Stopping the interruptions


I’ve just been viewing this video of John Cleese as I am preparing some thoughts for a workshop I have coming up, in which I want to get people thinking about creativity and the way we create opportunities for its development in our school programmes. Cleese makes a simple point – that time and lack of disruption play an important part in the expression of creative thought. Or to put it another way, constant interruptions to the thought process stifles creativity.

Sir Ken Robinson has had a lot of exposure recently with his provocation on ‘do schools kill creativity?’, with their constant emphasis on assessment in small chunks and the value placed on ‘getting things right’, and not spending time reflecting on mistakes and repeatedly trying things out etc. Again, a key thing here is the ability to devote time to the task in order for real creativity to come through.

Tonight I read an article in the Times Education Supplement about a radical experiment carried out for a two-part BBC2 documentary which found that children taught in an experimental model classroom learned at twice the speed of their contemporaries. It’s difficult to tell exactly from the brief report what exactly was trialed, but there is the hint that one of the key features of this trial was that learners were given the opportunity to spend time completing a challenge, without having to be concerned about the micro-assessments along the way.

All of this leads me to reflect on how desperately we need to work at resolving the tension in the way that we think about and manage the use of time in our schools. The chunking of time into discrete blocks on a timetable must be one of the most debilitating things we so blindly continue with in our schools – just as students are becoming engaged in the way that Cleese, Robinson and the BBC researchers point to, we ring a bell and tell them to move on to the next thing. That, together with the constant interruptions we present to the flow of learning in class time – in the form of micro-assessments, management strategies, teacher talk etc. – conspires to stifle all genuine expressions of creativity.

Time appears to be both the problem and solution. We are always anxious because we don’t have enough of it, often because we feel burdened by expectations of others and compliance issues (it is always the number one excuse I hear from educators for why they can’t embrace a new idea or work with a new approach in their classrooms). On the other hand, I do see some examples emerging where radically different approaches are being taken, such as the ‘impact project‘ day they have at Albany Senior Secondary School where they spend one complete day each week immersed in a particular theme or topic.

If we’re going to take the challenge of Cleese, Robinson et al seriously, then we have to be prepared to be more courageous in our approach. As my grandmother often said to me as I was growing up and would complain to her about my lack of time, “funny how we always find the time to do the things we’re really passionate about or believe are important!” Perhaps there’s simply not enough passion or conviction that this is important enough in our system yet???

3 thoughts on “Stopping the interruptions

  1. ‘Teaching’ creativity is perhaps the most challenging area of learning. John Cleese is right, so was Tim Brighouse when he used the phrase the “Tyranny of the Timetable”. In my days of teaching Design and Technology I always arranged for my time allocation in one block of 2 or 3 hours a week to avoid interruptions. If you are teaching French in Monkseaton High School UK you will be working in 10 minute slots.

    There has been some interesting research in the UK by Richard Kimbell on the topic – more here

    Having established the conditions for encouraging and supporting creativity and John Cleese is right again the expertise of the teacher is crucial; then how do you assess it? Again Richard Kimbell has worked on developing a model. The usual examination algorithms cannot work QCDA (UK) worked on that and surrendered. Creativity can be described by features but there is no universal agreed definition, nor will there ever be.

    Only teacher judgement can be used – the antithesis of targets and standardised testing!

  2. Those who can, do, those who can’t do, teach?


    Those who are creative, create, those who can’t create, teach creativity?

    Hmmmm rings a bell.

  3. Those who can educate do not teach; they inspire and guide learning. Creativity and doing comes in many forms. To think it only happens for those who DO NOT teach shows lack of creativty

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