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Creativity across Learning #9 – What kind of inspection, quality assurance and accountability regimes support creativity in learning?⤴

from @ Laurie O'Donnell

This is the ninth post that draws on the unpublished Creativity across Learning report of 2011. This is the final chapter and, to my mind at least, covers a highly controversial area quite sensitively.  It genuinely reflects what practitioners, teachers and school leaders, were telling us. However in the end this was probably the section that killed off any chance of publication.

The initial quote comes from Clayton Christensen’s et al Disrupting Class – How Disruptive Innovation will change the way the World Learns 

… the current education system – the way it trains teachers, the way it groups students, the way the curriculum is designed, and the way school buildings are laid out – is designed for standardisation.
(Christensen, Horn & Johnston)

Inspectors and quality improvement officers are by definition external, not engaged in the day-to-day processes of learning and teaching in classrooms.  Members of the Creativity group [the expert group brought together by the LTS Advisory Council in 2011 - LO'D] reported that whilst some professionals might perceive such external evaluation as helpful and supportive in guiding their ‘journey to excellence’, others felt rather less positive about inspection and quality assurance processes, perceiving inspections and local authority visits as being about busy, disengaged officials making rather superficial snapshot judgments before moving on to the next establishment.  The group considered a range of questions, for example, Are inspection and quality assurance by their nature anti-creative and stifling of innovation? Does it still take a very courageous school leader to protect teachers from the negative impact of inspection and quality assurance visits on classroom creativity?

There has been significant progress in Scotland towards establishing approaches to inspection and quality assurance that are more collegiate, participative and balanced, and promote self-evaluation. The group reflected on the extent to which there may be further to go on that journey, including consideration about whether self-evaluation and ‘proportionality’ sufficiently encourage risk-taking among practitioners, and help them to feel confident that they will be judged on what really matters – the outcomes for children and young people that they have agreed, and the extent to which they have been effectively supported to achieve them successfully.

There are many highly creative professionals working in every part of the Scottish education system. Many feel that the pressures and constraints on establishments can make it difficult to achieve a balance between achieving ‘academic’ success and the wider learning that supports the education of the whole child, and that it is therefore difficult for them to support and foster their own and learners’ creativity.  An open and consultative approach to quality assurance which aims to ensure that we look outwards as well as inwards when we evaluate our own performance should be supportive to efforts to promote creativity.  Proportionate approaches, which allow the efforts of school to be recognised and, in a sense, rewarded through the engagement that inspectors and quality improvement staff have with them, should further build the confidence of teachers.

One of the challenges that we face is giving all teachers confidence that these principles will be honoured.  Justified or not, members of the group reported that there is still considerable concern about being harshly or unfairly judged, especially when that judgement is a public one. There is also some anxiety about the standards that are used in making judgments, and whether they properly focus on meeting learners’ needs. The group considered that is an area where we need to continue to build and maintain effective partnership and good communication at all levels in education in order to promote high quality provision for all learners.

[I'm planning on doing a tenth post - a postscript. If you want to give me any comments then contact me through Twitter @laurieod and I'll do my best to reply. In the meantime have a wonderful Christmas and a great New Year.]

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Creativity across Learning #8 – What kind of assessment and qualifications would best support creativity in learning?⤴

from @ Laurie O'Donnell

This is the eighth post in a series on Creativity across Learning with the content drawn from an unpublished report of 2011 as noted in previous chapters. It starts with a form of words from my former colleague Carolyn Hutchison. Carolyn had been the Scottish schools inspectorate’s assessment specialist before working for the Scottish Government on assessment policy.

Timely, formative feedback is the life-blood of learning and progress; it is also the lifeblood of creativity.

A focus on what really matters in learning, an honest evaluation of the quality of thinking and its outcomes, shared with the learner, are critical factors in creativity.  This kind of assessment lies at the heart of good pedagogy and professional practice.

When judgments are made, the purposes for which they are made and who makes them become critical. Many teachers believe that overemphasis on assessment as measurement for the purposes of examinations, ‘sorting and grading’ learners and accountability tend to stifle initiative both in classrooms and establishments. They suggested that assessment for summative purposes can all too easily become the ‘tail that wags the dog’.

