Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Do we really believe in creativity?

Art work created by a students in the class of New Zealand's most creative teacher Elwyn Richardson in the 1950s. Elwyn's school was centred on helping students realize their various talents through environmental studies, the arts, creative and descriptive language. His 'curriculum' 'emerged' out of the felt experiences of the students themselves. Time to return to such teaching? Elwyn's inspirational book 'In the early World' is still available today from the NZCER.

Developing students creativity is the real challenge of the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum.

The curriculum presents a vision of a future learner as being 'confident' and 'creative', as 'active seekers, users, and creators of knowledge'. A vision that requires learners to have their 'talents recognised and affirmed'; where 'intellectual curiosity is at the heart' of learning; with students who 'are able to reflect on their own learning processes and to learn how to learn'. Students, the 'new' curriculum states, will be involved in 'making meaning and creating meaning' in all areas of the curriculum.

Creative students, the curiculum states, will need to develop the 'resilience' and 'confidence to take risks' as they 'learn to use their imagination' to 'generate multiple interpretations'. Schools in turn are encouraged to develop creative curriculums 'in response to the particular needs, interests, and talents' of their students.

A great vision but are schools up to it?

If we want to develop confident creative students then we first need to develop confident create teachers. Developing this capacity must be the ultimate role of the principal and, in turn, those who work within the Ministry.

The trouble is that both teachers and principals have been progressively moved into the background over the past two decades and the Ministry is more known for requiring compliance rather than creativity.

Developing system wide creativity will require courage at all levels.

So what is creativity? It certainly isn't obsessive planning, goal setting , teaching intentions or pre-determined criteria - all these 'best practices' 'deliver' conformity and mediocrity.

Creative people have the confidence to trust their intuitions and hunches, to switch between conscious thinking and tapping unconscious thoughts. Young children are more adept at thinking creativity, able to make interesting connections, than adults because their frontal lobes ( the area of conscious thinking' and judgement) is less developed.

Creativity is more a 'right brained' activity accepting unfocused ambiguous thoughts, open to ideas that the more logical 'left brain' would ignore. Creative people like poets, and artists and creative scientists, are more open to their experiences. The secret of creativity is to be able to access both left and right brain thinking, to suppress prejudgement until ideas have been developed. At this point is the time to be more judgemental, to sort out ideas to work on. Creative individuals, however, remain open to serendipitous moments at all times. Creative ideas, it seems, 'pop into our heads out of the blue'.

Some of us are just too inhibited. And it seems we learn this aversion to 'risk taking' at an early age.

This 'risk averse' attitude is unconsciously picked up by the 'messages' given to us by our environment including teachers, principals, and students teachers. And of course the Ministry and the Education Review Office.

To be creative teachers (and principals) need to encourage their students to think of lots of ideas ideas, to explore widely, and to uncover interesting connections, giving time for ideas to 'gel', without making judgements. Being creative mean trying things out and keeping what works; an attitude of 'enlightened trial and error'.

All this 'messy thinking' inspirational thinking is in contrast with logical left brain of with its adherence to the well worn safe path of planning.

When ideas move into the elaboration stage of creativity is the time for the brain to behave differently , to be more selective and and purposeful to ensure ideas are actioned.

Creative people know when to dream and when to shape up.

To be creative a school needs a creative principal prepared to allow ideas to emerge and be given fair trial before rushing in to ask for evidence to prove its worth. The same environment is required in the classroom for students.

Such a learning environment requires caring relationships between all involved and lots of 'learning conversations'.

It will require real leadership to provide both the security for teachers to feel free to take learning risks and to negotiate, with all concerned, a clear sense of direction to focus the creativity.

To achieve this the purpose of the school needs to be clear to all involved. Everyone needs to believe in the vision of their school as a place where all students can be helped to become confident and creative learners; where all students can see themselves as their own 'active seekers, users, and creators' of their own learning.

It will require a lot of 'mind changing' to achieve such a vision but it can be , and is, being done, in schools that have the wit and the imagination to trust their own creativity.


Anonymous said...

I think there has been a lot of innovation around ICT but little of this has resulted in in depth student creativity.Teachers have been working in a depressing compliance environment for so long that their creativity is at risk. The 'new' New Zealand Curriculum gives them an opportunity to be creative if they have any energy left.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā kōrua!

Bruce, I concur with what you say here.

I wonder that we understand how important creativity is at all levels in education. I also wonder that we understand how important it is to foster creativity at all levels in education.

It's all very well telling teachers that they should foster creativity in the classroom. I think it is as important, if not more so, that the authorities recognise that creativity must be fostered at all hierarchical levels within education. That goes all the way up through senior teachers, heads of departments and principals, to ERO and the Ministry, not forgetting NZQA.

@anonymous - "a depressing compliance environment". It depressed me even more when I read it. A curriculum should be a liberating thing, not a constraint. It needs to address what learning is about. I find it hard to look at the ‘experts’ for guidance. Experts brought us to the broken model we are in.

Ka kite anō
from Middle-earth

Bruce Hammonds said...

I think all pre-determined curriculums put creativity at risk - the more prescriptive the more risk. Ought not curriculum 'emerge' out of the interests , concerns, and issues that impinge on student's lives? Particularly if 'learning how to learn' is now so important along with the importance of amplifying every student's talents.

Ka kite ano