Why standardised education systems are failing or Why it’s essential to embrace creativity in education￼
For over 30 years or more the concept of standards and testing have characterised the mechanism by which policy has sought to improve education outcomes. There is such a belief that even when it swept away all other aspects of education to the point of resulting in teacher recruitment and retention crisis & pupils’ well-being plummeting no other approach has been allowed. All we have seen is a strengthening of the belief that standards and testing will bring about improvements sought for – well they don’t and won’t.
What many believe, including myself, is that it is the act of creativity that will bring about the excellence in education we seek. Sir Ken Robinson amongst others have campaigned for such an approach but without success. At what point and what argument has to be made to make the change happen? To use one of my analogies
How do we sell HD colour TV’s with surround sound to people who are both colour blind and deaf?
My own work led to setting up Advocating Creativity in Education over 12 years ago and during those last 12 years I have worked at developing a narrative that can be easily and without added burden translated into the activities in our schools and that puts creativity first. My work has led to the publication of ‘If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them. Building effective learning relationships’ in which I show how focusing on four needs (ower Belonging, Choice & Fun) can bring about the change we so desperately need in education. One of those needs fundamental to creativity is power, our ability and the opportunity to express ourselves. Standardisation robs us of that power and that is one reason why as a policy or strategy it fails. I have attached a picture that I hope demonstrates my point.
My book, written as a learning journal for teachers, is reviewed by #UKEdChat and there are a number of interviews available online including:
Our beliefs, values and experience amongst other things impact how successful we are when we undertake tasks. How we behave when involved in activities is also influenced by similar things but perhaps also our nature or disposition. Some people are regarded as naturally positive, a ‘glass half full’ attitude to life whilst others may be regarded as suspicious, conservative, inflexible etc.
Put together a number of people with a ‘leader’ (in education terms think ‘teacher’) and those individual dispositions will determine behaviours which in turn will influence both the process and outcome of any commonly undertaken task or activity. There will be views on the ‘right way’ or ’best way’ to do something and people will adopt ‘positions’. This is something recognised by Edward deBono in his book on a method of thinking, the “Six Thinking Hats” [i] In my work to bring a tangible consciousness to LQ I continue to explore the wider landscape on thinking, this is one such exploration.
Six Hat Thinking
Edward deBono makes some interesting claims for his approach based on a perceptive observation about thinking which as a learner and teacher I can relate to. He suggests “The main difficulty of thinking is confusion” and that “emotions, information, logic, hope and creativity, all crowd in on us”. As it is with using the six thinking hats so it is in the adoption of a learning mindset through the LQ approach. “He or she becomes able to separate emotions from logic, creativity from information and so on”
He goes on to say that “Within the Six Hats method, the intelligence, experience and knowledge of all the members of a group are fully used.”
There are parallels here too with LQ.
With the mindsets of LQ an individual’s intelligence, experience and knowledge are used effectively along with the awareness of emotions such thinking promotes.
Further, he says that in the same way “it is totally absurd that a person should hold back information or a point of view because revealing it would weaken his or her argument” I believe it is absurd for a learner to hold back a question for fear it would make them look stupid.
In exploring the nature of thinking associated with each of the six along with the benefits this approach brings I have become aware of how a similar approach, that of adopting learning mindsets, a direction of thinking when faced with a learning challenge can improve our learning.
In the next part of this article I will describe the six different hats and begin to show how we can develop similar mindsets so that as the thinking of a group can be enhanced, so can the learning of an individual.
[i] Edward deBono. 2000: Six Thinking Hats. Penguin Books
Is creativity important, and specifically is it so in teaching and learning?
My short answer, “Yes”.
I would argue that without creativity there is the danger of not challenging what we do and why we do it. Possibly to go blindly along with what we are told without question for we have no drive, no vision of how things could be different, no need even, to do anything different. Without creativity in our lives, we risk seeing the world only as a series of things we are directed to achieve in the way we are shown to achieve them. Should we forgo challenge and accept obedience? This may be fine when we want or need compliance[i] but do we want compliant learners or those who challenge us to explain or justify what it is we want them to learn?
What’s this thing called, love? (it’s all in the punctuation!)
It would appear that how to define creativity is a bit of a problem. My evidence for this is the number of texts that have set out to do just that, to put creativity into a box, to define it. A good review of the thinking on creativity is by Arthur J Cropley in “Creativity in education & learning a guide for teachers and educators”[ii] . It is one of those books I have to force myself to read lightly, to almost skim read, at first for there is so much to think about on each and every page. I would describe his work as a comprehensive review of almost every work on creativity up to that point. There are a staggering 17 pages of references to support his review and thinking.
In his book, Cropley declared “Creativity is understood here as production of novelty”. You have to start somewhere! I cannot imagine a world where things remain the same, always. I like to think of creativity as an act of doing something different. Either the process or the outcome or even the approach can be different it does not matter, what matters is there was some purposeful thought or action that preceded it or that was involved that was different to how it was before. Looking at things in a different way, from a different perspective, and perhaps discovering new insights or ways of doing something.
