A right answer is different to the right answer

Justyna Matwiejczyk

Justyna Matwiejczyk, Product Marketing Manager at Cambridge University Press, talks to teacher and author, Paul Drury, about creativity and the future of language education.

Let’s start with what you do and how you became interested in creativity.

Like every other person on the planet, what I do depends on where I am and who I am with: I might be a teacher, writer publisher or parent. My special interest in creativity comes through a fundamental belief that there’s always a better way and that creativity is what will help us find it.

My first instinct in relation to creativity is to think of artists. How should we understand creativity in an educational context?

The first thing to say is that creativity is not the reserve of artists or poets. There appears to be a consensus among academics that given the right tools and environment we can all learn creativity like any other skills. Creative thinking is driven by playfulness, the willingness to experiment, to learn from mistakes. Playfulness is about asking ourselves the question: What happens if..? I feel very strongly that we need to be empowering our learners to use creative thinking. It is creative thinking that will help them succeed in what we know is an uncertain world.

Why is creativity important in language learning?

Most academics agree that creativity is core to being successful today (Sternberg, 1966) – this includes language education. Formal learning of vocabulary and grammar is important but it’s only a start. When we learn a language, we have to be prepared to play with it, to have a go, to see what happens. Learning a language is a non-linear process. This is where creativity and playfulness can be of real value. It encourages students o manipulate the language and ideas in a non-conventional way and to be more tolerant of, indeed to embrace, ambiguity.

Perhaps the single most important thing we can do is help our learners see a right answer is very different to the right answer. The first suggests there are more options to explore, the latter suggests that learning has come to a stop. To help our learners see that there is always a better way will ultimately result in more responsible global citizens.

When working with language, teachers usually have a framework that describes the skills and learning process. Is there such as framework for developing creativity?

Creativity is a buzzword and there are lots of articles giving teachers ideas for creative activities, and these are great. However, I would argue that, as with teaching of any skills, there are different stages of accomplishment and a toolkit, a framework that organises the teaching process can make teaching more effective. In the Creative Toolkit that I propose, all the creativity-focused tasks fall into the following categories: Flow, Focus, Why, oh Why?, Keep trying, Point of view, Start again, Take a break – all powered by playfulness.

The toolkit will help us all, not just our learners, improve our skills and help us realise we are creative.



So, what does creativity look like in the classroom? Are students going to spend their time drawing pictures and colouring?

The Playful Mindset combined with the creativity toolkit offers learners the best chance to become critical thinkers. There is some drawing but it’s much more about what is happening in the child’s brain. As well as tasks that encourage children to enter a state of flow (such as drawing repeated patterns), learners also solve puzzles, view things from different perspectives, and answer unexpected questions. Not all learners may understand or enjoy all of the tasks. Again, this is part of the process, creative minds need to be able to focus, stay on task and not give up.

Creativity is a skill that transcends all subjects. How can we assess it?

Finding criteria to evaluate life competencies, especially creativity, can be challenging. For one, there is no universally recognised definition of creativity. There are however some techniques to help us. The OECD published a paper in which it concluded that grading creativity with a score can be counter-productive. Instead, they explored evaluating learners using a formative approach along what they call the Five Dispositions Model, which is made up of the ability to be: Inquisitive, Persistent, Imaginative, Collaborative and Disciplined. We can use the Five Dispositions together with the Creativity Toolkit to explore how well a child applies the suggested techniques. We can involve the learners in the process by asking: What questions did you think about? Did you change your mind? How many times did you try?

What about teachers? Some may not feel they are creative. Can they still help their learners to be creative?

I would strongly dispute that teachers are not creative. We are all creative – fact. Creativity can take many forms and, as teachers we are already doing a lot to stimulate creative thinking. For example, when we ask our learners to imagine what happened or what might happen in a story; when we discuss a photo; when we ask our students to explain their answers; when we say what do you think the correct answer is? Ultimately, it’s about stimulating young minds to express their ideas in a safe space but a space where they can expect to be challenged to adapt and evolve. Let’s start celebrating the way we solve problems, consider different options, interact with people, play sport, etc. These are all expressions of our creativity.

You can read more about creativity in our paper Developing life skills through play.

And to find out more about developing creative skills in the classroom, why not read How can we prepare our students for the future?

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