As teachers seek to develop creativity, they also therefore need to take care to create opportunities for meaningful formative feedback and evaluation and assessment whose prime purpose is to support learning, based on mutual respect, discussion and trust.

Assessment for summative purposes and in the later years of schooling leading to certification, is part of the central emphasis on standards and quality that is a key feature of the Scottish education system. However, there are strong arguments that we have given greater emphasis to reliability in assessment and to producing consistent results to allow comparisons between learners and establishments than to rather than to validity and the match between how we assess and what we value in learning.  More valid approaches to assessment would be likely to reward teachers for the efforts that they make to achieve all of the learning outcomes of Curriculum for Excellence [the Scottish curriculum], including those most associated with creativity.

There is strong international research evidence to suggest that such change in emphasis in assessment should improve learning and raise achievement.  Such approaches would also encourage learners to take increasing responsibility for their own learning and create a real and lasting appetite for learning and progression.

Assessment is thus a crucial area for initial teacher education and on-going professional learning. We need to understand what kinds of questions promote creativity rather than closing it down, and what kinds of tasks take students beyond remembering and understanding towards the higher order skills and creation at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Curriculum for Excellence offers opportunities to make sure that we maintain a clear focus on learners and learning, assessing what really matters to Scottish learners both in and outwith the classroom setting in the wider community.  As part of classroom practice, learning how to ask the right questions becomes more important than answers learned by rote. We can ask learners to apply their knowledge and skills in unfamiliar contexts, to design experiments and to suggest ways of testing hypotheses. We can use more ‘what next’ questions or ask learners to describe the processes that they have used so that we can judge these as well as evaluate finished products.

Elements of these and other approaches already exist, across sectors, in school-based and work-based assessment and in qualifications, but they need to be developed further. This is essential, not only for the encouragement of creativity but also for the realisation of the aspirations of Curriculum for Excellence overall.

Comments are closed but if you want to join the conversation contact me via Twitter @laurieod

[The next post looks at inspection, quality assurance and accountability.]


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Creativity across Learning #7 – How can we promote creativity in professional learning?⤴

from @ Laurie O'Donnell

Episode 7 looks at professional learning and as previous posts on Creativity across Learning the content is drawn from a draft of an unpublished 2011 report. The opening quote is from the Scottish Government’s 2011 review of teacher eduction:

(The) most successful education systems do more than seek to attain particular standards of competence and to achieve change through prescription. They invest in developing their teachers as reflective, accomplished and enquiring professionals who have the capacity to engage fully with the complexities of education and to be key actors in shaping and leading educational change.
(The Donaldson Report – Teaching Scotland’s Future)

The only constant in education is change.  Few institutions have gone through as much change in last century as schools and colleges.  However, much of this change has been the incremental fine-tuning of linear innovation: making the educational machinery work more efficiently. If Scottish education now needs a period of more radical, transformative innovation, what might this mean for initial teacher education and the on-going professional development of our teachers?

In 2010 the Learning and Teaching Scotland Advisory Council document Change Matters [which also seems to have disappeared from the web - LO'D], provided an overview of recent research on change, and identified six important characteristics of effective change in education that also reflect recent thinking about the nature of learning.  For adult professional educators just as much as for young people, changing the way you think and do things involves learning. The research suggests

  • that successful, sustainable change starts from where people are;
  • that real change happens when all individuals and communities are learning;
  • that people change when they believe that what they are being asked to do has integrity;
  • that effective professional learning takes place when teachers and others engage in collaborative enquiry;
  • that for change to be sustained it has to be supported by partnership and networking;
  • that leaders manage the process and create opportunities for reflection, dialogue, collaboration and feedback to inform planning for improvement.

Teachers, like doctors, engineers and others working in dynamic, applied contexts, cannot rely solely on the learning they have achieved at the start of their careers, although this should provide good foundations for lifelong professional development.  To be an effective teacher requires an on-going commitment to learning.  We should celebrate the diverse skills and approaches of our teachers. One thing that they all must have in common is that they should be role models of life-long learning, engaged with the nature of learning and the content of the curriculum, close to current innovative classroom practice, steeped in the latest educational research and aware of the ever-changing world of the learner. All of this takes time, space and energy, which are in short supply for today’s hard-pressed teachers and managers.