The act of being creative is important to me. I find it is a driver, a force, an energy that pushes you to do things. I know when the opportunity to be creative is being withheld a form of stress builds within me. I have seen the same effect in others too. Without the opportunity to be creative in whatever we do or to have an outlet for our creativity people suffer. It does not matter how creativity is expressed only that it is allowed. For me, this may be through innovation, humour or in any form of problem-solving or making. I believe that by being creative, it helps in seeing the world and its challenges as a problem or series of problems to solve. Possibly and more importantly, as problems that can be solved.
Problem-solving or being creative is my approach to teaching and learning too. It is why I formed Advocating Creativity (also “4c3d”*); it is my way of promoting creativity in education as well as being creative myself. Creativity is not just as a subject but a way of thinking, a way to improve learning. Creativity is a way of changing “can’t do” to “how to do”. A way of doing what is needed and not just what is asked for. I see creativity as a way of making things happen rather than waiting for them to happen. Being creative also means taking an element of both control and responsibility for whatever it is we are involved in, this is because we will affect the outcome in some way.
Why I believe education systems are particularly poor at being creative is twofold. The first is because the process of becoming a teacher and of gaining mastery can inhibit creativity. Teachers need to master their subject, they need to know it so well they can explain it to others and guide them through knowledge to understanding. Teachers need to set challenges and assess progress all of which require mastery. Teachers are not novices; they are practised masters. Traditionally teachers are not solving a problem when they teach but instead delivering a solution. Importantly it is a solution they have derived from their learning. Further, they are familiar with the material way beyond novice and may forgo in their teaching what may now appear to be a trivial and unimportant element. Cropley puts it this way “Working in same area over a long period of time leads to high levels of familiarity within the field but blunts acuteness of the vision or inhibits openness to the spark of inspiration.”
The second reason we may see limited or no creativity in the process of teaching and learning is the focus on reaching targets. To be more precise the single focus on reaching a target that prevents us from doing something different. Doing only that which is already being or has been done (despite success or the lack of it) to achieve the target is a real problem.
Being creative means we could be taking a risk by doing something different in a risk aversion environment. A target-driven focus often means doing things in an approved or recognised way. We can quickly get bogged down in our thinking by doing things the “approved” way rather than exploring different approaches. In doing things differently, there is also the risk to the teacher of returning to the novice stage once again, to revert to being a learner. I think I saw this most in the 1980s and 1990s with the development of IT in schools. At the time many teachers had been taught without such a resource and struggled to include its use in their lessons or to adapt their lessons to make good use of it. Many were fearful of the technology because they felt like novices once again. Having learners know more than you do is frightening for some teachers, at least it was!
I would argue that an emphasis on “success” rather than learning results in the system being driven towards a “ready solution” focused mindset. This is one where any “recognised” theory (seen as having an academic backing or reputed to have worked in the past) or approach that offers a solution to improving learning is more often than not readily adopted. This is especially the case if the theory has a research or academic pedigree. It is my experience that theories with such a pedigree will outweigh practical experience every time. Creativity from practitioners, from teachers, rarely gets a look-in if there is an “expert” spouting a solution.
Adopting a creative approach to learning is tremendously powerful if you see learning as a problem-solving activity. Once you adopt this approach to learning and a creative mindset, then many more pieces of the learning jigsaw begin to fit together. We find by adopting a problem-solving approach a landscape occurs in which theories can be seen for what they are, and attempts to explain how learning takes place.
More accurately by adopting a creative problem-solving approach we see the ways in which we attempt to explain why some people learn some things easier, better or even quicker than others. The danger is when we mandate or replicate ways without applying a degree of creativity in supporting a process of adopting the practice as opposed to just adoption. Adoption only is a form of pseudo-creativity for it is not a problem-solving approach but one of solving a problem.
We can try to adopt what some other institution or organisation does to solve what we perceive as the same issue only to find it does not work. In such circumstances, the lack of creativity in adapting the approach means it fails, but worse still it is not the approach that is blamed but more often those who implement it. People are asked to work harder and are monitored closely and more frequently to discover where the failing lies. What they are not doing is considering the unique nature of their situation and adapting the approach to suit. I have seen the stress and damage this creates in an organisation first-hand, and it is to be avoided at all costs!
So why is creativity important in teaching and learning? Here are a few of my suggestions.
- It is because it causes us to look at processes and practices in an objective way and challenge them.
- It asks us to consider our unique situations and how we can best achieve our aims within them.
- It encourages us to think outside of the box, to take risks but confirms our sense of ownership and responsibility.
- It helps us see what works and why and what to avoid doing what does not no matter what the pressures are.
