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Let's Celebrate Creativity In The Classroom

14/02/2017 15:49 GMT | Updated 14/02/2017 15:49 GMT

In our everyday lives, we need to be creative. Things come up that we didn't plan for: problems we didn't imagine we would have to solve, opportunities we never conceived of as ours. How successfully we manage these situations can have much to do with how we are able to approach them creatively; to think flexibly, to question, to risk, to share and, ultimately, make new links leading to enriched understandings or entirely new ways of looking at the world. Creativity, 'vital to the progress of human civilization', can help shape new knowledge. But its benefits to us as individuals are broader still. Engaging in the creative process can make us more open, encouraging us to take part in new experiences. It can develop our cognitive abilities and even play a 'protective role' on our health. From our earliest years, if we are creative and curious, engaging in 'a lifetime of intellectual and divergent thinking abilities even into old age', we give ourselves a better chance to adapt to life's challenges. Nurturing creativity is crucial for wider social good and economic growth too. All of these reasons highlight how useful this ability to think creatively is, but does formal education nowadays do enough to support it? Do we encourage our young people to think creatively and produce things which can be considered both 'novel and useful'?

According to the Report by the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value, we could be doing much more. It stresses the value of creativity both within and beyond traditional arts-based subjects at school, reminding us 'We need creative scientists as much as we need artists who understand the property of materials and the affordances of new technology'. It calls for recognition of 'the transformative powers of the arts and cultural learning in building capability, self-esteem and well-being in individuals'. But traditional creative subjects have suffered in recent years. Since 2010, there has been a drop in both the number of teachers and hours of teaching in Design and Technology, Drama and Art & Design, as well as the range of Arts subjects available at GCSE, which has 'disproportionately impacted on schools serving the most disadvantaged pupils'. The irony of this is that this is a field within which disadvantaged students could benefit, offering them the opportunity to engage in the myriad of advantages of engagement with culture: cognitive, behavioural, social and economic.

The inclusion of creative opportunities should, however, be a key objective across the curriculum. Creativity in schools isn't limited to traditional arts subjects, but the ability to play with ideas in History, experiment in Science and apply knowledge taught to solve problems in novel ways in Maths and Geography. Students should be able to express themselves in ways which aren't rigorously structured and which have no pre-determined outcome to be defined as correct or incorrect, but which in themselves contribute hugely to an individual student's academic and personal development.

We can see why schools timetable the day so militaristically. We can't waste any time. As teachers, we want to make the most of every opportunity we have with our students. Young people do have to sit exams and we must ensure we give them every chance to be successful in them. A secure knowledge base is essential, but without a willingness to engage in creative pursuits, we run the risk of preventing students from reaching their full potential. Thorsteinsson and Page assert an 'emerging concern that, currently, students are not adequately encouraged to think for themselves. Many struggle to develop unique perspectives or acquire knowledge which enables them to generate better, more innovative solutions to problems [...] The impact of this is significant'.

We should remember that the opportunity to engage in creativity doesn't come at the expense of acquiring knowledge, rather it is a complement to it. Sir Ken Robinson claims 'an essential bit of every creative process is evaluation'. The creative process isn't unsuccessful when it doesn't instantly result in fully-formed ideas. It's a journey in progress, but that journey is what gives us the chance to explore and experiment. This can be time-consuming but should be considered an investment. If we can 'enhance their ability to play', young people can gain knowledge and apply this creatively, helping them not just develop academically, but better negotiate the difficulties of growing up.

There is a need for us to become more proactive in introducing creativity to the curriculum. We must ensure 'our capacity to produce creative, world-leading scientists, engineers and technologists'. This could be met through curriculum changes. For example, the current focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects could be broadened, as the Warwick Commission suggests, to incorporate arts-based subjects (STEAM). It could also be better met through how we assist individuals. In Creativity in Schools: Tensions and Dilemmas, Anna Craft suggests that as parents, carers and teachers with more expertise and experience, we can 'intervene to nudge creativity forward'. If we are to both successfully prepare our young people for an unknown future and to ensure their wellbeing, we must adopt a more student-centric approach to education, encouraging them to think creatively, alongside the learning of knowledge, to help them pass exams.

Allowing children to explore, test and express their ideas and emotions helps them take responsibility for their own concepts and develop them in ingenious ways. It is almost impossible to measure such creative adventures but just because something isn't easily measurable, doesn't mean it's invalid. Encouraging creativity can help with exam success, but just as importantly, we must remember the joy in doing something for its own sake, not just to pass exams. Without the opportunity to engage creatively, we're disallowing young people something fun, interesting and engaging now, whilst denying them skills which might help them approach problems they face in innovative ways in the future. Rather than focus exclusively on examination success, we need to talk about a celebration of creativity, something which need not be measured, but instead, treasured.