Written by Claire Hansen in Criticism and Research | 14.08.2017
The Shakespeare Reloaded team is currently running a new Imaginarium called the Teaching & Learning (T&L) Caskets Imaginarium, in which teachers from different disciplines come together over three weeks to test the boundaries of teaching and learning by exploring and sharing new ideas and theories.
The Imaginariums follow five principles of Imaginaria. The T&L Caskets Imaginarium is inspired by the caskets in The Merchant of Venice, with its promises in respect to the gold, silver and lead caskets – the choice of which will decide Portia’s future husband. Using these caskets, it’s possible to say that a teacher might:
1. Get what she or he desires;
2. Get as much as she or he deserves (!);
3. Hazard all she or he has got.
The casket format is as follows:
- One hour
- One topic
- One scholarly reading
We’ll be following the three workshops through the blog, providing a rundown on the scholarly readings and two ‘caskets’ covered each week. We’ll therefore be exploring six caskets in total – the first two, discussed here, are Casket 1: collaborative learning and Casket 2: nurturing creativity in class.
Casket 1: collaborative learning
Reading: Deanna Kuhn, ‘Thinking together and alone,’ Educational Researcher 44.1 (2015): 46-53.
In this reading Deanna Kuhn questions the benefits of peer collaboration as a ‘silver bullet’ for educators (51). She writes:
Across the K-12 curriculum, peer collaboration has come to be highly regarded as enlightened educational practice. Students benefit by engaging intellectually with one another, it’s widely believed. If so, we need to know what these benefits are. (46)
She adds that the view that collaboration is a tool for individual intellectual gain is so predominant that it might ‘lead one to think there is more evidence in support of its effectiveness than in fact exists.’ (46)
Kuhn elaborates on the importance of differentiating between knowledge which occurs via transmission in a group setting, and knowledge that is produced via ‘genuine collaboration – mutual engagement in a coordinated effort in which group performance and/or subsequent individual performance exceeds that which any member brought to the group.’ (47) In other words, to be collaborative, the whole must exceed the sum of its parts.
There are also a range of ways to judge productive collaborative activity – is a collaboration successful if benefits are detected in cognitive competence, socio-emotional or dispositional gains, or other areas? (47)
A further question raised is whether benefits of collaborative learning come from the collaboration or the problem-based learning (PBL) model often used (48). Kuhn's article incorporates exploration of PBL models; of learning conditions in which participants who share a position on an issue must engage in dialogue with classmates who take an opposing view (49); and the effectiveness of discourse versus writing on quality of thinking (49).
The essay posits that ‘argumentative discourse’ is a key means of achieving cognitive benefits through K-12 students’ collaboration (50). Kuhn argues that ‘opposing ideas are an essential component of collaborative discourse that propel it forward.’ (50)
The discussion raised about collaboration encourages us to question implicit assumptions about the value of collaboration, as well as how to bring about genuine collaboration in the classroom. As Kuhn argues, ‘intellectual collaboration does not come naturally’, but is a skill which must be learned through practice (51).
Questions to consider:
- How do you define collaboration and its role in the classroom?
- Does collaboration come naturally?
- How do you foster collaboration as a skill?
- How do you judge successful collaboration?
- This topic is considered here in relation to students, but what about teacher collaboration?
Casket 2: Nurturing creativity in class
Reading: Ronald A. Beghetto and James C. Kaufman, ‘Classroom Contexts for Creativity,’ High Ability Studies 25.1 (2014): 53-69.
This essay asks the question: ‘How might teachers support the development of students’ creative potential?’ (53) It considers the role of the learning environment as an important factor in supporting or suppressing creative potential.
First, though, how does one define creativity? Beghetto and Kaufman see it as an ‘everyday’ part of the human condition (53). Common definitions understand creativity to be something ‘new or different’ but also appropriate or useful. In other words:
Creativity = Originality x Appropriateness
Another way of defining creativity is through the Four C Model of Creativity:
- The mini-c: subjective self-discoveries
- The little-c: everyday creativity
- The pro-c: expert-level creativity
- The Big-C: genius-level creativity
(see pp. 54-55)
The authors consider the role that individual factors play in creativity, from cognitive ability to personality traits, openness, self-beliefs, and motivation (57). This is especially important as what stimulates creativity in one student may suppress it in another (60). Social factors, of course, also play a role (58).
A useful outline is provided for creativity-supportive practices:
(a) Explicitly teaching for creative thinking
(b) Providing opportunities for choice and discovery
(c) Encouraging students’ intrinsic motivation
(d) Establishing a creativity-supportive learning environment
(e) Providing opportunities for students to use their imagination while learning.
So how does the learning environment affect the development of creativity? By learning environment, Beghetto and Kaufman here refer not only to physical space but also ‘psychosocial and pedagogical features’ (59). The essay raises the role of inside and outside spaces, the flexible use of materials and time, providing students with more freedom, and collaborative activities (for more on collaboration, see Casket 1).
How does your learning environment send messages (explicitly or unintentionally) to students? What role do time restrictions and deadlines, and competitiveness of tasks, play in stimulating or suppressing creativity? (60-1) And how do (and should) educators teach students that ‘there is a time and a place for creativity’? (62) The development of a type of self-knowledge can help individuals to identify the appropriateness of creativity. Referred to as 'creative metacognition', this type of self-knowledge enables an individual to know their own creative strengths and limitations and how to judge appropriate contexts for creativity (63).
Beghetto and Kaufman offer a few suggestions for a creativity-supportive learning environment, including:
- Incorporating creativity into everyday teaching
- Providing opportunities for choice, imagination and exploration
- Monitoring motivational messages being sent by one’s classroom practices
- Approaching creativity and academic learning as means to other ends, not ends in themselves
- Modelling and supporting creativity in the classroom
This article raises questions about the very definition of creativity: must it always be ‘appropriate’? How is that judged? It also poses fascinating questions about the makeup of the learning environment, including a definition of space that extends beyond the four walls of the classroom. What messages are our school environments sending students about creative practice?
Questions to consider:
- How are you already building creativity into your classrooms and learning spaces?
- What messages do you think your learning environment is sending students about creativity?
- What ingredients do you need to make a space supportive of creativity?
- How do you judge appropriate times/places for creativity?
- How do you understand creativity as a part of teaching practice?
Beghetto, Ronald A. and James C. Kaufman. ‘Classroom Contexts for Creativity,’ High Ability Studies 25.1 (2014): 53-69.
Kuhn, Deanna. ‘Thinking together and alone,’ Educational Researcher 44.1 (2015): 46-53.