Teaching Creativity in HSC Drama

What follows is an essay that I submitted last year as part of my Masters course. The topic was “Teaching Thinking and Learning Skills” and with my personal interests in Drama and Narrative writing, chose to focus on the teaching of Creativity. I received a grade of High Distinction for this particular piece. Typos and all.

Teaching Creativity for Secondary School Students: Encouraging Creativity in HSC Drama

Introduction: The problem of creativity in secondary schools.

In secondary school curricula, the most self-evident place for creative thought would appear to be the subjects labelled ‘Creative Arts’, traditionally covering the subjects of Dance, Drama, Music and Visual Art. However, using the HSC Drama syllabus as an example, while it contains fourteen references to ‘creative’ output or ‘creativity’ (Board of Studies, 2009) the document does not contain an accessible (or indeed, any) definition of creativity, nor do many of the learning outcomes explicitly call for creative thought or action. In the learning outcomes covering the two years of leading up to the HSC, only one outcome for the preliminary year calls directly for creativity:

P1.4 The student: understands, manages and manipulates theatrical elements and elements of production, using them perceptively and creatively. (Board of Studies, 2009, p. 11)

The only other learning outcome that references what may be considered a creative process is as follows:

P1.2 The student explores ideas and situations, expressing them imaginatively in dramatic form.

(Board of Studies, 2009, p. 11)

The syllabus documents of the other subjects reveal a similar dearth of definition or explicit expectation of creativity, focussing primarily on skills and knowledge, which leads to the question, “Does this course actually teach creativity?” This paper will attempt to explore the concept of creativity in relation to the expectations of the stage six Drama syllabus in secondary schools, and identify where and how the explicit teaching of creative thinking is required and expected.

For the purposes of this paper, the focus will be on interactions with creativity research and the stage six Drama syllabus. This is due to; the limited length of this paper; the significance of Stage 6 at the end of the High School learning continuum; the fact that Drama is one of only two subjects, the other being Visual Art, that explicitly requires students to produce an original work.

The full list of learning outcomes from the Stage 6 Drama syllabus is presented in the Appendix.

Defining Creativity

In summarizing the common ground among expanding international studies into creativity, Sternberg identifies the following generalised commonalities;

  1. Creativity involves thinking that is aimed at producing ideas or products that are relatively novel and that are, in some respect, compelling.
  2. Creativity is neither wholly domain specific nor wholly domain general. It has both domain-specific and domain-general elements. The potential to be creative may have some domain-general elements, but to gain the knowledge one needs to make creative contributions, one must develop knowledge and skills within a particular domain in which one is to make one’s creative contribution.
  3. Creativity can be measured, at least in some degree.
  4. Creativity can be developed, in at least some degree.
  5. Creativity is not as highly rewarded in practice as it is supposed to be in theory.

(Sternberg, 2006, p. 2)

Where Sternberg uses the words ‘novel’ and ‘compelling’ in the definition of point one, numerous other researchers and theorists use terms such as ‘original’ and ‘appropriate’ (Runco & Chand, 1995; Hennesseyan & Amabile, 1988) or ‘novelty’ and ‘effective’ (Halford & Wilson, 2002), however these terms are used somewhat interchangeably and carry no discernably different meaning in their use. In all cases they refer to the generation of new ideas that are valued within a defineable social context.

Returning to the Drama learning outcomes, we again see no call for novelty or originality, although we do see references to ‘appropriate’use of elements in the following outcome:

P2.4 performs effectively in a variety of styles using a range of appropriate performance techniques, theatrical and design elements and performance spaces. (Board of Studies, 2009, p. 12)

However, when looking at the instructions for the mandatory group performance task, it contains the following statements:

Each student learns to collaborate with a group to devise and perform in a piece of original theatre.

In their performance they use expressive skills that are appropriate to the chosen style or form. They learn how to realise and sustain a role and how to establish a relationship with the audience.

(Board of Studies, 2009, p. 25)

So while there is no explicit learning outcome for understanding or valuing originality or creativity, the capacity to produce an original work that is appropriate to a style, form or audience is a mandatory requirement of the course. It becomes necessary, therefore, for the teacher to have a clear understanding of how original ideas are generated, and strategies for instructing students in the generation of such ideas.

Generating and identifying originality

In trying to understand how people do and can generate new and appropriate ideas, there are three models of creativity that suggest immediately accessible teaching strategies. These will be explained in chronological order, and compared after.

