Friday, April 11, 2014

Creativity isn't a dark art

What does it mean to be creative? What exactly is creativity? If you search these two questions on the internet you will receive 267,000 results and 94,600 results respectively. If you check the same out on Twitter you can find ongoing discussions revolving around each question almost on a daily basis. Tonight has been one such night. David Didau (@learningspy) posted the following blog post 

The dark art of creativity

It created quite a stir, to say the least. 

As you might be aware, I now teach in Early Years. I can safely say that every day I encounter creativity.  There are 25 children in my class yet I can guarantee that every one of them will experience or directly create a creative moment every day. Young children are highly creative, their imaginations know no bounds. They say what they want, they will do what they want when they want and these outcomes are all creative. Early Years is filled with such creative moments, and as many creative moments are captured to give teachers a better understanding of every child’s needs. I base my planning on these moments and react to them instantly or as quickly as possible. Creativity in the Early Years is as common as plankton in our oceans. 

So why do other teachers argue about the loss of creativity throughout the rest of a child’s education? Does it mysteriously fade away due to natural causes or does the education system have no time for it, or worse, seek to eradicate it? 

After considering various definitions for creativity, I’m going with this - Creativity is the use of imagination or original ideas. There are many possibilities that we could use this creativity for, you may even disagree on the definition I have used so please feel free to provide your own but for the sake of this post, creativity is the use of imagination or original ideas. 

In primary school, children have many original and imaginative ideas. But do these creative moments fit into a school’s expectations? Do we take the risk of following through with a child’s creativity or do we stick rigidly to the given curriculum so as to meet our performance management targets? Do we constantly worry that children aren't creative anymore or do we ensure they understand and can use the basics in Maths and English which will lead to many of them finding that creative spark once again?

There is a balance. Creativity can be encouraged whilst still meeting the targets imposed upon us by SMT and your own expectations. All it takes is courage. It’s not that difficult. Feel free to deny a child's creativity in your comments below and please do read David's post

If we really want children to be more creative we must feed their imaginations. We need to teach them stuff before we can expect them to question and criticise. We need to show them how ideas coalesce into something useful before they we start seeing their own connections. And we need to give them rules if we want to give them something to kick against and escape from. Constraints force creativity: freedom stifles it.

That's made me think, creatively ;-) 

Elizabeth Truss speaks about improving teaching

For umpteenth years, teachers have complained again and again about not being able to teach due to the many conditions imposed upon them by government, local authorities, the nonsense excuse that is ‘What Oftsed expects’ and their very own SMT. Teachers have had their professionalism ripped from them by bureaucracy, politics and SMT fears thus creating the predicament we find ourselves in today - teaching by numbers, by box ticking, by Performance Management Expectations, by SMT created policies and all of these overseen by the nonsense excuse ‘What Ofsted expects”. 

Yesterday, Education Minister Liz Truss gave every teacher in the country hope, hope that they could once again be professional, hope that they could teach without adhering to ridiculous SMT enforced policies such as APP, hope that they could once again be teachers not part of some caged monkey pressing buttons manufacturing line.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Teaching in EYFS - my thoughts so far

As Bilbo Baggins stood at the gates of Mordor, he possibly thought to himself ‘what on middle earth have I let myself in for’. I can safely say I know exactly how he would have felt as I too have experienced that Mordor moment, when I walked into the EYFS classroom of my school back in September as its reception teacher.

Before deciding on joining the EYFS team, some colleagues told me I was mad, others looked perplexed. Why would I, an experienced KS2 teacher, put himself forward to teach in EYFS? Well, I was intrigued with teaching and learning in EYFS and had used some of its approaches within my own Year 5 classroom so when the opportunity to be a reception teacher came along it was too good to miss. 

In June, I spent 3 days observing the children and teachers and teaching assistants. I immersed myself in the daily routine, I found myself in awe at how the staff could turn any situation into a learning opportunity and wondered if I too could be as inspiring as they were. I would soon find out.

The first 2 weeks are a gentle baptism; only a few come in for no more than half a day at a time. Some are inquisitive and loud, others say nothing and a few cry, a lot, usually in the mornings as they are left at the gate when the bell rings and they hang onto their parents legs. But they all settle in quite quickly once they get into the classroom. The relationship you form at the very beginning is essential, you describe the class rules and then realise that most of them haven’t listened as their attention has been on the hole in your shoe, or on the child who has curled up on the floor to go to sleep, or because there’s a noise coming from the room next door that sounds like a monster because that’s what another child tells everyone else that’s what it is. But stick to your rules. Like any age group you need to have them otherwise anarchy will ensue, and it's no different with 4 year olds. What you take for granted in other year groups all needs to be taught and modelled at this age. 

You soon discover how a 4 year old’s mind ticks, when your well planned lesson introduction is interrupted 15 times in the first 60 seconds. You learn that their questions are far more important than your own particularly when you want to find out if they have learned what you have been teaching. You stifle laughs but then realise that young children love to see their teacher laughing. You join in with them by getting down to their level which means sitting on chairs which are not meant for adults and develop a method of sitting that yoga specialists would be envious of. The table you once coveted as your own becomes a breeding ground for crayoned scribbles and suspicious looking finger marks. You soon discover you have superpowers and can prove to KS1 and KS2 staff that teachers do indeed have eyes on the back of their heads, you just need to be an EYFS teacher in order to have them.

I found my entire approach to teaching had to change if these young children wanted to learn. They learned by playing and talking, by running and falling, by dancing and singing, by lying down when you thought they should have been sitting, by sticking their fingers to their books and painting their friends’ faces with paint. Every moment becomes a learning opportunity, the day is filled with them and each becomes an integral part of your teaching.

EYFS gives you the freedom to teach and allows children to learn at their own pace, an approach I would love to see a school consider from 4 to 11.

Don’t let the gates of EYFS scare you. Welcome the change because as you step through into this world of wonder you will become a better teacher for it.