Introducing Engaging Imagination

On the evening of March 19th, 2014, I hosted a lecture for the London College of Fashion Pedagogic Research Hub, introducing Engaging Imagination and discussed my emerging ideas on how I want to take this work forward in future – by examining the differences (however subtle) between creative practice, pedagogies and reflection. (In  my early post you can see how I define creative pedagogies here).

You can watch excerpts from the evening in the video below, covering the essence of the book, how we define creativity, imagination and play, and how these emerge through textual and non-written records of reflection. I take our model Polarities of Reflection, which displays some of the tensions and opposites present in curriculum-based reflection and overlay it with thoughts on how these reside within bigger issues of pedagogy and practice. If you feel like having a taste of examples from the book, I also discuss several of these, among them Duck Rabbit, Labyrinths and Lego Serious Play.

You’ll find that in the video I make a number of references to practice, largely because I this talk was aimed at an audience of creative arts students, teachers and practitioners. When I do so I am largely indicating craft, professional and industry practices within art, design and media domains. However in the book itself, we extend our thinking across much broader territories, so this should be taken as an illustration, rather than the whole story. So don’t let mention of practice put you off if it’s not your thing.


creative reflection and ‘getting a life”

castle window, Germany

castle window, Germany

The other day my sister sent me a link to an article about how work – and the ‘cult of productivity’ – have been allowed to become benchmarks of self definition in Western culture. You can find it here on Maria Popova’s thought provoking site, Brain Pickings. I’m sharing it here for a number of reasons – one of them being that if I include it here I stand a reasonable chance of finding it again myself. Plus it reminded me of how great things digital can be, when you get a single suggested reading in an email and can then follow it up, down and across a myriad paths through all kinds of new territories and ideas that you never would have followed before. AND – it got me thinking about various things on a personal and professional level.

The article, focussing on Anna Quindlen’s undelivered commencement address that subsequently became a book, addresses the central notion of how students need to ‘get a life’ – not in the derogatory way that we usually intend such a suggestion, but a kind of life worth living, rather than a scrabbling after status and success. You can argue that ‘a life worth living’ is a highly subjective and value-laden construct that will mean different things to different people. You can equally observe that aspiring to such a thing is an old favourite of religions, therapists, self help books, wise aunties and all sorts, however that does not make an element of truth in the exhortation of it go away.  Furthermore, if your over-riding goal is to make stupendous amounts of money and succeed at the expense of your fellows, then this kind of thing will just look a bit wet.

One of her points is that Quindlen insists that we should never confuse life and work. And I am still wrestling inside my head with whether or not I agree, and whether or not I do, so I won’t go on about it. However, it got me thinking about how creative reflection can be about getting a life – because in our curricula the purpose of reflection is to make students perform better, see themselves and their work critically and clearly, and set their goals more effectively. It still feels quite instrumental when described in those terms but students who reflect earnestly and honestly do move into the realms of personal values, motivations and drivers in quite profound ways. They may be doing so even when they don’t actually put it to paper too.  So if you look at our Powerful Questions in Chapter 8, these are all about how we, as learners at any age, can get to the heart of what we are trying to achieve and understanding what compels us in our actions.

What are creative pedagogies?

IMG_0336One of the catch-22 situations in education seems to be that if you don’t explain your terms and context enough you will be misunderstood, but if you DO and your audience is already way ahead of you, you sound patronising. Having struggled with the negative implications of both of these as I sat down to write (well, type) and having worked out that this is a lose-lose situation I am going to throw caution to the wind and set out our stall. And apologies in advance for using three metaphors in the last sentence and possibly stating the obvious in the next one.

In Engaging Imagination we refer to creativity, imagination and play throughout the text as scaffolding for thinking about creative reflection. Enabling the expression of this kind of reflection is through what we can call creative pedagogies, but such things are not purely about making things or framing content artistically or just about things how you learn and teach in the arts, design and media: they are applicable to the ways we interpret, explore and present things in all our disciplines. They are also about how we can take unusual or different approaches to looking at questions or challenging and supporting students in developing their metacognitive and subject capabilities. They may involve getting to grips with subjects, delivery and encounters in unusual ways instead of using the tried and tested techniques of the past (I just wrote ‘tired’ there – think that was a Freudian slip). So, students who are used to writing reflective self-assessments following a certain of structure may instead use movement, visualisation or any number of multisensory and kinaesthetic techniques to connect to their ideas. Similarly, when we talk about imagination we may mean flights of fancy or fantasy but rather intend harnessing a range of thinking techniques and dispositions to wake up a student’s potential and ability to envision. Having set that down, I’m conscious that it can sound regimented or mechanistic, but actually I mean something subtler, more varied and messier than that. Being deep in reading Guy Claxton’s Hare Brain Tortoise Mind (and probably the last person on the planet to pick up a copy – always late to the party) I do believe that his poetic descriptions of our diverse ways and paces of thinking and knowing do a much better job of evoking what I mean than this post can.

So, here we want to start conversations about what we, as a community of educators, understand to be creative pedagogies and what they look like across the scope and levels of our educational models – formal and informal. Our experiences are rooted in the post post-16 sector and particularly in university education, however we have lessons to learn from teachers in every domain.  Along the way we also seek to explore related activities in other fields and movements, such as those of creative research methods and narratives of lifelong learning.

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