Creativity isn’t a dark art



What does it mean to be creative? What exactly is creativity? If you search these two questions on the internet you will receive 267,000 results and 94,600 results respectively. If you check the same out on Twitter you can find ongoing discussions revolving around each question almost on a daily basis. Tonight has been one such night. David Didau (@learningspy) posted the following blog post 

The dark art of creativity

It created quite a stir, to say the least. 
As you might be aware, I now teach in Early Years. I can safely say that every day I encounter creativity.  There are 25 children in my class yet I can guarantee that every one of them will experience or directly create a creative moment every day. Young children are highly creative, their imaginations know no bounds. They say what they want, they will do what they want when they want and these outcomes are all creative. Early Years is filled with such creative moments, and as many creative moments are captured to give teachers a better understanding of every child’s needs. I base my planning on these moments and react to them instantly or as quickly as possible. Creativity in the Early Years is as common as plankton in our oceans. 
So why do other teachers argue about the loss of creativity throughout the rest of a child’s education? Does it mysteriously fade away due to natural causes or does the education system have no time for it, or worse, seek to eradicate it? 
After considering various definitions for creativity, I’m going with this – Creativity is the use of imagination or original ideas. There are many possibilities that we could use this creativity for, you may even disagree on the definition I have used so please feel free to provide your own but for the sake of this post, creativity is the use of imagination or original ideas. 
In primary school, children have many original and imaginative ideas. But do these creative moments fit into a school’s expectations? Do we take the risk of following through with a child’s creativity or do we stick rigidly to the given curriculum so as to meet our performance management targets? Do we constantly worry that children aren’t creative anymore or do we ensure they understand and can use the basics in Maths and English which will lead to many of them finding that creative spark once again?

There is a balance. Creativity can be encouraged whilst still meeting the targets imposed upon us by SMT and your own expectations. All it takes is courage. It’s not that difficult. Feel free to deny a child’s creativity in your comments below and please do read David’s post

If we really want children to be more creative we must feed their imaginations. We need to teach them stuff before we can expect them to question and criticise. We need to show them how ideas coalesce into something useful before they we start seeing their own connections. And we need to give them rules if we want to give them something to kick against and escape from. Constraints force creativity: freedom stifles it.


That’s made me think, creatively 😉 
Advertisements

Do schools unwittingly stifle imagination and creativity?

My first week in Foundation Stage has been a great beginning in my Early Years journey. I have been amazed at the creative imaginations that young children have compared to their elder peers further up in the primary stage, so much so it’s made me think just what is it that stifles those incredible, imaginative and creative minds.

I observed children creating worlds from a corner of an empty room, attacking a blank page with no hesitation or fear and filling it with beautiful imagery, talking out loud and singing in front of their class, asking pertinent questions and giving wonderful answers, telling stories, giving explanations, using reasoning, trying without fear of making a mistake.

These observations are just a few of the many eye openers I’ve seen; I will no doubt witness more and continue to contemplate why children and their imaginations are being stifled in Primary school.

Creativity is like finding a corner in a round room, it’s there if you use your imagination. Schools do a great job hiding those corners.

Leashes not required

Leashes not required


For the past 3 weeks I have been personalising every child’s learning in my class. I use a weekly plan which is made up of Literacy and Numeracy targets specifically chosen by me so that the child can work towards these during the week. Every child is given the opportunity to add further targets which they feel will make a difference to their learning. These targets are taken from the Year 4 EoY targets for both Literacy and Numeracy. Children also have the opportunity to create their own ‘Most Important’ target for that week and a Personal Journey (PJ) which is Project Based Learning.

I have noted distinct and measurable improvements in every child’s learning since their introduction 3 weeks ago, for example, this week every child in my class has met or surpassed their numeracy targets. Each child is now responsible for their learning and the PJ inspires them to focus on the learning that will move them forward. This personalisation allows me more time to focus on teaching specific skills to many more children than I would otherwise have taught using a centre stage approach where I would stand at the front introducing and explaining for 10-15 minutes to the whole group before allowing them to show their understanding.

