Creativity In Teaching and Learning: A Book Review

creativity in teaching

Review of a free collaborative ebook published by The British Council and edited by Alan Maley and Nik Peachey.

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Recently I’ve been reading two amazing books. One is called ‘The Tipping Point: How little things can make a big difference’ by Malcolm Gladwell

The other one is called “Flow: The Psychology of Happiness” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Both books are about creativity, self-realisation and social influence. Both books have answered my call for something beyond myself.

Yet, something else made me put down those books and pick up another one.

This book, written by an international community of teachers, is its own Tipping Point.

It’s called “Creativity in the English language classroom” and is edited by Alan Maley and Nik Peachey.

What is the tipping point and why would I say this?

The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.

I like to study positive social influence and my teaching work is entrenched in the blogosphere, inspiring educational communities, open online courses and social media.

What I see in this book is a wealth of creative teaching ideas and talent that will empower all of us to transform our classrooms. The book is free and it’s a labour of love. We can show our appreciation by making changes, trying things out, discussing ideas from the book on teacher networks and by blogging and reflecting upon the fascinating concepts of creativity to be found in this collaborative exploration of creativity.

Divergent thinking is made contagious by educators who are willing to pool ideas for the greater good of education. As such, this is a spell book of magic potential waiting for teachers to cross its threshold and enter the zone of proximal development.

Queimada_fuego

I will briefly review this book in eighteen steps to reflect the thoughts of its eighteen writers.

1) The What, The Why and The How by Alan Maley

maley

This compilation of insights and ideas from well-known authors and practising teachers, begins with a rich introduction from Alan Maley, who brings together different academic insights into the nature of creativity itself. It’s a fascinating look at how creativity can be seen and experienced from multiple perspectives and disciplines.

It ends with a fascinating bibliography which will have you building a whole new library of wonder.

Here are my short reviews of each chapter in the book. All of the chapters introduce thought-provoking, researched-based, tried and tested concepts and all of them are followed by practical ideas and lessons plans.

1) Medium: Companion or slave? by Andrew Wright

Andrew Wright clearly imparts the power of eliciting untapped creative potential in caring ways that play upon the environment, materials, the students themselves and the unfolding of “events” orchestrated by the teacher.

How often do we think of lessons as events?

What are the implications of doing so?

A brilliant chapter on holistic learning, artistic exploring and the power of the imagination.

2) Challenging teachers to use their coursebooks creatively by Brian Tomlinson

This is a learner-centred look at helping learners to develop confidence and self-esteem. It focuses on cognitive, affective and natural learning for second language acquisition. Learn how to open up closed activities from a writer who understands the limitations imposed by testing constraints around the world. You’ll be pleased to see light at the end of the relentless testing tunnel. From case studies to creative lesson ideas, Tomlinson generously shares with us his 50 years of insights and experiences.


3) Seven Pillars of Creativity in primary ELT by Carol Read

Carol Read focuses on thinking skills that tap into the imaginations of young learners. Although such learners have little knowledge as yet of their target language, they are inherently rich in creative potential. The openness of young children is something to be appreciated and tapped into in ways that foster creative language learning. Carol Read shows us why and how this is important through special frameworks and growth mindsets. A very inspiring and educational read. Above all, it encourages we, the teachers, to let our hair down and be part of the show. Again there are lots of lesson plans and ideas to experiment with.

4) Making Thinking Visible in the English language Classroom:nurturing a creative mindset by Chrysa Papalazarou

A very special component of this chapter is its focus on process. Indeed the creative process is an end in itself and builds up the whole person beyond narrow objectives. Art, visual learning and visual thinking are described as enriching the hearts and minds of students as they learn creatively. The author describes a school project in Greece that made visual thinking and art central to the language learning experience.

Three principles of visual thinking are described, the logistics of putting theory into practice are explained, and, finally, lots of visually-enhanced learning objectives and lesson plans are shared.

This chapter exudes love of art, children and the power of social/emotional learning approaches. Sound, fun, research-based ideas, wrapped in barely contained – shall we say it? – flow experiences.

5) Personal and creative storytelling:telling our stories by David Heathfield

David Heath brings us nine storytelling ideas that can transform environments, classes, hearts, minds and relationships with each other and the target language.

