The lack of creativity in teaching has been a significant issue in recent years. In All Our Futures: Creativity, Cultures and Education, a report by the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education (NACCE) in May 1999, there are proposals suggested to implement a wider nationwide scheme for creative education. The report highlighted that children profit from using creative skills and by having these skills developed. It also suggested that creative teaching should be made part of all academic education. This was the first time that this issue had been fully recognised. In response to this report, the government has acknowledged the significance of developing the creative skills of children, as these could become essential in future workplaces. The Nation Curriculum recognises that many employers want and need creative people: ‘Schools that promote creativity will ensure that pupils respond positively to opportunities and responsibilities and are better able to cope with new challenges as well as change and adversity’ (National Curriculum 1999). Creativity helps teachers deliver the academic curriculum to students in an appealing manner.
The NACCE report highlighted that there is a difference between teaching creatively and teaching for creativity. Teaching creatively can be interpreted as a teacher being inventive and developing strategies to engage and encourage students. On the other hand, teaching for creativity focuses on strategies that aim to develop the creative skills of the learners. Subjects such as design and technology can contribute greatly to the enhancement of creativity, as evidenced by the specific outcomes of the National Curriculum that indicate learners should be able to think creatively. In design and technology, creativity is central to developing the learner, so it is crucial that teachers of the subject recognise how to foster creativity. Nichol, points out that teachers have an important responsibility to increase ‘creativity in the D&T classroom’ (2004, p.1). Therefore, teachers have the responsibility of ensuring the development and promotion of creativity in students. Teachers have to set examples for their pupils, so the use of creativity must originate from the teacher. To do this, there are many things teachers can do. Davies (1999, p.102), suggests the chance for learners to develop creatively in the classroom depends critically on how much support is exploited through teachers. Creativity cannot be easily defined because there are a number of different approaches to understanding creativity. This paper focuses on teaching for creativity. In order to promote this I have considered how teachers can create the conditions of a secure environment where pupils feel they can take risks without being penalised and how imaginations can be stimulated through different strategies.
Create the conditions
Creativity can be defined as the willingness to be courageous, adventurous, daring and to try new things. Creative people take risks and produce some of the best ideas. Iconic designer, Michael Wolff, has never been afraid of taking risks; he has achieved great things through his passion, vision and daring attitude. Design and technology is a very ‘creative and innovative subject’ where pupils are motivated to utilize different thinking approaches and ‘to take risks’ (Spendlove, 2002). When designing and making, creative work is likely to bring about original knowledge which will incur risk taking. Innovation and risk taking are skills that are close together, as designers have to deal with the insecurity involved in creating something new. Young people tend to be very conservative when designing. However, risk taking as part of innovation can help take students out of their comfort zone. When this happens there can be a high level of uncertainty and a great emotional reaction. If teaching encourages pupils, then ‘there is merit in taking chances in using trial and error to improve ideas’ (Owen-Jackson, 2008, p.142) because a more liberated atmosphere in the classroom is created.
It is a well-known saying that we learn from our mistakes. However, the fear of making mistakes can prevent learners from trying anything new, so by an atmosphere of trust and a secure environment reassures pupils that they can take risks without being penalised if the outcome is not what they intended. I try to encourage an atmosphere in the classroom were learners feel comfortable in taking risks, rather than worrying about making a mistake. The National Strategy, Social and Emotion Aspects of Learning (SEAL), is an effective way to encourage communal and emotional skills in students. SEAL encourages learners to be ‘more aware of risk and the consequences of certain choices,’ and educates them ‘how to make appropriate choices’ (The National Strategy, 2010). The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTSA), launched a project in 2009, Butterflies in my Tummy, which combines aspects of D&T and SEAL. The scheme’s objective is to ‘promote innovation and risk-taking when children are designing’ (D&T Association, 2010). The concepts of SEAL are encouraged to create a secure environment and positive working relationship that expand the abilities and approaches required for risk taking and creativity.
Creativity for me is all about taking risks. I totally agree that ‘experimenting and notional failure are essential to good D&T education’ (Spendlove, 2002). A popular British proverb, the man who does not make mistakes is unlikely to make anything, can be seen to be true when it comes to creativity. POST-IT notes, for example, were conceptualized from a bad glue formula; sometimes mistakes lead to better ideas. Creativity is often blocked by the fear of being wrong, so using the SEAL approach is helping me support risk taking and therefore nurture creativity in the classroom. Being prepared to be wrong is an important part of being creative and having original ideas that have value. Learners should not be penalised if a bad outcome occurs through taking a risk, as long as the learner recognises where they went wrong and learn from their mistakes. I have embedded SEAL into my teaching by supporting the learners to take risks, encouraging experimentation and providing constructive feedback to address any problems. In the exploration and development of ideas, I encourage risk taking and experimentation, so that learners have the chance to come up with new ideas and learn from their mistakes.