The Donaldson Report on teacher education recognised the importance of getting the right people into teaching in the first place and then supporting them through career-long professional development. Like other international reports on professional learning, the focus is very much on improving teaching to impact positively on learners’ progress and achievement.

Although the Donaldson Report did not deal explicitly with creativity, either for learners or for teachers, [unsurprisingly from one its main architects - LO'D]  it did offer an unqualified endorsement of Curriculum for Excellence, which provides the context for the review and opens the door to a greater focus on high-order cognitive skills and creativity.  It also emphasised the importance of professional reflection in teacher development and encouraged professionalism in all aspects of their work:

The various recommendations of the report include those that refer to the need for professional learning to involve exploration of theory through practice, emphasising ‘reflection, critical analysis and evidence-based decision making’.  They refer to

‘the need to build the capacity of teachers, irrespective of career stage, to have high levels of pedagogical expertise, including deep knowledge of what they are teaching; to be self-evaluative; to be able to work in partnership with other professionals; and to engage directly with well-researched innovation’

These approaches, alongside the advice offered on leadership in the report, are the keys to progress in developing creativity in schools and classrooms.

There are opportunities in the implementation of the Donaldson recommendations to make the link to creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship more overt.  For understandable reasons, there is a significant emphasis on promoting the development and achievement of skills in literacy and numeracy. Creativity should hold equal status. While literacy and numeracy are fundamental to the teaching profession, without the creative dimension they will no longer be sufficient to meet the needs of individuals or the ambitions of society.

[The next post covers assessment and qualifications.]

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Creativity across Learning #6 – How can leaders promote and support creativity?⤴

from @ Laurie O'Donnell

This sixth post in the series comes again from the unpublished draft of 2011 as noted in the earlier posts. It asks how can leaders go about transforming the culture in their establishments so that everyone promotes creativity in learning, and how do we support them to do so? 

Courage is the first of human virtues because it makes all others possible.

The conduct of schools, based upon a new order of conception, is so much more difficult than is the management of schools which walk the beaten path.
(John Dewey)

Whilst everyone appears to agree that effective school leadership is an essential pre-requisite for educational success, the discourse on what counts as ‘effective’ is often contradictory.  Educational leaders are encouraged to be visionary, courageous, adaptive and creative but also open, trusting, collegiate and collaborative. They are encouraged to lead from the front, but also be prepared to distribute authority, embrace different approaches and facilitate others taking the lead. They are required to be enabling and trusting yet uncompromising when it comes to protecting core values.

Leading in the public sector is thus inherently complex, involving multiple stakeholders and with no single measure of success. It is all too easy to play safe, passing the buck to inspectors, local authorities or qualifications bodies for crushing ambition rather than to risk making a mistake in the attempt to lead in times of uncertainty and under conditions where ambiguity is here to stay.

There are, as Heifetz argues, ‘no easy answers‘ in leadership when we are faced with ‘adaptive challenges’ such as leading learning in turbulent times. Leaders at all levels in an organisation – including managers, practitioners and learners – have a role and a responsibility to support creativity. Leaders need to provide a clear vision for their establishments where a culture of creativity is nurtured, supported and celebrated. They need to present a consistent philosophy and be positive and supportive.  It is becoming commonplace to state it, but they have to model that which they demand from others. We are all judged more by our actions than our words, and we will not have creative learners or teachers if they do not see the associated qualities in their leaders.

For this to happen, decision-making must be visible and collaborative. Leaders have to offer permissions and accept that not all responses to these will be absolutely successful. Their role is to ensure that the needs and entitlements of learners are met and that innovation does not put that at risk. In short, they need to assess risk rather than avoid it, and create a climate where care and risk are in balance rather than in conflict. Leaders also need to manage change as an adaptive rather than just a technical process, drawing on the most effective practice from within and also from beyond education. The reasons and purposes for change need to be internalised or ‘absorbed’ by teachers for any long-term sustainable improvement in performance to be realised.

School leaders need to recognise that in the end the professional judgement of the teacher should remain central: in Lawrence Stenhouse’s words, ‘…. it is the task of all educationists outside the classroom to serve the teachers, for only they are in a position to create good teaching’. This also applies to all who work with practitioners including education authorities, inspectors and Scottish Government.

