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Book Review: ‘Intention: critical creativity in the classroom’

Posted in Publishing

It’s been a busy time for Writing PAD East Midlands, what with some pedagogic speed-dating at DMU’s Festival of Teaching and a visit to the Playful Learning SIG meeting at the University of Leicester.

We’re back with a review of ‘Intention: critical creativity in the classroom‘ by Amy Burvall and Dan Ryder:

critical creativity

Ever read a book and wish you’d written it?

This was my experience on encountering this rather wonderful publication.  The authors have compiled a highly visual, playful and importantly, practical guide to the link between creativity and critical thinking.  Now why didn’t I think of that?

‘Intention’ is a lively and informal read (some readers may find the language a little too relaxed for their taste) but it makes a serious point: doing creative stuff makes important learning happen.  No argument from me there.

The authors discuss the way that creative constraints result in divergent thinking, and make the central point that creative activities must have a clear learning intention in order for them to provide meaningful learning experiences.

In terms of assessment, they provide helpful (again, some will find the language rather informal) examples of criteria/rubrics for assessing creative assignments.  The important distinction between assessing form and content is highlighted and discussed.

Although the US middle/high school context of the book may make it seem less pertinent to UK Higher Education, the key ideas and practical learning activities are highly applicable within the HE landscape, particularly in relation to current thinking about co-creation, cultivating resilience and a fostering a sense of belonging.

I appreciated the fact that this was an analogue book rather than a purely a website: readers are invited to interact with the book physically, making it their own by doodling, annotating, etc. (not your average pedagogic tome then).  My copy is already stuffed with post-it notes, and looks to be a worthy successor to ‘Inspiring Writing in Art and Design: Taking a Line for a Write‘ by Pat Francis as my constant teaching companion.

Page doodles
Page doodles


On the other (digital) hand, Amy and Dan make extensive use of hashtags (one for each activity, as well as the main #intentionthebook and #criticalcreativity ones).  This means that it’s easy to find examples of how others have used and adapted the techniques, and of course to share your own (some are more heavily used than others).

The design of ‘Intention’ embodies its playful ethos: images are plentiful (a few more of activities ‘in practice’ would have been helpful) and fonts are thoughtfully used.  I particularly welcomed the lack of large swathes of text: plenty of white space is included and writing is divided into chunks with good use of sub-headings and a well-designed layout.

‘Intention’ is a book of two halves: the first deals with the underlying principles, philosophy and rationale of the ‘critical creativity’ approach (including the concept of ‘Rigorous Whimsy’ #rigorouswhimsy), the second provides detailed classroom activities.

Intention website
Intention website


The activities are clearly described with a consistent format and use helpful icons to show specific aspects: they are captured within a ‘Catalog of Critical Creativity’.  This is usefully divided up into ‘Creating with: Words, Images, Sounds, the Body, Stuff and Social Media’.

I found the ‘Words’ section of special interest: ‘Style Hack’ echoed Fiona English’s exploration of genre in ‘Student Writing and Genre: Reconfiguring Academic Knowledge‘ by using alternative genres of media to demonstrate understanding of key concepts.  Blackout Poetry #IntentionBlackout was a favourite:creating a poem from a given piece of text by crossing out words and lines in order to give the reader a deeper understanding of the original.

There are far too many good ideas here to mention: not all will be applicable to your teaching context, but whatever your discipline or level, I guarantee you will find something here to engage, surprise and foster curiosity for learning in your students.

As Amy and Dan put it, the point is to ‘use creativity as a tool for students to demonstrate what they know.’  Seconded.


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