Can Creativity Be Taught?

I remember myself in a classroom, a few years ago, telling children ‘don’t forget to be creative’, while they were writing a story. I also remember cringing inside as I said those words because I had never really taught them what creativity meant! I had never shared with them how to think creatively. I had never primed their brains to be creative.

I rarely got a creative response or creative ideas back, barring from a few children, who were inherently more imaginative and creative and I know that wasn’t down to me.

I read. I learned and I now know that:

Creativity can be taught.

Creativity needs to be taught.

Creativity must be taught.

Creativity must be valued.

You were wired to be creative.”

Gerard Puccio

Before the new National Curriculum, the National Literacy Strategy, had references to reading documents and videos to enable teachers and develop them professionally. One of the key features ‘Talk for Writing’ was extremely valuable. It was then that I came across Pie Corbett’s videos.

Corbett believes in explicitly sharing the thoughts inside a reader and writer’s mind. He asks key questions. He asks leading questions. He provides prompts and scaffolds to open up thinking. According to him, ‘the first thought that comes to your mind, is not often the best thought’. Says a lot, doesn’t it?  We often grab the first thought and start, but have you noticed what happens to ideas when you wait, dig deeper and reflect on prompts a little longer?

Wait time is crucial. Do we provide enough wait time?

Why wait time?

In order to teach well, it’s important to make sure you leave time for students to actually think about your question and formulate a response.

The benefits for children are many:

  • Their responses tend to be longer. They elaborate more on what they have to say.
  • There are fewer ‘I don’t know’s, or silence, in response to teacher prompts.
  • More students volunteer responses.

Researchers have found that teachers who incorporate wait time are also better teachers:

  • They ask a wider variety of types of questions and in different ways.
  • They ask fewer questions, but better questions.
  • They ask more questions that require higher level thinking.

It is important to be aware that talk for writing is essential at every stage of the teaching sequence and writing process. When using the process effectively, there will be a critical shift from,  “Write your story” to “Let’s use our ideas to plan what the beginning of the story would be like.” “Let’s re-read the beginning to see what we can change or improve.” It is about the process of shared writing, shared reflecting and shared editing and it is then, when sparks of creativity are lit.

The goal is to help children with thinking processes and routines and make them visible in classroom practice. ‘It is this developmental exploration, through talk, of the thinking and creative processes involved in being a writer, that is called Talk for Writing.’

This process involves:

  • Generating ideas, including appropriate language and grammar
  • Planning ideas
  • Incorporating techniques learned from other writers
  • Exploring their personal and collective responses to a text

‘Writer talk is articulation of the thinking and also creative processes involved in all stages of the act of writing. It is talk that helps children to think and behave like a writer. ‘Writer-talk’ involves externalising these thoughts and making them explicit, through ‘reading as a writer’ and ‘writing as a reader’.
A three-step sequence for writing –  

From Imitation to Invention

Pie Corbett suggests a three-step sequence in ‘Talk for Writing’.  Writing is a process and takes place in a planned, deliberately structured system so that the quality of work and standard of writing produced is high. A structured process also ensures that children experience the  different stages of writing and feel enabled and empowered to engage in the process with greater confidence and independence.

Corbett outlines the following sequence and believes that this is the order in which writing progresses.

  • Imitation – re-telling of learned stories
  • Innovation – developing, extending and changing elements of a story
  • Invention – creating a ‘new’ story

Why imitation?

The first step is imitation. It is a confidence booster. If I am not ready just yet for creativity, the least I can do is imitate. Retelling is imitation. I could re-tell word for word or, if I am slightly more confident, I could re-tell using my own words. Why are we as teachers so put off by imitation in the classroom? It is a stepping stone. We have to get our ideas from somewhere – why not other people? Why not the person sitting next to me? Why not the peers in my class? Why don’t we encourage that? We often ask children to read aloud what they have written but how often do we ask others to ‘steal’ an idea from them?

Look at our planning meetings at work.  We are constantly working off and bouncing ideas off each other. We develop thoughts and plans by listening to one another. How often have you heard someone say, “That’s a great idea, I’m going to try it like this…” Often enough, I bet!

Children learn by imitation. They imitate first words, they imitate parents, they imitate role models and only later, after much imitation, do they begin to innovate and discover their own styles, preferences and passions.

