Out Now: “Creativity in the English Language Classroom” (Maley & Peachey 2015)

by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

In his foreword to this brand-new British Council publication entitled “Creativity in the Language Classroom” (Maley & Peachey 2015), Chris Kennedy argues that creativity is a concept that is in danger of being “hijacked by public bodies and private institutions which employ them as convenient but opaque policy pegs on which practitioners, including educators, are expected to hang their approaches and behaviours” (2015: 3). Correspondingly, Alan Maley views creativity “as an endangered species in the current model of education, which is increasingly subject to institutional, curricular and assessment constraints”. The publication is now available online. I was kindly invited to contribute a chapter on fostering and building upon oral creativity in the EFL classroom. For a free download of this book, please click on the image below (also available in print form).

Creativity in Language Teaching

I have been interested in creativity and improvisation to foster oral proficiency in EFL classrooms in Germany for roundabout 20 years. When I started thinking about task-driven instructional designs which offer learners more room to talk and to express their own ideas in the target language in the mid-1990s, mainstream educational philosophy and policies in Germany were only just beginning to change,  from so-called input- to standards- and competency-based, measurable outcome-orientation. The backwash effects of such reforms are still unclear.

Common sense tells us that ‘weighing the cow does not make it fatter’. I think there is a pressing need to reassess assessment and the current obsession with efficiency and measurable outcome in foreign language education. What effects and side-effects does it have on teaching and learning English as a foreign language in secondary schools? (see also the current discussion on The Steve Brown Blog).

This is one remarkable finding of a (non-representative) pilot study with 697 EFL teachers carried out in the German state of Hesse: “After nearly a decade of [..] nationwide standards-based assessment in Germany, researchers and teachers alike are still struggling with the task of implementing educational standards and system-monitoring in schools. […] The majority of teachers neither consider the test results useful in improving classroom learning nor the potential impact on school development.” (Skejic, Neumann & Mangal 2015).


Kurtz, Jürgen (2015). “Fostering and building upon oral creativity in the EFL classroom”. In: Maley, Alan & Peachey, Nik (eds.). Creativity in the English Language Classroom, London: British Council, 73-83.

Skejic, M.; Neumann, D. & Mangal, H. (2015): Vergleichsarbeiten im Fach Englisch. Einschätzungen von hessischen Lehrkräften. Zeitschrift für Fremdsprachenforschung [in print]. [non-representative pilot study carried out in the German Federal State of Hesse; n = 697 EFL teachers]












One response to “Out Now: “Creativity in the English Language Classroom” (Maley & Peachey 2015)

  1. Teaching to the test can have disastrous consequences.In her doctoral dissertation “Der kommunikative Ansatz im Deutschunterricht an englischen Sekundarschulen unter dem Druck zentraler Prüfungen” (A. Plum 2007), based on an analysis of reports of German teaching assistants in England and Wales, as well as on interviews with them, Plum found that in class real communication and creative activities fell by the wayside because teachers tended to adhere rigidly to examination requirements. I quote verbatim from some of the reports:

    One reason for the pupils’ poor German is to be found in the teachers being made accountable for their progress. In England, the pupils’ poor performance reflects on the teacher. Low test scores can lead to drastic cuts in money for the schools or even to a teacher’s dismissal. The pupils are fully aware of this and actually expect the teacher to relieve them of their school work. I witnessed how the pupils in advanced classes took advantage of the teachers’ plight. Only very few pupils had prepared their exam topics in detail, and the teacher did it for all the others and handed everything out – nicely formulated and printed out – for them to memorize it. When I asked what the point was of an exam in which the pupils merely recite what they have memorized – sometimes even without really understanding what they were saying – the teacher responded with resignation: “What am I supposed to do? They will all fail if I don’t do it for them.” (Nora)

    Most pupils I helped with the preparation for the exam were not able to handle the required tasks. As a result the teachers rehearsed the GCSE questions and role-plays by simply giving out model sentences, which had to be learnt by heart. This type of lesson was actually once called ‘mind killing’ by one teacher, as the lessons lost all real significance and were very repetitive. (Dagmar).

    Language lessons do not aim at teaching the students how to actually use the target language, but their only purpose is to teach them enough to pass the final exams. (Kirsten)

    Apparently “teachers are providing classroom instruction that incorporates, as practice activities, the actual test items. Others are giving practice exercises featuring ‘clone items’ – items so similar to the test’s actual items that it is tough to tell which is which.” (James Popham)

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