What is creative learning?

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A new collection of essays, published by Creative Partnerships, the Government’s creative learning programme, interrogates the idea of creative learning. Richard Darlington, of CP, gives a brief overview of the book.

Julian Sefton - Green opens by discussing the intellectual and academic traditions lying behind the idea of creative learning. Although in many ways Creative Partnerships derives from an earlier more established tradition of Arts Education, the attention to creativity as both part of the process of learning and the qualities that seek to be instilled in young people, position the initiative very much in its time. Current emphasis on cultural and creative industries, as well as the need to prepare for work in the new information or creative economy, position Creative Partnerships at the cutting edge of attempts to thoroughly ‘modernise’ education for tomorrow’s societies.

Julian Sefton-Green firstly discusses the distinct and conjoined traditions of learning within discrete art forms (mainly drama and visual arts) and how separate traditions have become entwined in a more general notion of arts education; secondly, the current attention to the presentation of the self in schools and how creative learning supports the making of a different kind of student; and thirdly, those psychological traditions which focus on developing the mind.

Pat Cochrane, Anna Craft and Graham Jeffery look at creative learning in the context of contemporary and recent policy pronouncements. The authors trace the place of creativity across a range of education and young people- centred legislation, and explore its place in a range of policy pronouncements and implementation discourses.
Whilst their piece takes a slightly broader look at creativity, rather than exclusively focusing on creative learning per se, the essay shows how the topic is a key concern in recent political thinking albeit one which is open to a range of interpretation. The essay offers a valuable survey of the range and scope of how creativity now appears a central value in education and social policy and although the authors are concerned that such aspirations should be backed up with investment and activity, it points to the mainstreaming of notions of creativity as a central principle of educational interventions.

Emily Pringle has conducted original research exploring artists’ perspectives about their work in education and her piece both extrapolates how artists‘ ways of working model a kind of creative learning and also show how introducing such practices to young people can affect ways of thinking about teaching, learning and classroom activities. This attention to the material activities of doing and thinking helps us locate creative learning as a grounded series of actions and helps us concretise some of the abstractness that inevitably creeps into discussions about creativity. Pringle’s work helps us contextualise grand aspirations in the nitty-gritty of classroom activity and messiness of many artists work. The piece also warns us against fetishising artists as having a privileged or exclusive insight into creativity and encourages us to be careful that in our enthusiasm to introduce artists and other adults into schools we don’t lose sight of the role that teachers play.

Lois Hetland's contribution reflects on her use of an important publication, Studio Thinking which she has developed along with colleagues (Hetland, Winner, Veenema, & Sheridan, 2007). This is a systematic attempt to reflect on how artists’ working can be translated programmatically into the classroom and is built on research into such partnerships. Not only does she enumerate the principles and practices of such processes, but she explores how such findings can be taken into classrooms. Her work is valuable not just for the originality of the primary research but because it also helps understand what kinds of further training and investment are necessary if we want to scale up the processes we care about.

A key theme in Hetland’s piece is how the principles and practices of assessment and evaluation inform our understanding of creative learning and this theme underpins the final contributions.

Avril Loveless explores creative learning with new technologies.  Like Creativity, Information Communications Technology (ICT), has been at the forefront of dreams of changing education systems and schools around the world. Loveless introduces us to key ways of thinking about learning with and through ICT. Her review of the impact of the creative uses of new technologies, although conducted in respect of a sister discipline, support both Cochrane et al and Hetland’s analysis of the core fundamental principles of creative behaviour. Much of this, all the authors argue, comes down to how learning is assessed and valued.

The final contribution by authors at the Centre for Language in Primary Education (CLPE) takes this challenge head on. They report on a project, covered in a recent issue of TT&C, working with primary teachers developing a framework for assessing creative learning. It describes both the principles of assessment and how these were derived from current curriculum thinking as well as how the actual practices of assessment were developed with teachers.  Not only does the account base its analysis of assessment in an understanding of ‘deep’ learning but also it shows how implementing new forms of assessment on this area can actually work to stimulate interesting and vibrant practice in the classroom. It also points to the sorts of work that needs to be done if creative learning is going to become a meaningful option for many children and young people.

Dr. Julian Sefton-Green is an independent consultant and researcher working in education and the cultural and creative industries.

To download a pdf of Creative Learning go to www.creative-partnerships.com