Why teaching for creativity should be central to the curriculum

Drew Rowlands, Chair of Education and a board member of Shakespeare North, suggests that schools need to be explicit about teaching for creativity

The latest Ofsted Education Inspection Framework has a greater emphasis on offering a broad curriculum. School leaders are required to describe the quality of the education they are offering young people in terms of ‘Intent’ (what they are trying to achieve), ‘Implementation’ (how it will be taught and assessed) and ‘Impact’ (the effect on pupils).

The framework gives schools the opportunity to put creativity at the heart of their intent and teaching for creativity as an underpinning mechanism for how they will implement their curriculum, all to ensure that the creativity of all pupils is developed across the curriculum.

Creative teaching prepares young people for an uncertain future

We are living in a world during exponential times of change, which has been described by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus as VUCA - Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. A world in which:

  • The amount of new technical information is doubling every 2 years .
  • Nano Technician, Vertical Farmer, Big Data Architect and Meme Archivist are just four roles today that we hadn’t heard of ten years ago; meaning that students will be entering jobs that currently don’t exist.
  • 90% of global data has been created in the last 2 years.
  • 50% of current work activities are technically automatable.

The World Economic Forum Future Jobs Report of 2020 has suggested fifteen skills that will be most needed between now and 2025. At least 10 of these are direct outputs of developing independent learners through creativity such as:

  • Analytical thinking and innovation.
  • Complex problem-solving.
  • Creativity, originality and initiative.
  • Resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility.
  • Reasoning, problem-solving and ideation.

Schools have a clear role in equipping students with the knowledge, skills and understanding of how to develop and utilise their creativity. For the competencies that make us creative are the same ones that will make us resilient to change and agile to the uncertain times in which we live.

Creating meaningful learning experiences

Where schools have effective curriculum intent, they are often focused on a strong commitment to developing meaningful learning experiences that help pupils develop their capacity to learn. In England, the Teaching and Learning Toolkit produced by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) places metacognition (the act of learning to learn) at the top of its meta-analysis of interventions that impact on pupil progress.

In essence, teaching for creativity is the pedagogical practice that allows metacognition, or the act of learning to learn, to happen.

Teaching for creativity

If curriculum intent is focused on creativity, teachers will need to embrace teaching for creativity as the tool for implementation. Many teachers already teach creatively. They use imaginative and innovative approaches to deliver curriculum and make learning interesting and memorable.

However, teaching for creativity is slightly different. It enables children to develop their own learning capacities. The following features summarise research into key aspects associated with teaching for creativity.

Be playful with style and pace

  • Try setting students tasks with differing time constraints. This will challenge pupils to adapt and think quickly.
  • Contrast this with tasks where pupils have to think more carefully and make decisions over a longer time.
  • For example, this could involve a blend of 5 minute exercises in which pupils have to generate answers/solutions and more complex challenges requiring pupils to collaborate to create an outcome over 20+ minutes.
  • In the longer example there are opportunities to build pupil responsibility by creating scenarios in which pupils have to explain and justify their decision or solutions. Allowing pupils to undertake more complex challenges inevitably involves them taking risks thereby experiencing a culture that allows for mistakes and the learning that emerges from these.

Generate pupil’s imagination

  • Develop pupil’s imagination by asking open questions that encourage dialogue and exploration. This approach helps pupil’s to develop deeper transferable thinking.
  • Start a lesson with a provocation or with a series of intriguing questions. Exploring issues from different perspectives and experimenting with thoughts and options stimulates imagination, often referred to as 'possibility thinking', and can be a useful approach to warm up creative thinking skills.

Make time for play

  • Play is free of constraints and encourages pupils to generate new ideas within a safe environment. This makes them more malleable to learning, helps them to experiment in their thinking and increases motivation and engagement.

The creative process

When creativity is taught effectively, it’s structured, disciplined and robust. The model below outlines a creative process developed by CapeUK (now IVE). It aims to recognise different dimensions that a creative process might go through.

The CapeUK/IVE Creative Process

In this method, teachers control the process. They frame each stage by posing questions that allow learners to respond and set a time limit for each step. In this way, the teacher can be confident there is structure, but, at the same time, pupils control the learning. They’re responsible for generating ideas, framing those ideas towards a solution, testing and refining them as part of the ‘doing’ and finally presenting and reflecting on their solution to the challenge.

Creativity - from intent to implementation and impact

A school that puts creativity at their heart of curriculum intent will be planning to:

  • Equip pupils with the tools to learn independently.
  • Inspire a love of learning.
  • Embed a culture that enables learners to grow in resilience and embrace challenge.
  • Empower learners to find new solutions.
  • Prepare learners fully for our changing world.

In order to implement this vision learning will be typified by:

  • Effective questioning on the part of the teacher.
  • Engaged pupils who own the solution they are working towards.
  • High degrees of collaboration.
  • Learning from things that don’t work.
  • Pupils and teacher exploring challenges without preconceived ideas of outcome/solution.
  • Strong structure with pupils learning at pace.
  • Pupils producing outcomes that have relevance to both their learning and lives.

If schools puts creativity at the heart of their curriculum intent with teaching for creativity as the mechanism for how that intent is implemented, the impact can be an outstanding learning environment where significant and sustained progress is evident in all aspects of school life.

Drew Rowlands is Chair of Education and a board member of Shakespeare North.

Further Reading

Cochrane, P. and Cockett, M. (2006). Building a creative school: A dynamic approach to school development. Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham.

QCA (2004) Creativity: Find it Promote it

Lucas, B., Claxton, G. and Spencer, E. (2013) Progression in Student Creativity in School: First Steps Towards New Forms of Formative Assessments. Paris: OECD Publishing.

Vincent-Lancrin, S., et al. (2019). Fostering Students' Creativity and Critical Thinking: What it Means in School. Paris: OECD Publishing.

Jeffrey, B. and Craft, A. (2004). Teaching creatively and teaching for creativity: distinctions and relationships. Educational Studies, 30:1, 77-87.

Davis, L. (2018). Creative Teaching and Teaching Creativity: How To Foster Creativity In The Classroom. Psych Learning Curve.

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