Having pupils look at their final product and reflect on what they did right as well as what they did wrong is very important. Recently, I undertook a ‘Stars and Wishes’ task with a Year 9 design and technology class. The task involved each pupil commenting on two things they were proud of, their Stars, and two things they needed to improve, their wishes. This was in relation to a food product they had made. Some pupils felt like they had failed because their product was not perfect or not what they had expected. However, when I encouraged them to think of two things that they were proud of, they realised that there were many things they had achieved. They then began to appreciate the effort they had put in. If pupils cannot see anything they have done well, they are likely to stop trying and give up.
After looking at positives, I then encouraged the pupils to reflect on their mistakes. The nature of the task encouraged an environment where the pupils felt comfortable in admitting to their mistakes or areas that needed improving; this is where significant learning takes place. If pupils do not acknowledge their mistakes, they will be likely to repeat them. The two ‘wishes’ for each pupil became their objectives for the next practical lesson. In many situations it is often the teacher that comments on areas of improvement. However, because the pupils had the opportunity to reflect and comment on their own performance, it created a more enthusiastic approach to learning and the pupils wanted to achieve and perform even better. The next lesson the pupils learned from their mistakes and did better. As a result, their work was more creative because they were comfortable to take a risk. The students knew that it was acceptable if they made a mistake, as long as they acknowledge it and learned from it.
Teachers provide a supportive environment that encourages risk taking by acting as a role model. I show pupils that I am not afraid to take acceptable risks and when I make mistakes I remind pupils that mistakes are opportunities to learn. Through my examples, pupils see that taking risks is a valuable and necessary part of learning. By designing classroom environments that encourage risk taking, learners are supported and encouraged to take creative risks. These teaching strategies promote creativity by creating an atmosphere that encourages sensible risk taking, allows for mistakes and encourages learners to persist and to accept not getting things right the first time.
It is often common to hear that good teachers are ‘imaginative’. These teachers show a mental flexibility that permits them to present a subject in a new and engaging way that supports students to be creative and enjoy learning. Philosopher Mary Warnock studied imagination and referred to it as the ‘chief aim of education’ (1976, p.9) and that ‘we have a duty to educate the imagination’. Many would argue this statement, however, I believe that imagination enhances creativity and only through this can we bring our ideas into realisation. Imagination helps to realise our full potential, therefore teachers have an essential responsibility to educate imagination. In order for imagination to grow there has to be resources to stimulate it. The more experiences pupils gain the greater their imagination, so pupils must have the resources they need to be creative. I have considered just a few teaching strategies that I consider to be effective ways of stimulating imagination in the classroom.
Often imagination is associated with imagery and when people try to describe imagination, often they refer to the capacity we have to hold images in our minds. Good visuals have the potential to enhance creativity. Several professional designers were interviewed by Malcolm Welch and David Barlex (2004) to find out what they used to support and enhance their creativity. The designers used ‘job bags’ which contained anything relevant to a particular project: models, photographs, drawings and digital images of models (Barlex, 2007). Mood boards are also excellent visual guides that stimulate inspiration. According to Bill Nichol (2004), strategies such as developing mood boards help learners develop their creative potential. During Nichols research on creativity and innovation, pupils commented on the ‘freedom’ they had when producing mood boards (2004, p.4). The benefits of using visuals help increase the learner’s creative capacity.
An ancient proverb states that on a blank sheet of paper the most beautiful of marks can be made, however, Welch (Bartlex, 2007) deliberates that a blank piece of paper may be very intimidating to pupils. From my experience, pupils tend to reflect Welch’s theory and are daunted by the thought of making the first mark. As often as possible I try to give pupils a choice to work from a blank piece of paper or an alternative. Most often the pupils choose the alternative. The alternative could be a mini white board which, although is a blank canvas, pupils do not have the fear of making a mistake because they know it can easily be erased. In a Food Technology lesson I undertook, the pupils had the task of designing a cupcake decoration, so I provided templates of cakes for the pupils to illustrate their ideas on. As a result the pupils created more ideas and were more experimental, compared to those that did not use templates.
