Make room for new ideas

3rd December 2004 at 00:00
All children are creative - but you need to give them a chance to express themselves, writes Robert Fisher

Across the world countries are reforming approaches to teaching and learning to prepare young people for the complex demands of the 21st century.

Creativity is being given a high priority in mainstream and special schools. But what is creativity? Why is it important? And how do we teach for creative learning?


"If I knew what creativity was I'd know if I was creative," says Jane, 10.

Creativity lies at the heart of what it means to be human. It is not just about the arts or individuals. We all have the capacity for creative thinking - for generating and extending ideas, suggesting hypotheses, applying imagination and looking for alternative, innovative outcomes.

There is no test that can assess the potential for creativity of any individual. We all have creative potential and the capacity for self-expression. Creativity relates to the whole person - the hand, the heart and the head. Creativity is about:

* Who we are - self esteem and confidence

* How we do things - creative skills and knowledge

* What we do - creative outcomes

Creativity can be exercised in any lesson. It is the buzz that comes from thinking, saying or doing things that are new or different. Psychologist Jerome Bruner defines creativity as something that produces "effective surprise", such as when a teacher says to her class at the start of a lesson: "I want you to surprise me."

Creativity remains hard to define. If we value creativity we need to speak about it, to make it evident in our documents and to engage in discussing it with colleagues and pupils. In one school, children can identify when they have been creative, what they have done that is creative, and can say what they understand by the term.

The following are some definitions given by children:

* "Creativity is stretching further on knowledge, inventing ideas to help your thinking," says Chris, 10.

* "Creative thinking is like thinking of all different objects or things in your own way," says Natasha, 10.

In another school children say creativity is something that is only to do with art. What do your pupils think creativity is? What do your colleagues think? Do they think it is important?


"I have my own way of looking at the world," says Terry, 10.

Creative thinking and activities can help children become more engaged with their learning, showing increased levels of motivation and self esteem.

Developing the capacity for creative thinking empowers children with the flexible skills they will need.

Employers are seeking a workforce of creative people who are adaptable, innovative, can solve problems and communicate well with others. The capacity for creative thinking, speaking and listening will equip children to lead more successful lives. It will help develop those habits of mind that will enable them to solve problems in their own way.

Terry, 12, says: "You need to try things in different ways so you find your own best way."

There is no conflict between fostering creativity and improving academic achievement. Inspection evidence shows that the best primary teachers place a strong emphasis on flexible teaching that focuses on the creative development of their pupils.

Creative schools plan for multi-level learning and curriculum overlapping.

They set creative objectives in addition to curriculum objectives and targets. They link learning to real life and offer children the chance to make creative choices - they know this is important for learning and for life.

Tony, 8, says: "I've got to learn to do it my way because that's what you have to do outside school, when there's no teacher or nothing to tell you."

Teaching for creative thinking and discussion can bring unexpected rewards. For example, teachers often find that children with special needs value opportunities for philosophical discussion of stories. These children are as interested in making sense of the world as their peers, but they may not have had the chance to practise asking questions and discussing ideas in a community of enquiry.

While discussing the poem "The Hairy Toe", children raised the question:

"How did the creature know where the hairy toe was?" After a pause, Ben, 8, said: "Because he had a sixth sense." Asked to explain further, Ben said:

"It's like there's a radar in your head which tells you where people and things are."

Given time to think, Ben, a struggling learner, made a creative response.


Children with special needs often have their own way of looking at the world. "There is so much inside me that doesn't come out," says Pat, who is dyslexic. We need to find creative ways to help children express what they think and feel, for example acting out a picture book with body actions. As one teacher puts it: "Creativity is about showing your way of looking at the world."

What promotes creativity is a classroom where teachers and pupils ask unusual and challenging questions; where new connections are made; where ideas are represented in different ways - visually, physically and verbally; where there are fresh approaches to problems; and where the effects of ideas and actions are assessed in ways that support learning.

Paul, 10, says: "I can talk and think about it, but I'm no good with books." In teaching for creativity we need to focus strongly on children's thinking and speaking, which provide the groundwork for future success.

Creative teaching is inclusive because it gives access to the curriculum to all pupils, from the least to the most able. Try using the following strategies and question cues, which can support creative thinking:

* Use imagination. Ask: "What might happen if... ?"; "Design a new way to..."; "Suggest a way to improve..."

* Generate more ideas. Ask: "How many kinds of ... can you think of?"; "List all ... that could be used for... ?"

* Experiment with alternatives. Ask: "How else might you... ?"; "Think of five ways ofquestions to askreasons for..."

* Be original. Ask: "Design a game for..."; "Invent a way to..."; "Think of a way to improve..."

* Expand on what you say or do. Ask: "What might we add?"; "What might we change?"; "What is another way to...?"

* Exercise your judgement. Ask: "What is goodcould be improvedis interesting about..."; "What should youwe do next... ?"

Creative teachers know that creativity needs to be given life through discussion. But a creative journey begins with one step. What might the next step be in developing creativity in your school?

Robert Fisher is professor of education at Brunel University and co-author of Unlocking Creativity, which is published by David Fulton Websites


* www.ltscotland.comcreativity

* www.nestafuturelab.orgresearchreviewscr01.htm



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