Reflecting on Creativity and activities that can foster IT

The CGroup Image

I joined the Creative Group, a group that sees Creativity as a way of promoting change in language education. As soon as I read the group’s mission and aims, I felt the desire of being part of this movement which matches what I’ve been trying to do myself in class, which is trying to engage learners in the creative use of language as well as connecting to mine and their creative selves. But what is creativity? Is it possible to define it? The group offers a description that might get us thinking about it. Here it is:

While it is true that ‘creativity is an elusive creature that can’t be defined in a single feature’, we nevertheless offer a provisional description of creativity as: ‘thinking and activity in language education that is novel, valuable, and open-ended, and that helps to enrich learning in our students and ourselves’.

You can READ MORE about The CGroup, here.

About couple of weeks ago, I read a reflection on Creativity where the blogger Gianfranco Conti stresses the fact that the term might have been commonly used/misused (I highly recommend his blog!). He asked about creativity in language learning and use by raising the following questions:

Don’t want to sound overly cynic but…what about ‘real’ creativity? The kind that L2 learners really have to engage in order to effectively learn the target language?

I’m not going to go over how Gianfranco answers “that” question here. He has already done a great job at that in his own blog and I’d like to invite you to go there to read it. I hope it strucks a chord with you too.

I also hope that the set of activities I am using with my 14-year-old teens right now falls into the view of creativity that enhances L2 acquisition and promotes creativity with and through language as Gianfranco would expect to be really part of our job as language teachers.

Using Comics

Activity 1: I gave them a very straightforward worksheet for them to fill in 5 minutes. Each learner received one and they did it in pairs or threes. I could have given them the word cloud straight away, but I decided I wanted them to think of vocabulary explicitly questioning what they knew or not about those words. 5 minutes was enough for the learners in intermediate level+ to fill most of it. In fact, about 90% falls into the 2000 most frequent words.

voc

Activity 2: Each pair or group of three learners received a wordcloud with the words forming a runner/racer/competitor or simply someone running which is central part of the story. Most of the content words are in the story or related to it.

canvasPredicting the story is a valuable activity because it encourages learners to use their imagination, but also to rely on the information they have available to them, in this case the image of a racer and the words, and also from the knowledge of the world. It’s also open-ended because learners choose which words to use promoting novelty as learners come up with new and different stories/predictions from each other. 

Searching for more ideas today on how to use WordClouds, I came across a post which I highly recommend from Nik Peachey from 2008 with lots of great ideas on how to use them including predicting the story.

Learners wrote their own versions using the language they had at their disposal and had also to negotiate with one another. Some pairs/threes carried out the activity most of the time in English, while others used Portuguese to discuss the possibilities and create the story. Here are the samples without any correction apart from one that had been corrected, rewritten and the words the learn were having trouble pronouncing, highlighted in green. If you want to read the stories, click here.

After predicting the story,

  • We worked with the comic and most of the lines of the characters were erased to promote visual literacy as well as giving learners the chance to understand the story by predicting what the characters might be saying through oral discussion.
  • The characters’ lines were printed out and cut in large slips of paper for them to match lines to blanked bubbles. These two activities promoted a lot of language discussions where they would help each other, check dictionary or ask me. Most of the time, they figure things out by just talking to each other.

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8 thoughts on “Reflecting on Creativity and activities that can foster IT

  1. hi Rose

    i was wondering why the definition the C group uses includes “open-ended”, in your description you say that “..open-ended because learners choose which words to use” though they choose it from the list available i.e. close-ended? very curious about this as most definitions of creativity use the novel/useful, the open-ended requirement seems unjustified if thinking about how often creativity comes from limitations?

    ta
    mura

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Mura, thanks for making me think. YOU always do! 🙂 I’ve missed you around by the way.

      Close-ended in a sense for sure, but not totally closed as this is more of a prompt. If one has options, and is not forced to use them all, or only them, it would make it in my understanding not a close-ended activity.

      The list of words is a support for learners. Teenagers are usually short of them and in this case providing them with words which is as you probably have noticed also about types of words they could use in the story. After reading one of the stories, I noticed that some of the learners were not able to distinguish bored/excited and boring/exciting. In their grammar syllabus, they need to also be working with may/might. So, after what I called the prediction stage, I gave them the story with the erased bubbles, gave them enough time to predict what the characters might be saying and worked with them and the first 2 panels with both linguistic contents (might for speculation and the adjective endings by asking questions and writing on the board their answers creating a paragraph long. Then, I asked them in pair to look at the adjectives, notice their endings and discuss when we use one and the other.)