Find out more about personal storytelling, creative tasks, personal and creative communication, listening and remembering, guessing games, acting it out, mysteries and acts of kindness.

We are encouraged to grow gardens of creativity in the minds of our students in a very eloquent conclusion to a powerful look and storytelling and creativity.

With your gentle nurturing, students’ stories grow and
flourish and bring colour to the learning in your
classroom in ways that cannot be foreseen.

6) Teaching grammar creatively by Jill and Charlie Hadfield

Here we’re introduced to risk-taking, deeper engagement, memory enhancement, identity-building, motivation and taking students beyond their own perceived capabilities.

Most of all, we are brought beyond conventional notions of learning grammar. We learn how to embrace the same constraints that normally prevent us from being innovative. Creative triggers range from concrete stimulii to brainstorming and another surprise that I won’t reveal here.

7) From every day activities to creative tasks by Judit Feher.

Judit Feher introduces creativity as an every day life skill that begs the question of why we think creativity is something elusive that we cannot bring into our language classrooms. I’ve always believed this and welcome more tips on exploiting the creative drive of human nature in the classroom. The classroom is an environment which should reflect  this inner drive to create. Through working with skills and language systems, Feher shares lots of fun, novel, and exciting ways to exploit language, the brain and the whole student.

8) Fostering and building upon oral creativity in the EFL classroom by  Jugen Kurtz.

Introducing the concept of failing forward, Juden Kurtz, describes the power of improvisation and using the target language to break boundaries in understanding so as to discover the truth. This chapter also looks at how conventional classrooms threaten the existence of creativity.

There is a lot to learn here from an improvisational model of learning that can take our students beyond their own limitations.

9)Old wine in new bottles: solving language teaching problems creatively by Kathleen M Bailey and Anita Krishnan

This practical look at creativity shows how we can use existing material in novel ways. This, to me, is a level of recycling that should appeal to teachers everywhere. It’s not just about recycling language but recycling content, resources, ideas, and our own skills and thought processes. It’s also about transformation through recycling. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is the framework through which ideas and lesson plans are shared.

10) A creative approach to language teaching: a way to recognise, encourage and appreciate students’ contributions to language classes by Libor Stepanek

This chapter discusses creativity on a societal level, something that is extremely important. Our schools should not be closed entities, whatever is learned needs to radiate into the realities of every day life.

This is about active learning, personalisation, and interactive processes. It’s also about real life, flexibility, challenge, and building communities of practice. A very rich and detailed look at research and theories, followed by lots of ideas and lesson plans. One that particularly interested me was student generated resources.

11) Teaching children with mascot-inspired projects by Malu Sciamarelli

A wonderful look at project based learning with inspiring projects using toys and puppets etc with young learners. It begins with an indepth look at the underlying principles of project-based learning and then the fun starts. These lessons steal your heart and mind. I also believe that if you  study the principles first and then try out these lessons, many more ideas will flow and generate more brain children for us to engage our childrens’ brains. These are the kinds of ideas and activities that become generative, induce flow & take us to the tipping point.

12) Creating creative teachers by Marisa Constantinides

This topic speaks to me on many levels indeed. Marisa Constantinides makes the point that teacher-training courses rarely foster creativity in teachers. In her work, she has surveyed trainers who felt that training in creativity was a missing ingredient in teacher training courses.

Value is placed upon higher order thinking skills and being ‘present in the moment‘. This is one of those crucial factors that we overlook when stressed, overly analytical or too focused on the mechanics of teaching. It’s also the essence of flow, something that’s mentioned as a recurring theme by various writers throughout the whole book.

What can happen when teachers are not creative and what stops us from thinking creatively?

These probing questions are asked and answered with great precision and insight from psychological perspectives. The chapter ends with a wealth of teacher-training ideas for fostering creativity.

13)  The learner as a creativity resource by Marjorie Rosenburg

Although we are all aware of the power of creative constraints, how many of us ever think about the universe of resources in the minds of our students?

Perhaps this is the chaotic side of the equation and our job is to restore chaos and channel the minds and hearts of our students so as to bring out their best and help them to be the resources we wish to make.

