• A
  • A
Switch colours to view the site as you prefer!

Creating Creativity-Supporting Environments

Creativity is a basic human attribute that has become lost in the imposed rigour and routine of sport and physical education.

The very notion of creativity is one associated with uniqueness, originality and/or intuition. It is about finding the new, the never-before considered, the out-of-the box, the idea that comes from left field. It isn’t about the mundane, the predicable, the steady or the sure-fire and yet in the use of drills and practices and run outs haven’t we opted for the safe over the creative? 

“Bizarre ideas or the unusual behaviours of people” are not celebrated in sport until they are attached to the very best of players: the ‘little general’, the ‘maestro’, etc.  Doing things no one else can do, or had even thought of doing, is the hallmark of the mega-talented and yet do we create environments that invite and allow young players to be the maverick and push the limits of what can be done? In short do we provide learning environments that are supportive of creativity?

The best of the best have an air of uniqueness and seem to live in the upper echelons of spontaneity. That is not to say that they are not rehearsed or that they don’t understand the nuances of the game to the nth degree. What it does mean, however, is that by making creative tactical decisions they can set up and even finish opportunities that are created by imagination and not just analytical and rational thought. In life, as in games, we are often “confronted with new situations for which we do not have learned or prepared solutions” and yet we have to find creative resolutions to these problems. Such creativity is a central facet of life and yet is it a central facet in physical education or sport?

Do we create environments that allow young players to push the limits of what can be done?

Memmert, in his open chapter, argues that while creativity research has been approached from multiple domains (such as science, literature, music, art, religion and politics) it hasn’t prospered in sport and physical education. Defined by Sternberg and Lambert as “the ability to produce work that is both novel (i.e. original, unexpected) and appropriate (i.e. useful)” creativity shouldn’t be mistaken with intelligence. Instead creativity “stands for productive, original, shaping, artistic, artful, inventive, innovative, imaginative, enterprising, fanciful, ground-breaking or trend-setting” solutions. These are certainly terms we might associate with the ‘best of the best’ but are these the ways we think about grassroots sport or classroom physical education? 

The big question that sprung to mind for me in reading this chapter was “if we value creativity so highly in our best players why don’t we create opportunities for the young people in our care to be creative?” I then wondered if ‘we’ (collectively) think that these are naturally occurring or God-given attributes that can’t be taught? Are we too focused on the basics to realise that this is one of the basic of good play and good players?

Using the European Union (EU) as an example Memmert argues that 25-30% of the 6.5 million people who work in EU countries are employed in the creative sector (i.e. in advertising, design, music, film, fashion or media). Furthermore, the creativity and flexible-thinking of these workers “is not a luxury – it is a necessity”. Businesses don’t leave creativity to chance but are increasing coining terms like “autonomy” and “self-monitoring at work” to develop “long-term, self-initiated experiences” for their workers. They do this in a concerted effort to establish “creativity-supporting environments”.

Memmert argues that, “creative behaviour means creating ideas leading to adequate solutions to a tricky problem without prefabricated approaches”. It is not the stroke of pure genius that defines the creative moment but the finding of a solution. Why has artificial intelligence been such a hard thing to achieve? Not because computers and robots can’t out process and calculate humans but because they can’t join up two boxes that apparent have nothing in common. This is where creativity comes in to play. We can rehearse ever single set play in the game and master every response but what happens when the ball bounces poorly, or the defender doesn’t go left when she should, or the wake of the other swimmer shifts the flow of water to our disadvantage? These are things that shouldn’t happen. But they do. If players and performers can’t be creative then they will eventually stumble and fall. 

Drawing on the work of Florida, Memmert argues, “creativity is a basic element of human life, a widely laid out social process, which requires cooperation. This is stipulated by human exchange and networks; it takes place in actual communities and in real places”. In this way we need to overcome our thinking barriers, break down our routinized ways of training and abandon the safe and mundane. Only in doing this and having the nerve to experiment can we help the young people in our care to be creative. Industry, business and politics have been slow in acknowledging that we need to take a wider view of creativity and fashion environments conducive to it. Sport and education are two areas where we have been even slower on the uptake. Creative ideas are vital is we are going to help young people to succeed and yet we need to ‘teach it’ and not hope to chance that it will find us through are very best players. 

Memmert, D. (2015). Teaching Tactical Creativity in Sport: Research and Practice. London: Routledge.

From a practioner standpoint it is often easy to focus on "that way things should be done" or the correct technique for demonstrating a skill. In most cases in formative and summative assessments we ask students to display a discrete skill or set of skills in isolation from the context in which they may be used within play. Do we do this because it is the way we were taught during our physical education experience or simply because its easy?

Is it about the process or the result? In the current professional sporting landscape results rule over the aesthetic value of play or the process. Think Chelsea against Arsenal. In our physical education classes are we asking ourselves the same question? Do we want students to simply achieve at a given task or do we want them to express themselves and enjoy the process of doing so with the result a by product of that expression? How often do we scold the student who finds the hole in the rules of the game and uses it to their advantage rather than celebrate their creativity?

