I have been in some classrooms that looked more depressing than the set of Prisoner Cell Block H. Within ten minutes I was counting the ceiling tiles and wondering if I might politely leave, and that is me as a grown-up who is dedicated to learning. The children in that room didn’t stand a chance. A classroom like an exclusion room and materials printed off the internet does not make for inspired and inspiring young people. I want to see the kind of lessons that children are talking about down the corridor, the sort of teaching where the class is surprised when the bell goes because they were so immersed in what they were doing. Allowing the children, (and their learning) to be more creative can reap massive rewards, here are some ideas to help you empower children to think (and learn) better.
In your lesson always set the challenge of the activity right. You need to account for various ability levels, and so activities need to be differentiated. I have checked the OFSTED website and nowhere does it say that these need to all be written tasks. So instead of ‘once you have finished the work read page 14 and complete questions 1 and 2,’ type approach, why not have children model their learning using playdough. If you are feeling time-rich you could make this at home, but one thing I would advise is not putting glitter in it – looks pretty, gets *everywhere.* I can feel some reading this rolling their eyes at the idea of using playdough. I have had A-level students modelling postmodern concepts before, the only limitation is the culture of expectations in the room. You need to think hard about how you phrase the task so that they are adding to or consolidating their learning.
You can choose to have children express their learning in any number of ways, but I always found that by giving the class a different means to express what they have learnt and setting the task to stretch their thinking, the results were always of a very high standard. Another way of thinking about making your classroom a more creative place is by having a carousel of activities where they have to complete different non-traditional tasks. For example, they might have to tweet (for real or using slips of paper with 140 characters – click here for paper example template) their learning, draw it, play a word game like hangman, junk model or even make a short video about what they have learnt. This works especially well as an extended plenary, and you would of course adapt the activities depending on the type of children you have in your class.
In order to do these kinds of activities, you need a well-stocked classroom. Send an email to teacher colleagues letting them know you want to try collaging or junk modelling and pretty soon you will have enough resources. Alongside having the actual *stuff* you need to do making in your room you also need to possible retune your teacher mentality. This isn’t really a stand up at the front on the class kind of approach. You design the task, or you could work with the children to redefine their learning objectives as they progress. There will be a mess, you will have to relinquish having the type of classroom control where everyone sits in neat rows. I believe there is a time and a place for both types of learning, and for every activity that involves scissors or glue, there should also be a silent reading or essay practice lesson. The real skill is in finding the right balance so that you can use the making activities as a meaningful hook for learning, but also be able to develop the academic skills that children will need in both their school career and later life.
Allowing students to be creative I feel gives them not only autonomy over their own learning, but also encourages them to engage as they have had a say in the process. This is also true when thinking about homework, and giving children the choice over *how* or *what* they produce in terms of homework can be very rewarding for them. An example of this is the #takeawayhomework idea which did the rounds of Twitter last year, where students can select the level of difficulty of task over three ‘courses.’ Alongside an idea like that is when setting homework to give the children choice of a more traditional task, or for example, writing a rap or creating an Instagram (https://instagram.com) account of their learning. Even something as simple as students blogging their work can give them the freedom to chose the template, and thus give them pride in the outcomes.
Being creative in your classroom has been identified more with primary practitioners. However, there is a lot to be gained from secondary colleagues encouraging this kind of classroom culture too. The vast majority of primary school children skip into school, eager! learn. Something happens as they grow older where school is seen as a chore, and learning is not cool. I myself will try anything that might encourage our learners to not only engage but also take ownership of their learning and having a creative classroom IS one such tool to try.
This article was first published in the September 2015 Edition of UKEdMagazine. You can read the magazine freely online by clicking here.
Rachel Jones is a teacher and e-Learning coordinator and is the author of TeacherGeek. She shares interesting ideas about pedagogy and other geeky stuff on her blog at createinnovateexplore.com. You can find her on Twitter @rlj1981.