The use of a PJ has become my weekly plan. I do not blindly follow units of work or prescribed schemes as these have been written as guides and not as a step by step teaching method. I use National Curriculum objectives to focus on specific learning targets for every child. In this way children in my class may end up working on various mathematical concepts during any one lesson.

My TA has found using the PJ’s more beneficial as they have helped her focus on the needs of every child as she can refer to the PJ at any time.

Lesson times are now blended into one another and there have been occasions where some children have worked on Numeracy whilst others have been focusing on improving a Literacy target. The children are more focused, their learning is improving, targets are being met and in the next few weeks I will use written assessments to measure progress against my own professional judgements. That’s when many of the readers of this blog, my colleagues and other educators and parents will discover if a personalised approach is beneficial to developing, promoting and extending learning.

Many thanks to artfulscribe for use of the image

Innovating learning requires innovating the classroom too


I have always liked moving classroom furniture around, mixing up tables, moving bookshelves along with reorganising the learners in the room too. I usually do this at the start of every term as a way of shaking off the last term and starting afresh, a new perspective and for some, a new partner to work alongside. But recently I have realised that not much has actually changed, the classroom is basically still the same. The mode of learning has remained focused at designated tables. I decided that if I wanted to continue looking at innovating teaching and learning I also had to innovate my classroom too.

The word classroom can be defined as a place where teaching and learning occur. It can be indoors which is normally the case or outside. Today it can even be on your PC or mobile device. Yet in almost every school we see classrooms very much alike – chairs will be grouped around tables or in rows so that each learner can clearly see the teacher who is usually at the front of the room. Victorian classrooms were not much different and we have all heard the the tale that a Victorian teacher would no likely feel very comfortable in classrooms today. That’s why I threw the ‘classroom organisation rule book out the window and have tried to innovate my classroom layout as much as I try to innovate teaching and learning.


The room is now our Learning Zone and there are no pre-seating arrangements. My class are free to move around, sit with whomever they wish at any time and, if they so wish, pop outdoors for some fresh air and a quick ‘chill out’ session if needed. The Learning Zone is divided into 5 areas.
  1. Discussion and Thinking Zone – Learners can drop in whenever they wish to talk about their learning, find solutions, help each other and just to think and chill out. It’s also still the area where my class gathers for a whole group focus or an additional Creation/Show Off zone.
  2. Discovery Zone – There are 2 of these although one is missed off the top of the image. These contain laptops, pc’s and other technology that the learners can use to guide them on their learning, discover answers, investigate and solve problems, collaborate on projects and create presentations.
  3. Show Off Zone – This is where the learners focus on discoveries they have made and demonstrate their understanding through writing, presentation, art work, display whatever medium they wish to present their work.
  4. Repeat Level – This has evolved from my use of Gamification of learning and an approach that my class enjoy. Whenever any learner requires help, advice, explanations and is ‘stuck’ this is the area they come to repeat the learning so they can move to the next level.
  5. Creation Zone – Creating content for use in their learning, creating presentations to demonstrate learning, blogging, refining, editing. It happens here and it’s usually very busy.
I have used this arrangement for one week and both my class and I prefer it to any other organisation we have created. Feedback from my class has been extremely positive

I prefer this because we can move around and sit with anyone we want….You can work anywhere you want which is better than sitting in the same chair all day….I can do my work better now