- It is a way of getting things done, to break the cycle of doing what has always been the practice before without considering the value.
- It helps us lose our fear of being wrong.
- It creates and sustains the energy of learning, of discovery and of challenge.
Since I wrote the article some 5 years ago I have now published a learning journal for teachers. My aim was to show how by meeting four key engagement needs and by being creative in our approach we can embed creativity into teaching and learning and overcome many of the challenges we face. The final chapter of the journal introduces the pupil aspect, a concept I call Learning Intelligence and have written a great deal about on this blog. Learning intelligence is defined as our ability to manage our learning environment to meet our learning needs and consists of a set of skills, attributes, attitudes and behaviours. I’ll leave you to investigate my blog if you are interested.
Book review by UKEdChat link: https://ukedchat.com/2021/03/16/reach-teach-book/
**”4c3d” is leetspeak for “ace-d”. I had to get creative as ace-d had already been taken on Twitter and WordPress!
[ii] Creativity in Education & Learning: A Guide for Teachers and Educators, A. J. Cropley
Psychology Press, 2001
In the last part of this article I argued for the need to re-examine the foundations of teaching and learning and to establish if the foundations of what we do and why we do it are still part of today’s educations systems. In short are they relevant? In this, the second part, I ask the question “How far back can we go with teaching and learning?”
Well I would argue that there must have been a time when somebody knew something somebody else did not. Something they discovered for themselves, something that gave them an evolutionary advantage and perhaps wanted to share with those they lived with. The making of fire may just have been that one thing or that a stone can act as a club. Although it is rather romantic to imagine such a scenario it does conjure up the first possible teaching and learning scenario. It does also point to a few possible long lost principles of education too. That:
- learning through need is a great motivational aspect of learning
- we learn better when we co-operate with each other,
- sharing ideas develops new ideas and improves existing ones,
- failing is just part of the learning journey and should not define who we are (try, try and try again) and
- trust is a significant aspect of the learning relationship
Long before teaching was a recognised profession and education was a nation’s currency in world rankings there was a time when people learnt things from one another or by reflecting on experiences. Since this simple model we have sought to turn learning into a science and in doing so brought the principles, practices, evaluative and proof tools of science to bear on the process. I believe some aspects of the art of learning have been sacrificed as we have moved away from the simple model of teaching and learning and adopted a more scientific approach of theories and testing.
As the sciences have evolved we have attempted to build models of learning that influence how we teach. These models go on to set or influence education policy and practices. Some of these models have been discredited and some build up a strong following as they appear to provide insights into how we can teach better and improve the process of learning. Whatever appears to work in any part of the educational landscape is explored in order to find elements we can transplant and improve the health of our own education systems. The idea of science making the process of learning clear continues. We have seen the rise of neuroscience as we look for ways in which people learn and have employed MRI scanning to map the brain functions.
But what would we do if we had only the simple model of learning and everything else that we believe in how we learn was wrong? So what if there is:
- no right brain/left brain functions,
- no learning styles,
- no benefit to rote learning or
- no set of basics or subjects on which we build further learning,
- no best time of the day to learn
or any of the other ideas or theories we have about how we learn best.
What would we do? What policies and practices would we adopt if there was only the simplest of learning models?
In the next part of this article I will propose the principles and practices of a simple learning model.
Part 3: What if everything we thought we knew about learning was wrong? http://wp.me/p2LphS-nJ
We go back and explore the simplest of learning models to see if we can re-establish secure foundations on which to build.
Part 4: What if everything we thought we knew about learning was wrong? http://wp.me/p2LphS-nZ
What are the influences of the industrial and technological revolutions on education?
Final Part: What if everything we thought we knew about learning was wrong? http://wp.me/p2LphS-pv
The four foundations of learning and what learning is not
Graphic from: http://socialesiesae.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/prehistory.html
What is in a name and how important is it that people know your name?
What does your name say about you?
We are all given one but have you ever stopped to think how you would find your way in the world or how others would find you without one! In fact there a lot more questions about your name once you stop to think about it.
- Do you like your name?
- Does your name reflect who you really are?
- Do you think people treat you a certain way when they meet you for the first time possibly because of your name?
- Does your name help or hinder you as you make your way in the world?
- Would you, or have you ever thought of, changing your name?
- If you decided to change your name what would it be?
- Do people call you by your given name or have you a nickname they prefer to use?
So now you may be thinking about your name a little more and if it is Kevin, like mine, then you may be happily reflecting on the “fact” that Kevin means “handsome”.
You may be asking where am I going with all this name stuff? Well let me get to my point.
In 2011 I had achieved 33 years of being a successful teacher and a few more after that outside of the school environment exploring and working in the “real world”. Having a little more time at hand I started to reflect on my learning experiences. It occurred to me that successful learning and teaching was based on a set of skills, attributes, attitudes, and behaviours. The more I have prodded and probed this notion the more secure I am in my belief but I digress, more of that later. I truly believed then, as I do now, that I have something unique to say about learning and teaching and decided I needed to tell the world about it because as far as I could find out no one else had put the various bits together in the way I had. To me it is both blindingly simple and obvious at the same time, not complicated at all. A sort of eureka moment you would call it.