[Next post looks at the role of professional learning in the promotion of creativity.]  


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Creativity across Learning #5 – How do we develop creative learners?⤴

from @ Laurie O'Donnell

This 5th asks how do we respect and build on the ‘learner’s world’ in educational provision, and develop ‘creative learners’ who are motivated and take responsibility for their own learning? Once again the following text is drawn from the unpublished report of 2011.

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct arising from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the object it loves.
(Carl Jung)

Is it really feasible or practical to start off with what interests the learner and then build the curriculum from there? Can we find meaningful and motivating contexts for deep learning? Can school really be a place that connects with the world of learning beyond school?

There is a long tradition in education in which educational practitioners have sought to bring the classroom to life by creatively pulling in aspects of the world of their students. There is no excuse for the curriculum to be boring. Even the most difficult content can be presented with engendering intrinsic interest in mind when teachers design lessons that flow and will stimulate learners’ thinking, making them more enjoyable so that children and young people can be fully engaged and absorbed.  The capacity to motivate is not just the key to deep learning; it is also the key to creativity.

Designing learning on this basis will be demanding if the educational practitioner is an isolated individual working behind closed doors. It suggests a need for teachers and others concerned with young people’s learning to be connected to communities of practice engaged with on-going curriculum and pedagogical development and sharing ideas, practice and resources.  Increasingly this engagement will be with teachers beyond their own school, local authority and country.

All effective educators recognise that it is essential to understand the learner as well as to understand what needs to be learned and how the process of learning works as a constructed, social and cultural process. We need to know what individuals bring to learning so that we build on that and encourage them to understand and manage their own learning. This has always been vital because of the role of parents and communities in learning, but it is even more important when there is increased access to learning through technological developments.

We also need to understand learners so that we can engage with them and motivate them. One of the motivating factors most commonly cited is ‘relevance’, but not all content or approaches will be equally relevant to all learners. Personalisation and choice are established principles of Curriculum for Excellence [the Scottish curriculum], but neither can be exercised without knowledge of the learners and their active participation.

The experiences that learners bring need to be understood and respected as the building blocks for further progress. We also need to find talents and dispositions which will be foundations for further learning. Such a process also needs to involve challenge, so that learning is demanding but not out of reach, and mistakes and failures are embraced as a spur to further efforts.

All of this suggests that learning needs to be based on more carefully structured, open-ended tasks and questions. This should not be interpreted as meaning that there is no place for different and, in some instances, more didactic approaches. But such approaches need to support learning that is constructed, self-regulated, situated and collaborative, where learners also have the role of active creators and designers, not just passive consumers of content and resources.

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Creativity across Learning #4 – What does a creative learning environment look and feel like?⤴

from @ Laurie O'Donnell

In this fourth post the idea of a ‘creative learning environment’ is explored. Again the source is the 2011 unpublished report Creativity across Learning. This section starts with a quote from the OECD’s Centre for Educational Research and Innovation.

In recent decades, OECD economies have experienced a rapid transformation from industrial to knowledge-based systems in which lifelong learning and innovation are central. Individuals who become self-directed learners are able to acquire expert knowledge in various fields, to change careers, and to endow meaningful lives with creativity and variety. Developing these capacities is not only important for a successful economy, but also for effective social engagement, participatory democracy, and more equitable communities. Despite the challenges of the 21st Century, many of today’s schools still operate as they did at the beginning of the last century and are not encouraging the deep learning and skills that underlie innovative activity.
(OECD-CERI – Innovative Learning Environments)

Creativity can be both ‘caught’ and ‘taught’ in the right environment and with the right kind of support.  We are all born with a huge potential for learning and creativity. Some people, including Sir Ken Robinson, would go as far to say that it is systematically ‘schooled out of us’.

Creativity is not just about abilities: it is also about attitude.  A creative environment will encourage a willingness to play with ideas and consider possibilities, a flexibility of outlook and a desire to improve.  Mistakes and failures should be expected and accepted and seen as providing opportunities for reflection, self-evaluation and feedback for learners, helping them to understand and take responsibility for their own learning.

