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Creativity for control freaks

Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: Creative Wilf!

During my training we had an art day where we had access to all the media and equipment covered in the art curriculum. I went from clay to pastels to paint, producing blob after splurge. Tutors struggled to find positives to the point where one said: "You've managed to not get any on your clothes."

This memory sticks with me as I expose pupils to different creative media.

Not everything will result in revelation for everyone.

There's something about a pupil showing you a painting that almost compels you to affirm their efforts. I'm not saying that pupils who find painting hard shouldn't do art, any more than I would say that kids who find it hard to throw a ball shouldn't do PE, but there is a difference between participating in a lesson that will allow you to develop and practise your skills and selecting it as a method to show your understanding. I remember Joseph showing me his history, explaining who was the Saxon king and who was the farmer, only to tell me halfway through that, in fact, it was his science and the Saxon king was really a magnet and the farmer a paper clip.

Novelty value is fair enough and almost to be encouraged, but if independence is to be truly valued, pupils need to be self-aware enough to know when a piece of work accurately reflects their knowledge and when it doesn't.

One way to do this constructively is the Wilf list. Many schools now use Wilf (What I'm looking for...) in the curriculum, agreeing with children what the focus of learning and assessment is to be, so that pupils can evaluate their own learning and achievement. Using this to set expectations for creative expressions can encourage the same process in all forms of recording and pupils can see for themselves if they have chosen a good means to achieve the right end. We often do it one medium at a time so that the standards are clear before moving into new areas.

When pupils want to express understanding in paint, they know I will be looking to see if they have chosen the correct size of paper, if they have selected the right equipment and it is washed and returned. They will have completed the work in the given time and it will clearly demonstrate their learning, through annotation as to the reasons for painting if needed. This quickly filters out those who think it is the easy option. They realise it isn't easy at all if you can't do it, so they may try drama, writing, drawing, ICT, or any of the other expressions that are gradually introduced during the year.

Joseph gave some of the best oral presentations in the class that year. He worked to his WILF list by making notes, rehearsing what he was going to say and showing an awareness of audience. I'm sure they are skills he will continue to develop. His show at the Royal Academy will have to wait.

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester. Write to

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