Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Creative education - a difficult task!

This is a title of a book that celebrates creative teachers in the UK who have had hard times trying to survive under the oppression of an imposed technocratic National Curriculum.

Creative New Zealand teachers, or at least those who would like to be more creative than they are 'allowed', will feel sympathy for such teachers.

All is not lost however, there remain teachers who have done their best to stick to their principles in response to Government and accountability pressures.

Creative teaching is the antithesis of the approach represented by National Curriculums no matter what country you teach in - a look at a range of them will illustrate that they are all based on the same technocratic ideology. Even the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum , a much improved model, will still restrict true creativity and innovation as the technocratic learning objectives have not gone away. As one commentator said, 'it remains a game of two halves' and its success will depend on which game you play!

Creative education is an art form - aesthetic, intuitive and expressive. It represent how life unfolds taking advantage of 'learn able' or 'teachable' moments. This is the sort of teaching we now need to combat the current idea that all learning can be planned, with prior goals, intentions and criteria; by using exemplars; and by a heavy handed emphasis on giving feedback to students. Such ideas, used lightly are an improvement but they will only result in, at best mediocre, thinking. Creativity requires more subtle approach.

Creativity requires that teacher values students ideas, questions, concerns, feelings and emotions by creating an atmosphere that stimulates students' curiosity and imagination.

What we need now, as we leave preplanned industrial thinking and move into a new age of creativity, are teachers with the courage to develop such a creative learning environment.

Such a movement should be based on every students right to develop their innate idiosyncratic set of gifts talents and passions. Perhaps this is the thought behind the now, often used phrase, 'personalised learning'?

A model already exists if one is to observe the creativity and curiosity of students in their early years - young people ( if in the right environment) happily working at the edge of their competence ( Jerome Bruner) making it up as they go along. They use , what some scientists call, 'enlightened trial and error'; keeping what works and applying what they have learnt 'next time'. If these students have supportive and enlightened parents they will get all the support and feed back they need - and their 'mistakes' will be celebrated as they move towards achieving such wonderful skills as walking and talking. And, as they learn, they absorb appropriate behaviours just by simply being in such a rich learning culture.

When they get to school they learn that creativity is no longer the name of the game. Adults now know best and learning is now to be determined and 'measured' by others. The agency for their own learning is whittled away by well meaning teachers and 'their' curriculums will inevitably lead , for some students whose learning needs do not match their teachers plans , to future disengagement and alienation.

With this in mind it was interesting to recently read a comment by Benjamin Bloom who, after he had carried out a study of exceptional people, said, 'great talent is less an individual trait than a creation of an environment and encouragement'. He continued, 'we were looking for exceptional kids and what we found were exceptional conditions.'

Creativity and talent depends on environments that are stimulating, full of things to interest students, and multiple opportunities to explore and express their ideas.

It seems we have based our current approach to teaching on a misconception. Those who teach need to think hard about what kind of people they hope their students will become and then to create the conditions to best develop such individuals. If we want resourceful, imaginative, inventive and ethical citizens, able to make worthwhile contributions to the problem that face us then the answers are obvious -except to those who determine the structures and programmes of our current schools.

If we were to develop such creative learning environments the role of the teacher would have to change. The teachers role is to assist their students in their life long learning adventure not to get in their way with 'our' curriculums. As Jerome Bruner wrote, the creative teachers role is 'the canny art of intellectual temptation.'

Such beliefs would transform our classrooms. The attitudes and skills students bring with them would become the beginning of an ever evolving, or emerging, curriculum, where students would be appreciated for what they can do, demonstrate or express. Creativity not conformity would rule!

Students ought to have the right for their creative thoughts and expression valued and in the process their gifts and talents developed.

Such a creative approach to education would make teaching the most creative and sort after career of all. Such an approach would contribute to a new vision of what humans could become - people who are valued for their imagination, resilience, sensitivity, and ethical considerations.

Such an enlightened vision of education would make schools into our greatest achievement of all times; centres to develop a new consciousness of what being human could be - people who are able to add to the social and intellectual capital of society

As we enter what some are calling the 'Second Renaissance',or 'The Age of Creativity'; it would seem we have no choice.

At least creative teachers could make a start.


Anonymous said...

So what would you expect to see in a creative classroom?

Anonymous said...

There is no doubt you are right Bruce.

Creative teachers have never had it easy ,this is the price one pays for being an innovator in any field, but it has been all but impossible the last decade or so -ever since those technocratic curriculums were introduced that rile you so much!

There is a feeling that things might change with the 'new' curriculum but it might equally be just relief that things will not be so difficult from now on.If this is the case then creative teachers will be needed more than ever.

The vital realisatiion for teachers to comprehend is that their students do not need them to provide their learning for them but that their role is to create curiosity filled situations to release the creativity that lies within every learner.

This has aways been what drives creative teachers and what upsets more conformist teachers who see their role as suppliers of learning.

In this respect 'soft' child centred primary teachers and 'know it all' secondary subject teacher are both wrong.

Your defintion of true creativity is right on - inspiration fueled by curiosity, hard work, messiness and perserverance, until some adequate , if temporary, realisation is achieved. An evolving process continually pushing boundaries of known knowledge.

Bruce said...

The 'new'('back to the future') curriculum does provide an opportunity for teachers to add their creativity to the mix in comparison to the drivel that we have had to put up with the past decade or so .Ironic that we are being 'saved' by the very people that have put us through the hoops! My experience tells me that no one puts a curriculum document into practice the way it was designed, which is great. All official curriculums do do is hold up, or encourage, innovation - creative teachers are the real key to change.