One approach to help stimulate imagination is to encourage divergent thinking through questioning. Effective questions in this instance are those that are open and do not have only one answer. Questions with one word answers are either too easy or too hard; therefore some pupils become bored or frustrated which results in a loss of imagination. Open and relevant questions stretch and add flexibility to the mind. Teaching design and technology imposes many questions throughout each and every process.
One of the fundamental notions of D&T is the investigation into the design and production of existing products, as well as ‘how they may develop in the future’ (National Curriculum). In order to further enhance the pupil’s awareness, abilities and comprehension the following questions could be asked: What designs already existWhat do you think of themCould they be improvedThis strategy of questioning could also be used to explore the relationships between ‘principles of good design, existing solutions and technological knowledge to develop innovative products and processes’ (National Curriculum). For example: is the product or solution likely to solve the design problemThese type of questions help stimulate imagination by encouraging pupils to see lots of possible answers and see things from different perspectives.
Creativity can be enhanced by sharing knowledge. Sharing creative ideas and thoughts can help to stimulate ideas. One way for teachers to promote an atmosphere where pupils can share ideas is through group work. Teachers TV offers a series of programs named ‘Proven to Work’, where one of the programs, ‘Collaborative Enquiry’, shows how collaborative enquiry can be used to stimulate imagination. A class is spilt into mixed ability groups and asked to look at a photograph. The groups are asked to consider what they know from the photograph, what they would like to find out about the image and what it might be. The group discussions then lead to imaginative answers. This technique is often used in design and technology lessons where groups have different objects or products and have to work out what the function or purpose is. Group members have the opportunity to share their perspectives and listen to different views and approaches to problems. When pupils are working in groups they will differentiate between good and bad ideas, so the teachers must not be critical. The responsibility of the teacher is to praise pupils for coming up with ideas, whatever these ideas may be. It is also important that the students are motivated to select and develop the good ideas further. Pupils will profit from experiencing the methods, approaches and skills that others use in the creative process.
There are many ways to stimulate imagination and I have only considered a few ways teachers can achieve this. Most pupils already have a rich and varied imagination, but through the teaching of design and technology, teachers can stimulate imagination through various way of teaching for creativity.
Creative teaching methods are vital for the effectiveness of a teacher. Renzulli (1992) argues that teachers are a fundamental tool in the nurturing of creativity in students. Fasko (2001) stated that ‘creative teaching can enhance learning’. Good teachers use creative teaching methods so they can reach all their pupils and engage them effectively. Creative teaching strategies can help teachers utilise pupil’s strengths to enhance learning and encourage them to develop deeper levels of thinking. Overall they ensure the role of the teacher creates an environment that fosters creativity. This paper has attempted to outline some of the key approaches to improving creativity in classrooms.
If creative teaching strategies are incorporated into every lesson they can help children succeed. However, teaching for creativity is ‘a complex and demanding activity in which the role of the teacher is crucial’ (Barlex et al, 2007, p.152). Coming up with creative teaching strategies can put extra strain on teachers if they are not particularly innovative themselves. Morris states that teaching for creativity ‘can involve more time and planning to generate and develop ideas and to evaluate whether they have worked’ (2006, p. 5). Nicholl points out that it is the ‘teachers who sanction creative work’ (2004, p.6). However, encouraging creativity in the classroom is a skill not all teachers possess, yet any person can encourage creativity given the correct skills and knowledge. Teachers have to plan to make it happen; they may have to change their teaching styles so there is more potential for creativity. There is much that teachers can do to encourage creativity in the classroom; I have only considered a small fraction of strategies that can aid and stimulate creativity in the teaching of design and technology.
Morris comments that there are many ways teachers can use creativity in their classes but it is ‘only a job half done without the support of the school leadership’ (2006, p.7). Morris suggests that school leaders can support teachers in many ways such as providing resources that stimulate creativity and a stimulating environment. Ofsted suggests that school leadership should be dedicated to the encouraging of creativity. It will also ensure that good practise is resourced effectively across the schools. Our government is starting to realise that is it important for children to foster these creative skills, as they may become vital in the future.
The need to foster all pupils’ creativity has become an important issue after the NACCE report. The development of creativity should be a concern of the entire school. Creative teaching strategies offer a chance for a fresh vision on education. Unfortunately, there is very little literature and research to evidence that teaching for creativity is effective. The NACCE committee is currently gathering a substantial amount of information that suggests that pupils achieve higher and behave better when they are more engaged in creative activities.
The connection between creativity and effective teaching will more than likely be fully explored in the future. Since the NACCE report, creativity has been a debated topic in education and it is likely to remain this way.
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