' report by Black and Wiliam, schools and colleges have been focussed on improving delivery of assessment so that it reflects the desire to embed quality formative assessment in all teaching, so that each lesson the student is aware of the learning objective and that all goals are shared with the students (Black and Wiliam, 1998). Especially for the adult learner with any form of learning disability, summative assessment in the form of formalized exams may have led to little success and feelings of inadequacy. The need to obtain qualifications is always there, but the need to develop the literacy and numeracy skills to cope with adult life is possibly even more important and one book on assessment notes that formative assessment should be 'an ongoing and informal activity as you absorb and react to the way the class is responding (Tanner and Jones, 2003, p.45).' Essentially interaction is at the heart of the assessment process and it allows the student to highlight to the teacher whether they are following the lesson (some classes using a traffic light system to indicate levels of clarity) and the teacher can give quick oral feedback as the lesson progresses thus always trying to take the student to the next phase.
The application of creative strategies in teaching and learning including critical reflection on the application of creativity within SEN in Further Education.
If there is a key to being creative in strategies toward teaching and learning, then the common links would appear to be reflection and motivation. Releasing motivation in the student, linking this to previous and future success and showing how reflecting formatively with the teacher on where you are in the learning process can transform learning. 'Within Maslow's hierarchy of human needs (1954) creativity and self actualisation are at the top of the scale (Beetlestone, 1998, p. 110)." Not everyone can apply teaching creatively as Fisher states that an effective teacher needs a creative school leader (Fisher, 2004, p. 12), it is very hard for the teacher to be creative without support from leadership.
Key to adult learning "is the process of reflecting back on prior learning to determine whether what we have learned is justified under present circumstances (Mezirow, 2010)." This reflection can be a part of formative assessment and creative feedback to students is very much a part of this approach, it centrally has to link into what Maslow would define as the impulse we all have to satisfy our curiosity; he sees the cognitive need as entwined with the basic needs (Kyriacou, 1997, p. 27). Although the basic needs need to be satisfied first, the outlet is there for all students to be motivated and to learn. Socialisation, shared experience and the interaction of the classroom are all extremely important and for effective teaching and learning the teacher will have to move and adapt teaching to fit the learning needs of the adult students. Sometimes this involves turning a past history of learning failure behind, and the Lamb Report (2009) showed how too often the emphasis/interaction with parents of SEN students was on provision of support rather than on the teaching/learning to be undertaken (Lamb, 2009). The report looks for a significant shift in the connections between educators, parents and external services (ibid, 3.7) and a truly creative approach in special needs education within the further education service may well take this advice and seek to link all aspects of the learners background, creating a clear path forward for the learner with support from their families.
To conclude, formative assessment, allowing the setting of clear targets and the scaffolding of learning advocated through Vygotsky can lead to motivated learners. However the teacher needs to involve the student in the learning process allowing for transformative learning in which the student can really do something with their knowledge, enabling them to manage better day to day and gain employment in a difficult economic climate. The teacher needs to provide the learning structure and focus on the needs of the student, creatively adapting lessons for a new generation of digital learners.
Being a SEN Lecturer I noticed that there are concerns that the practical experience of creative processes may become simplistic, unproblematic and unable to reflect the complexities and challenges of developing creativity in the curriculum and pedagogy. Prentice (2000) highlights the dangers of a complex and slippery belief, which may result in confusions and contradictions, which does not allow educators to focus on the purpose and possibilities of creative processes in the curriculum. I would argue that this statement summaries that for many teachers there are many contradictions and confusion, some because the government have changed their approach to creativity and the way they have expected education to be taught, and also because there are so many demands for results, it becomes difficult to find time to allow creative practice. Hartley (2003) supports this statement in explaining how government and business are attending to creativity and emotional literacy in education, attaching them to 'practice which remains decidedly performance driven, standardized and monitored', and harnessing them for instrumental purposes in the knowledge and service-based economy (Loveless et el. 2006).
One main barrier to creativity are lack of equipment, range of technologies, and teachers not having a framework to promote understanding and confidence in their own creative teaching practice and professional development. Without this framework there might be confusion and the inability to promote learners' and the teachers' creativity.