Friday, April 08, 2011

Creative education - the only alternative to current formulaic teaching

My well worn copy of Elwyn Richardson's inspirational book.Every creative teacher should acquire one -available from NZCER $22. Excellent value - it won't show how to do it but it will show you what can be done if you focus on valuing your students 'voice', lives and discoveries, and are prepared to work along side your students rather than 'teaching' them. As Elwyn writes 'they were my teachers as I was theirs, and the basis of our relationship was sincerity, without which, I am convinced , there can be no creative education'.

In my copy of the book I found the below article. I thought it worth sharing and have only slightly adapted it.It was first sent out in the 1970s to local schools by the Art and Craft Branch - in the days when advisers were advisers not Ministry delivery boys!

Thoughts about creative teaching.

Making things is an important and necessary phase of primary education. Further more it is natural for children It arouses and stimulates immediate and enlarging interests. The whole child pours into the effort and surrenders completely to the task. Teachers rarely see this sustained concentration in other areas of the curriculum.

The willing involvement of the learner is only the beginning of what is gained by such intense application. By making things important abilities are developed:

the ability to imagine
to feel
to summon the inventive mind to create
to discover the confidence to overcome obstacles
and to achieve, under helpful guidance, a piece of finished work that gives pleasure to the learner.

The creative process of making things is practice in what is man's chief accomplishment: the prolonged control of mind and body in making something that is considered worthy of his peer group.

The greater variety of materials with which the children have experience, the greater is their confidence of their ability to express ideas.

Children have two languages, the one they use and the more adult vocabulary which they understand but do not normally apply. However, as teachers talk to them about work that absorbs their complete attention, they quickly find the need for using a more mature speech. They may come to this in time but by making things, but with competent and friendly guidance their language growth speeds up. Developing skills in using such words, as they explain or inquire, becomes a necessity. In such a learning environment children move naturally into a swift acceptance of more mature language use.

A maturity of bearing comes to the student through such activities. The things the teacher has to offer have been around all the time but teachers help students really see them and learn to use them. This is the teacher's job but the teachers reward comes not entirely from skills that appear but from the gradual transformation of child-like, and even childish, behaviour into something finer - the control of thoughtless impulses and the quiet persistence that learners achieve as they work towards achieving well conceived goals.

In every school activity there are things to make. For example children involved in a colonial history study might learn about the importance of candles as one of the main sources of light. Out of this appreciation they learn how to make candles, make them, and later try them out in a dark room. In this way they can imaginatively enter, or gain a feeling for, the experience of the settlers they are studying. Their in-depth research might lead them to writing original songs, diaries, making water wheels, windmills and, by so doing, recapture something of the experience of those early settlers.

Children by this means practice some of the 'new' kinds of learning- experience -learning- research learning- sharing learning -learning though imagination - and invention and experimentation.This is creative education.

Such learning not only develop language facility but also results in:

the rapid absorption of mature attitudes
strong absorbing interests
the emergence of self initiated ideas
and a final product which provide learners with the confidence to try new things.

Wherever this kind of creative teaching is found it is evident that the teacher's main contribution is their own enthusiasm as co-learners.

Quality learning is not possible without a creative teacher. Through subtle directing the teacher keeps the whole activity going. Teachers show, through honesty and without flattery, their admiration for high personal achievement. They are patient with the slow learners and do not give approval to work that is shoddy. Quite often teachers withhold assistance to children in difficulty when they sense that the learner is working in the right direction sensing and will eventually achieve success through application and persistence.

The teacher's use of language, their confidence in the worth of students efforts ideas make such teachers a positive influencing personality in the classroom. Such teachers are at work all the time but their pupils may never be aware of it.

The spirit of the article above is what has driven me over the years and it is sad to see such creativity being sidelined by imposed by formulaic 'best practice ' teaching, and a 'Victorian' obsession with literacy and numeracy - an obsession that with imposition of National Standard will all but destroy such creative teachers.

I have faith that creative teachers will continue in these dark reactionary times and that creativity will once again be seen as the only way to the future.


Anonymous said...

Oh for the days when advisers were really advisers not the contracted mercenaries peddling 'best practices' and political quick fixes of today - life is about next practice!

Great article?

Are there any creative teachers left?

Bruce Hammonds said...

It has never been easy for really creative teachers but it is sure difficult today -I however do know of some that are continuing against considerable pressure - most coming from within the school.

Allan Alach said...

Great article, Bruce. Will share it to the staff in the hope it lights someone's fire. Sadly I tend to agree with Anonymous - where are the creative teachers who ignore WALTs, or formulaic writing e.g teaching how to write procedures, which I came across this week (and which left me speechless), or art work that is original and creative and not merely a reproduction of a famous artist, or the copying a template supplied by the teacher so we end up with 30 near identical bears, or mathematics creatively used in real life contexts, and so on. Have we already lost?

Debra said...

A child educated only at school is an uneducated child.
~ George Santayana

These are all great ideas, but are teachers in the school system, under intense pressure to meet state standards, able to find time to implement creative methods of learning? With the current obsession with literacy and numeracy, how can this ever happen?

Anonymous said...

NZ Creative teachers are still there but they have to think and work smarter to work within and survive the current system

Dialogue and relationship with students are the key for successful learning to happen .Making connections is the way forward
Testing can be done by tehnicians without any training

How will this improve student learning if they are alresdy disengaged and have failed in the system .NZ lead the world with creative education and still does but the world will move forward at the expense of Kiwi kids forced to conform currently under a narrow system .They are bored and see no relevance to their learning with their personal lives

We need to see the big picture in education in NZ and build on students strengths and expertise
Students need to build on their strengths for self esteem
The new NZC had so much to offer re local content and authentic contxt but it is now lost
How did this happen
How csn creative teacher support each other now? and their students ?

Jody said...

A very wise comment was made to me a few weeks ago ... 'Demonstrate what you value'.
If I say I value creativity, flexible thinking, risk taking, co-operation, collaboration etc etc etc for my students then as a classroom teacher I MUST demonstrate this. This does not always make learning fit neatly into the 'time frames' I have planned, or even head in the direction I have expected. This is when I can feel overwhelmed, like a failure as a teacher and like my 'quirky style' (yep that has been said to me several times in the last few weeks - I don't think my style is quirky!) may be 'WRONG'. Then I try get a night of sleep and reflect on my class and wonderful learners I get to spend the day with and really see if I am demonstrating what I value - each child deserves my best, I do not have the right to waste their time.

So ... going into the next term planning I have to make sure I have planned experience that allow for creativity, diversity, flexibility and change, require risk taking, co-operation and collaboration ... then I will sleep well.