Taking creative action in primary

Taking creative action in primary schools

Taking creative action in primary schools

Dr Tim Patston discusses what action teachers can take to maintain and build students’ creativity in the classroom.

Australia is one of many countries around the world that has recognised the importance of building students’ creativity in the classroom. Children experience the wonderful and exciting world of creative discoveries from a very young age. They are curious risk takers who explore the world through all their senses. What action can teachers take to maintain and build these qualities in their students throughout their schooling? A useful way to think about this is the 4C model of creativity developed by professors James C Kaufman and Ron Beghetto.

When students start school, they are at what is called the mini C level. This is essentially the level of unbounded exploration and the experience of many new things. At this level, what the children are experiencing is only new and useful to them. In order to build their creativity to the next level, which is called little C, they need four things – knowledge, feedback, instruction and motivation. Children can build their little C in the classroom, at home, or in their sport or hobbies. All creativity is underpinned by knowledge in the area in which you are attempting to be creative.

Teachers in the classroom play an essential role in building students’ creativity. It is important to note that creativity is not just thinking. Creativity is a four-part system. For a student to grow their creativity in the classroom, they need a physical and social environment which supports creativity. An important element of the social environment of creativity strongly influenced by teachers is psychological safety. Students need to feel they can answer questions or make suggestions without fear of receiving overly harsh or dismissive negative feedback. This is true for students of all ages.

The social environment can have a strong impact on the next component of the creativity system, the attitudes and dispositions of creativity. If students receive nonpunitive formative feedback, they are more likely to develop positive attitudes towards creativity. These include such things as openness to new experience, curiosity, risk-taking, resilience and persistence. We know from the research that students as young as grade 4 can develop positive or negative views about their ability in various subjects and their creative self-efficacy in subjects. With appropriate and engaging instruction, students can develop their dispositions of creativity, and grow in both skills and confidence. How do you currently develop the attitudes of creativity in your students?

The third component of the creative system is what many people think about when they think about creativity – the processes of creative problem solving. It is essential that these processes are taught, in the first instance, as separate facets of a component. It is also essential that they are taught in conjunction with the acquisition of subject- based knowledge and skills. Critical thinking when working out which skills a student needs to build in physical education is different to the critical thinking skills needed for a student to solve a maths problem. There are many different methods of idea generation, idea recording, idea summarising, critical thinking and presenting solutions as well as problem-posing. By teaching these briefly and explicitly in a range of subjects students will gradually develop skills as a competent and creative problem solver. How many different tools do you know of to generate ideas or summarise ideas?

The final component of creativity is the creative product. This can mean many things, from an idea, to an artwork, to a performance, to a tangible product, from a piece of written work to a mathematical solution. Many teachers express concerns about assessing creativity. If we go back to the 4C model, we soon realise that the elements of creativity that are present in students are at a fairly basic level. Here are some examples. If you are working in a social environment which requires collaboration, which elements in terms of the attitudes and skills of collaboration has a student demonstrated, and to what level? For example, the skills of social negotiation take some time to develop and require an amount of explicit instruction and feedback. Just this facet can be observed and assessed, often informally.

If you wish to observe that students have developed their curiosity, perhaps teach them a series of What If? questions, and see how many they come up with. Just as students take a long time to develop the knowledge and skills and attitudes in any of the subjects they study at school they also take time to develop the knowledge skills and attitudes of creativity. By teaching small parts of the creativity system through creative actions across a range of subjects, teachers will see their students becoming more confidently and capably creative.

For further information, and to learn more about the upcoming book, Creative actions: Embedding creative competencies in every classroom by Tim Patston, James C Kaufman and David Cropley visit, www.hbe.com.au.

Dr Tim Patston is Senior Adjunct at Uni SA STEM, University of South Australia, Senior Fellow at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, and Teaching Associate at Monash University. Tim’s interests lie in the use of data-based evidence from the science of creativity to improve educational practice and student outcomes. His research has identified positive links between elements of creativity and academic performance.

This article was first published in Education Matters Primary Magazine, September 2022. To read the issue download it here. 

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