Malcolm Gladwell stresses how important opportunity and time are in enabling individuals – like Bill Gates – or groups – like The Beatles – to develop skills, understand processes and then translate these into innovation and invention.  Schools and other settings can provide this kind of support by being committed to fostering creativity and creating time and opportunities for its development.  However, simply believing that creativity can be fostered is not enough.  We need to be clear about what conditions we should create to help young people become more creative.

Teaching clearly has a technical component that fits comfortably with a ‘ticking boxes’ approach to management.  However, the effective teacher needs to be much more than a technician. Successful professional practice is a highly complex and adaptive challenge. If systems of accountability do not recognise this then the practitioner can be de-professionalised, with a negative effect on the learning environment.

It is recognised that for teachers, innovation and creativity enable new ways of working and also present major challenges.  We need all educators to be collaborative, open-minded, flexible and experimental and to bring out the creativity in learners in non-threatening environments. Collegiality and collaboration for learners and staff alike are enhanced by teams and partners who think creatively and are keen to find innovative solutions to problems.

Now that we understand something of how the complex dance between the ‘natural’ and ‘nurtured’ happens we can consider what we can do to make sure that the dance is supported in a way that helps young people to exploit their full potential.

Young children come hard-wired, genetically predisposed to be creative.
(Stanley Greenspan)

If they knew how hard I have to work to achieve my mastery they would not think it so wonderful.

It is widely accepted that an important part of creativity is based on intrinsic motivation – the desire to carry out something for its own sake.  People who are being creative often work long and hard, not necessarily because someone else has asked them to, or because of the hope of some kind of external reward, but because of a deep interest, love even, for what they are doing and a deep desire to create.  Teachers need to bear this in mind in working with young people.

Too many carrots as well as too much stick are inimical to creative intuition.
(Guy Claxton)

We can help develop a personal disposition to be creative.  This related to what Robert Fisher in Teaching Children to Think calls the ‘experimental’ self, rather than the ‘safeguarding’ self. Of course we always need to a bit of both and success lies in supporting learners to recognise when each might be important and find the right balance for the appropriate context, including how to keep themselves safe from harm.


The ‘experimental’ self is: The ‘safeguarding’ self is:
curious cautious
confident lacks resilience
speculative sticks to what it knows
shows independence relies on others
takes risks avoids risks
is playful is serious
flexible rigid
likes surprises avoids surprises
shares dreams keeps feelings private


People who are able to work creatively can also be thought of as having relatively few inhibitions to thinking ‘outside the box’ – they don’t have what Roger Von Oech in his book A Whack on the Side of the Head describes as the ‘mental locks’ on creativity.

Mental locks on creativity

The right answer Follow the rules That’s not my area Don’t be foolish
That’s not logical Be practical Play is frivolous Avoid ambiguity

To err is wrong

I am not creative


We can help young people to develop their capacity for creative thinking.  This means not only growing their natural talent for divergent, exploratory thinking, but helping them balance and use it alongside convergent and analytical thinking.

The brain is built to linger as well as rush and sometimes slow browsing leads to better answers.
(Guy Claxton)

A key factor here is what might be called ‘unconscious intelligence’. This entails helping students to be able to tap into the power of their unconscious mind and use what has been variously called ‘fuzzy’, ‘dreamy’, ‘contemplative’ or ‘intuitive’ thinking or ‘learning by osmosis’.  Thinking too much or too hard can get in the way of creativity; wanting an idea too much and trying to hard can interfere with the gestation process.  Although intuitions can be wrong, they are often more valuable and trustworthy than we might think.

The importance of unconscious thought is no better described than in Claxton’s book, the very title of which presents a challenge to much current thinking in the education system: Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: Why Intelligence Increases When You Think Less. For Claxton, allowing the mind to meander is not a luxury: we need the tortoise mind as much as we need the hare brain.  He believes that educational establishments have traditionally been very poor at valuing, supporting and helping young children to develop this kind of thinking and in fact it has been actively discouraged.

This has to an extent been exacerbated by the emphasis that has been placed at all levels of the education system on curriculum coverage, with not a minute to be wasted as we seek to cover the ground faster and faster.  An overemphasis on ideas about accelerated learning can also be detrimental to opportunities for slower yet purposeful reflection.  Claxton suggests that the notion of ‘think fast, we need results’ is as absurd as the old Polish saying ‘sleep fast, we need the pillows’.