Csikszentmihalyi (1988) places significant emphasis on the social context of creative thought and the cyclical influence of social factors on shaping future creative thought. The systems model proposed focusses on the relationships between the individual as generator of ideas in response to context, the field as social selector and mechanism for assigning value to new ideas, and the domain as the cultural context through which the ideas valued by the field are preserved and transmitted (Csikszentmihalyi, 1988, p. 325)

(Csikszentmihalyi, 1988, p. 329)

Csiszentmihalyi places significant emphasis on the process of social agreement and historical context in determining if an object or action is creative, using examples form Renaissance art to show that social and economic factors other than the actual creativity of a work play a role in its selection and transmission (Csikszentmihalyi, 1988, p. 330), and also identifies that there is no fixed time for the cycle of influence to occur, but acknowledges that time is a constant factor in all aspects of creativity and that the relationships between components are dynamic rather than fixed (Csikszentmihalyi, 1988, p. 329).

Runco and Chand (1995) define creativiy as a complex or syndrome and state that no theory of creativity can be complete without recognition of how various components work together. (Runco & Chand, 1995, p. 245)

The key components of their model are ‘problem finding’, or the ability to identify and define problems, ‘ideation’, which is the flexibility of thinking to generate new ideas, and ‘evaluation’, which is the ability assess the suitabilty of new ideas. The relationships are influenced by knowledge and motivation, which are considered ‘second-tier’ elements. In this model, it is the ongoing interaction between finding problems in a current situtaion, generating new ideas based on knowledge and the motivation to pursue multiple attempts, and the ability to evaluate new ideas for appropriateness or efficacy that together make up the thought process of creativity.

(Runco & Chand, 1995, p. 245)

In detailing this model, they state that ‘declarative knowledge (factual knowledge) can facilitate creative thought by supplying requisite knowledge (Runco & Chand, 1995, p. 248) and that when drawing on memory and knowledge to engage in creative thought existing knowledge must be manipulated to produce something new, not simply used an uncreative retrieval process (Runco & Chand, 1995, p. 250).

Sweller (2009) uses biological evolution by natural selection as analogy for the creative thought process in which the individual randomly generates ideas and evaluates their worth before retaining or discarding, in the same way that genetic mutation can lead to evolution if said mutation is beneficial (appropriate). Sweller calls this the ‘Randomness as genesis’ principle (Sweller, 2009, p. 13) and states that random genesis is unlikley to be successful without an information store to draw on. In biology, the information store is the genome, in cognition it is the knowledge within a persons memory.

In all of these models we see some common elements that inform the idea of creative thought, primarily the role of a knowledge base in the generation of new ideas, and the need for a process of evaluative selection. For Csiszentmihalyi the process of evaluation and selection is discussed in a social context, Runco & Chand and Sweller describe it as part of a cognitive process within the individual. Neither idea contradicts the other, as evaluation as a cognitive process may filter one idea out of thousands that an individual may produce, while social evaluation and selection may then select one individual’s ideas out of a hundred to be valued and retained.

In all models, the dependence on a knowledge base is essential. Sweller suggests that new ideas may constitute the reorganisation of information into new forms, akin to sexual reproduction (Sweller, 2009, p. 13) which also takes us back to Sternberg’s statement that creativity is not entirely domain specific nor domain general (Sternberg, 2006, p. 2). Sweller states that ‘the first requirement of creativity is an extensive knowledge base, and we know an extensive knowledge base is both teachable and learnable’ (Sweller, 2009, p. 16).

For the teacher of the stage 6 Drama course, this places an obvious value on the effective teaching of domain-specific factual knowledge and skills in the preliminary part of the course in order to better facilitate the creative process mandated by the prescribed group devised task. It also increases the value of the invitation to students to bring knowledge and personal experience into creative tasks that is outcome P1.2. Recognizing the knowledge base behind student work also provides some guidance as to assessing its originality or creativity, as de Bono states that ‘every valueable, creative idea will seem logical in hindsight’ (Bono, Sep 1995, p. 13). This provides a useful, simple guideline for evaluating new ideas and shows how the knowledge base of students, when expanded, reorganised or recombined, also provides the grounding for individual and external assessment of creativity and originality of a piece of work.

