Teaching English Creatively

I would like to start by trying to define what creativity is all about. Think of what you would label as ‘creative’ outside the realm of education and teaching. What is a creative idea or design? What is a creative way of doing different things?

It seems that a comprehensive approach to define creativity needs to take into account three main elements:
1. Firstly there comes NOVELTY. It goes without saying that anything creative, be it a product, a course of action or idea departs from what is familiar.
2. Secondly, we need to consider EFFECTIVENESS. Why so? Effectiveness is a key concept as it means that it WORKS, in the sense that it achieves an end. This end may be aesthetic, artistic, spiritual, and not surprisingly, may also be material, such as winning or making a profit.
3. The third element defining creativity must be ETHICALITY. Consider the fact that what we label as “creative” is associated with positive features and not usually used to describe selfish or destructive behaviour, crimes, etc. How would we define such negative sort of creativity? Probably we would call it “deceitfully cunning”, ‘diabolically ingenious’, ‘hellishly original’, maybe.

No talk about creativity should ignore the LOCATION or the ENVIRONMENT.

Now let’s return to the main triad. Let’s consider novelty. Some argue that randomness is the brightest facet of creativity? Is it now?
Would you call the series of sounds produced by, let’s say a cat making its way across the keys of a perfectly tuned concert piano, a creative attempt at making music? What about a piece of software that is programmed to pick up random words from a dictionary and put them together one after another – would that be an illustration of what creativeness is all about? Definitely not! So what is missing from the picture? Yes, it is purpose and intention, both human by excellence.

Genuine creativity therefore is not just novelty. A product or response must be relevant to the issue at stake and must provide some sort of original solution. In other words, it must prove EFFECTIVE. Otherwise, any far-fetched, outrageous or preposterous idea or situation, any surprising act of nonconformity would by virtue of being astonishing be creative. It is true that in the real world, what is meant by “effective” may differ from, let’s say, fine art to business. In the realm of arts, an effective expression is aesthetically pleasant and manages to convey the artist’s message, whereas in business, it may translate into increased profit, or avoidance of lay-offs or it may mean the survival of a company.

Do they exclude each other? No! We need not dismiss them as mutually exclusive. A book, for instance, can be commercially successful and at the same time, be an artistic achievement, written in an elegant, beautiful language.)

Now, touching the third concept from the original threesome – ETHICALITY.

Creativity, we initially agreed that has highly positive connotations. Yet, here comes the nasty part. How about the effectiveness and relevant novelty of new weapons of mass destruction? Think about how many revolutionary new ideas have negatively impacted our world regardless of the original intent of the people producing these ideas.

CLASSROOM CREATIVITY

Now let’s step into the classroom. Why is it important to foster creativity in education? Let’s have a look at what the UK National Curriculum Handbook envisages as the educators’ mission:  “By providing rich and varied contexts for pupils to acquire, develop and apply a broad range of knowledge, understanding and skills, the curriculum should enable pupils to think creatively and critically, to solve problems and to make a difference for the better. It should give them the opportunity to become creative, innovative, enterprising and capable of leadership to equip them for their future lives as workers and citizens. It should enable pupils to respond positively to opportunities, challenges and responsibilities, to manage risk and cope with change and adversity.

How can this be achieved? Well, here are some key points:

Creative teaching may be defined in two ways: firstly, teaching creatively and secondly, teaching for creativity.
Teaching creatively might be described as teachers using imaginative approaches to make learning more interesting, engaging, exciting and effective. Teaching for creativity might best be described as using forms of teaching that are intended to develop students own creative thinking and behaviour. However, it would be fair to say that teaching for creativity must involve creative teaching. Teachers cannot develop the creative abilities of their students if their own creative abilities are undiscovered or suppressed.

Teaching with creativity and teaching for creativity include all the characteristics of good teaching – including high motivation, high expectations, the ability to communicate and listen and the ability to interest, engage and inspire.

Creative teachers need expertise in their particular fields but they need more than this. They need techniques that stimulate curiosity and raise self-esteem and confidence. They must recognize when encouragement is needed and confidence threatened. They must balance structured learning with opportunities for self-direction; and the management of groups while giving attention to individuals.

Teaching for creativity is not an easy option, but it can be enjoyable and deeply fulfilling. It can involve more time and planning to generate and develop ideas and to evaluate whether they have worked. It involves confidence to improvise and take detours, to pick up unexpected opportunities for learning; to live with uncertainty and to risk admitting that an idea led nowhere. Creative teachers are always willing to experiment but they recognize the need to learn from experience. All of this requires more, not less, expertise of teachers.