Memmert argues that “creative behaviour means creating ideas leading to adequate solutions to a tricky problem without prefabricated approaches”. If we provide students with the drills, the set plays or instruct them on what to do in certain situations or scenarios are we allowing them to create ideas or are we providing them with prefabricated approaches.

In my physical education program we use an inquiry based approach to learning. Students are encouraged to be co-creators of knowledge and understanding within physical education. I encourage my students to find creative ways to solve their problems. Rather than going through the same old drills and activities, I design games and activities that place students i situations where they must problem solve, create and innovate and find alternative ways of finding adequete solutions to tricky problems.

If we can allow our students to take a more active role in what our classes and activities look like we may in turn see the more creative nature of players shine through. Failure is not a bad thing. In fact it is the best way to learn for both student and teacher. As practitioners we need to feel comfortable with a lesson not going exactly as we planned. Plan with the end goal in mind and let your students take hold, you may be surprised by their creative approaches to solving the problem.

Ian Morrison
About me
On Tuesday 25 August at 16:00 Ian Morrison said

Really thought provoking blog, I do think there are many teachers who do look for and value a creative environment for their students. But I defintely found that in my training year, when I tried to implement activities that required the students to explore and investigate different ways to solve a problem; many still wanted validation and guidance from me asking whether "was this correct" or "I need to know what it should look like". Many did not take to the independance they were given, feeling that the journey was not as important as the end result. Instead many wanted to just "know how to do it" rather than find their own way. How best might you counter-act this, as I would pin point this is a learning culture problem. Would a continuation of approach be reccomended but perhaps with more structure, that slowly gets stripped away until students are comfortable to work in such a way as proposed. 

 

But once again great blog, with a good practicioner response as always. 

Andy Vasily
About me
On Thursday 27 August at 10:16 Andy Vasily said

I'm with Nathan when it comes to allowing students to take on a more active role in their own learning. Having taught in the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program for many years, student-centered forms of inquiry have always been at the heart of how I deliver my PE lessons. Finding creative, novel, and innovative solutions to tough challenges has played a pivotal role in student learning in my program over the years. However, having said this, there are many misconceptions when it comes to inquiry-based teaching. Getting students to problem-solve, create, innovate, collaborate, and think critically does not mean just giving them a task or challenge and setting them free to explore and experiment, ultimately figuring things out on their own. There are times that we must absolutely step in to direct their learning. 

During the earlier part of my career, I felt as though inquiry-based teaching was about giving students loads of freedom and letting them run with their learning in whatever ways that suited them best. WOW, was I ever wrong!!! Although I thought that I was delivering engaging lessons and units that allowed freedom and ownership to a large degree, I learned that many of my students couldn't handle this. I struggled with stepping in to direct their learning because it just wasn't the way things were done in the inquiry model of teaching. At least that's how I felt at the time. I thought that by stepping in, I was essentially ruining any chances that the students had to be creative and innovative. 

This way of thinking was also wrong. I've learned that it's all about the students and how they learn best. It is certainly possible to construct and engineer a learning environment that challenges our students to be the most creative and innovative selves that they can be, but we need to know when to step in to direct the learning taking place and when to allow them to get on with things. 

As Ash says, "creative ideas are vital if we are going to help young people to succeed". I couldn't agree more. Many programs that I have seen squash all opportunities to be creative in the way that the students learn to play sport and to be physically active. However, the notion of giving students blanket freedom over their learning in order to find the most creative and innovative solutions to challenges and problems is very a questionable teaching approach at best. 

Justen O'Connor
About me
On Thursday 27 August at 13:01 Justen O'Connor said

Why I take some issue with the priority given to reductive biophysical sciences as the priveleged form of knowing in movement. For example - biomechanics. How creative is it really as a guiding discipline to explain movement? Essentially it is more often than not a bunch of post hoc analytics (through reduction) that describe how athletes have already self organised creatively to solve complex problems of movement, within their relative constraints. We then use the data to force other athletes to constrain their unique system until someone else creatively breaks the mould. 

Andy Vasily
About me
On Friday 28 August at 16:09 Andy Vasily said

Justen, instead of looking at it from a researcher lens focusing in on 'athletes', how about looking at learning through the eyes of the majority? Young learners experiencing physical movement? How about addressing the need for creativity through their eyes? And finding joy through being physically active for life by exploring what's available to them as they venture through school and find their way in life? Forget tactics, strategy, and skills of specific sport and coaching. How can we foster a love of movemen in the long hault? 

Justen O'Connor
About me
On Saturday 29 August at 02:24 Justen O'Connor said

Andy, I can't tell if you actually really do think I am advocating for a technical, tactical athletic focus here Or you are posing questions that are in violent agreement with what I said earlier. Hopefully it is the latter. Essentially I have been saying what you are saying here for a long time now. Place responsive approaches ask us to start with the students and their place, not some distant curriculum or program that we recycle based upon historical grounds or a scientific / athletic agenda. If we agree that schools as a site for physical activity should be about supporting a lifelong pursuit of activity/movement then we need to start connecting with how this is meaningful in someone's life. 