[The next post examines how we can respect and build on the learner's world to promote creativity.]

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Creativity across Learning #3 – What is creativity?⤴

from @ Laurie O'Donnell

Having set the context the next question is one of defining the concept in a way that makes sense and is useful from an educational perspective. Again the text below is taken from a 2011 unpublished draft of Creativity across Learning. It starts with one of my favourite definitions of creativity from Sir Ken Robinson:

Imagination is not the same as creativity.  Creativity takes the process of imagination to another level.  My definition of creativity is ‘the process of having original ideas that have value.’  Imagination can be entirely internal.  You could be imaginative all day long without anyone noticing.  But you never say that someone was creative if that person never did anything.  To be creative you actually have to do something.  It involves putting your imagination to work to make something new, to come up with new solutions to problems, even to think of new problems or questions. You can think of creativity as applied imagination.
(Sir Ken Robinson, 2007)

Creativity is an ambiguous and often controversial term.  It is used, for example, in relation to the achievements of extraordinary individuals such as Beethoven, Curie, Einstein, and even Lady Gaga.  It is also used in relation to the inventiveness and experimentation that is well within the capacity of people generally.

It is also important to remember that creativity can have what Arthur Cropley has called a ‘dark side’, for example in the invention and use of cluster bombs and ingenious instruments of torture.  The creative intentions of people, the processes they follow in ‘applying their imagination’ and the products they create always sit in a wider social and cultural context and are shaped by the creator’s values.  They can sometimes cause more harm than good. So creativity, like all other aspects of human existence, always has an ethical dimension and this should be considered as an integral part of responsible citizenship.

Creativity is not the same as remembering, understanding or applying knowledge. Although it builds on these foundations, creativity is the culmination or ultimate act of learning, the process that takes humanity forward rather than just reproducing the way we have done things have been in the past.

Creativity is by no means limited to the so-called ‘creative arts’.  When we think about it, what is more creative than good science, technology, mathematics or social science?  Expert scientists, technologists and mathematicians are no less creative than talented artists or authors.

Equally misguided is the notion that the creative process just happens – all inspiration and no perspiration. This derives, in part, from a belief that creative thinking is somehow separate from other forms of thinking and that it is not possible to plan for creative ideas.  The notion that ‘creative’ individuals will come up with ideas because they are ‘good at that sort of thing’ and that disciplined thinking is at odds with creative thinking need to be challenged as representing what Carol Dweck would call ‘fixed mindsets’. Everyone can learn to be more creative, but only if they have the right attitude, what she calls a ‘learning mindset’.

Although creativity is not amenable to being described neatly, it does have a number of important characteristics.

  • It always involves originality, the ‘forming’ or ‘making’ of something new, whether it is an artefact or action, or a system or procedure.
  • It involves the purposeful application of often laboriously acquired knowledge and skills.
  • It includes various ways of thinking, doing and communicating: creative developments involve, for example, contributions of imaginative, intuitive and logical thinking.
  • It can be evident in the thinking and actions of groups and communities as well as individuals.
  • It is not of itself a good thing; rather its expression is influenced by values of all sorts, not least ethical and moral values.

Another way to try and understand creativity is to consider the characteristics demonstrated by people whose work is recognised to be highly creative.  Research on such people has found that they are not utterly unlike ourselves.  They are exemplary, not because of what they ‘do differently’ but because what they ‘do more of’.  As Arthur Cropley points out, any list of the characteristics of such people has a taste of mother’s apple pie about it.  Nor does it contain any surprises that could not have been guessed at without any research.  Who would expect those we associate with creative work to be narrow-minded, rigid, conforming and lacking self-confidence? We might however expect them to be adept at some of the following skills:

  • Making remote or uncommon associations
  • Constructing unusual categories
  • Finding new starting points
  • Going beyond the information given
  • Building broad networks
  • Producing novel configurations
  • Trusting personal intuition
  • Not being put off too easily when they are faced with challenges

Promoting critical thinking is one key to fostering creativity. Critical thinking and creative thinking are not at odds.  Although distinguishable, they are interconnected and rely on each other.  This realisation has profound implications for the way we think about creativity and the way in which it is developed.