Finally, in assessing the appropriateness of creative product, Hennesseyan & Amabile state point out that ‘criteria for creativity require a historically bound social context’ (Hennesseyan & Amabile, 1988, p. 14) and Csiszentmihalyi insists that ‘without a historical context, one lacks the reference points necessary to determine if the product is in fact an adaptive innovation’ (Csikszentmihalyi, 1988, p. 326). This idea place a significant emphasis on an understanding of the relevant field, in this case Drama and Theatre, which is contextually and historically detailed to effectively assess the creativity and originality of a student devised piece of work. This poses an unrealistic expectation of both secondary students and teachers to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of various applications of dramatic forms and techniques. In response to this issue in school based creative endeavours, Starko suggests that ‘a product or idea must be original or novel to the individual creator’ (Starko, 2010, p. 6). This allows students to engage in, explore and enjoy the creative process without being concerned about the risk of being ‘unoriginal’ by composing something similar to a work they were unaware of at the time.

Guiding students towards creativity

In encouraging students to engage in creative thought processes, Hennessey and Amablie (1988) present their intrinsic motivation principle that states ‘People will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, enjoyment, satisfaction and challenge of the work itself – not by external pressures’ (Hennesseyan & Amabile, 1988, p. 11). Through detailed research into the effect of factors that influence creative output, they conclude that expectations of reward (p. 20) or later evaluation of product (p. 25) consistently lower the level of creative output of individuals as well as lowering their long term engagement with a task.

This has immediate implications for teachers with regards to assessment processes and the justifications for student activity that may be presented in the classroom. The first and most commonly applied strategy is that of providing choice to build intrinsic motivation. For HSC Drama students, choice exists in the list of stimuli provided as part of the project development process as well as the range of dramatic and theatrical forms and techniques the students are familiar with. The teacher is obligated not to arbitrarily limit those choices, but to facilitate students in their exploration of options guided by their own interest. The second strategy for enhancing creativity is that of encouraging students to find a point of individual significance in the work they are doing, rather than completing work ‘to get good grades’.


After evaluating and comparing different cognitive models of creativity, it would appear that the HSC Drama course aims to provide the tools and knowledge base to facilitate creativity, even though it does not explicitly call for students to develop an understanding of creative processes. Ultimately, students must draw on and combine their domain specific knowledge of effective theatrical and dramatic devices with other domain specific knowledge to transform and shape ideas into original, creative works. The challenge for teachers is to maintain student interest and motivation in the development of a knowledge base while maintaining a creative environment that facilitates further exploration and evaluation of ideas.

Word Count: 2149


Barron, F. (1988). Putting Creativity to Work. In R. J. Sternberg, The Nature of Creativity (pp. 76-98). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Board of Studies, N. (2009). Drama. Retrieved September 19, 2011, from Board of Studies: http://www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/syllabus_hsc/pdf_doc/drama-st6-syl-from2010.pdf

Bono, E. d. (Sep 1995). Serious Creativity. The Journal for Quality and Participation, 12-18.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1988). Society, culture, and person: a systems view of creativity. In R. J. Sternberg, The Nature of Creativity (pp. 325-339). Cambridge: Cabridge University Press.

Halford, G. S., & Wilson, W. H. (2002). Creativity, Relational Knowledge and Capacity: Why are humans so creative? In T. Dartnall, Creativity, Cognition and Knowledge (pp. 152-180). Westport: Praeger Publishers.

Hennesseyan, B. A., & Amabile, T. M. (1988). The Conditions of Creativity. In R. J. Sternberg, The Nature of Creativity (pp. 11-38). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hennesseyan, B. A., & Amabile, T. M. (1988). The Conditions of Creativity. In R. J. Sternberg, The Nature of Creativity (pp. 11-38). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Runco, M. A., & Albert, R. S. (2010). Creativity Research: A Historical View. In J. C. Kaufman, & R. J. Sternberg, The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity (pp. 3-19). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Runco, M. A., & Chand, I. (1995). Cognition and Creativity. Educational Psychology Review, 243-267.

Starko, A. J. (2010). What is Creativity? In A. J. Starko, Creativity in the Classroom. New York: Routledge.

Sternberg, R. J. (2006). Introduction. In J. C. Kaufman, & R. J. Sternberg, The International Handbook of Creativity [Kindle Edition]. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sweller, J. (2009). Cognitive Bases of HUman Creativity. Educational Psychology Review(21), 11-19.

Appendix: Learning outcomes form the Stage 6 Drama Syllabus

7 Objectives and Outcomes

7.1 Table of Objectives and Outcomes

The Preliminary course outcomes are progressive and are subsumed in the HSC course outcomes.


