A Creative Curriculum fit for 2013 and Beyond

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“A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on a cold iron.” Horace Mann

Recently I came across a beautifully written ode to creativity written by @RealDavidCameron – see here. Please read it in all of its resplendent glory. The article, appropriate for our austere times, and rather bankrupt political leadership, is not all sweetness and light. Birth weight and poverty are recognized as near intractable factors that inhibit learning, but the driving force of the article resides in the transformative power of education. This was connected to another article by an inspiring school leader, Tom Sherrington – the @headguruteacher – with this article on creativity here: Teaching for Creativity and Innovation. Now, let me admit, when I sometimes hear the term ‘creativity’ used regarding education I wince slightly. ‘Passion’ and ‘creativity’ have become easy labels used across public and private sectors, becoming appropriated by advertisers, regardless of whether those qualities are exhibited or not, like some empty corporate mantra. When people laud Sir Ken Robinson I cannot but agree with his inspired speeches, but without action those words ring hollow. What leaders like Tom Sherrington and people like David Cameron do is put meat onto the bones of the creativity mantra in a real and valuable. They shine a light on creativity in practice and thereby encourage us to bask in the glow and feed the flame.

What is being proposed in the Ebacc is a reactionary and regressive response to the dynamic needs of our students, our communities and our wider economy. A ‘traditional’ curriculum, with a finishing post solely marked by a terminal three hour exam, is being lauded at a time when we must shape our society into a dynamo of creativity. I am not proposing we shun Modern Foreign Languages, Mathematics, Science and English for a playful curriculum of Dance, Drama and computer play (valuable though each can be in their own right); but if we are to once again devalue the Arts and the vocational aspects of our curriculum we are immediately performing a creativity and innovation lobotomy! As identified by the aforementioned David Cameron, much innovation and creativity derives from the dynamic conflation of different disciplines – such as a fruitful combination of science and literature for example – see here. To deliberately laud one discipline over another simply shows a lack of understanding about how creativity comes to life. We are not all a budding Leonardo da Vinci, but our curriculum should provide a breeding ground for such genius to exist and flourish – why aim for less? Gove lauds the supposed ‘freedoms’ of his systematic shift of our state school system from LEAs to Academies and Free Schools; yet, at the same time, by retaining reductive league tables with narrow measures of success, he distorts those freedoms of curriculum and school structures by narrowing the goal posts for what is deemed acceptable success. The current league table measures of success are widely deemed as insufficient, even by Gove himself (sagely expressed in this article by Chris Husbands) so we must make a thorough job of changing accountability systems for the better. What we have at present is a centralized system that serves the needs of absolutely no-one, perhaps except those Academy chains who stand to benefit from the ‘saving’ of schools being stuffed below floor standards. Creativity becomes dulled by expediency, central diktats and a repressive inspection regime. Innovative curriculum models will be circumscribed, particularly for the students in our society most in need of skills that will help them rise from their limited social circumstances. Many schools under pressure will regress into a conservative safe zone of exam driven teaching that is demotivating for students and teachers alike.

Where courageous leadership starts is a turning away from the threatening drum pounding of the DfE and turning towards our own students. We need a shining of a light upon what many of our schools are doing brilliantly and we need to spread that light. For me, our curriculum is the kindle for that flame. The very best teachers will be dulled and stunted by a limiting curriculum, no matter who we attract into our profession. We must scale up our creative endeavors if we are to inspire our students with a desire to learn. Our creativity will be found when we shine a light existing in our own schools (we will find the feeling needed for change all around us if we look properly), but we should also seek inspiration from elsewhere. Therefore I have compiled the following list of inspiring websites and blog posts that shine a light on the great creativity existing in schools all around us (in no particular order):

http://sloweducation.co.uk/?p=262
A movement to stimulate enquiry based learning over our content driven exam fuelled culture. Examples include schools schools taking leave of six hours per week of English, Humanities, Science and Technology lessons at KS3 to undertake enquiry based learning. A clear manifesto for the approach can be found in this document: Learning Futures

http://www.redesigningschooling.org.uk/
A national campaign by SSAT to coral leading thinkers and practitioners to define the core purpose of education and to synthesise the needs of our learners, now and in the future, with a curriculum which is fit for purpose. Hopefully this programme can synthesise and define many of the projects and thinking I go on to identify.

http://learningspy.co.uk/2012/09/23/project-based-learning-i-did-it-my-way/
An excellent idea for project based learning from an English curricular perspective that draws in the Arts and the Humanities, transforming the whole school to energise interest and bring the war to life for students.

http://www.edutronic.net/
An outstanding use of Web 2.0 resources. Edutronic is brilliant platform to share communication and resources between teachers and students; for students to blog themselves and to record learning with a global audience. This open source approach is clearly going to supplant VLEs as the future method for communicating and learning online.

http://pedagogicalpurposes.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/do-project-first-olympics-style.html?m=1
More project based learning, this time originating in Science, inspiring learners with a range of real word problems and projects and including blogged learning to help ongoing progress and reflection.

http://deeplearning.edublogs.org/2012/12/02/meet-the-ancestors/
A project based learning approach with an Art focus – with a great example of a public critique involving the local community.

