Creativity – Fact or fiction?
My head of programme often says that he wants me to teach dance during the next semester. Although he might be expected a shocked response, I say that it is fine, mainly because I taught dance within primary schools for many years and, although I am far from being classed an expert, I do understand the pedagogy behind the subject and have a range of activities I could use and/or share with the students. There was one subject/module I was quite shocked about being asked to teach on, and this was the creativity module – why? Because I’m not sure that creativity actually exists…
I have never considered myself a creative person reserving the accolade for the musically or artistically talented people. Those people who appear with a flick of a brush or a stroke of a string to create something from nothing which goes on to inspire or amaze. My thoughts on the subject of creativity are well known throughout the department, faculty and maybe even university and so I was somewhat apprehensive to be asked to talk about creativity to a group of creativity experts – including the tutor who is currently completing his PhD on the subject. Josh Stern once said – ““When you enter the Lion’s Den, it’s best not to go in empty-handed or you’ll probably leave that way”. I certainly felt I was walking into a lion’s den of creativity with only my somewhat alien views to support me. In order to enter with something within my hands to fend off the possible lion attacks, I prepared by clarifying my own views about creativity and why I consider it to not actually exist. What follows is my thinking on this subject.
Creativity is …. – As I was growing up I remember that among the posters of lady tennis players and men holding babies in a shop called Athena, there was a series of posters of two stylised characters with the the title ‘Love is…’ accompanied with an appropriate comment relating, some how, to a possible definition of love. These definitions were many and also varied and, although seemed almost plausible, many were just created for the ‘aww’ value or to sell another poster for a couple of quid. The word ‘creativity’ shares some characteristics with those ‘love is..’ posters. Just like ‘love’ there appears to be no one clear definition of what creativity is, with the definition being up for interpretation and personal discussion. This could be seen as a good starting point for any definition, but this discussion can also allow the word to be used in a range of situations and even as an excuse. An example of this might be an activity where the classroom is a left very untidy or is untidy throughout the session and when asked about why this is the case, the concept of a ‘creative approach to learning’ almost being used as an excuse for the mess. In a similar way – when someone does something slightly different from the usual then it is claimed to be very creative – is it really creative or just different or has not been seen before? Rather than claiming it was creative, my own response would probably be that it was an interesting and innovative approach which I had not encountered before.
Not creative – just effective pedagogy -One of my responses when people disagree with my view about not being creative is based around something Steve Jobs said when talking about creativity. While commenting that people almost feel guilty when being told that they are creative he relates it to the fact that often people who are perceived as creative are just “able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesise new things”. This sums up what I actually do within my teaching. Throughout the years I have seen a range of different lessons and approaches in a range of different situations and, through reflection, I decide the advantages and disadvantages of each approach/concept and then use these experiences to teach in a different way. I’m sure that I would appear less innovative if I had not had all these experiences to draw upon. The other factor which contributes to my teaching style is the understanding and experience of effective pedagogy. In a recent research seminar, a visiting professor was talking about researching topics with yourself at the centre of the research. This really interests me, not only because of the challenge of this, but also it would support the question of what actually makes a good teacher/practitioner. The focus of my input for the creativity module was the teaching of mathematics. Throughout the session we (it was a team teaching approach) presented a range of activities for the students to consider as ‘creative approaches’ and how these related to their own ‘active definition’ of creativity. For me, each of the approaches were not creative. For me, the activities were based upon and reflected effective pedagogy for mathematics leading me to use the subtitle for this section.
All about perspective – One part of my session which I was not particularly happy about was the initial segment when I tried to explain what creativity was to me. I felt that I was floundering despite having thought about it for sometime mainly because my focus was naturally more on the teaching of mathematics rather than creativity itself. I did, however come across one possible definition of creativity which I related to. (trying to talk and/or define a concept that you don’t actually believe in is very difficult). Erica McWilliam states that “Creativity is the defeat of habit by originality”. For me this is what I think people often relate creativity to, although this could also be seen as innovative or risk taking or even radical approaches. I often have sessions which I really like to deliver. The reason I like these sessions is mainly because they have been effective in supporting learning and have engaged and motivated the learners. They also appear to be sessions/lessons which the learners remember and talk about after the event. Although we can sometimes continue to use sessions like these without actually engaging with them to ensure that they are continuing to be effective, from the perspective of the practitioner these sessions have become a ‘habit’ which are reproduced every year. Interestingly, from the perspective of the learners, since they only encounter the session once, it appears to to them as different and might even be considered creative. I waffled a few weeks ago about the application ‘Padlet’. I have used this application within my sessions as a ‘different’ or ‘innovative’ approach. As part of the staff development programme within the department I offered a session on how to use Padlet within sessions. While before this session, learners had engaged and been motivated by my use of Padlet, now it has become somewhat of a habit within everyone’s sessions and one which I need to readdress in order to further promote my originality when teaching. The essence of this section would be that perspective is a very important factor when addressing the creativity of any approach/activity. Because of this, it appears to me that creativity can be attuned to liking a painting, dress or colour. One person might consider something creative while others might experience the exact some thing and consider it uncreative. With this dichotomy is it actually possible to use the word consistently to support teaching and learning.
One of best aspects of writing a blog post every week is allowing comments to be added to waffles as feedback. Whenever I write a waffle, everything always makes perfect sense to me, being written in isolation with only my latte for company. Even after writing this waffle and delivering a session on creativity, I still do not class myself as a creative person in any way. Within my teaching, I consider that I use effective pedagogy to support and motivate learners and, although this might appear to some to be creative, to others it may not. Overall I am just using a range of experiences to share ideas and concepts. In doing so, I would hope that the activities also encourage reflection and challenge and will hopefully be memorable. If some people consider this to be creative then I am happy for them to use the phrase to describe my approach but for me, I am just doing my job and being a good teacher.
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