IMitation 1IMitation 2

It’s alright to imitate. It’s alright if I am still at the re-telling stage. When I am confident, I will move to the stage of innovation.


Innovation – innovate what?

Let’s start small! Let’s start with what’s developmentally and chronologically appropriate for the learners. An easy, first innovation in writing, could be to change the title or re-write the blurb , change the last word in a poem and replace it with another rhyming word or to write another ending for a familiar story.

Then, move towards more complex matters such as the characters, the setting, the plot, exploring perspectives, points of view etc. All of these versions below are innovations. Innovations, but where certain elements of the story have been changed. INNOVATION!

The innovation stage can also be seen as an opportunity to explore various facets of critical thinking, such as, ‘What if?’

Now that Cinderella is no longer the main character and Prince Cinders is, what would happen next?

How does innovation (however small or seemingly insignificant) / changing one element, impact the rest of the story? It has  a ripple effect and everything has an impact. Thus, innovation, however small, leads to creativity / problem solving / anticipating next events.

If Cinderella’s chariot is led by dinosaurs / butterflies instead of mice, what would the repercussions be?

Aren’t these great questions which support creative thinking?

Isn’t innovation a WONDERful step towards creativity?

I see this reflected across the board in so many different ways. A teacher teaching dance, starts with showing steps, asking children to imitate them. She may show children dance videos. Some may already know moves to popular songs and may be able to imitate steps as seen before.  She may then, move them along to innovating and improvising in teams, groups or pairs, asking them to change footwork or add hand movements. Finally, the teacher may evaluate students on creating or inventing their own steps and dance moves or further move them towards developing and sustaining a series of movement patterns.

A coach may show videos of famous basketball players to budding players. Some may already have seen famous players and willingly try out their styles when opportunities are given to them.

What is crucial is providing the space (both physical and intellectual) for expressing the skills that they have either imitated and transfer the knowledge to innovate successfully.

Invention

The ability to invent something completely new and to create something novel, comes from the confidence of having practiced the necessary skill set related to the activity. It comes from  having acquired the nuances, and mastered the processes which have become automatic and internalised.

The How?

One of the approaches suggested by Corbett is to deliberately plan opportunities for creating ‘new’ stories orally, as a rehearsal and preparation for writing. According to him, storytelling and story – making are most effective when first done as a group, gradually working towards greater independence through paired work and then finally, using individual approaches.

Let’s spend a little more time identifying why this is a great way to progress through the writing process.

  • What are the benefits of group work in a writing activity?

The shared writing (group work) strategy enables teachers to make the writing process concrete and visible to students. It is a step in the process of moving students towards independent writing.  Text is composed together and everyone contributes their thoughts and ideas to the process. The teacher is the scribe, writing as it is composed. As the group composes, the teacher will ask probing questions to elicit more detail and to help children make their writing more meaningful. The tone of this discussion should be collaborative rather than directive.

The teacher might say something like, “We are going to write a paragraph about an ‘Awesome Dinosaur’. How do you think we should start? I wonder if anyone can help me with some starters.” The children may volunteer and share a few starters. The teacher will choose one and start composing. If the outcome of the lesson is settings, the prompts could be directed and the teacher may suggest, “Where do you think the paragraph about the dinosaur can be set? A city? A forest? A rocky mountainous region?”

The composition may begin like, ‘In the city of Beijing, there was once an awesome dinosaur.’

The teacher may ask leading questions like, “What made the dinosaur awesome? What was happening around the dinosaur in the city? Was the dinosaur on the road? Were there many high rises around the dinosaur?”

The session could progress until the teacher feels the skills and techniques essential for the outcome, are shared, understood and practiced.

It is also essential to mention here, that if it is writing we’re looking for, then it is writing that we must model. Avoid typing on the screen.  The purpose of shared writing is to model the thought process involved in writing and allow students to focus and engage in the process.  ‘The teacher, acting as scribe, frees students from that aspect of the writing process so that they can focus exclusively on the thinking involved in writing.’  