      In my Art days, it wasn’t uncommon for artists to create something new by drawing from something else. I don’t see any problem for this principle to be transfered to writing. We can write a story based on a poem we read. We can write a poem based on a memory. And the list goes on.

      I personally see the quote from the CGroup as a call to rethink the use of language and activities where students have zero freedom, and also a call to understand language development as something beyond the focus of grammar and vocabulary as Gianfranco points out here,
      “As far as language learning is concerned, creativity is not about the product; it is about the process of learning. The process of understanding the way the target language works through creative thinking, by making hypotheses about the target language and seeking confirmation. Of creatively negotiating meaning when interacting with an L2 input source – whether a person, a text or a machine. Of ‘creating’ adaptive learning strategies to cope with and master the TL acquisition process. Of creatively compensating for lack of vocabulary or grammar through communication strategies (e.g. coinage or approximation). Of re-creating the target language sounds – this apparently lower order set of skills involving the same creativity required by using a musical instrument as we have to use our ear, tune our vocal chords effectively to the target language sounds. Finally, of creatively adapting to a foreign culture.”

      And I absolutely agree with Gianfranco.

      Like

      • hi Rose (warning rambling thoughts ahead)

        i guess not too caught up in why C group uses open-ended in definition, it immediately struck me as an interesting use hence my question

        i guess i am more caught up looking at what “creativity” can add to learning a language in class

        i would say i am kinda of skeptical that it can add something without taking away class time from other things; or maybe it is more to do with single concept advocacy which tends to advocate correcting a pedagogical imbalance e.g. there is not enough options for language learners in class so let’s focus on making it more open via creativity

        even the way Gianfranco reworks it i feel is generous to the concept in the sense that yes creativity could be say an important background element whilst not forgetting that language learning is the foreground

        my positions is also to do with a personal challenge of mine in that that foreground of language learning is always a continuous and massive learning endeavor for me and adding in creativity seems an unwelcome burden!

        anyways that’s the end of the rambling will follow the C group with interest 🙂

        ta
        mura

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m not sure I can address your concerns, Mura. What I hear you’re saying is (please, correct me if I’m wrong) that there is a tendency to push people to be creative or bring creativity to the class… almost like an obligation. If something is an obligation, for me it loses the joy of its existence in the first place. I mean, if creative ought to be something positive, it’s can’t be forced on people.
          At the same time, how can one live without being creative, it’s part of life. The fact that you have to do as you are told and only do things in one way, does makes life boring and dull. Language learning can be a massive endeavor. I agree, but it doesn’t have to be something dull to do, does it?
          For my teens and children, tasks/activities that allow them to imagine, make decisions, make believe, make choices, not just about how to do something, but also what to use as language is really positive and welcome. My adults, on the other hand think that learning a language is through repeatitive use of language. They find Duolingo fun! My teens find it boring.

          As a teacher, if I’m forced to plan lessons in a certain way only, it would kill my ideas. Many of which I don’t have even time to share with my students or write down. I know though that children and teens appreciate the flexibility I bring to the class and freedom for them to express things in their own way. The same can’t be said about adults.
          How much time is taken from language? uhmmm it depends. Sometimes, learners spend time doing only language activities that won’t sparkle any enthusiasm or attention to the task/activity. Without learners genuine engagement nothing is really achieved or gained in terms of language learning.

          A very close friend of mine and colleague says that “it’s better to do little but learners learn a lot, than do a lot of language work and do learn too little.”

          I really appreciate you taking the time to comment and to add your views. I look forward to your response.

          Like

          • hi Rose

            my thoughts are about in what way can thinking about creativity help more than thinking about language, rather than about people “pushing” creativity in the classroom

            there was a blog post recently where the writer was looking at how ‘logical’ language is and using that to learn say the numbering system in Hungarian [http://www.strategiesinlanguagelearning.com/a-language-learning-game/]

            so here is an idea (which you may or may not like) that originated from the language as it were and are we missing other potential ideas if we focus away from the language?

            though some might argue that the author was using their creative abilities to develop this!

            ta
            mura

            Liked by 1 person

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