Creative processes occur when there is an integration of the characteristics of both critical and creative thinking:

  • Openness combined with a drive to focus
  • Imagination combined with a strong sense of reality
  • Critical and deconstructive attitudes together with constructive problem-solving
  • Cool neutrality combined with passionate engagement
  • Self-centredness coexisting with altruism
  • Tendency to beak rules while remaining within acceptable limits
  • Self-criticism and self-doubt together with self-confidence
  • Tension and concentration side-by-side with being at ease
[The next few posts will explore how we can foster creativity.]

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Creativity across Learning #2 – Why is creativity important?⤴

from @ Laurie O'Donnell

In this second post I want to to set the context by returning to the unpublished Learning and Teaching Scotland Advisory Group document of 2011. The text below is all drawn from a draft of ‘Creativity across Learning’ and should be seen as the efforts of an ‘expert’ group rather than my own work.

The introduction started off with a quote from the Scottish Government’s Excellence Group on ‘Higher Order Skills’ [which I can't seem to find online anymore???]:

In a small developed country like Scotland with the aspiration to maintain a high wage economy, economic issues are of great importance. There requires to be an understanding of the link between the prosperity of the national economy and the employment prospects of the individual. The curriculum needs to foster the development of the skills and attitudes that underpin enterprise, creativity, sustainable development and the ability to compete successfully in high added value areas of activity.  Even relatively small improvements in these areas can have large impacts on social as well as economic wellbeing by reducing disadvantage and alienation while at the same time releasing untapped potential.
(Scottish Government
Higher Order Skills Excellence Group) 

If this is accepted then the challenge for every society is how best to enable its citizens to acquire the knowledge, skills and competences necessary for success in our rapidly changing and turbulent world. It is in this context that creativity is becoming increasingly recognised as at the heart of all learning for all of us. Creativity is a crucial agent of transformation for Scottish education, at the very core of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).

A good basic education may have been the best inoculation against poverty in the past but it takes the spark of ingenuity, innovation, adaptive competence and creativity for people to thrive in today’s world.  This is a central tenet of CfE, and if we are to succeed in taking forward this challenging agenda, both the culture of education and educational systems need to change to support it.

Curriculum for Excellence is …Scotland’s educational response to the new demands and challenges posed by global change. This change is rapid, accelerating, pervasive and profound. It embraces technological and economic change but also change in custom and belief. Few aspects of life are being left untouched.(Higher Order Skills Excellence Group, 2011)

It is difficult to deny that traditionally creativity has been a low priority in our thinking about school education and the curriculum. This has been the situation not only because of often narrow perceptions of how learning takes place, the primacy given to curriculum content and constraints of timetabling practices, but also because the cultivation of creativity tends to make classroom organisation more complex, lessons more fluid and outcomes less predictable. Fostering young people’s creativity presents significant and demanding challenges to both schools and the wider community.

Teachers can therefore feel real tensions when it comes to the curriculum. They know that there is often too much thinking and learning done in tidy boxes with too few opportunities to make connections across curriculum areas to ‘join-up’ learning. The pressure of time and the constraints of the timetable and our subject-based qualifications framework have often militated against meaningful and sustainable innovation in the classroom.

However, if Curriculum for Excellence is to succeed, the role of creativity as an essential dimension of thinking and learning must be strengthened, with interdisciplinary learning and the skills framework seen not as alternatives to depth, but rather as another means of developing creativity in and through the curriculum.

An emphasis on higher order skills is … integral to Curriculum for Excellence. It is an inescapable consequence of the social and economic realities of the twenty-first century; the need to evaluate increasingly complex issues, the ability to compete on creativity and quality rather than scale and cost, the capacity to anticipate the ‘next big thing’, and the agility to respond quickly and effectively.
(Higher Order Skills Excellence Group, 2011)

For every teacher and every learner Curriculum for Excellence must above all be a curriculum where excellence and creativity become synonymous.

[In the next post the focus is on defining our terms -  what we do we actually mean by creativity?]

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Creativity across Learning #1 – Introduction⤴

from @ Laurie O'Donnell

Creativity in Education


A couple of weeks ago I attended another wonderful Creative Conversation organised by Linda Lees of  Edinburgh City Council. It was a session led by Paul Collard, CEO of the international foundation Creativity Culture and Education. The impact of CCE is really impressive and I really enjoyed the breadth and depth Paul brought to the conversation.

