Restriction and Creativity

Reading this blog post from Cramlington Learning Village has made me consider the blessings that unexpected circumstances can give us.

Sometimes you are stuck with a last minute room change, or the computers suddenly go down or- CRISIS! – you leave your memory stick at home.  There was a time when I would have hated this but now I just roll with the punches.  That is largely because I have come to realise that some of my most interesting experiences as a teacher have come in those situations.

I remember an example years ago when an unexpected number of pupils were missing from a ‘crucial’ lesson on poetry.  I didn’t want to waste that one so, on a whim, I set up a speed dating activity. (I had been to one of these events myself the week before- but never since!) Each pupil became a poem from the anthology and they had to meet other poems and discuss what they had in common etc.  It went really really well and
I have used variations on that theme ever since.

The only problem is that these opportunities don’t come up all the time so…create them!

I often come back to this set of instructions when considering this kind of thing:

You must not talk
The lesson must take place outside
You have to teach the lesson in role
Half of the pupils are blindfolded
You only use plasticine
The pupils teach the lesson
You are not in the classroom
You are teaching 100 pupils in the theatre
You have 8 different activities on 8 different tables
Nobody can sit down


Picking one at random and then going from there can lead to some great lessons.

There is a chapter in Phil Beadle’s brilliant Dancing About Architecture where he discusses random pairings of subjects and sports.  Sometimes the randomness creates amazing ideas which don’t pop into your head without this kind of stimulus.

Other ways to embrace randomness include:

5 card flickr

The story generator

Putting this in practice, it is important to balance the gimmick with real, solid learning.  I like being a bit creative with lessons but I do not like it if no learning takes place.

Looking at the first idea on my list, and reminded by the CLV post, on Friday I decided not to talk in one of my lessons.  My year 8 class are working on projects and in our previous 2 lessons, I had asked them to set targets at the beginning and reflect on their progress at the end.  I
wanted them to work in this way again.  I wanted them to do all of this without needing me to tell them, however, and I wanted them to have to solve problems without me.

What was interesting was that about half of the class immediately started as if nothing had changed while the other half were much more tentative.  This is a class where we experience almost zero examples of negative behaviour but without direct instruction some found it more difficult than others to start.  Once we got going, and once they realised I was not going to answer the questions, the pupils organised themselves
effectively.  Instead of asking me for spellings, they found them out from friends, dictionaries, the internet or frankly just from thinking about them for a bit longer.

What is most interesting is that even if the pupils had not made expected progress, it would still have been a productive experience because we could unpick why things didn’t work as well as normal and address these issues accordingly.  I am going to try it next week with one of my most challenging classes and see the results.

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