English teachers Cameron Atkinson and Amanda Lazar explored just such questions in a fascinating recent project amongst Year 7 boys at The Scots College, as part of their candidature in the Scots/Sydney University Masters of Educational Leadership program. Applying the philosophy of 'action learning' in the English classroom, they conducted a five-week multi-layered teaching and learning module in which boys and teachers reflected on their understandings of creativity and engaged in learning activities that sought to inspire inventiveness in the classroom.
They made some intriguing findings. Creativity is risky business. It’s imaginative, it’s often fairly abstract, and it’s generally more about a complex process than a simple result. Consequently, boys can quickly disengage from activities labelled 'creative', fearing they might 'get it wrong' and jeopardize their grades. That said, teachers can still help boys be richly creative in their work, surpassing their own expectations. The key to encouraging student creativity across a range of learning outcomes is the cultivation of ‘a classroom environment where students feel valued and respected together with the programming of engaging and kinesthetic learning activities that allow students a degree of autonomy’.
Atkinson and Lazar found dramatic role plays to be one such activity which proved successful in unlocking creativity, students finding themselves free to take risks and express emotions. So were student-led inquiry projects. As students wielded the whiteboard marker themselves, moved around the classroom, discussed ideas, took risks and made decisions collaboratively, they seemed to both enjoy learning and take more from it. Teachers stepped back from providing detailed scaffolds and operated more as coaches, encouraging the students, in their words, ‘to think on our own, or work as a team’. Boys growing into fine men of confidence, teamwork and ingenuity through intentionally creative classrooms makes for Brave Hearts and Bold Minds with the creative resources to become world-changing thinkers. Dr. Seuss would be delighted.
For more on Atkinson and Lazar's research see the Scots Research Paper Series, no. 1.