On the way back north I got thinking about creativity and was reminded of the summer of 2001 when I moved from being an education adviser with Dundee City Council to a newly created role as head of future learning and teaching at what was Learning and Teaching Scotland (subsequently merged into Education Scotland).

One my first jobs was to help pull together a publication around the theme of ‘Creativity in Education‘. I had always been sceptical about the term ‘creativity’ – it seemed to me to be a very poorly defined concept. I couldn’t understand why reproducing an opera exactly as it had been written 100 years could be called ‘creative’. In my experience the world of science and technology was just as creative as the so-called creative arts – brimming with the new, the beautiful, the innovative and the imaginative. Furthermore new industries such as computer games were breaking the false dichotomies between the disciplines. A great game depends just as much on wonderful graphic design and a compelling narrative as it does on the accuracy of the coding. Whilst the notion that some people are born creative and others not just struck me as profoundly anti-educational as well as largely counterfactual.  The LTS publication ‘Creativity in Education‘ set out to debunk some of these myths, reframed the concept and to my mind broke new ground in what has become a crucially important discourse.

Anyway 10 years later in 2011 I was once again asked to support some work on this theme. The Advisory Council of Learning and Teaching Scotland asked me help to update ‘Creativity in Education‘ in the context of the new Scottish Curriculum (aka Curriculum for Excellence). I was delighted to work once again with an inspirational group of people and the result was a draft publication entitled ‘Creativity across Learning‘. The document was lost in the merger of LTS with the Scottish schools inspectorate and unfortunately never saw the light of day. Over the next couple of weeks I want to reflect on the seven questions that ‘Creativity across Learning‘ raised:

  1. What do we mean by ‘creativity’?
  2. What does a ‘creative learning environment’ look and feel like?
  3. How do we respect and build on the ‘learner’s world?
  4. How can leaders go about transforming the culture so that everybody promotes creativity in learning?
  5. What needs to be done to promote creativity in professional learning?
  6. What kind of assessment and qualifications would best support creativity in learning?
  7. What kind of inspection, quality assurance and accountability regimes would best support creativity in learning?

I think these are still great questions and look forward to sharing some of the answers that were suggested in 2011.




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Our Big Box – Online Reminiscence⤴

from @ Laurie O'Donnell


The Launch
After a year of development Our Big Box was launched on 6 June, during Dementia Awareness Week, at the Alzheimer Scotland Innovation, Research & Technology conference. We received really encouraging feedback from a very experienced and grounded group of delegates that gave us even more confidence that we are on the right track.

The System
Our Big Box is an online system designed to facilitate conversation and the sharing of stories through reminiscence sessions. One key group of beneficiaries will be those affected by dementia – but reminiscence is just a great way to connect and overcome the social isolation that many people face in their lives.

The system is designed to be easy to use and the idea is simply that family members or carers upload photos into the system and then run reminiscence sessions based on these. Images can also be drawn from other users who have chosen to share their photos or from the range digital archives that we are currently working with.

At moment Our Big Box works with photos, which are often the best stimuli for conversation, but over time we will include audio and video. We are working with a large number of content providers including digital archives and plan to include this functionality in the next major release of the system.

The intelligence of our software and the social network that will be built around Our Big Box will be crucial  success factors. Users of the system can choose to keep photos private if they are personal or share them if they think they might be useful or interesting to others. The system is designed to identify patterns, learn from what works and then suggest content that might help stimulate conversations.

It’s Completely Free!
Hard to believe in the digital world where ‘free’ usually means for a limited period or you get a cut down version of the software or even worse free until you really need it then we will start charging.  The Memory Box Network is the registered charity behind the system and the intention is that Our Big Box will be completely free to use for all. We are planning on the basis that we will be self-funding within three years based on donations from people using Our Big Box and appreciating its value. We have plans to develop some tools to support care home users to manage multiple accounts and we may charge a small fee for those who choose to opt into this additional service.

Next Steps
Having raised funding to get to this stage from Nominet Trust and others we now need to raise enough further develop the system and get Our Big Box out to every family that needs it wherever in the world they live. Sign-up for an account today and start sharing those stories with your loved ones.




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