Finding a place for creativity in the curriculum

Sir Ken Robinson, one of the world’s elite thinkers on creativity and innovation, famously explains in his Ted Talk that the current industrial-age model of education is robbing students of the chance to develop the creative skills necessary for finding meaningful purpose as adults.

Where the freedom to be creative is limited, Robinson believes that schools are dooming generations of students to fall into careers they don’t enjoy, and a failure to understand where their true strengths lie as individuals.

Canadian teacher Scott Herbert also laments a lack of focus on creative skills. He believes they are lost as students progress beyond the play, fun and discovery-based learning encouraged in the early years, to worksheets, straight rows and regime as they get older.

Herbert adds that this is concerning when the majority of workplaces today are moving away from a highly ordered way of operating, and opting for ways to become more creative. By eliminating the preference for rote memorisation of information and ‘gamifying’ the curriculum, he believes that creativity and innovation would flourish, and better prepare students for their careers.

But, are these ideas realistic in preparing students for the adult world? Is it is it really possible to develop students creative skills within in the confines of the current system? Perhaps most importantly, are there steps schools can be taking now to make progress?

 

Helping students to access their creative side

When considering how to help students tap into their creative side, teachers look to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Favoured in pedagogical research since the 1950s, the work is arguably as relevant today as it was then, with teachers across the world using it to formulate lesson plans.

Bloom’s theory suggests that to engage in deeper levels of thinking (such as creativity and synthesis), students need to have a foundation of knowledge to draw upon in order to succeed. The teacher’s role is to gradually guide students to these higher-order thinking skills and to provide opportunities that facilitate their use.

In a recent interview with author, philosopher and podcast host, Sam Harris, Barbara Tversky, Professor Emerita of Psychology at Stanford University and Professor of Psychology and Education at Columbia University, counters Bloom’s theory and argues that creativity is in fact the antithesis of learning as we currently package it, with its focus on memorisation and rote learning skills.

Tversky believes that the two ways of thinking are incompatible with one another, but adds that both have their place in the curriculum. She believes that what students could really benefit from is an understanding of how to ‘switch on’ creativity when they need it.

Regardless of this, Bloom’s Taxonomy is an excellent guide to the types of thinking students can engage with, and those which can provide a richer learning experience. With new research coming to light, perhaps the taxonomy would be better used as a reminder that deep learning results when students are encouraged to think in a variety of ways.

 

Preparing students for the future

Creativity is already in high demand in the workplace, and this will increase as the need to develop new products, ways of working and technologies increases in the digital age.

Many progressive educational thinkers are demanding a complete overhaul of the current system. Yet, conservative governments argue they are maintaining a system that essentially functions well. The majority of students are leaving school with a basic level of literacy and numeracy – a hundred years ago, this would have been an unreachable target.

Nevertheless, students need creative skills to be equipped for the future. Rather than large-scale reform which could take years to formulate and agree upon, perhaps marginal improvements to the current system would be a better focus of energy for educators today. Students graduating now need to be equipped with an understanding of how to switch on their innate creative thinking abilities.

At the recent ACEL National Conference, author of the Tomorrow When the War Began series and now principal of Candlebark School in Victoria, John Marsden, spoke about the need for students to leave school with their own voice, and the ability to communicate their thoughts clearly to others. Creative and critical thinking is a necessary part of this.

With a slight change of focus, students could be better prepared for the numerous different paths they might take in life, and make contributions to society that are both meaningful to them and to others.

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Neap has been active in the education community for over 30 years, with an established reputation for producing high quality materials for VCE and HSC. We are driven to deliver assessment materials that teachers can trust for their accuracy, level of complexity and adherence to the curriculum. To view Neap’s range of teacher resources, click here.

This article is authored by Sophia Wichtowska, an experienced writer and English teacher with a Masters in Education from the University of Cambridge. She enjoys writing about learning and passing on knowledge to others.