The Creative Classroom
When visitors enter a creative teacher’s classroom they are not only impressed with the colourfulness, vibrancy, attention to detail (clear labeling, crisp borders, thoughtful range of questions) and the quality of the work that the pupils have achieved, but also with the ability of pupils to stay focused on their work. The wallboards reflect a range of topics and art forms that are clearly the result of careful adult instruction and innovative practice. Each pupil’s name is visible alongside one or more piece of work. Far from being characterized by random activity and vague aspiration, the creative classroom is brimming over with pupils enjoying the challenge of targeted (but not rigidly prescribed) activity.
Different activities in creative classroom
In some classrooms, a range of different activities occupies pupils. Some have their heads down, immersed in completing a written task, while others are engaged in researching from books; a group is busy with an art project while a number of pupils are working in quietly on computers in the corner of the room, supported by an assistant. Yet others are quietly reading or completing work from earlier in the day. A small group of pupils is undertaking a science experiment with the teacher offering guidance and assistance. The atmosphere is businesslike but unhurried.
Impress the Visitor
Visitors are especially impressed by the way that pupil persevere and show resourcefulness when they are left to work unaided, conveying the clear message that pupils are motivated and pursuing defined goals. As the session nears its end, the teacher reminds the class about what needs to be completed and what can be finished on another occasion. Despite the variety of the tasks and activities being undertaken, the atmosphere is orderly and cooperative; resources are tidied and stored correctly.
In the creative classroom adults are industrious but relaxed and at ease with one another. There are smiles, occasional chuckles and supportive comments, as the teamwork ethic permeates every part of the room. The teaching assistant concentrates on her specific task but is unafraid to make suggestions about or intervening in the other activities that are taking place. From time to time, she advises pupils to seek help from the teacher. There are no harsh words; instead, excitable pupils and those straying-off task are gently reminded about the priorities. During the session and after work is completed, the pupils are eager to share and show what they have done with an available adult or classmate. There is a powerful sense of expectation about high standards, yet understanding and assistance rather criticism for any pupil who is struggling. Visiting teachers wish that their own classroom were like this one; visiting parents fervently hope that their children will be placed in it.
Practical ways to promote creativity
Creative classrooms do not offer pupils unbridled freedom because when things are in a state of flux and events are unpredictable it places considerable pressure on teachers and unsettles the pupils, there by constraining rather than liberating innovative practice. In fact, the most creative environments in society are also the most stable ones. Thus, the artist’s studio, the research laboratory and the scholar’s library are deliberately kept orderly to support the complexities of the work in progress. The parameters of creative classrooms are well defined so the unpredictable can more easily be accommodated.
Creativity does not occur in a vacuum. It relies upon a framework of understanding, skills and content knowledge that facilitates and supports experimentation, problem solving and investigations. There is little point in letting pupils loose with equipment and resources when they have little idea about what they are to do, how they are to accomplish it and where the boundaries of behaviour lie. The most creative people already possess repertoire of skills, gained by thorough initial teaching, regular rehearsal, observing others who have acquired mastery and getting advice from a more knowledgeable source.
For instance, if young pupils are given a range of musical instruments, they need to be shown how to use them correctly and practice a number of key skills and techniques before being allowed to experiment; otherwise, they are likely to make a cacophony of random sounds and may even damage equipment through carelessness. Once they have mastered these skills, pupils can be given the opportunity to create new rhythms and sounds for a specific purpose: for instance, as an accomplishment to a popular piece of music. These sophisticated developments can only take place after the pupils have gained the basic mastery of techniques and being introduced to a range of strategies and practical forms of expression; otherwise creativity can deteriorate into chaos. The establishment of a framework of competence also promotes creativity because it obviates the need for pupils to ask many questions of clarification, prefaced by:
· Are we supposed to…? (to clarify purpose);
· Does it matters if we…? (to identify constraints);
· Do we have to…? (to understand procedure);
· How long have we got to…? (to improve time management);
· What will happen when…? (to clarify outcomes)
The tension that exists between being offered the opportunity to explore and gaining competence in mastery of skills through a structured programme and adult guidance can be summarized as follows:
COPETENCE + GUIDANCE + OPPORTUNITY + STRUCTURE results in CREATIVE OUTCOMES
OPPORTUNITY minus COMPETENCE or STRUCTURE or GUIDANCE results in CHAOS
Of course, there are occasions when pupils benefits from being given extensive freedom to explore and discover, especially during ‘play’ sessions. However, the spontaneous forms of play associated with life outside school are different from the structured play that so often characterizes classroom situations, where adults impose health and safety, physical and curriculum boundaries. Some broad categories of adult monitored play are as follows:
· Functional play– a common play type among young pupils that involves task repetition to gain motor skills and mastery; for example, dumping, filling, stacking, water play and outdoor play. Functional play can be either solitary or in parallel with another child.
· Constructive play– where a child creates or makes something and solves problems; for example, building with blocks, playing with arts, crafts and puppets and doing puzzles. This type of plays develops thinking and reasoning skills and problem solving.
· Pretend play– pupils transform themselves, others and objects from real into make believe. Pretend play helps pupils to process emotions and events in their lives, practice social skills, learn values, develop language and create rich imagination.
· Games with rule play– this types of play includes board games, ball games, chanting and skipping games, all of which involve the application of agreed rules. Pupils learn practice and cooperation, mutual understanding and logical thinking.
Creativity is often unlocked when pupils collaborate in problem solving play sessions because the combination of their energy, initiative and ideas often leads to creative solutions. Play helps pupils to consciously realign their focus and look at situations in different ways; as a result, the insights they gain generate fresh understandings and give impetus to further achievement.