http://taitcoles.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/punk-learning-fear-is-just-another-commodity/
An inspired approach to expeditionary learning and a student centred approach to learning. Tait’s ‘Punk Learning Manifesto’ is a brilliant synthesis of ideas to convey an original and exciting approach to Science teaching and learning.

http://www.pedagoo.org/category/curriculum/
A brilliant national collective of expert teachers sharing pedagogy to keep getting better. A brilliantly simple alternative to national initiatives like the long-since defunct National Strategies approach in England. Now reading beyond its Scottish origins, I can see this collective and cooperative approach being the future for innovation in pedagogy, alongside Teachmeets and other such ground-swell approach.

http://www.hightechhigh.org/schools/HTHI/
A brilliant school that embraces project based learning at the core of its entire curriculum. Using the principals of Ron Berger’s inspired vision of excellence in education, this school is a gold one of highly skilled and engaging pedagogy.

http://brookfieldcyclingproject.blogspot.co.uk/
This brilliant Physical Education project based learning approach brings together inspiration from British cycling together with sessions with local journalists to make literacy and the project real. The prospective public critique looks like another fantastic opportunity for students to share their brilliant learning with a real audience.

Surely these engaging and innovative approaches to pedagogy can be combined with a traditional focus upon core literacy and numeracy, and Gove’s beloved rigour, that would be more fitting for our complex and inter-connected futures. The selections I have made combine project based learning; a turning away from an obsession with terminal assessments; a skilled use of technology to leverage pedagogy; real audiences and so much more. We would do well to synthesise these principals of great learning. We must stick to our task – as the ‘real‘ David Cameron stated in his article:

“That reminded me that our task is to give our young people 1000 futures regardless of their past or their present.” David Cameron

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About huntingenglish

I am Director of Learning and Research at Huntington Secondary School, York. I have taught English (including a bit of Media Studies) for over a decade. If it is tragic and gothic, laced with humour and bitter truths then I'll teach it! I am Project Lead of the RISE (Research-leads Improving Students' Education) Project. An EEF funded randomized controlled trial to evaluate if and how a Research-lead can improve outcomes for students. I am a proud member of the Institute for Effective Education (IEE) Executive Board at York University. I am also a proud member of the ResearchEd Advisory Panel. I write regularly for the TES and Teach Secondary magazine. My first book, 'Teach Now! Becoming A Great English Teacher' was released by Routledge in 2014 and my next book, entitled 'The Confident Teacher' will be out at the end of 2015.

5 responses to “A Creative Curriculum fit for 2013 and Beyond”

  1. Chris says :

    An inspirational read – not that I’ve yet read all the links – at a time when I feel all the creativity is being squeezed out of my English department in favour of ‘achievement’ over ‘learning’ (thanks Alfie Kohn). I teach in exactly the environment you describe as an Academy chain currently being ‘saved': in this case by a new leadership team intent on constructing their own success by deconstructing all the success and progress that has been achieved in previous years. The life is being sucked out of us! Treading the line between doing management bidding and compromising one’s professional integrity and experience as an English teacher of some twenty years is proving increasingly hazardous and toxic. Thank you for reminding me why I teach; why I teach English; and why I chose to teach students in a significantly deprived area, only to find now that their deprivation feeds the educational and political careers of a self-serving elite and the financial profit of private benefactors. Plus ca change…?

    • huntingenglish says :

      I am sorry to hear about the predicament you are in and I am in no doubt that sustaining motivation and creativity in such a corrosive environment must be really hard. I do firmly believe that it is only through a creative curriculum, delivered by a hard working team of good teachers, that we will engage our hardest to reach students – therefore the political elites who run the game allow such ‘creativity’ with the curriculum to exist if there is evidence that you are ‘playing the game’ successfully I.e. getting results.

      Removing the CAs, another seismic shift in goalposts, although time-consuming, is ultimately the right thing. We need better summative assessment than simply a three hour exam (I personally think this is early scare-mongering from the DfE to make us ‘happy’ with a model that is much more of a compromise), but we are on the edge of being given significant curriculum freedoms with the abolishment of CAs and we must seize the moment.

      It is about building a wall around your team and forging your own creative route. Source the best models, which is the aim of my post really, shine the light on what good you already do and scale that up. My next post is about trying to develop and sustain a positive change – I am an unashamed idealist and I do think that with courageous leadership on our part, even in the face of pervasive criticism, we can make a positive difference. Once we have proven our success we cannot be fairly stopped by the political establishment.

  2. 3arn0wl says :

    :) There’s an excellent moment in the West Wing, where Richard Schiff’s character, Toby, argues:

    “There is a connection between the progress of society and progress in the Arts:

    The age of Pericles was also the age of Phidias
    The age of Lorenzo de Medici was also the age of Leonado da Vinci
    The age of Elizabeth was also the age of Shakespeare.”

  3. Sarah says :

    A great read and one I wish others would read and act on! I agree action is needed otherwise inspirational tedtalks, books and articles by the likes of Ken Robinson, Will Richardson Ian Gilbert etc… become meaningless. I am very fortunate to work in a school that cares and has learning and the process of learning at its heart. Because of its ethos and vision provided by smt we have created a innovative and learner driven place to learn and facilitate learning.

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