Learning and Thinking Skills looks at activities that can be used to initiate dialogue about creativity between staff and studentspdf-4437679

Creativity concept line and slips.pdf

Last time, we looked at a case study from a secondary school in Northumberland where staff and KS3 students are actively engaged in exploring how creativity might be promoted in students’ learning across the curriculum. In this issue, we will look at one of the activities used to initiate dialogue about creativity between staff and students.

This school was not alone in its concern that an ‘off the peg’ skills framework, however well constructed, might become a substitute for genuine dialogue between teaching professionals about the kinds of adults we want our children to become, and the skills, dispositions, interests and concerns that our curricula should therefore aim to nurture. The activity described below was, therefore, used as part of the process of encouraging both staff and students to articulate existing ideas and move towards a shared understanding of what ‘creativity’ and ‘teaching for creativity’ might involve. 

Talking about creativity: a Concept Line activity
Concepts are never straightforward and pure. One concept tends to merge into another; what is ‘good’ seems to shade into what is ‘bad’ as white shades into black. Concept Lines help students (and adults) to explore these grey areas of our thought and develop their reasoning skills at the same time.

A Concept Line is ‘drawn’ between a particular concept and its opposite − for example ‘fair/unfair’, ‘courage/not courage’ or ‘art/not art’.  Students position a set of possible ‘examples’ of the concept in question along this line.  In this activity, of course, the concept to be explored is ‘creativity’.

Follow this link for a ready-made set of example cards.

Each example or ‘non-example’ is designed to throw up a possible characteristic of creativity, to a greater or lesser degree, as taken from the influential work by the QCA, Creativity: find it, promote it (2005), namely:

  • Questioning and challenging conventions and assumptions.
  • Making inventive connections and associating things that are not usually related.
  • Envisaging what might be: imagining – seeing things in the mind’s eye.
  • Trying alternatives and fresh approaches, keeping options open.
  • Generating solutions and outcomes that are of value.
  • Reflecting critically on ideas, actions and outcomes.

Concept Line: instructions

  1. Give each group of participants an A3 Concept Line template, or simply get them to draw a Concept Line on a sheet of paper and label either end with the concepts you have chosen.  Also distribute a set of numbered ‘example’ cards.
  2. Ask each group to look at each example in turn, and place it somewhere on the line, between the two extremes.
  3. Warn them that you will be asking them to explain and justify their placements as a whole group or class once they have reached a consensus.  (Where helpful, use the ‘Numbered heads’ cooperative learning structure to foster equal participation. See Issue no. 13 ‘Cooperative learning approaches for developing team workers’.)

Concept Line: talking about thinking
Help the group to draw up a list of the criteria they’ve used to reach their decisions and feel their way towards a definition of the key concept:

  • What criteria have you used to decide that this statement is an example of creativity whereas that one is not?
  • So are you saying that being creative involves…?
  • Who do you know or who have you heard about who is creative?
  • Does the definition of creativity that you have come up with seem to apply to these people?  How?

Here are some ‘thinking words’ that you might introduce to help students express their ideas clearly: explain             reason              agree/disagree             opinion           example             alternative assume           opposite            difference/distinction              criteria            definition         infer

Concept Line: creating your own
When devising a set of ‘examples’ for a Concept Line make sure to include:

  • Examples that are definitely instances of the concept in question.
  • Examples that are definitely not.
  • Examples from the ‘grey area’ where participants will be less certain, where they will tend to disagree with each other, where they will have to consider what others say and may have second thoughts and change their minds as the discussion proceeds. In the process, they will be encouraged to justify their viewpoints, make distinctions, and develop criteria upon which to base their judgements.

A Concept Line activity is an excellent stimulus for discussion and always helps to generate new insight and understanding.  For some colleagues, the activity raised questions as to whether the emphasis on personal, learning and thinking skills and social and emotional behaviour in the KS3 curriculum adequately encompasses all aspects of creativity. Others wondered whether the term ‘creativity and critical thinking skills’ – one of the ‘cross-curriculum dimensions’ of the secondary curriculum – implicitly limits creativity to a cognitive and logical skill disconnected from any emotional or spiritual reaction, and excludes intuition or spontaneous non-linear behaviour.

The next few issues will offer relevant digests of contemporary thinking on creativity and teaching for creativity, as well as some practical tools and approaches for fostering creativity in the classroom.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2009

About the author: Anne de A’Echevarria is the author of the award winning ‘Thinking Through School’. Previously a teacher, PGCE tutor and head of ‘Thinking for Learning’, a research and development team partnered with Newcastle University, she now works as a freelance education consultant and writer.