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Are we stifling creativity at the start of the teaching-learning process? December 1, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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By Mary Southall

With an ever increasing focus upon the need to develop graduates with high level creative, risk-taking, and entrepreneurial skills, it is more important than ever to explore our approaches to the teaching-learning process. Graduate teachers need to be able to design, plan and deliver exciting, engaging and innovative learning opportunities. This article argues that the approach to planning, whether formal or informal, needs to be considered in relation to developing creative learning activities and creative learning environments. We need to start questioning the processes we use to plan the types of learning environments and activities that encourage the development of creativity. This article explores different approaches to planning and asks, ‘are we using the most effective approaches to planning to ensure creative skills are developed?’

Rationalistic, technical curriculum planning has been the dominant model underpinning planning for teaching and learning for a generation or more in England and Wales (Parkay and Hass, 2000) and involves the use of a linear approach to planning, which begins with the specification of objectives and ends with a lesson evaluation. This dominant or ‘rational’ approach to planning is based on Tyler’s (1949) model of curriculum theory and practice, comprising a systematic approach based upon the formulation of behavioural objectives. This approach provides a clear notion of outcome, so that content and method may be organised and the results evaluated. It considers education to be a technical exercise of organising the outcomes or products of learning, whereby objectives are set, a plan drawn up and applied and the outcomes (products) measured. Snape (2013) provides an example of what he defines as ‘quality learning’ through such a technical, sequenced linear pathway, including: the intended learning; teaching episodes; opportunities for tangibly evidenced student work; and criteria for successful achievement.

Several alternative and adapted planning approaches are present in the current literature, which are particularly pertinent to when requiring a more creative, risk-taking approach to teaching and learning, for example in Technology education. The ‘naturalistic’ or ‘organic’ model, based on the work of Stenhouse (1975) and Egan (1992; 1997), was developed from the apparent conflict between the need to carefully specify learning intentions and the dynamic nature of classrooms, and was an attempt to emulate a realistic planning process based on the ‘natural’ interactions in a classroom. Naturalistic planning involves starting with activities and the ideas that flow from them before assigning learning objectives (John, 2006). Although lacking detail in terms of pedagogical requirements and consideration, this model does resonate with Perkins, Tishman, Ritchart, Donis and Andrade’s (2000) notion of ‘learning in the wild’, when learning settings are recognized as ‘messy and complex’ (Carr, 2008: 36). Perkins and Saloman (1992) argue for the need for learners to experience more ‘natural’ learning environments, with teachers’ planning procedures supporting this notion.

Within a creative or problem-solving learning space – for example, in a Technology education context – ‘wicked problems or tasks’ (Rittel and Webber, 1973) can be set. These are described as ‘problems of deciding what is better when the situation is ambiguous at best’ (Marback, 2009: 399), and support the ‘naturalistic’ model, as wicked problems are not solvable. These problems are contingent problems of deciding what to do. They require continual evolution and, as such, are based upon the continual morphing of ideas and idea development, through a problem- solving process (Kimbell, Saxton and Miller, 2000). Such a ‘naturalistic’ model requires teachers to plan and create realistic design scenarios in order for students to learn the authentic nature of design activity, thus allowing students to experience environments where experimentation and exploration are dominant approaches.

The ‘interactional method’ of planning, another alternative to the dominant model, stresses the interactive nature of learning and, therefore, learning objectives (Brady, 1995; Bell and Lofoe,1998). Whilst the ‘interaction’ model specifies the same design elements as the linear objectives model, the ‘interactional method’ planning process can begin with any of the elements. Based on this model, all curriculum elements interact with each other throughout the design/planning process and, therefore, the design of one element will influence and possibly change the design decisions for other elements. For example, method might be specified first, but altered later as a result of an assessment decision. From a practical perspective, this model makes it possible to specify learning objectives after all other elements have been decided (Bell and Lefoe, 1998).

The ‘articulated curriculum’ (Hussey and Smith, 2003: 360) provides a similar approach to the ‘interactional model’, where the respective elements exist in a state of mutual interaction and influence. Alexander (2000) compares this ‘articulated curriculum’ approach to planning to the structure of a musical performance, where the composition is analogous to the lesson plan, and the performance shifts according to interpretation and improvisation. This ‘responsive’ approach to planning requires the teacher to be vigilant of the learning progression within the class and respond accordingly, and is synonymous with the formative assessment principles of ‘feedback’ (Ramaprasad, 1983). Biggs’s (1999) notion of constructive alignment also supports this way of approaching planning for teaching and learning.

To allow students to develop creative, risk-taking, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, we as educators need to provide authentic opportunities for students to develop such skills. By using different approaches to planning, teaching and learning, a greater range of ideas are produced and consequently new and innovative teaching and learning environments are potentially developed. Arguably by generating a creative input into the initial stages of the teaching-learning process, we are more likely to not only produce a creative output, but maintain creativity and innovation throughout the process. I believe it is important for pre-service teachers to have the opportunity to explore different approaches to planning, to develop their own approaches and styles, and to identify planning approaches that support the nature of the subject being taught.



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Biggs, J. (1999). Teaching for Quality Learning at University. Buckingham: SRHE and Open University Press.

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Tyler, R. (1949). “How Can Learning Experiences be Organised for Effective Instructon?” Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction. Chicago, USA: University of Chicago Press.


Dr Mary Southall is currently the Curriculum Advisor for the School of Education, having worked in the UK as an independent education consultant for over ten years.  Prior to this, she worked as a design and technology teacher in a range of school contexts and was involved in the development of the National Strategies embedded in all secondary schools in England and Wales.

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