Objectives Preliminary Course Outcomes HSC Course Outcomes

Through Drama, students will develop knowledge and understanding about and skills in:

  • using drama, through participation in a variety of dramatic and theatrical forms
  • making drama and theatre, using a variety of dramatic and theatrical techniques and conventions

The student:

P1.1 develops acting skills in order to adopt and sustain a variety of characters and roles

P1.2 explores ideas and situations, expressing them imaginatively in dramatic form

P1.3 demonstrates performance skills appropriate to a variety of styles and media

P1.4 understands, manages and manipulates theatrical elements and elements of production, using them perceptively and creatively

P1.5 understands, demonstrates and records the process of developing and refining ideas and scripts through to performance

P1.6 demonstrates directorial and acting skills to communicate meaning through dramatic action

The student:

H1.1 uses acting skills to adopt and sustain a variety of characters and roles

H1.2 uses performance skills to interpret and perform scripted and other material

H1.3 uses knowledge and experience of dramatic and theatrical forms, styles and theories to inform and enhance individual and group devised works

H1.4 collaborates effectively to produce a group-devised performance

H1.5 demonstrates directorial skills

H1.6 records refined group performance work in appropriate form

H1.7 demonstrates skills in using the elements of production

and values and attitudes* about:

  • the collaborative nature of drama and theatre
P1.7 understands the collaborative nature of drama and theatre and demonstrates the self-discipline needed in the process of collaboration

P1.8 recognises the value of individual contributions to the artistic effectiveness of the whole

H1.8 recognises the value of the contribution of each individual to the artistic effectiveness of productions

H1.9 values innovation and originality in group and individual work



Preliminary Course Outcomes

HSC Course Outcomes

Through Drama, students will develop knowledge and understanding about and skills in:
  • using the elements of drama and theatre in performance
  • performing in improvised and playbuilt theatre and scripted drama
The student:

P2.1 understands the dynamics of actor-audience relationship

P2.2 understands the contributions to a production of the playwright, director, dramaturg, designers, front-of-house staff, technical staff and producers

P2.3 demonstrates directorial and acting skills to communicate meaning through dramatic action

P2.4 performs effectively in a variety of styles using a range of appropriate performance techniques, theatrical and design elements and performance spaces

The student:

H2.1 demonstrates effective performance skills

H2.2 uses dramatic and theatrical elements effectively to engage an audience

H2.3 demonstrates directorial skills for theatre and other media

and values and attitudes* about:
  • the diversity of the art of dramatic and theatrical performance
P2.5 understands and demonstrates the commitment, collaboration and energy required for a production

P2.6 appreciates the variety of styles, structures and techniques that can be used in making and shaping a performance

H2.4 appreciates the dynamics of drama as a performing art

H2.5 appreciates the high level of energy and commitment necessary to develop and present a performance

Critically Studying


Preliminary Course Outcomes

HSC Course Outcomes

Through Drama, students will develop knowledge and understanding about and skills in:
  • recognising the place and function of drama and theatre in communities and societies, past and present
  • critically studying a variety of forms and styles used in drama and theatre
The student:

P3.1 critically appraises and evaluates, both orally and in writing, personal performances and the performances of others

P3.2 understands the variety of influences that have impacted upon drama and theatre performance styles, structures and techniques

P3.3 analyses and synthesises research and experiences of dramatic and theatrical styles, traditions and movements

The student:

H3.1 critically applies understanding of the cultural, historical and political contexts that have influenced specific drama and theatre practitioners, styles and movements

H3.2 analyses, synthesises and organises knowledge, information and opinion in coherent, informed oral and written responses

H3.3 demonstrates understanding of the actor-audience relationship in various dramatic and theatrical styles and movements

and values and attitudes* about:
  • drama and theatre as a community activity, a profession and an industry
P3.4 appreciates the contribution that drama and theatre make to Australian and other societies by raising awareness and expressing ideas about issues of interest H3.4 appreciates and values drama and theatre as significant cultural expressions of issues and concerns in Australian and other societies

H3.5 appreciates the role of the audience in various dramatic and theatrical styles and movements

* Note: While values and attitudes outcomes are included in this syllabus, they are not to be assessed in the HSC assessment program.


1 Comment

Filed under Lifelong Learning

One response to “Teaching Creativity in HSC Drama

  1. Pingback: Mapping for the Creative Mind | Capitan Typo's Adventures in Education

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s