I have myself reached some conclusions about encouraging creativity based on my experience in class, which I hope you can relate to as well:

  • When being given assignments that involve being creative, give students extended, unhurried time to explore and do their best work.  Ideally, don’t interfere when students are productively engaged and motivated to complete tasks in which they are fully engaged.
  • Create an inviting and exciting classroom environment. Provide students with space to leave unfinished work for later completion and quiet space for contemplation.
  • Provide an abundant supply of interesting and useful materials and resources.
  • Create a classroom climate where students feel mistakes are acceptable and risk taking is encouraged. Appropriate noise, mess and autonomy are accepted.

Creativity in the classroom – what it looks like when you look at your students

We need to start teaching for creativity. It is an end in itself since the benefits in terms of confidence, lateral thinking and problem solving skills are immense.

When students are being creative in the classroom, they are likely to:

  • question and challenge. Creative students are curious, question and challenge, and don’t necessarily follow the rules;
  • make connections and see relationships. Creative pupils think laterally and make associations between things that are not usually connected;
  • envision what might be. They imagine, see possibilities, ask ‘what if?’, picture alternatives, and look at things from different viewpoints;
  • explore ideas and options. Creative students play with ideas, try alternatives and fresh approaches, keep open minds and modify their ideas to achieve creative results;
  • reflect critically on ideas, actions and outcomes. They review progress, invite and use feedback, criticize constructively and make perceptive observations.

To encourage the above is likely to require a change in the way schools are run, the way teachers teach, and the need to re-invent yourself as a teacher. I have made it my personal goal to make an attempt at this by means of bringing fun in.

Positive Outcome of Teacher Humour Use

What qualifies as class humour? Well, a broad definition will have to take into consideration jokes, puns, funny stories, humorous comments, riddles, personal anecdotes, but also verbal and non-verbal humour, impersonation, self-irony. These means nevertheless have to be carefully managed to be appropriate, related to the item to be taught and not offensive or discriminating.

What can humour do as an instructional aid? Does it improve teaching? Yes, but not by itself.

Humour is a fantastic educational tool that teachers can use in the classroom to increase effectiveness.
When teachers use it effectively, humour can result in number of advantages both for you as a teacher, but also for your students. Here are the more obvious:

  • Teachers may receive more positive student evaluations while having students become more willing to attend and participate in their classes.
  • Students may become more motivated to do well in class;
  • There is a significant improvement in the students’ performance.

How does it work?

One explanation for this is based on attention-gaining and holding power of humour. Basically, since humour is stimulating, it is arousing, which positively impacts on the students’ attention span and concentration, which in turn relates to memory and ultimately learning outcomes.

Humour can also be a powerful means of bridging the gap between the teacher and the students. It helps teachers to reduce tension, to facilitate self-disclosure, to relieve embarrassment, to save face, to defuse potential conflicts, to alleviate boredom, to convey good will, to gain liking.

It is a well-known fact that we are more likely to comply with requests that are made by those individuals we like. In sum, if students like the teacher they will be more willing to comply with a wide range of teacher requests, eventually translating in greater learning opportunities.

As teachers, it is our role to adopt a relaxed and positive attitude in our teaching environment since students learn more, talk more, and have more fun if they are in a relaxed atmosphere. But, as with all learning situations, there is a fine tune for when to draw a limit. The kind of humour discussed here requires no humoristic skills. “Humour” refers to humoristic remarks and actions that naturally occur in the communicative teaching of a second language with the clear aim of assisting in teaching. Most remarks are linguistically based in that they are related to the linguistic messages taught, and are directly associated to or serving to explain a concept to be learnt and tested for recall later. When it comes to humour, it is certainly not our role as teachers to be comedians.

Humour, clearly, contributes to creating a positive environment for learning. The extent to which one uses humour varies with the type of class one has. When used properly, humour ought to allow students to feel as part of the class and possibly contribute without feeling exposed or vulnerable. Teachers do not have to be gifted humourists to attain the benefits of using humour in the classroom.  It’s a skilful way of reaching out to those students who are too afraid or nervous to attempt expressing themselves in their second language. Fun through humour cannot save a poorly planned class, though.

Be careful when using it – it needs to be appropriate  – consider the age group, the level of language, specifics of the groups, etc.

In conclusion, in the learning context, it has been proved that creativity stimulates, engages, motivates and gives satisfaction to both parties involved in the process -teachers and learners.

 

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