Creativity is an important and exciting aspect of learning in which students are explicitly taught skills for living fulfilled lives now, and in preparation for when they leave school. Students in years 7 and 8 have weekly lessons to concentrate on developing the creative skills that will complement a focus on subject knowledge.
Our curriculum is designed around the Durham Commission’s definitions of creativity. Our curriculum teaches four dispositions for learning: motivation, curiosity, questioning, and thinking. Units of work develop the ‘blue skills’ of noticing, seeing from other people’s perspectives, problem-solving and problem-finding, making connections, innovation, and risk-taking (Fuller 2017). Our skills are closely aligned with the Centre for Real-World Learning’s five-dimensional model of creativity.
Creativity skills and dispositions: Saint John Henry Newman Creativity curriculum: Fuller (2017)
Currently, the curriculum has been designed to allow students to explore creativity in stand-alone lessons. Every unit of work is designed around developing a ‘blue’ skill. Once creative confidence is secure, teachers will be given space in the curriculum to introduce subject specialism, empowering them to identify the signature pedagogies in their own subjects. Teachers who wish to teach creatively do not need to radically overhaul their curriculum. Creative pedagogy transforms how our students acquire knowledge and skills but not what they learn.
Units of work have been designed that allow students to explore creative thinking in a non-subject-specific setting. For example, in Year 7, the first unit of work is about discovering the new school environment and feeling settled in the school (noticing). For Year 8 students, they begin the year by thinking about comedy and what makes them laugh, finishing by performing a short sketch (problem-solving and noticing). Both year groups then had a term of ‘thinking creatively’ lessons, where they were given a range of stimuli (photos, quotations, short stories) to think critically about the world around them and engage in philosophical discussion about questions that affect them: e.g. ‘Is it better to be right or to be kind?’ This was loosely based on the excellent ‘Philosophy for children’ that aims to improve students’ oracy and critical thinking by encouraging dialogic learning. In the following term, students produced creative responses to our school motto, making connections between their behaviours in school and the school’s ethos (innovation). In the summer term of this academic year, students will engage in a community project, learning about the distinctive features of Stevenage and the regeneration programme that was launched in 2019. They will consider how adult stakeholders use creative thinking to improve outcomes for the people in Stevenage and make connections between the projects and their own lives (making connections).
Once teachers and students feel more confident teaching and developing these skills, they’ll be given space in the lessons to introduce curriculum specialism. They can then make connections between the pedagogies they discover in Creativity lessons and their subject lessons. As an English teacher, I can audit my schemes of work to evaluate how far they are underpinned by creative teaching strategies and implement strategies that could improve student engagement.
Sixteen teachers from a range of subject areas teach Creativity. Staff are motivated to make the learning experience more engaging. Creativity lessons allow teachers to identify signature pedagogies that could bolster creative learning in their own classrooms. Termly meetings are organised to discuss the impact of strategies. Key research is discussed, such as the PISA assessment for creativity in 2022, which reinforces the importance of our approach. A vital message is that teachers who wish to teach creatively do not need to radically overhaul and replace their curriculum.
In every unit, students reflect on their learning journey and teachers deliver oral feedback during tasks. Students receive a self-assessment rubric at the end of every unit and produce a short reflection of their progress in their exercise books on a weekly basis. Students’ work is shared with classmates and constructive feedback is given. Students are encouraged to reflect upon how their skills and learning habits have developed over a half term. We remind students that creativity is a process, and the learning journey is as, if not more important than the outcome
As a teacher, the difference in students’ engagement when creative strategies are employed is obvious. As a subject leader, I encourage my team to be persistent and to make connections with their specialisms. As a school, we are proud that our students are being given vital time to develop their creative confidence.
Katherine Cummins is Creativity subject lead and an English teacher at The Saint John Henry Newman Catholic School, a large secondary state school in Stevenage, Hertfordshire.