Thursday, July 7, 2011

Signs of a creative classroom

Deborah French's classroom

One thing seems obvious to me, after several decades visiting primary classrooms, is that real innovation only comes from creative teachers and not from imposed programmes. Unfortunately,  all too often, creative teachers are the last ones to be listened to in this era of school consistency and formulaic 'best practices'. It seem we are moving towards a standardised approach to learning at the very time when we need to value (and protect) our creative teachers and their creative students.

Creativity, of course, is a word  thrown around to describe much of the work students currently do. But true creativity is marked by originality and  idiosyncrasy and all too often is in opposition to what is expected. And creativity is not to be limited to the arts - it applies to all aspects of human activity.

For creativity to survive requires a school culture that values creativity.  Such schools are hard to find in these times of intrusive compliance.This does not mean every teacher doing whatever they like but rather for all teachers to be working within agreed beliefs. To develop a real creative learning culture requires considerable ongoing dialogue about the purpose of  an education for an evolving and creative world. To achieve such an environment is a balancing act for school leadership -the aim is for 'consistent creativity'. A number of important issues might need to be carefully defined and implemented while at the same time leaving plenty of room for teacher initiative and innovation. Creativity often works best within some form of constraint. Total freedom often leads to chaos and disorder;  creativity in any field requires considerable focused discipline.

The trouble is, in all too many schools, creativity is sacrificed to consistency and imposed requirements resulting in the heavy surveillance culture schools feel they need to impose. Schools have become test crazy valuing such testing above the insights of teachers. Testing narrows the learning while  in contrast teacher insight can take into account a number of variables. In this respect 'test crazy'  schools are already well on the way to National Standards - their only argument, it seems, is the worry about school comparisons through 'league tables'.

And associated with these compliance requirements, particularly the emphasis on literacy and numeracy, is a move for schools to reinforce traditional structures and expectations which are antithetical to creativity.

With this in mind it is easy to see a school that lacks creativity and vice versa.

Uncreative schools unconsciously  look back to the past for their direction. Such schools have let their literacy and numeracy programmes become the default curriculum.  A close look at such programmes will show if these two important 'foundation skills'  have become self contained areas taking up most of the available time. In contrast in  a creative school these areas have been 'reframed' and linked to skills required for current  inquiry studies. A further step back to industrial aged thinking is to have these areas streamed off into ability groups and, even worse still, taught by other teachers.

Creative teachers find no trouble in linking their language arts times ( a preferable term to literacy) with the current inquiry study/ies although integrating maths is more problematic.  Teachers need to give thought to the point of much of the maths that is currently taught and consider doing fewer things well. One writer ( Seymour Papert) has said that, 'all science and maths in schools should be applied not pure'. Maths thinking in most schools is determined by thinking from a past era .Thankfully The New Zealand Curriculum (07) has a more enlightened view of maths . With  'new maths minds'  teachers can introduce realistic contexts for their maths. Less maths, in realistic contexts, would be good advice and would result in maths being far more creative.

Standardised less creative classrooms feature 'intentionl teaching' ,  formulaic 'best practices', heavily defined group work in literacy and numeracy, WALTS,  predetermined criteria and learning objectives. None of these in themselves are bad things but taken to extremes they are all creativity killers. Inquiry programmes seem  to be seen as 'add-ons' and feature process more than deep content. And work displayed on the walls and in book all looks the same - even the art work!

So what would you see in a creative classroom ( in my opinion of course)?

Creative  classrooms need to be seen as communities of inquiry  where students  act as scientists and artists ( and historians, poets mathematicians etc) inquiring into whatever has attracted their attention. Students' range of inquiries would be the first thing to be seen when entering the room. Literacy programmes would relate to such studies (and reflect students 'voice') and ,where possible, so would much of the maths.What maths to be seen would feature maths investigations.

Both students and teachers would be continually assessing their progress and be considering making new choices on the basis their reflections. Attitudes , or 'feeling for'  the various learning areas, would be in the forefront of teachers minds not just recording sterile achievement. Assessment would largely be seen in the work of the students compared to  their previous accomplishments. Creative teachers can show evidence for improvement.

Creative teachers take to heart the phrase from the New Zealand Curriculum  that their students  need to be able to, 'seek, use, and create their own knowledge'. Creative teachers value each students' identity and do their best to focus on developing the talents and gifts of all their students along with ensuring that all students retain the innate learning attributes they were born with. Such teachers understand the importance of relationships and work alongside their students to help them  value their lives, thoughts and views through language and the arts. The work on display celebrates the diversity and 'voice'  of all  students and the quality of their thoughts. And the room environments are continuatully changing as a range of inquiries are completed.

Creative classrooms are personalised learning environments - traditional classrooms are still stuck in the standardised 'one size fits all' approach with its genesis in   a ,now faltering industrial, era.

 Everyone sees the point of school in a creative classroom.

A creative classroom is one where helping students develop their own ideas is more important than achieving what a teacher , or outside agency,has determined they should know.

A creative schools is one where leaders have created the conditions for both teachers and students to be creative learners - within those teaching beliefs  that they have come to believe in.

Creative classrooms are far and few  between but they hold the genesis for a creative future.

Creative schools are rare and endangered.

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