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Yes Ministry: writing project gives creativity a boost

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 11 March 2016

Dominic Wyse
If you agree that the Primary National Curriculum for English is too complex and over-loaded with detail, try a little experiment. See what happens when you take the 2014 Music Curriculum and adapt it appropriately.
My team and I have been researching the development of children’s creativity, and I think this could represent a new vision for English in the curriculum of the future:


One of the highest forms of creativity

Increase [pupils’] self-confidence, creativity and sense of achievement


To create and compose writing on their own and with others

To understand and explore how writing is created

KS1 programme of study

Experiment with, create, select and combine words using the interrelated dimensions of language

KS2 programme of study

Improvise and compose texts for a range of purposes using the interrelated dimensions of language

Listen with attention to detail and recall text with increasing aural memory

Creativity is prized in the workplace in in society. Consider the Oscars, Nobel Prizes and even the Plato Awards honouring successful teachers. In our every-day lives, we feel proud when we have come up with a creative solution to a problem.
Never-the-less, the demand for ever-improving, measurable ‘achievement’ means that it fails to feature strongly in primary education. And the latest, stricter testing regime means this situation is getting worse, as even the most creative teachers are forced to ‘teach to the test’.
The adage goes that we value what we can measure, when we should be able to measure what we value – but what if we could do just that?
In 2012 a team from the IOE was engaged to carry out a three-year research evaluation of the Ministry of Stories (MoS). MoS, set up by author Nick Hornby, with Lucy MacNab and Ben Payne, is based in Hoxton, East London, and focuses on creative writing for children from disadvantaged areas. It aims to boost creativity, motivation and writing development, and offers after-school sessions that children choose to attend, and bespoke projects in schools.
Since creativity is notoriously difficult to assess, we needed first to define it and then to find robust ways to measure its development without undermining its very nature. In Creativity in the Primary Curriculum I define creativity as “a person’s ability to create something that is regarded by appropriately qualified people as new [/original] and of value”. In the classroom, teachers are the ones who are qualified to make these judgments, through their knowledge of child development and their knowledge about each individual child. Has something new been created? Is it of value to the child themselves, to their peers, to their parents, to their community?
In order to evaluate the children’s development of creativity in their writing we needed to develop a new research instrument. The research associate and the MoS workshop leader used the instrument to discuss and agree the level of creativity demonstrated in writing samples created by each of the 15 children who had been randomly selected as case studies. The criteria for judging the writing were the extent that it showed: imaginative adaptation (for example using cultural influences such as video games and comics); originality; and value, from very weak to very strong for each criterion.
We concluded that the MoS is making an extremely important contribution to the creativity and writing motivation of the young people it is working with. Not surprisingly, those who stayed involved in MoS for the full three years benefited the most.
A particularly striking development was that as the children’s experience and confidence increased, they made transitions from adapting familiar sources, such as books and games, towards more confience and desire to create their own ideas.
In addition to the important gains in creativity in writing, children’s measured attainments in reading and writing improved compared with those not involved in MoS (and for one group this was statistically significant) – but more importantly, the children strongly voiced their greater motivation and confidence, and believed that they had become better writers.
Photo: Children find a Yeti at the MoS launch https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

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