It shouldn’t be controversial to assert that our children should learn both subject knowledge and skills at school, but, sadly, these are contentious times.
Bill Lucas and Ellen Spencer have delivered an incredibly clear and practical handbook for all those in education, but most importantly for teachers. This book is a veritable pedagogical treasure trove for those who want children to think creatively and who appreciate that this is a skill that can be taught.
Creative thinking is set to be the focus of the 2021 Pisa test, which is not, in itself, any reason for us to develop a(nother) new curriculum. However, Lucas and Spencer’s research is influencing international curriculum and assessment. Even though we can feel our world shrinking post-Brexit, now is as seminal a moment as any to ensure our children can compete across any borders. The research cited is unapologetically international. This is about world-class teaching and learning, not a curriculum cemented into any one nation.
The division between subject knowledge and skills is a false one. Lucas and Spencer make this clear throughout, which tells you something about the climate in education.
Structurally, Teaching Creative Thinking is methodical. It opens with a polemical assessment of where education has found itself, how the role of schools is changing and why cultivating capabilities within young people is so important.
This is reinforced in the following section, where a research-flavoured potted history of creative thinking is presented, as is exposition as to why teaching this capability matters.
To be fair, the first act of the book did feel a little like Lucas and Spencer preaching to the converted. However, it should also shore up those more sceptical of anything other than ramming facts into compliant children.
Their second act is a patient and thorough guide to how these capabilities can be coached and grown in all learners. Chunking more complex ideas into small chapters and sections will enable the busiest or tired teacher to absorb immense ideas in one bite. They blend effective historical research with its more contemporaneous counterpart, to provide a starting point for teachers.
Examples and activities
The examples provided throughout this middle section of the book are taken from different countries, different phases and different subjects, but they use the hook and lure of the lesson starter, because they grab learners’ attention.
Suggested activities, along with an explanation of how these activities develop children’s creative thinking, are plentiful. Many of the activities outlined are have become well-used tools of the trade, trusted because I know they elicit brilliant reactions from learners. However, for some of these, I had long forgotten their pedagogical purpose and have perhaps used them only superficially in the classroom. This book enabled me to reflect more deeply on the why.
Established approaches such as philosophy for children and mantle of the expert are given as examples, as well as ways of phrasing better-quality questions, scaffolding group activities, developing resilience in learners and getting them to reflect on their own learning.
The range is expansive – everything from early years to further education – and there are plenty of new ideas that are presented so that one can dip in for inspiration or delve deep for greater inventiveness.
The final act provides short yet focused case studies from schools across the globe. Our Lady of Victories Primary in Keighley has only two pages for its “skills-led curriculum, sense of adventure and themed ‘wonder weeks’”. A chapter on Australia’s Victoria Curriculum and Assessment Authority studies its “support for schools to develop signature pedagogies and innovative approaches to assessment of capabilities” in three pages. It left me wishing for a brave English local authority or multi-academy trust to do the same. Within each chapter is a summary of the key learning points.
Dry research does wonders for my insomnia. This is not that book. Lucas and Spencer have provided well-evidenced solutions for an important element of modern education. It is an immensely practical guide and is suitable for all teachers – except those for whom creativity is pedagogical indulgence and superfluous debauchery.
Keziah Featherstone is co-founder and national leader for #WomenEd. She is a member of the Headteachers Roundtable and an experienced school leader. She tweets @keziah70