Sunday 18 April 2010

Creative Thinking in the Classroom

Image courtesy of Jef Safi

I've just been reading two very interesting blog posts about creative thinking in schools. Lots of the ideas in them will be familiar to you but I really liked the central notion in both that creative thinking is a process of re-thinking through the introduction of deliberate disorganisation. This sounds, on the face of it, a strange process. Why deliberately disorganise your thinking about something? Aren't most educators, especially those with an eye on the fast approaching examinations, hell bent on organising their students' thinking?

The issue, it seems, is that if we move through the thinking process too quickly, we may miss the opportunity to really deepen our understanding of a given topic. Learning comes from experience. We then attempt to understand this experience. Our urge is to apply what we have learned in order to create a record of our learning. But, if we value creative approaches to learning, would we be better off delaying the application phase in order to re-think about our original experience and understanding? What if we jump too soon into a narrow application that provides is a relatively superficial record of our learning? The chances are, in this case, that the learning may not stick since it has not been deep enough.

When given the opportunity to re-explore understandings, the brain often engages in re-comprehension, the sorting of critical details, and re-elaboration, the recognition of new patterns. These new patterns may be new, unique, creative. As the individual examines these new patterns, methods of expressing them may come to mind. These possible expressions are then examined for potential, and if deemed effective, the individual may proceed to producing a creative product.

So, what's involved in this re-thinking? Well, we need to create space and time for our imaginations to work on the original stimulus. We need to explore alternative ways of representing what we understand. We might re-present it to a new audience. We may use metaphor or analogy to compare what we know with something else. We may wish to ask a whole series of questions in an attempt to destabilise what we think we know, to knock it off balance and look at it from a different perspective. Whatever techniques we use to introduce deliberate disorganisation, the chances are that if we allow ourselves the opportunity to reflect, to re-think, when we get to the point where we are ready to reformulate our understanding, we will be able to create a more creative and more deeply realised record of our learning.

I've read a lot of stuff about creativity and creative learning but the ideas contained in these two blog posts come pretty close to summing up my attitude to the value of creative thinking in schools. In case I've misrepresented the thoughts of the authors (by introducing too much deliberate disorganisation of my own) here are the orginal posts:

Creative Thinking in the Classroom Part 1

Creative Thinking in the Classroom Part 2

What are the implications for promoting creative thinking in schools? Here are a few things I would like to see:
  • a more integrated curriculum at KS3 with a central focus on developing independent learners through explicit thinking skills activities
  • Philosophy for Children built into the core curriculum at KS3 and 4 so that learners acquire an ability to question and reflect effectively
  • a greater focus on extended, open-ended home learning assignments that encourage students to re-present what they have learned to a variety of real audiences using a range of tools, processes and techniques
  • a greater emphasis on teachers developing, maintaining, sharing and debating their preferred pedagogy
What would you like to add to this list?


Douglas Greig said...

Jon, I am struck by something when I look at this particular entry on the blog - and yes it has taken me a long time to come back to you. However, there is a huge synergy between your thinking and the work of the ARG, and that which is taking place through the Deep Learning ARG. The notion of learning being inherently creative, that learners are meaning makers and that learning is a transformative as well (rather than just) receptive process. I think at some point the thinking of the two groups needs to come together as I think the time has come to expect an impact of this across the whole staff - which has implications for Curriculum Development and Professional Learning. Anyway - just some quick thoughts that we should come back to.

Jon said...

That's great Doug. I'm all for some joined up thinking. I think the students themselves, especially those who have volunteered to reflect on the business of creative learning, would have some really interesting contributions to make too.