Carol Read: Creative Teaching, Creative Learning. (Tuesday 20th March 2012, IATEFL Glasgow)
To be creative is to get on a roll with an idea. You experience “flow” or the positive harnessing of emotions in pursuit of a goal or outcome. It is with this thought that Carol Read opened her extremely creative session on creative teaching and learning.
Carol went on to discuss the necessity of a frame work in order to create. A framework, she said, is energising and liberating: without one, we become lethargic and uninspired. She supported this with a quote from David Ogilvy, “Give me the freedom of a tight brief”. Not only do we need motivation and inspiration, both of which are typically associated with creativity, but also disciplined thinking, attention to detail and effort, which may come to mind less readily in connection with the concept.
As a word, creativity has both positive and negative connotations. In the negative sense, it may seem clever but sneaky. For example, filling in expense claim forms to obtain the maximum return. While on a positive note, we think of energy and enthusiasm, thinking outside the box.
But how do people define creativity? Carol negotiated this minefield next.
The dictionary definitions, she told us, are ok but not very helpful. Take for example Macmillan’s free online dictionary:
Creativity: the ability to create new ideas or things using your imagination.
Creative: involving a lot of imagination and new ideas; someone who is creative has a lot of imagination and new ideas.
Having put forward that the dictionary did not hold the answers we were seeking, Carol shared a few quotes about creativity with us:
“Creativity is an act that produces surprise” – Jerome Bruner
“Creativity is adventurous thinking” – F Bartlett.
“Creativity is a state of mind in which all our intelligences are working together”
“Creativity is a cluster of skills which we use to come up with something new and valid” – Chaz Pugliese.
Creativity, then, is newness, excitement, something valued in its context. We all know what it is but it is difficult to describe. Carol suggested that it’s not what it is that’s important but where. That is, the interaction between creative person, social context, field or domain.
A talk on creativity would not be complete without taking a creative twist to the telling of it, or so Carol believed, and as a consequence of this, we were treated to “Princess Crystal Creative”, based on Babette Cole’s well known spoof fairytale, Princess Smartypants. In Carol’s version, the princess questioned the princes with a series of questions on creativity and each prince got one question further than the last, until finally a prince was able to answer all of the questions…
1. What’s the difference between creativity, imagination and innovation?
- Imagination: pretending, supposing, playing…
- creativity: generation of new questions, products, ideas; underpinned by imagination.
- innovation: taking creativity and applying it to the real world.
These are like layers of an onion. Imagination at the centre, followed by creativity, followed by innovation.
2. What’s the difference between big C and little c creativity?
- Big C creativity: This encompasses large ideas, paintings etc that change the world and peoples’ lives.
- Little c creativity: This is about personal effectiveness in our daily lives, the creative decisions that we make all the time. For example us delegates negotiating the conference.
In terms of teaching and learning, Big C creativity is something a student produces that is significant to their progress, which gains validation from those around i.e. teacher and peers. Little c creativity, on the other hand, is everything that is going on between us, as teachers, and the learners, and how it is constructing relevance. It is how children use little language to communicate what they want to say.
3. What is “creative teaching” and how does it differ from “teaching for creativity”?
- Creative teaching: effective teaching, using techniques to get things across creatively, thus engaging learners.
- Teaching for creativity: This is about learner empowerment, equipping learners with the skills they need to be creative themselves. The outcome or objective of a lesson that teaches for creativity is a creative product from the learners.
4. What is creative learning?
Creative learning is when learners are allowed to use imagination and experience in pursuit of learning. It’s when learners are allowed to exercise choice – both in the process and in the product. It’s when learners are involved in pedagogic decisions and in shaping the syllabus. Creative learning requires critical reflection and evaluation, learners learn to evaluate themselves, the materials and their teachers. Thus, this type of learning is a close cousin of learner autonomy, in the way that it develops metacognition and meta-skills.
5. What teaching approaches and strategies promote creativity?
Carol suggested that the following would see us on the right path:
- develop motivation and engagement
- provide a stimulus, framework and purpose
- build up self-esteem: security, identity, belonging, purpose, confidence.
- adopt an inclusive approach
- model creativity in the way you teach: be “an effective surprise”
- offer choice and foster ownership
- give personal relevance
- consider the role of questions: use open questions as well as closed; allow “think time” before students respond; value students’ questions too.
- make connections, explore and play with ideas: connect home life and school life, use different media. This opens up synapses in our brain and makes it open to possibilities.
- use “possibility thinking” e.g. “what if….” question.
- keep options open, withhold judgement, alllow brainstorming with “what”, “why”, “when” and “how” questions.
- reflect critically.
6. What are barriers to creativity?
As important to be aware of as the strategies that we can use to promote it, and in essence the opposites of all the items in question five! Carol warned us against the following:
- Too much spoon-feeding/scaffolding/help
- “Telling” vs experiential learning
- deep end discovery without structure or guidance, where students are thrown in with no rooting: if they don’t know where they are going, how are they going to get there?
- routinization: plodding through x units of a book per lesson, to the exclusion of all else
- undervaluing students’ knowledge
- fear of risk-taking
- over-crowded curriculum: 50% knowledge and 50% creative application would be preferable
- lack of space, leading to no time for creativity
- institutional and parental attitudes
- exam systems, internal or external
Finally, Carol concluded with a quote by Tim Smit:
“Every good teacher is a catalyst of creativity, a liberator. Every bad teacher creates cages.”
(To find out more about Carol Read and see some fantastic teaching ideas, visit her blog or her website for a wealth of information about teaching young learners as well as talks she has done and books/articles etc that she has had published.)