This rambling post begins to explore some of my thoughts regarding the concept of Creativity and follows on from a Twitter discussion which I started by asking the question:
Is Creativity a skill or an attribute?
It follows on from my previous post regarding Skills.
One of the key issues with soft skills such as creativity and collaboration is that they are hard to measure and unlike hard skills, can be hard to define – what does being creative actually mean?
Collins’ Dictionary defines a creative person as someone who has the ability to invent and develop original ideas, but is creativity a skill that can be developed or is it an attribute that we are born with?
To a certain extent, it is a combination of both – humans are born with the potential for creativity and this attribute can be nurtured and developed. The key question is how do we provide opportunities for children to develop their creativity.
I used to think it was possible to inspire creativity simply by providing children with a blank canvas and encouraging them to explore. This could be by providing them with a list of “wow words” and asking them to write a “creative” story, showing them a new piece of software and letting them “play” or literally giving them a blank canvas and the freedom to be “artistic”.
Over time I have realised that this approach does not, in fact, inspire creativity in fact, if anything, it stifles it. I would often find myself disappointed at the quality of the work produced and now realise that the children simply did not have the required resources of knowledge and inspiration in order to then be creative and imaginative.
I simply hadn’t provided the children with the tools and resources with which to be creative. I hadn’t given them enough exposure to real examples of zoo websites or enough opportunity to develop the skills needed to develop a deeper understanding of the HTML tags, structure or purpose of their sites.
As this project has developed year on year I have slowed down the process of teaching them how to create a webpage. Instead of overloading the children with a large array of different tags in one lesson and hoping for a wonderful website in half a term I now focus on specific elements in each lesson and we gradually build the website over the course of the year (interleaving the web development with other areas of the computing curriculum such as networks as we go).
We begin by all developing similar looking pages containing information about the animals in their zoo and we spend more time discussing things such as appropriate font choice (they use flamingtext.co.uk to design a logo for their zoo) and colour schemes (using colormind.io). We also look at existing zoo websites and this all enables the children to really consider their intended audience and the purpose of their site.
One of the errors I made was by giving the children too much choice – I had the mistaken view that I didn’t want the children to create identical webpages but this meant that children never got chance to master the techniques or develop the skills needed. Some children coped with the freedom I gave them but the majority struggled and as a result, never completed a page.
To overcome this I now provide the children with more structure and limit their choices, which does mean that every child creates very similar pages (font choice and colour scheme they do have some control over). I also provide them with a very clear example of what I am looking for – what their completed page should look like – and I develop a page along with them so that they can see what I do and I explain the design choices I make.
One issue that caused huge variation in the quality of their work was their source of information. When asked to create a page of information about a specific animal I originally allowed the children to simply research the animal online (under the misguided assumption that this would enhance their online research skills). To remedy this I have turned to something from my own childhood.
When I was at primary school I collected a weekly(?) wildlife magazine that contained factfile cards about different animals. These cards could be collected and collated into binders. Each card featured information about a different animal and were organised into categories such as mammals, birds, reptiles etc. I never managed to complete the set as a child but thanks to eBay I have sourced the entire collection, providing me with a vast “database” of information (there are hundreds of cards in the set) about a wide range of animals for the children to feature in their zoos. The fact that each card presents the same type of information, in the same way, helps ensure the quality of the content the children feature on their pages. The offline nature of these cards also means the children cannot simply resort to copy and paste without actually checking the quality and relevance of the information they select.
The huge quantity of cards in the collection means that once a child has created one information page then can choose a new animal and create another page, using the same layout, colour scheme etc in order to practice the skills and consolidate their understanding of how to make a webpage.
To be continued…