I needed a way to spread the word and let others know of this simple truth about how to make learning easier, be a great teacher and have successful schools.
In 2011 I decided to set up a company, a website, blog and Twitter account and tell the world about what I have discovered. In order to do so I needed a name for the company. Something that said what I was about and was easy to remember and search on the web so people could find me easily. This is where I was probably too clever for my own good because I have come to realise how important a name is and I may have got mine wrong. Let me explain.
I realised that if we did more of what we have been doing in education, especially in the UK, then we would get more of what we have now. To summarise: stressed teachers, stressed students, a waste of talent, mediocre results, more of a focus on meeting a target than being the best we can be, a lack of creativity or individual expression, too much change and a lot more negatives along the way. I realised we needed to do something different and that we needed to be creative in the way we did it. I still have the same aspirations for students, schools, and education as those who set targets or standards to aim for I just think there is a better way of going about achieving it, one that does not carry with it all the negative aspects we are seeing now. I wanted my company name to reflect this more creative approach and to emphasise the possibilities of being the best as a result of adopting it. There was also the need to be unique on the World Wide Web, a challenge in itself.
The name I chose, “ace-d” ,takes the “a” from advocating, the “c” from creative and “e-d” from an abbreviation of education and stands for advocating a creative approach to education. The word “aced” is also an idiom for doing very well.
Did you get all that or have I been too clever for my own good?
So “ace-d” was born along with a “leet speek” version for the blog and Twitter called “4c3d” (the 4 replacing the “a” and 3 as a backward “e”. I had to use this approach because “aced” had already been taken as a Twitter and blog name and since creativity is a core principle of ace-d it seemed appropriate to find a creative solution.
Then there is the “ace” connotation of the name and its meaning in general use. We do not have to tear down walls to bring about positive change in teaching and learning, to ace it (too clever again?). As Ellen Langer has pointed out in her theory on mindfulness, we just need to be creative and approach things differently. A one degree change in your course when sailing can bring a different shore into view. Going around an obstacle is just as effective as going through it and there are plenty of obstacles in education!
So why do I think I got the name wrong? Well because it is now 4 years since I set up ace-d and although some people have found me and some of those have become colleagues, some have become listeners and some have asked questions I feel I have only been able to directly help a handful of individuals and schools. That is far less than I know that can benefit from ace-d’s approach and that is what makes me think I got it wrong. If people are looking for help would they find it, would they find ace-d? Try Googling “ ace-d LQ” and let me know if you found me.
Advocating Creativity Ltd is the formal company name for ace-d and I offer an independent advisory service for those seeking significant and sustainable improvements in learning and teaching. This is primarily achieved by adopting a concept developed by me based on experience and research and called Learning Quotient, LQ for short, or Learning Intelligence. LQ is about developing a set of skills, attributes, attitudes and behaviours shown to significantly impact learning and teaching. You will find elements of Dweck, Hattie, Glasser and many more embedded in the concept of LQ. LQ is about an approach to learning that is both simple and powerful but one that as we chase targets and standards I fear we may move further away from.
If you are a teacher, leader, or a learner and would like to find out more about how ace-d and LQ can help you I would be pleased to hear from you, now you know the name of course.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Links to website
Link to Twitter
I believe we can learn a great deal from our ability to survive when it comes to learning.
The picture shows such a challenge. It could represent the need to make a link between knowledge on the left bank and understanding on the right bank. The solution overcomes the challenge of the raging water and steep sides of the ravine by using what is available to build a bridge linking the two. We take knowledge and build a link to understanding within our learning environment. I would argue being able to build your own bridges means you have some control over your learning environment.
To survive we need to adapt to, and adapt, our environment. We need to make use of the things we have to overcome what we lack. We need to avoid what threatens us and embrace what supports us. We need to understand our purpose and possess the fortitude to overcome obstacles. We need to take what we know and be able to apply it to what we have yet to understand.
In the same way as we cannot ignore the environment when trying to survive neither can we when we wish to learn. We have a greater chance of surviving if we are alert and aware of our surroundings and so it is with learning.
We have made learning a process, one that ‘gives’ you an education and in doing so we have dulled the senses to the learning environment. As a result many learners look to others for solutions when they face challenges and fail rather than learning to use what they have, know, or understand. Using my analogy and the picture at the start of this article we would see learners waiting to have a bridge built for them or one pointed out.
Many are concerned by this and advocate an approach to education and learning that will rectify the situation. Problem-based learning, lifelong learning, enquiry skills, flipped lessons are all ‘solutions’ to an unspoken problem, that of learning to manage our learning environment to meet our needs.