Shared writing is a powerful method for teaching of key skills and concepts needed in the writing process.  ‘It is another level in the scaffold that gives students support as they learn the mechanics, conventions, and processes of writing. The strategy allows students to gain competence and confidence in their writing skills while it allows the teacher to demonstrate the usually internal thinking process that takes place as writers write.’ A variety of genres can be covered in a shared writing activity – descriptive narrative, retelling of a story,  reflective summary, recounting an incident, writing a poem, instructional text etc. These shared writing opportunities could be completed in one session or run over a few sessions, depending on the need and the purpose.

Here are two examples of shared writing.

In the independent writing phase the teacher will be able to see if the children are using techniques and strategies featured in the shared writing lesson/s.

  • From large group work to paired work

Once the children have been exposed to a variety of strategies, including the explicit teaching of the focused skill, the teacher could invite pairs of learners to brainstorm ideas for the next part of the writing process.

Working with a partner is not only less threatening than working alone, and is low risk, but it also supports collaboration and the opportunity to talk to someone about the thinking going on in the head.

After a shared composition activity, the teacher might ask pairs of learners to try and add a few more lines to the text. There may be prompts displayed on the board to help students think about what they could write next. The last thing we want is that children should say, ‘But i don’t know what to write’. If we anticipate and prepare for that response beforehand, it helps students stay on task and engaged. The children could be given white boards for brainstorming the sentences before formalising the process by expecting them to write on paper. The teacher’s role changes from being the scribe, she / he is now supporting the learners to think about their writing. It is the students who are now scribing. The teacher may also expect children to say what they will write before recording on the board. Another great strategy to help in the writing process.  

Paired activities inspire confidence. They prepare you for working independently.

  • From paired work to independent work

The demonstration and modelling carried out with the children will help them in the self composition stage. They should be able to use the range of strategies and skills taught explicitly in their individual work.

What I have shared above is one approach. There are multiple strategies that teachers use to develop creativity and creative thinking. Here are some more that have been highly successful:

  • Using visual / picture prompts
  • Open ended questions such as ‘what do you think…’, ‘where do you think…?’, how do you think…
  • Hot seating
  • Objects / props to trigger writing

As promised earlier, here  is a link to some word and language games from the archived National Curriculum website that you could try with your class before progressing to writing stories or longer narratives, demanding creativity. These are great ways in which students’ brains can be primed for creativity, good warm up activities to get the creative juices flowing and interesting techniques that can be used to enhance the development of vocabulary.

So, can creativity be taught?

Yes, it can.

Learning is a journey and it is the process, which is as important, if not more important, than the destination. I hope you found the post helpful and are able to try out some of the strategies suggested by Pie Corbett to enhance and develop creativity even more successfully.

What kind of activities have you used in the classroom to develop creativity?

Do you find any of the ideas above, worth trying in your classroom?

References

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140314-learn-to-be-creative

http://www.talk4writing.co.uk/writing-for-pleasure/

 

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A jigsaw puzzle for a story?

I derive great pleasure in planning activities; more so, when I see them successful and when children say, “Can we carry on?” or even better, “Can I do another one?” This morning was one such experience for me. I was asked to plan a lesson for the Year 1’s (5-6 year olds) to help them achieve one of the writing skills, ‘I can sequence sentences to form a simple narrative’. I wanted the activity to be individualised and interesting. Of course, I would use visuals and introduce them to the idea of sequencing. They already knew and used time connectives (first, next, then, finally) to order events, so, a lot was revisiting and application of previously learned skills.

I decided to use three-piece puzzles, which I borrowed from my 2 year old daughter as the hook! These were perfect for story writing as each three-piece puzzle was a story! A terrific way to introduce children to a simple short narrative with a beginning, middle and end. I photocopied the puzzle and cut them into strips of visual stories. I had eight picture stories for those who preferred the ready-to-use visuals. For the more confident and risk taker writers, I gave three empty boxes for creation of visuals, to develop their own story.

first-puzzle-stories-djeco-1
The three-piece story puzzles!

My lesson started with a shared drawing. We drew a picture of a story. I made a mountain (hoping to get them oriented to what they would experience in Year 2 when they start writing stories using a story mountain) to introduce them to the concept of how a story is planned.

story mountain

However, on seeing a mountain, children started calling out, “I’ve been to a mountain”, “I’ve seen a mountain”, “I’ve climbed a mountain!” So, I decided to ask one of the girl’s help me make up a story. I did not touch upon the concept of a story mountain but we reached the top and back down nevertheless. We decided to take her and her mum and dad on a climbing adventure. We talked through the picture story.