Andy Vasily
About me
On Saturday 29 August at 09:15 Andy Vasily said

No Justen, from our tweets and re-reading your comment earlier, I understand your perspective. The initial tweet was not carefully thought out, so my apologies for that. After teaching for nearly 20 years, I truly believe in setting up a teaching and learning environment that emphasizes innovation and creativity. I believe in student ownership in this process but understand that there is a fine line between facilitating and activating. 

As I present workshops, I'm looking to better understand what the research says about setting up an authentic teaching and learning space in physical education that helps students tap into their own creativity and innovation ultimately allowing them to find a path to being physically active for life. Having our students genuinely embrace physical activity and finding the joy in movement is a must.

Justen O'Connor
About me
On Saturday 29 August at 09:21 Justen O'Connor said

There is a lot of research that advocates for a hands off approach to learning skills and can work with discovery approaches to teaching and learning. Ecological approaches or dynamic systems approaches (motor learning and control research) work with the idea that the learner, if given the opportunity for exploration, will solve a complex movement problem and achieve the goals by working within the constraints of their system (body, environment). They do this by self-organising. The best example is - we all learnt to crawl with no instructions. We all learnt to walk without a biomechanical analysis. How did we master these complex movement patterns. They didn't just emerge with maturation, we tried thousands of different ways, did some strength training (ie, lifting our heads, stabilising our trunks) and eventually worked out a movement pattern that worked for us. Crawling is not a pre-programmed movement yet most of us reproduced a predictable crawling movement pattern. You could say the same for a throw a kick or a foul shot. The problem is the same, and the solution will ultimately look similar given we all have similar constraints to work with (although not identical for each individual). What needs to happen is there has to be opportunities to explore the movement. So if someone hasn't learnt to throw a ball in a way that looks technically correct, it is most likely because they haven't been given enough opportunities to explore throwing. This has probably occurred because throwing wasn't meaningful to that person and their context - it hasn't been relevant.

Anyway, back to skill learning - To speed up the search for an efficient movement solution up, a coach or teacher might use guided discovery, but you need care not to stifle individuality. Michael Klim, Fosbury (flop), Paul Adams, Shawn Marion, Lasith Malinga. There are also times when you must let people be creative, to play. The Australian Soccer Curriculum, does a pretty good job of putting a focus on creativity and play without being overly biomechanical and technical.

Justen O'Connor
About me
On Saturday 29 August at 09:26 Justen O'Connor said

For skill learning to be meaningful however, learners must have a reason for the learning. Why would I want to learn a volleyball serve if I can never imagine myself using it out of this HPE context. Connections to the real world are important. Start with the learner, what does movement mean to you. Then think of the context for learning, imagine the content you might cover, then think of the pedagogy/approach. If kids wan't greater access to a place to do longboarding to improve their longboarding technique, this might well form a really good critical inquiry unit on access to movement spaces. Technique will take care of itself.

Jay Cameron
About me
On Saturday 29 August at 12:29 Jay Cameron said

There are some brilliant comments here about fostering creativity through discovery (or guided discovery) learning and the importance of students' needs for meaningful movement learning experiences, but . . . can someone explain how this can happen at a time when more teachers are being 'measured' on students' learning outcomes?  It seems that having physical educators brave and wise enough to teach for creativity may be swimming upstream in the river of educational accountability.  I am always hopeful that great teachers will continue to find ways, but is creativity not measureable enough to satisfy some administrators?

Ashley Casey
About me
On Sunday 30 August at 09:16 Ashley Casey said

I agree Jay, but I feel that innovative teachers are always swimming up hill against the tide. The very nature of innovation is it goes against accepted wisdom and established thought. The key, I guess, is to get more and more people swimming with you. Then the tide will change and the weight of numbers will tilt the table so that you are swimming downhill. What should happen then, I think, is you should find a new hill to swim up and a new tide to swim against. How do you make this happen! By doing what we do poorly...gathering evidence that the innovation is better than the old way of doing things. You have to back yourself but be prepared to find the evidence. School administrators and those in authority are swayed by numbers and students' voices. Gather the evidence you need and this will (a) bring others with you, and (b) show those who make decisions to back you to the hilt. They recongnise good teaching and learning but we have to give evidence to them in ways they understand.

Ashley Casey
About me
On Sunday 30 August at 09:20 Ashley Casey said

Andy and Justen, I've said it before and it was a theme in my National PE Institiute keynote but we have become great at measuring movement and not so good at experiencing it. If we are going to create creativity supporting environments then we need to let discovery occur and not cloud it with movement analysis or statistics. These certainly have their place but not in school or youth sport (in my opinion). 

In order to add your comments, you must login or register as a member

You can login or register here