It is my experience and opinion that we fail to share this concern with the learner. As a result, learners see subjects to learn rather than understand the challenge is how to learn the subject. We work at developing new flavours to entice the parched to drink when no one is thirsty. How can we demonstrate such things as independent learning, thinking, and enquiry skills are important and necessary if we have made learners so dependent?
We have made learners dependent by holding the keys to learning. We set the curriculum, the standards, and the value of knowledge. We have applied rules and regulations to education. We have constructed a ridged ladder of progression and labels to identify position and status in this most complex and fabricated of environments that we call education. To make students lifelong learners and thinkers we would need to shatter this illusion. We would need to de-regulate education. Are we willing or able to do this? Shattering illusions is not anarchy or as dangerous as some who regulate education would have us believe for it can release our creativity.
Being creative is a human trait, if we allow it. I would even go as far as to say that not allowing creativity to thrive is inhuman. There are ways in which learners can creatively work within the regulated education systems we have but we must first make them aware of their environment. This is the true challenge and one that the approaches I mentioned earlier seek to address. What they fail to do however is have the conversation with the learner, they do not start by explaining the ‘why’ of these approaches. They do not start by sanctioning the process of challenging and exploring the learning environment. They do not say it is okay to find ways of learning that suit you rather than learning the way you are being taught. They do not explain that failing to meet your learning needs is limiting your ability to learn and not your ability that is limiting your learning.
We have heard of long-term prisoners not wanting to go back into a world without rigor or regulation where they have to think for themselves. Is this any different to expecting learners to see the value in lifelong learning, thinking and enquiry skills when we have subdued them?
We develop learners thinking and enquiry skills by making them aware of their learning environment, the true environment not the one we have created for them. Then we show how they can begin to manage this for themselves. We look at the skills, attributes, attitudes and behaviours that support learning. We do this by exploring and developing Learning Intelligence (LQ), the ability to manage your learning environment to meet your learning needs.
You will find many articles on this blog about LQ. Here here is one relevant to challenging your learning environment, one article exploring creativity and learning through the what I refer to as the design process. http://wp.me/p2LphS-40
Questions and challenges always welcome and my thanks to those with whom I have debated LQ over the last 5 years. Your input continues to help me refine the language and descriptions of LQ.
You can Skype me at: ace-d.co.uk or email me at: email@example.com
What has an ability to manage your learning environment and a world record sprinter got in common?
When Usain made his way onto the world stage, first as a junior and then professionally, he was not the “traditional” shape of a sprinter. When we look back pre Bolt sprinters were short, well built, muscular, powerful athletes not like the tall, lean Usain. There were mechanical problems to overcome in his running style to get his tall 6 feet 5 inch frame off the line and down the track making use of his long legs which cut the number of strides down from 45 to 40 for 100 metres. Even so, size is not enough and Usain needs to maintain a level of fitness in order for his body to work at maximum efficiency. Usain has been able to adapt to his environment overcoming what may have initially been seen as limitations rather than advantages.
What if we changed the environment?
Usain Bolt is the fastest man on earth at the moment but that is just one environment and one that is particularly engineered having a flat surface and designed for running fast on. I wonder if he would be the fastest in space or immersed in water, two totally different environments. Would he be able to adapt to these environments and maintain his position as the fastest man in space or in water?
Usain Bolt defied conventional wisdom when it came to the mechanics of running. Somebody had a vision of how things could change, how doing things differently could lead to doing things better. The next generation of fast men will be modeled on what we have learnt from studying Usain and his way of adapting to the challenges he faced in becoming the fastest man on earth. How does this fit in with learning?
Learners face a similar challenge in adapting to their learning environments. To be the best you can be requires not only effort but also being aware of your needs in a way that allows you to maximise the advantages you have got and adapt in a way that minimises the limitations you face. There are a number of skills and attributes that can be practiced to help develop your LQ and hence your success in learning. Figure 2 shows some of the elements that impact on being able to manage your learning environment to meet your needs.
If you would like to learn more about how LQ can help you or the learners you manage then please get in touch. Developing LQ is one of the workshops now available along with the effective management of learning needs.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
I am working through the process of writing my book on Learning Intelligence, LQ, at the moment. A number of fundamental question have arisen from this work including this one.
Is there a difference between knowing and learning?
I see learning being the bridge between knowledge and understanding and that once across this bridge understanding facilitates creativity. Let me give you an example of my thinking on this question and how I arrived at this conclusion.
Why 12 x 12?
It’s a simple question, why do we learn our times table up to 12?