This was our shared picture! The story was simple – a girl, her mum and dad were thinking about climbing a mountain (picture erased). They started walking up, took a little rest (look for the three chairs), walked again and when they reached the top, they said “yoohoo”! They decided to walk back down, which was easier and reach home in time for dinner (table with three chairs).

Story mountain
Our picture story!

We then moved on to our shared writing task where I had a simple 3 piece puzzle story as a prompt and we developed the story together using words like, first, then, finally. I told them to add details where possible and if they wanted.

Shared writing
Shared writing of a story using picture prompts. We re-read each sentence to check that it made sense.

The children were excited and ready to write their independent stories. Here is what they came up with!

Picture 1 newPictrue 1a new

Picture 2newPicture 3 new

Picture 4 newPicture 4a new

I thoroughly enjoyed working with the Year 1’s today. I was extremely impressed with their ability to write an extended story.  Aren’t they amazing? Most of them added more detail than just writing a line or two about each picture. Did they accomplish their goal? Yes! They were all able to write a short narrative in a sequence. How long did we take to achieve all of this? 45 mins! Yes, it’s possible!

Through this piece of work, there were some other end of year expectations that they also met:

  • Write sentences by saying out loud what they are going to write about
  • Write sentences by sequencing sentences to form short narratives
  • Re-read what they have written to check that it makes sense
  • Discuss what they have written with the teacher
  • Leave spaces between words
  • Join words and clauses using ‘and’
  • Begin to punctuate sentences using a capital letter and a full stop

Have you had any positive experiences of story writing in your class? What has been a great hook that has worked successfully in your class lately?

Is it a ‘doing – something’ word?

The suffix ‘ing’

An article, I recently read in an educational magazine called ‘The Reading Teacher’, identified various children’s books to help teachers teach suffixes by using stories. My focus in a Year 1 class recently, was the suffix ‘ing’ and it was their experience of engaging with this suffix. As recommended in the article, I chose the book ‘Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What do you hear?’ by Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle.

Polar Bear

We started off with a quick brainstorm about words they’d heard of which had the ‘ing’ sound in it. They came up with a whole lot, including words like ring, king etc. I listed them too, but separately. I told the students they would become word detectives and signal to me when they heard an ‘ing’ word in the story.  I also shared with them that the ‘ing’ word needs to be a word that’s a doing-something word.  In the book, each page has an animal with the sound it makes, a word that’s doing something! So, they picked every word. We listed them into two categories.

Doing something word and not doing something word.

We revisited the not – doing – something ‘ing’ words like king, ring, spring and children could clearly understand why they didn’t belong in doing words.

I had two tasks prepared for the children to choose from, to practice their understanding of ‘ing’ words. The goal for this lesson was for them to identify ‘ing’ words which are doing something versus ing words which are not-doing-something. I was also hoping that children will understand that any action is a doing word and that ‘ing’ is nothing but continuous action!

  1. List the different sounds animals make (based on the story read) but with different animals. Find the Animals and sounds suffix ‘ing’ here.
  2. Cut, sort and paste ‘ing’ doing something words verus ‘ing’ not doing something words. ing paired sort picture cards and ing sorting sheet here.

Both were very achievable and children showed that they clearly understood the difference.

word list
List of sounds
Pictures sort ing words
Picture sort

We ended the lesson with some movement using ‘ing’ words like running, hopping, singing and then looked at the grammatical term, suffix and discussed what it meant. We looked at the root word ‘jump’ and I asked them what I needed to add to it, to make it jumping. They all said ‘ing’. I asked what is ‘ing’? They said ‘a suffix’!

Thank you for read + ing = reading

 

 

 

Why do we have to do this again?

An interesting question from a child in school today made me reflect and write this post. I’m not sure if it was interesting or scary. The question was, ‘Why do we have to do this again?‘ This was in response to the prompt to write a draft for a persuasive narrative. The topic that they had been working on for about 2 weeks now was, ‘Should animals be kept in zoo’s?’ They could be for or against it.

I was there supporting one of our teachers for the lesson, so, although I had not planned the unit or the writing process, I had to defend it! We decided to take a learning walk and my first question to the students was, ‘What if I asked you to write a persuasive letter about the need for zoo’s to exist?’ ‘What would happen?’ There was silence and that affirmed my belief that they didn’t know why they had been doing all that writing!

