I had the opportunity this week of attending a course held by the ‘Arts Council of Wales’ for leading creative schools.
It was a wonderful feeling to be able to discuss, to enact and learn about the impact of the creative Classroom. Perhaps the most telling question of the whole two days was,
‘What is creativity?’
The obvious answer would be a list of the arts. Music, dance, design and art itself however such a simple list would totally miss the point of the training. We were introduced to the five habits of mind. Although I vaguely recall reading about them briefly, I hadn’t really understood or considered the powerful impact that it could have in the classroom.
Winchester University have developed an easy to read PDF file detailing their findings,
On the second day of the course, we had to create a spider graph and place where we were on our own creative journey by choosing a number between 1 and 5 on the graph. Here is the first habit of mind:
1. Inquisitive. Clearly creative individuals are good at uncovering and pursing interesting
and worthwhile questions in their creative domain.
Wondering and questioning
Exploring and investigating
The inquisitive classroom is in my opinion essential. Not only questioning but investigating, exploring and discovering an answer. Many of us have read and taught ‘We are going on a bear hunt’ and the simple task of taking pupils on a journey around the school can often open their minds to a new understanding of the space in which they work. On a different level, one of my favourite lessons (it was graded excellent by ESTYN many moons ago), is to hide small Doctor Who figures in a block of ice and ask the question how can the Doctor escape? This is or was a Year 1 Science lessons. By setting a problem, questioning, discussion and wonderment were the key ingredients of the lesson. The pupils took over and created their own speed to the investigation.
I doubt many teachers would argue against inquisitive from a pupil perspective but I would also argue, especially after the training, that we must never forget to be inquisitive as teachers. We must always be considering our own practise e.g. do our lessons provide sufficient space for being inquisitive or is it too prescriptive?
An excellent lesson often involves a journey of discovery and totally engages the learners.
2. Persistent. Ever since Thomas Edison first made the remark
This section has been repeatedly emphasized.
Sticking with difficulty
Daring to be different
I must admit my favourite Edison quote is,
Both quotes deal with persistence. A determination to succeed. In Welsh we say, ‘Dal ati’ or ‘Dyfal Barhau’.
In the modern world, persistence is a key value that possibly isn’t taught sufficiently at home or in school. As teachers, we can often be persistent in our drive to achieve the best for our pupils. The sub definition that really made me think the most is tolerating uncertainty.
A good school can be defined as understanding that strong structures and systems have to be in place to provide consistency and confidence in the approach to teaching however on reflection, an excellent school would definitely tolerate uncertainty. By allowing yourself to take a risk means that you are prepared for the unknown. It is the unknown factor that often takes a lesson from good to excellent. It is hard to define, it is an X factor where you as the facilitator allowing the pupils to take a lesson on a journey in their direction rather than sticking to a rigid model.
I dread to count how many times I have failed but teachers are prone to remember failure we are not very good at reflecting on our success. A great teacher will often take many risks and will also know that not everything will work but sometimes it is the journey that you take that is important in the classroom. This leads us neatly to the third habit of mind.
3. Imaginative. At the heart of a wide range of analyses of the creative personality is the ability to come up with imaginative solutions and possibilities.
Playing with possibilities
I have never been very patient when building a jigsaw. I would prefer to create my own pictures rather than sticking to the strict parameters of which shape fits where. It prevents imaginative solutions (although it could be argued that I lack patience and I’m not determined enough to reach the end). In a recent Inset at my school we discussed the possibility that has been provided in Wales with the introduction of ‘Successful Futures’. We began to make connections with our own practise in the classroom and considered how our present teaching methods including planning could allow for greater flexibility.
When I was working in a School Resource Base, the pupils had a wide range of needs but one thing stood out, they were ready to play with possibilities. I wanted to teach them about solids and liquids (all teachers with responsibility for healthy schools please stop reading now) and I asked the question, which chocolate would be best for a picnic? The aim was to consider which chocolate didn’t melt as much as the others. Intuition was the first stage in the lesson as we tried to predict the results and we definitely played with a number of possibilities. If anyone is interested, here was the result of our investigation on melting,
As teachers we are continually dealing with situations that require us to act by using our intuition. When a child presents certain challenges we can often make connections to similar experiences and thus find a way forward.
One of my favourite songs is ‘Pure Imagination ‘ from the original film of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’.
In Cardiff this weekend we will be celebrating 100 years of Roald Dahl. If ever an artist proved how the world of imagination can open the mind to a world of discovery, it was Roald Dahl!
4. Collaborative. Many current approaches to creativity, such as that of John-Steiner (John-Steiner, 2006),stress the social and collaborative nature of the creative process.
Sharing the product
Giving and receiving feedback
When we were all trying to decide what level we were, an interesting discussion began relating to feedback and how well the pupils respond but the discussion also expanded to include feedback after classroom observations. Perhaps as School leaders, we need to be more imaginative in our approach.
We are developing the idea of ‘Rich Tasks’ in my school. They are simply an opportunity to develop assessment opportunities through setting a task e.g. making and selling coasters, planning, making and participating in a Victorian afternoon tea party. Both examples involved the pupils in designing or creating a product. Collaborative working and learning was key to the success of the task and ultimately feed back was given by peers not specifically on the final product but by discussing the way forward as the design evolved.
5. Disciplined. As a counterbalance to the ‘dreamy’, imaginative side of creativity, there is a need for knowledge and craft in shaping the creative product and in developing expertise.
Crafting and improving.
I suppose the rich task would again be an example of the importance of developing a variety of techniques and the learning journey involved much reflection and the need to improve certain aspects.
To be disciplined is not a term that is immediately applied to what is deemed a creative person however the commitment to complete a picture, write a poem, create a film is immense. Discipline is therefore a key aspect of the creative process. Does discipline mean rules for the classroom?
I believe that parameters of accepted behaviour within a classroom is important as long as they have been agreed by all pupils. An atmosphere of respect for each other creates an atmosphere within which critical reflection can take place.
Teachers never stop learning. We can often be too critical and constantly striving for better but sometimes we have to reflect on what we do well and use the good work as a spring board to greater success.
To teach is to learn
To learn is to enjoy
Pupils of every age!
The course has been a wonderful journey of creativity. Is it possible to create a creative Classroom? Yes, a definite YES! We simply need to be ready to go on a creative roller coaster ride that will sometimes dip, overwhelm your mind with ideas but will often lead to the greatest highs.
I’m looking forward to developing a project at my School that will set our staff and pupils on the road to understanding the five habits of mind. Diolch goes to the Arts Council of Wales for the training and to the trainers for their knowledge and enthusiasm.