By exploring something we all are taught at a very young age, the “times tables”, or “multiplication tables” I hope to show my thinking. The question may not be relevant to understanding knowledge and learning but why up to 12? I know my times table, I know that 1 x 1 is 1 all the way up to 12 x 12 is 144. Why did I stop at 12 x 12? Why not go all the way up to 19 x 19 or further? If 12 were decided upon as the upper limit because of imperial measurements, 12 inches in a foot and 12 eggs in a dozen etc, then why when we went decimal in the UK did we not decide to only go as far as 10 x 10? Continental and ‘metric’ Europe may only teach up to 10 x 10 but what about America and Canada? There must be a rational explanation why knowing our times table up to 12 is necessary. No one ever told me as a learner why.
If we take the “You will need it in everyday life” consequences of knowing something then there has been countless times when my times table has been immensely useful and I can only think of a few situations where more than 12 x 12 would have been needed. Perhaps there is something in it and if you know the reason behind this please let me know.
Does knowing help?
Accepting then that there is some rationale behind the range of the times table, does knowing this help me in some way or is there something more to it? I have already said there are everyday life examples where it does help but knowing 12 x 12 is 144 is one thing, understanding why, I would claim, is another.
This is where it got interesting, well to me anyway! Let me explain and I think this is the route to the difference between knowing and learning.
Learning by rote, often by chanting or repetition, may help build up neural pathways. Each pathway forming a sort of highway with a fixed destination for each starting point. As soon as I see 6 x 6 or verbalise 6 x 6 my highway connects me to 36 and I retrieve the answer. The answer can be retrieved as fast as any reflex and in schools this was often the basis of competition in learning my tables. Now whenever I encounter a number between 1 and 12 and need to multiply it by another number between 1 and 12 I have the answer almost instantly because I know it. Where does this leave me though if I want to know 13 x 13? I argue that I need to understand something, I need to understand the basis of the times table in order to advance it beyond knowing.
What about learning?
If I know the times table not only by chanting it over and over but the principles on which it is based then I would claim I have a chance of applying that to working out what 13 x 13 is. If I only “know” my tables then as soon as I progress beyond 12 x 12 I am at a loss.
In understanding the principles I would have “learnt” about the times table and I would claim this is a step up from knowing it. Having the tools through learning about the times table and learning the relationship with having “X” lots of “Y” being the same as X times Y allows me to apply an element of logic taking the process a little further again. I am in effect being “creative,” I am solving problems with what I have learnt and what I know. 13 x 13 may now present itself to me as 10 x 13 = 130 and 3 x 13 = 39 giving me the answer of 169. I know 3 x 3 is 9 so I can work out that the final digit should be 9 too. If encouraged or perhaps out of interest born from understanding and wanting to learn further I can go on then and explore other relationships within the table. For example recognising 8 x 9 is the same as two lots of 4 x 9 or that 12 x 6 x 2 is the same as 12 x 12. I am now into number patterns and relationships and building my own knowledge.
This to me is the key, with the process of learning as opposed to just knowing you can build your own knowledge beyond that of what you are given. You can solve problems, well at least attempt to solve them, using principles which you understand rather than just know.
When knowing something is not enough
One final example from my own experience of learning and knowing. During the early phases of learning German in school and in an effort to make us comfortable with the language (my claim at the time it was to keep us in order I think!) the teacher had us learn a German play. Each member of the class had a part and lines to “learn”. We learnt them and could make a fair attempt to perform the play. Outside of this narrow knowledge of German though we could not engage anyone or attempt to communicate. To this day I can remember some lines from my part but unless somebody approaches me offering me chocolate I am stumped as this was my prompt to speak my lines.
There are times when knowing something is enough and it can be really helpful (quiz nights perhaps) and at other times learning is far more important. Learning and through this process developing understanding allows the individual to apply, to be creative in using what they have learnt. It opens up the creative process and helps in solving problems.
It would be fair to say that in any education there are times when knowing is important. For example knowing what sounds letter make is one step towards reading and verbalising the code that is writing. Many people who would drive education policy suggest a “back to basics” approach focused on knowing. Those who call for back to basics never actually say how far back they want to go though and there may have been a time when this meant clubbing mammoths and lighting fires! Since we all have our own ideas what the basics are they tend to receive sweeping support from those who find failings in the education system but this does not move us forward.
Looking for a balance
I would suggest a need for a balance between knowing and learning but where should this balance lie and over what time frame? Should we start off with more knowing in the early years of education and then more learning towards the end of formal education or should there be a seesaw effect with a shifting emphasis? A lot more questions but I have this nagging feeling that if we could come up with the right questions, the one that would provide us with the answer we are looking for, we could identify those policies and practices that would take education forward and out of this loop we appear to be in.
Comments always welcome and so if I have stirred up your thinking let me know.
The value of the staffroom in schools (FREE CPD!)
There may be two polarised views about the staffroom in schools. On the one hand a place for gossip and rumour and possibly dissent to thrive and on the other hand a rich source of informal professional development, somewhere to unwind, and a communication centre. Of course it can be many things to many people but where does the balance sit in your school?