I invited one of the children to show the class the jotter and look back at the first writing activity they had undertaken on persuasion two weeks ago – it was a writing frame with the three parts stated clearly.

  • Introduction
  • Main body with three arguments
  • Conclusion

The topic was the same as that shared above (zoo’s).

The next activity in the jotter was of elaboration. Step by step, children had to elaborate on the three arguments, stating reasons and supporting those with valid points. This was done over a week, it seems.

The following (this week) was a focus on the opening or introduction and closing or conclusion.

While we were looking at all these, we also touched upon the fact that in lower classes the expectations would be simpler and the steps in the process fewer. The process had obviously helped clarify the steps but then what was missing? Why did some children question the need to write a draft?

Finally, I showed them the blank sheet, in which they were expected to write their draft and asked them why they think they  went through the parts? Their response was to make the whole! They got it!

But I learned something in the process.

Do we explicitly walk children through the process?

Do we ensure that they understand why they do things the way they do?

Do they know why focusing on the parts is essential to completing the whole?

Do they understand the purpose of writing? 

After this short but significant explanation, the children seemed more convinced. The discussion then became more meaningful and moved towards the use of written feedback and it’s purpose in the framing of the first draft. One child, clearly upset about having to rewrite his ideas, responded by saying “I don’t like English”. Oops!

Another, who is a reluctant writer, chose to do nothing and sat twiddling his thumbs. Most of them even the one who said he disliked English ended up finishing his introduction and his 1st argument within the next 10 mins.

Coming to the reluctant writer. He was given the same empty sheet of paper as everyone else. We decided that, obviously, the task seemed daunting to him. He was not going to initiate all that writing. There was not enough matter in his jotter anyway. We quickly changed the layout of the sheet for him and gave him writing prompts and a one – on- one chat with clear expectations and a positive word or two, got him started. He too, finished the introduction (although shorter) and the 1st argument. A little improvisation goes a long way!

As far as I’m aware, the children will be completing their drafts next week, self editing and then publishing it using technology.

My fears:

  • the lengthy process (we’re looking at at least 3 weeks on one topic),
  • repetition, as they are all writing about the same topic so, their narratives are going to be more or less the same.

Luckily, for me, I’ve also been working closely with another class on persuasive texts, a younger class. Their overview comprised three phases.

Phase 1 – An exposure to a range of persuasive stories, paired role playing of instances where persuasion is used in everyday life (mum and child, dad and child, student and teacher), shared writing of persuasive reasons for a topic of personal significance e.g. wanting a free choice lesson in a week.

The next phase included, persuading someone in leadership what they believe, by sharing the reasons they wrote as a class. Then they had to write three reasons for a topic of choice (out of the ones pre-selected by the teacher). Just the fact that they had choice, they took more interest! 

reasons-11-e1488524767519.png

Finally, after careful modelling and shared writing of a persuasive letter, the audience was identified, rubric for criteria created and children were able to write their own letters. The process was finished in three weeks and their writing is now on display. I think the fact that they had choice and there was en element of novelty and newness throughout the cycle, the variety and quality of work was high.

sochiro-letter-1 sochiro-2

rubric.png

My take away about the writing process:

  • Keep it short and achievable to ensure that boredom or repetition does not set in. When something carries on for too long, interest is lost.
  • Give choice – provide a range of interesting topics. Every child does not have to write about the same topic.
  • Explain the process at the beginning. Better still – create a timeline and refer to it regularly. Don’t slavishly follow the writing process visual below, the process is fluid.  the-writing-process.jpg
  • Provide writing-frames to those who need them.
  • Ensure the process includes opportunities for shared writing, joined or paired work, scaffolded writing and then independent writing.
  • Include talk for writing
  • Writing should be for a purpose and must be meaningful
  • Identify the audience for the writing – it will automatically lend more meaning!
  • Share the success criteria / rubric before the writing activity.
  • Pre-decide whether the writing activity needs to be published or not.
  • Keep feedback simple. Too much corrective feedback is not strong feedback.
  • Refer to anchor charts to support simple procedural writing.
  • Teach writing as a process not product.

Please feel free to share other such essential pointers that have helped your learners during the writing process.