Cremin T, Burnard P, Craft A (2006) Pedagogy and possibility thinking in the early years. International Journal of Thinking Skills and Creativity 1(2): 108–119.


It is important that children and young adults learn how to think creatively and innovatively. But what does creative thinking look like and how do you teach it? This exploratory study aimed to answer precisely these questions. It described what possibility thinking looks like in the early years of schooling and which pedagogical approaches can foster this type of creative thinking. Possibility thinking is seen as central to creativity and describes the move away from describing an object as ‘what it is and what it does’ to ‘what one can do with it’. 

I chose this paper because I wanted to find out more about the conceptualisation of creativity in the first years of formal education and what teaching practices can foster possibility thinking in the classroom.

What is the research underpinning it? 

How did the researcher(s) conduct the research? 

This was a case study focusing on three teachers and their early years settings over the course of 12 months. The teachers taught in three different early years settings in different parts of the country. All teachers were identified through their previous participation in QCA (Qualification and Curriculum Authority) research focusing on creativity. The researchers used interviews, observations and whole-group data surgeries to collect data. The settings were located in London, Northamptonshire and Hertfordshire.

During the first phase of data collection, the researchers conducted in-depth interviews with the teachers using video recordings of their teaching. The teachers chose the critical incidents and extracts from the original video they wanted to discuss. Together with the researchers, they reflected on their pedagogical practice.

During the second phase, researchers observed teachers in their classrooms. Observations took place three times per teacher and lasted for three hours.

The third phase involved triangulation of findings, clarification and recording of 15 more hours of classroom teaching (5 hours per teacher).

Teachers were involved in the whole project as co-researchers and co-learners. 

What were the key findings from the study? 

The teachers employed three pedagogical strategies to support students’ possibility thinking; standing back, profiling agency and creating time and space. However, these were operationalised differently in the different settings, taking the specificities of each context into account. When teachers were standing back, they continued to observe students while they were playing or trying to solve a task (e.g. moving water between different containers). Teachers considered standing back to be central to students’ ownership and engagement and they took an active role in adapting their learning to their needs and learning from each other. At the same time, teachers remained available to the students.

Learner agency was also central to all settings. Students had a say in what they wanted to learn (within the confines of the National Curriculum) and how they wanted to organise their learning (e.g. which groups they wanted to work in). For example, one teacher’s group developed an interest in Mary Seacole and subsequently Florence Nightingale and chose to compare their biographies and the settings in which they had worked. They also chose the groups they wanted to work in and the teacher walked around the classroom while they were working on their tasks to support them by asking guiding questions. Many of these were ‘what if’ questions.

Finally, teachers gave students time and space to explore their ideas and guide their own learning. Children had open access to a wide range of resources and were also involved in designing and creating themed learning spaces. The teachers emphasised the importance of giving students time and space while also keeping the learning objectives in mind.

 Were there any limitations to the study?

This was a qualitative study which aimed to describe a limited number of settings in more detail. Further studies would be needed to determine if the observed patterns are generalisable to other contexts. Moreover, the teachers in this study all taught in settings that had previously participated in QCA research on creativity, which provides a great basis to explore creative teaching and learning but makes it difficult to know if their approach would be successful in other contexts. 

Impact on practice

What ideas might you adopt for your own classroom? 

This study provides some concrete suggestions of how creativity and possibility thinking can be fostered in the classroom. Firstly, standing back yet remaining at students’ disposal can help students to explore their ideas and take ownership of their learning. To foster possibility thinking, teachers should also encourage students to take agency in their learning by allowing them to choose (to a certain extent) what they want to learn about and how they want to structure the learning process. Finally, the study suggests that it is important to give students time and space to take ownership of their own learning. 

What questions does the research raise for teachers? 

The study raises the question of how teachers should balance curriculum requirements and creativity. One of the main features of teaching possibility thinking appears to be time, as children need the time and space to engage in their learning but how much space do curriculum requirements leave for such activities?

What are the limitations of this study on teachers’ practice? 

Apart from being a small study that was conducted in particularly creative settings, this exploratory research also focused on the early years of education. Findings may not be applicable to older children. Additional pressures from assessment and accountability may make it particularly difficult to employ the described pedagogies in upper primary and secondary school.

Want to know more? 

Craft A (2001) Analysis of research and literature on creativity in education. Available at: (accessed 18 September 2019).

Craft A, Cremin T, Burnard P and Chappell K (2007) Developing creative learning through possibility thinking with children aged 3-7. In: Craft A, Cremin T and Burnard P (eds) Creative Learning 3-11 and How We Document It. London, UK: Trentham.

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