[There is now a shorter version of this post available on TeacherToolkit website. The link is https://t.co/6f2aHXvmBH ]
I was once told by a wise bursar that you can tell a lot about a school by the staff toilets. I think the same is true of the staffroom. In my experience you can make an initial guess at what the staffroom is to a school and what it provides by seeing who is there are key times of the day. If it is like the Mary Celeste for most of the day and you only find people there at time required by SLT and certainly not after the bell has gone at the end of the day you may decide that the staffroom is a waste of space. On the other hand if as soon as you open the door to the staffroom you are hit with a wall of chatter, people meeting and greeting each other and the smell of coffee you may regard it as one of the most important rooms in the school.
In my experience any school that abandons the staffroom does so at the risk of losing a great deal both in terms of staff cohesion and informal CPD. I know that in large schools travel to and from the staffroom may take some time and with short breaks and almost none existent lunch periods it is much easier for staff to ‘stay local’ as it were. Easier is not always better though and I would urge that arrangements are made to make the opportunity available for staff to get together in the staffroom once a day or at least a couple of times a week. Of course with social media, texting and e-mails available people may argue the staffroom has had its day but where else can you inadvertently pick up what can be valuable information about what is going on, student issues and offer your help or advice to those staff facing challenges that may be new to them.
Staffroom dynamics have always been an interesting reflection of the attitudes and values of a school too. At one school I worked in each member of staff had ‘their seat’, and subjects ‘their corner’ of the staff room. Crossing these invisible boundaries was unheard of and on one occasion where I ‘mixed it up’ it caused some concern for a little while. I some schools it was seen as a sanctuary away from the leadership of the school and went strangely quiet if they entered and in others a collegiate melting pot where position or rank was regarded only after experience and value of advice or comment.
Fun, the lubricant of the teaching and learning engine.
One great advantage the staffroom has is that it can allow people to let their hair down a little and have some fun. Here are two examples from my own hands of using the staffroom for a little fun.
Imagine the summer term and the end of the academic year. Students started their holiday on Wednesday and teachers returned on Thursday for two days of training. Imagine how staff must have felt coming back to school on that first training day. L
Now imagine turning up to the staffroom to find a beach scene with palm plants (Blue Peter style), paddling pool, a crazy golf course, tunes of the Beach Boys playing and a certain member of staff in ‘wild’ Bermuda shorts and shirt with a drink in hand sitting under an umbrella. Well the look on staff faces as they came up to the staffroom was priceless, from a frown into a smile in an instant. The mood was set for the two days. I really should have told somebody though because the Head was a little nervous about what our guests would think when they saw it. We need not have worried, one rolled up his trousers and went paddling, and the other had a game of golf. Both said what a great way to inject a little fun and admitted they had been a little concerned about how staff would receive them with it being the end of busy term and staff tired. Result J
At a particularly stressful time for all during the opening of a new school with unfinished buildings and temporary accommodation resulting in a split site, the staffroom was a very important place. However on any given day there is always something to celebrate if you look hard enough (a ‘on this day’ search). For one day each month I found something to celebrate and turned this into a one lunch period celebration event. The event and its requirements need to be published ahead of time to give people time to plan and to have something to look forward to.
One example was the forming of the Bank of England 1694. With only a little money spent on cakes and a few photocopies little preparation was required. The entry fee was by showing a pre decimal coin. This lead to some ingenuity by staff and forgeries were accepted!
So if you think your staffroom could play a much needed part in the life of your school perhaps you could start by celebrating something one lunch period each month and see how it goes.
If you want a few more ideas on how to make the most of the staffroom or want to share one of your own you can reach me at email@example.com
For more details about my LQ concept and any of my other ideas and strategies for school improvement, training, and teacher coaching then drop me an e-mail and I will contact you to arrange a time to discuss your needs.
What do you think about when the work creativity is mentioned or you are asked to be creative? Do you admire creative people for whatever it is they do? How would you assess creativity?
Let us start by briefly exploring and raising a few issues about creativity and schools. I started with three questions about creativity but if you ask a number of people I would bet you would get debate about each. Defining creativity is not straight forward and that can cause difficulty for schools that often appear to need to convert the world and its concepts into subjects in order to teach them to children (and perhaps assess too). We could probably look to the creative arts for a list of subjects and most people would include music, drama, art, dance, and writing and perhaps design. There may be others who claim physics is creative, or mathematics or any number of other subjects. So we are back to the subject problem when thinking about creativity. It may be easier to say that creativity pervades everything and forget about subjects!
A little bit of background
Over a decade ago the Arts Council of England asked the NFER to look into creativity and summarise research and theories on creativity and early childhood[i]. This is their list of common components:
- originality (the ability to come up with ideas and products that are new and unusual)
- productivity (the ability to generate a variety of different ideas through divergent thinking)
- problem solving (application of knowledge and imagination to a given situation)
- the ability to produce an outcome of value and worth.