This insightful angle on creativity, introduced by Marjorie Rosenberg, once again sets us off on less well-travelled creative terrain. It’s a kind of minimalist look at the vastness of the mind. How we can tame it, help it to grow and cultivate language is a beautiful mystery of sorts.

Not only does this chapter shed light on the power of the learner, but it also works from a no-teacher-preparation perspective. Lesson plans and ideas incorporate inspiration from drama and the arts and there is a strong emphasis on allowing students to take charge of their own learning experiences while the teacher is powerful in an absent sense. It reminded me of the 80/20 principle. In this case a teacher could provide 20% of the input and students produce 80 % of the output.

14) Practising creative writing in high school foreign language classes by Peter Lutzker

Creative writing as an holistic experience, through language and beyond language, is presented for us in terms of imagination, emotion, the arts and storytelling. Artistic experiences and personal development form a springboard from which learners can re-experience the world while engaging deeply with living language.

A distinction is made between practise and training and this can inform us on how to cultivate the most effective creative writing mindsets.

Lutzker shares with us ten creative writing and storytelling lessons that came from a high school project. It ends with an inspiring conclusion as to the transformative effects of storytelling on students.

 15) Fostering learners’ voices in literature classes in an Asian context by Phuong thi Anh Le

It’s refreshing and extremely helpful to see literature being brought to the centre of second language acquisition. Too often, the culture and soul of the target language is lost through focus on form. The opportunities for students to grow through literature are also too often lost, so this chapter is a crucial one.

We are presented with a wonderful variety of literature lessons for the EFL classroom, based on short stories and poems from American literature. The methodology is an inspiring reversal of the traditional approach of analysing texts – an approach that turns many L2 learners off literature. Instead students are encouraged to form their own relationships with the words and stories and create their own understandings.

The conclusion is a beautiful democratisation of literature appreciation and it’s a powerful reminder that literature is part and parcel of the whole fabric of humanity.

16) A framework for learning creatively

Tessa Woodword sets out to reframe unhelpful misconceptions around notions of creativity and genius. Very tellingly, such outdated and damaging notions are dominated by gender, class and elitist distinctions. What a wonderful invitation to look around, see creativity everywhere with new eyes, and redefine our own creative natures.

The emphasis is on learning through all the senses, beyond mere intellect.  The lesson plans have multiple aspects that encourage us to develop new creative mindsets. There are ways to create rapport & class synergy, prolific brainstorming, and introduce counter-intuitive challenges to spark off lateral thinking habits. Collaboration and sharing are also highlighted in this deeply explorative blend of theory and practice through social/emotional learning opportunities.

17) Drama and creative writing: a blended tool by Victoria Hlenschi-Stroie

A main problem in schools the world over is the digital divide and here, the author offers blended solutions for students and schools that want to push forward with innovation regardless of lack of  technology. Drama and creative writing approaches are blended together to create ample tools and opportunities for growth. Based on multiple educational projects and initiatives in the Arts in Romania, you will find a list of useful activities, tips and resources for blending drama and creative writing in EFL classrooms.

18) A journey towards creativity: a case study of three primary classes in a Bulgarian state school by Zarina Markova

This chapter tells the story of fostering creativity in harsh social, political and economic situations. Many of us in different countries around the world are facing the same difficulties of domino effects, brain drain and abandonment of the arts in schools. This sobering reality is not without its inspiration, however,  and those of us in economically challenged countries will identify with and be uplifted by the ideas outlined. I once read that inspirational dissatisfaction is the best motivator of all.

Happily, Vygotsky is cited in questions of  creative expression for L2 learners when a  one-year project was launched attempting to understand whether consistent focus on creative thinking processes while teaching English could enable young learners to produce creative pieces of writing. The lesson plans and outcomes of the project speak for themselves.

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Finally, here is the download link.

Special thanks to Alan Maley, Nik Peachey and all of these inspiring teacher-authors who are gently forcing us to tip the scales in creativity around the world.


is an online English teacher, writer and blogger who facilitates professional development online. She uses brain-friendly techniques to help students and teachers around the world. She designs educational materials, develops courses, writes resource papers and publishes ebooks. Her work is the result of much research into the psychology of learning, as well as hands-on experience with multi-media technology.

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