This adaption has come about because I have started a personalised learning approach with my class this term too. During the Christmas holidays I came across Doug Belshaw’s Daily Planner V2 which he created to help him and others to plan their day. This plan only needed a little editing to use with my own class so after checking that I could use Doug’s idea (it’s CC licenced) I created the Personal Journey (PJ) for every learner to use. A PJ lasts for one week and can be continued if required. Each learner receives their PJ on a Monday morning with Numeracy and Literacy targets and the Most Important area added by myself. The personal area is for every learner to complete and this is done during the morning before we start the day. Learners can add to this section during the week and there are areas where I, or the learner, can add steps to take in the next PJ as well as a section to add thoughts about the week. There is also an area each learner can use to collect their discoveries made during the learning journey. The PJ needs tweaking but like any plan it is a working document.
My planning has now become their learning journey. It is no longer trapped in a file, hard drive or online. It’s there for every individual in the learning zone. PJ’s allow every learner to move through their journey at their own pace so some PJ’s have had additional targets added where others have remained the same.
How has this changed my teaching approach?
I no longer do whole class introductions unless it’s a vital part of the learning journey for the whole group.
I have to move around as I don’t have a table or chair.
I can focus on targeting every learner.
I don’t follow a timetable anymore.
I am incredibly excited using this approach and I will add further posts over the next few weeks as our Learning Zone becomes our new classroom.

Cross curricular gamified learning

Over the next 2 weeks I will be using a collaborative working plan based on the story of Santa being lost as part of my gamified learning in the classroom. I started the plan using Google Docs and posted a link to it on Twitter, within half an hour the plan had grown to 5 pages of cross curricular ideas and activities. You can acces the doc and add your own ideas to the plan here.

To begin the week I used the following presentation. The first slide takes time to work out but my class got there after a few questions and answers. One thing you must try to do is to take a step back, do not rush in with answers. Let the learners find the solution, give them time. Let them finish their ideas and accept every idea as part of the solution because even incorrect answers will help find the correct one. I decided to put ( ) around the 2 numbers and that did the trick, immediately a lot of voices told me the numbers must be coordinates. So off they went to find were the coordinates would lead to. They found Santa was on Henderson Island part of the Pitcairn Islands , located in the South Pacific Ocean. It’s very remote so Santa truly needed their help. The next slides let them think first about what items they would take from the list to help Santa survive. They had to discuss with each other why they would take certain items and I listened in to many interesting suggestions e.g. Santa really needs to take the chocolate because he can not only eat it, he can make a drink out of it so that’s two out of one! Many of the children automatically wanted to build rafts but after looking closely at their Google Map they thought it might be better to sit tight on the island until help arrived.

Searching formed a huge part of the challenge, children had to use search strings to find specific information that could help them decide what to do to help Santa. Wikipedia articles were quickly scanned for important information and shared with the groups. Each group went off on different though flows to begin with and even after collaborating with each other, many stayed on their original courses with just a little variation. One group is convinced that Santa can survive a journey by raft to Pitcairn Island so tomorrow my additional challenge to them is working out how long that journey might take.

Towards the end of the morning one group hit on a fantastic idea. They had been using the Google Map to decide if using a raft would be a good idea but then hit on staying on the island until help arrived. Why? I asked. One girl in the group called me over to demonstrate how she had used Google Maps photo layers to discover that there were quite a few photos taken of the island by visitors on boats! She quickly came to the conclusion that the islands were actually not as remote as first thought and used another search online to discover visitpitcairn. It was an exciting moment as it was one area of Google maps that I had not shown to the class but obviously one learner had. She quickly demonstrated her skill to others and very soon everyone was using the photos plugin of Google Maps to view the photos themselves.

A mystery awaitshttp://static.slidesharecdn.com/swf/ssplayer2.swf?doc=amysteryawaits-111128134554-phpapp01&stripped_title=a-mystery-awaits&userName=kvnmcl

View more presentations from Kevin McLaughlin.


Every day I use the gamified approach I am more convinced it is a wonderful method of inspiring children’s curiosity and develop their creative problem solving. With today’s emphasis on assessments for learning, testing for league tables, ‘playing the game’ to stay off Ofsted’s radar, gamifying your learning may be risky to some but it is certainly worth it.