The National Advisory Committee for Creative and Cultural Education, chaired by the then Professor Ken Robinson (now Sir) suggested, “All people are capable of creative achievement in some area of activity, provided that the conditions are right and they have acquired the relevant knowledge and skills.” The now Sir Ken Robinson later wrote, “I firmly believe that you can’t be creative without acting intelligently” [ii] however there is a question about any link between creativity and intelligence.
Do we need to be creative?
Consider the alternative! Earlier I wrote about four basic needs; Fun, Freedom, Belonging and Power. If we are unable or prevented from satisfying some of these needs most of the time then internal stresses build. Not being heard is a common angst amongst most people. Having an element of choice through freedoms is core to being involved or engaged. Fun is also an important aspect and perhaps most present when you are doing something that you are totally involved or immersed in. Having a presence, having an identity or being recognised, and being part of a group is something we all strive for. I would suggest that in life we hold creative people in high regard, we listen to what they have to say, we even copy what they wear or do. My answer would be, yes we need to be creative. Being creative means you have devised an outlet for the imagination, for wonder and questions within. Without an outlet questions give way to receiving facts without question, to failing to stop and wonder but instead take for granted and to forget to see alternatives to those ideas you are given.
In the link with empathy I talked about our senses, perhaps creativity is the seventh sense, the one with which you truly interact with or sense your environment. Moving through life without being creative mean you pass through without noticing, engaging, or commenting upon those things around you. Opportunities go un-noticed and experiences are missed. Looking and seeing opportunities for change, for adaption, for integration, for finding something that will help you on your journey, that will allow you to express yourself in a unique way without taking from others, without becoming a simulacrum, is perhaps the gift of creativity. To ignore the act of being creative can affect a person deeply, just in the same way as limiting creativity in others can. The effect becomes the treacle that slows down the pace of time, the friction that makes days grind by slowly.
How does this link to LQ?
Whatever we agree on or not concerning creativity we would all probably agree creativity is about doing things differently, about generating something that did not exist in the same form or manner prior to the creative event or action. It has been suggested that if the conditions (I would say the environment) are right and we have the skill and knowledge to act or react then we can all be creative. I would ask the question do we have to create the right environment in our classrooms for creativity to happen or should the creation of the environment be down to the individual who wishes to be creative? This is where, if you have been following the earlier articles, you will recognise the link to LQ which is about managing the learning environment to meet your needs. I said earlier that moving through life without being creative distances you from your environment; you are not “intelligently” acting and reacting to it. The degree of creativity shown by somebody could be an indicator of how much they are interacting with their environment, how much they are displaying their LQ, their learning intelligence.
There is a sort of flip in this too; being creative allows us to manage our learning environment effectively which in turn allows us to be creative. This in itself brings rewards for it helps us meet the four basic needs I identified earlier. Acting creatively is more than being engaged in something it is immersion. As Sir Ken Robinson would say you are in your “element.”
Is it that easy to be creative in managing your leaning environment?
I suggest you download the article from my website “LQ and Netherlands Conference”. The link is: http://www.ace-d.co.uk/id10.html
The article describes the learning problems I faced when attending a conference partially delivered in Dutch, a language I do not speak. I was able to follow the lectures by using my creativity to manage my learning environment.
What this means for the Teacher.
In essence it means supporting and providing a creative environment.
Move from mindless learning to mindful learning (again you will find an article on this at the same link as above – “A Mindful Approach to Learning”). Include the student not only in what they will learn today but why they will learn it. Ask at the end of the lesson not only what they have learnt but why they have learnt it.
Look to use problem solving approaches to topics. Ask questions such as
What would you do
- to find out,
- in response to,
- if this happened to you?
Don’t appear to know everything, be ready to learn too and to ask how.
Be ready to accept and accommodate originality in your lesson planning and not see it a challenge to the planned process of learning.
What this means for the Learner
Firstly it means not being passive in the learning process or environment. You can challenge and find alternative ways of learning if you approach the situation creatively. This does not mean stamping your feet or throwing a tantrum because things are not as you would like or want them. It does mean seeing where the problems in learning lie and relating these to your own needs. It means finding non challenging ways to approach those directing the learning in order that your needs are met.
You can use phrases like:
- Can you explain that to me another way please?
- Have you anything I could read before the next lesson to help me learn this topic?
- Is there anything on the Internet I could look at that you know of?
- Could we have a discussion about the topic?
Ask yourself questions like:
- What do I already know that can help me?
- Where/when did I begin to struggle with this topic?
- Who else could help me?
- What can I change about my approach or attitude to this topic that could help me?
The next article will explore resilience and persistence and the link to LQ and will be published on the 18th of September.
[i] Developing young children’s creativity: what can we learn from research?
[ii] Sir Ken Robinson 2009 The Element How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything Penguin
Other articles on creativity: https://4c3d.wordpress.com/2017/01/31/why-creativity/