Achieving creativity through the Learning Power Approach

Child at home draws a rainbow

What is creativity? And how do we become creative people?

For internationally renowned cognitive scientist, Professor Guy Claxton, “creativity isn’t a thing, it’s not an independent faculty in the mind, it’s a well-orchestrated composite, a constellation of more clearly identifiable habits of mind, all of which are capable of being practised in school.”

This understanding of creativity – what Professor Claxton describes as a constellation of mental habits – underpins his educational methodology, a methodology known as the Learning Power Approach.

To help inform our understanding of the Learning Power Approach we should perhaps start by addressing some common misconceptions. For centuries, creativity was seen as some transcendent and transient thing. To borrow an old cliché, creativity was bestowed in flashes of inspiration by the whispering whims of the Muses – an arbitrary, not to mention, fickle system that would surely make for poor educational policy.

A second misconception is that creativity is the sole preserve of intellectuals and artists, an elitist assumption that is as harmful as it is lazy. After all, how many academics know how to fix a car, arrange their own diary, or find themselves dependant in some other everyday way? The truth is that we are a naturally curious species, one who is on the constant lookout for new solutions, new technology and designs, and new ways to express ourselves. A cornerstone of the Learning Power Approach is how we embrace and encourage these traits – that the fostering of broad and open thought within developing minds should result in dynamic citizens with sufficient confidence and mental agility to solve a whole spectrum of problems, whatever their profession.

To achieve this Professor Claxton says that we need to change the culture around education, that we need to “make the classroom a place where the children are investigators, not just consumers of education.”

One way that we can facilitate this change is to welcome discourse into the classroom. By linguistically pivoting away from absolutism and towards interpretation we invite imagination. When we create an environment where facts can be questioned, we are creating an open learning environment in which children will depend less on received wisdom, old-fashioned binaries, and will be better prepared to give and receive constructive criticism.

The willingness to embrace mistakes – or at least smart mistakes – is another core principle behind this learning approach. Indeed, artists know the value of mistakes more than most other professions in the world – most of the world’s greatest masterpieces developed through an arduous ritual of drafts, edits, and revisions. Frustration is an obvious counterpoint to this, the abandoned artwork that seemed impossible to complete – or worse still some ego-driven pretence of otherworldly perfectionism. However, Professor Claxton would encourage us to see mistakes as potentially positive and productive steps forward, steps that not only enable us to make progress in our work but also facilitate better and deeper understanding of the process too. Freed from the fear of making mistakes, students become comfortable exploring options when they encounter difficulty, making them better able solve problems independently.

We can see then how the Learning Power Approach is a broad and holistic approach to education that develops the creative and critical faculties within both students, making them better learners in the now, while simultaneously equipping them with long-term learning and behavioural habits that will allow them to face adult life as more independent and open-minded people. We become creative through inquisition, imagination, persistence, and collaboration – this constellation of mental habits quoted at the beginning of this piece.

There is nothing transcendental, nothing mystical, and nothing elitist to achieving a creative culture in schools. We simply require a series of incremental shifts in teaching habits, such as: engagement with subjects that are challenging and multifaceted, the nurturing of trust and responsibility within both the student body and the teaching staff and using assessment as a tool to enable learning rather than seeing it as its purpose. Professor Claxton believes that such changes could benefit more than just the students. “We might even discover that teaching became less stressful and more enjoyable as a result.”

Join Culture Summit for our next digital programme event, featuring Professor Claxton, What Is the Value of Arts and Culture in Education. This free event is scheduled for 8 March at 11am GMT.