Creative Versus Analytical Thinking

As an English teacher, I am always surprised by the quality and content of written responses I receive from students when I ask them to complete creative tasks. The wide range of experiences they include in their content, the articulation of a personal ‘voice’, and the revelation of material which exposes their human vulnerability simply cannot be replicated in the overwhelming number of analytical tasks which students are asked repeatedly to produce, and which have come to characterise much of our academic assessment of literary skills.

Unfortunately, the renewed emphasis on analytical thinking in the new English VCE Study Design, at the expense of creative writing, and the limited amount of time many students now devote to reading for enjoyment, intensifies the disconnection between the individual and lifelong learning – it makes learning transactional and short-sighted. Students often ask: ‘Will I need to learn this for the test, or the exam?’, a measure of the reductionist consequences of teaching content for a specific purpose rather than connecting it more broadly to students’ own experiences and understanding of the world around them.

We have come a long way since Charles Dickens’ criticism of the utilitarian model of education as one which simply served the needs of industrialism and marginalised the importance of personal expression; yet the fact that students feel continually under pressure to achieve in those subjects which prioritise academic ability as opposed to those which promote personal expression such as the performing or creative arts, suggests that we may not have moved as far from the original purpose of institutional education as we would like to think. Trends in the tertiary sector towards acknowledging the interpersonal skills of students, their community involvement, as well as their ATAR score, reveal a growing understanding of the importance of the whole student, not merely their left brain skills. To this end, creative writing and creative thinking become ways of helping students to explore other ways of expressing their inner life and their personal identity.

To this end, many teachers now echo the sentiments of educationalist and philosopher, Nel Noddings, whose body of writing emphasises the role of education in helping students explore their personal direction in gaining knowledge and skills rather than score-based achievement. She laments that “some people argue that schools are best organised to accomplish academic goals and that we should charge other institutions with the task of pursuing the physical, moral, social, emotional, spiritual, and aesthetic aims that we associate with the whole child. The schools would do a better job, these people maintain, if they were freed to focus on the job for which they were established.”[1]. Yet the persistent call by author and speaker on education, Sir Ken Robinson, that education should educate the whole child, with an emphasis on exploring a variety of forms of self expression and varieties of intelligence, has gained traction around the world. He argues that intelligence which is diverse, dynamic, interactive and distinct should not be framed by the narrow definition of academic ability alone. Indeed, he suggests that the increasing accessibility to traditional academic Degrees by emerging economies reinforces the need to redefine intelligence and the purpose of education for the future lest our traditional emphasis makes narrow definitions irrelevant and ineffective in future economies.

Our own educational innovation at St Catherine’s, not only through the expansion of Science and Technology in STEM but also the type of experiential learning that can be gained in the recently launched Heyington to Highlands program, suggests that such redefining is well underway. The opportunities afforded by such programmes in helping students explore their place in a changing world becomes fuel for creative and reflective writing in the English classroom. Renewed focus on dedicated reading time in Year 7 English classes guided by the work of Diane Snowball, Educational Consultant on Literacy, and the regular integration of creative writing in the English curriculum go some way towards restoring the balance between creative and analytical thinking.

Ms Mary-Anne Keratiotis, English Teacher, Debating and Public Speaking Coordinator