Estonian Teachers Understandings of Creativity and Learning Strategies
Piret Luik (University of Tartu)
Hasso Kukemelk (University of Tartu)
Creativity and learning strategies are considered an important part of the learning process by
several researchers (Hartley, 2006; Torrance, 2003; Simpson, 2004). Tellez (2003) noted that
teachers’ pedagogical understandings of these concepts were critically relevant to children’s
school achievement. In the Estonian National Curriculum (2003), teachers are responsible for
assessing creativity and learning strategies, along with other items, in the study process.
In order to learn whether or not teachers were assessing the appropriate items, a study of teachers’
understandings of creativity and strategies for learning was conducted. The data were gathered
through questionnaire. Participants included 78 Estonian comprehensive school teachers
(teaching grades 1 – 12). Teachers were asked to explain creativity and learning strategies
through open-ended questions. Their explanations of both concepts were separated into phrases
and divided among seven categories according to previous studies (Torrance, 1967; Weinstein &
It was found that Estonian teachers’ understandings of “creativity” were closer to the definition
than understandings about “learning strategies”. When describing learning strategies, more
general expressions were used.
Teaching principles, content and methodology have been re-conceptualised several times over the
last centuries in different countries. In the Estonian School system teaching principles, content,
and methodology were updated at the time of confirming the Estonian National Curriculum of
Basic and Upper Secondary School in 2002 by the Estonian Parliament (Põhikooli ja …., 2002).
The curriculum states that students should “learn to learn” (i.e. attain at learning strategies) and
should behave in a creative way in different situations and under various conditions. Teachers are
responsible for assessing creativity and learning strategies, along with other items, in the study
process according to the new curriculum. On the other hand, if teachers do not understand or have
poor understandings the concepts of “creativity “ and “learning strategies” it is assumed that they
are not supporting students’ development but vice versa - they can create problems for students to
be excellent. Cornford (2002) noted that learning-to-learn skills are essential for effective
There are some interesting research results related to students’ assessment by teachers in Estonian
• creativity is assessed less often by the opinion of students than by the opinion of teachers
(statistically significant difference);
• 77% of teachers report that assessable objects should be measurable;
• 83% of teachers consider the number of mistakes in the task completed by students as the
basis of assessment (Eesti koolide …; 2004).
Wayne and Youngs (2003) pay attention to the teacher that the achievement of schoolchildren
depends substantially on the teachers they are assigned. If the subject area teacher can assess on
the basis of student mistakes; then it is much more complicated to assess students’ creativity and
The current study was carried out to ascertain if teachers understand the concepts of “creativity”
and “learning strategies” according to previous statements.
Review of Literature
The current paper studies teachers’ understandings of the concepts “creativity” and “learning
strategies”. Therefore theoretical overview is concentrating on these three fields – teachers’
understandings, creativity and learning strategies.
The number of studies about teachers’ mindsets has rapidly increased during the 1980’s
(Lissmann, 2005) and are still being studied (Berliner, 2005).
Huber (2005) noted that descriptive studies about teachers thinking are necessary but not
sufficient. Research on teachers’ understandings should include not only the verbally reported
cognitions, but also the whole realm of classroom dynamics. Teacher’s understandings could be
influenced by the students he/she has taught (Huber, 2005) and is the perception of student
behavioural information (Berliner, 2005). Tellez (2003) refers to almost the same idea stating that
teachers’ pedagogical understandings are critically relevant to children’ school achievement. It
has been discovered that teachers’ thoughts about content and material during teaching are
redirected into thoughts about students’ learning (Berliner, 2005).
There are also researchers who do not have a similar opinion as to whether or not teachers’
understandings and behaviour are connected or not. Huber (2005) suggested that the relation
between the teachers’ thinking and professional action was in question. Contrarily, Lissmann
(2005) claimed that a large portion of teachers’ classroom behaviour is the product or
accompaniment of their thinking. Berliner (2005) noted that there could be a relationship between
teachers’ thoughts and decision-making.
The teachers’ task to assess students’ creativity is much more complicated than it seems to be at
the beginning – as there are several ideas of creativity. Reber (1995) postulated that creativity
involves mental processes that lead to unique and novel theories, ideas, solutions, or products.
Hilgard (1970) understood creativity as “imagination that serves novelty in inventive or pleasing
ways” (p. 101). Torrance (1967) noted that creativity involves a) connectedness; b) originality; c)
non-rationality; d) self-actualisation; and e) openness. At the same time, Gibson (2005)
considered creativity as individuality. As the definitions indicate, creativity involves mostly two
particular areas: skills and personal characteristics.
Hartley (2006), Torrance and Haensly (2003) studied the importance of creativity in the learning
process. Craft (2003) suggested that the economy demands creativity, and a healthy economy is
necessary to a wealthy society which then produces assets for general consumption, better public
amenities, and services. One can conclude from Craft’s research that human society is linked to
the teaching of creativity.
Torrance (1987) in his meta-analysis of 142 studies claimed that creativity could be taught.
Developing creativity should include developing both cognitive skills and personality factors. No
less important are motivating conditions and students’ activeness. At the same time, several
researchers are concerned that teachers are not able to recognize creativity in the classroom or
they just kill it with their teaching style (Weigand, 1971; Fontana, 1981; Bereiter, 2002).
Several researchers have defined learning strategies while developing different classifications
(Weinstein & Mayer, 1986; Hattie, Biggs & Purdie, 1996; Doyle & Garland, 2001; Karakoc &
Simsek, 2004). Derry (1989; cit. by Karakoc & Simsek, 2004) considered learning strategies as
plans which are followed in order to reach learning objectives and are techniques that are
improved by the individual to carry out these plans.
There are mostly three principle areas of learning strategies in the literature – cognitive,
metacognitive and affective learning strategies. Weinstein and Mayer (1986) considered all of
these areas. Some researchers such as Doyle & Garland (2001), stressed only cognitive and
affective learning strategies, counting metacognitive learning strategies as part of affective ones.
Schraw (1998) and Cornford (2002) stated that there are cognitive and metacognitive learning
strategies, counting the emotional part of learning strategies as metacognitive ones.
There are several characteristics of cognitive learning strategies including the idea that they are
goal-directed, intentionally invoked, effortful, and are not universally applicable but situation
specific (Cornford, 2002). From the other perspective, the metacognition approach to learning
strategies stresses more planning for implementation, monitoring and evaluation (Schraw, 1998).
Weinstein and Meyer (1994) suggested that the common dimension of these two approaches
involves skill, will and self-regulation. Self-regulation and self-direction via motivation are
especially important with all cognitive skills and mental processes since these are largely
invisible to others in day-to-day functioning (Cornford, 2002).
Many teachers claim that they teach cognitive and metacognitive learning skills. One can find
studies that tend to confirm that in reality, little explicit teaching and fostering of these specific
skills occur (Cornford, 2002). Karakoc and Simsek (2004) indicated that teaching strategies used
by teachers had significant effects on type, number and implementation of learning strategies
used by the students. Snyder (1971) demonstrated that university students are actively involved in
finding out what their teachers consider important to know and adapt their learning accordingly.
As researchers (see paragraph up) differ in their understandings of creativity and learning
strategies, it is too much to expect that all teachers would have similar meanings for those
concepts. However, they are required to assess students’ performance through an understanding
of creativity and learning strategies. Huber (2005) proposed that a body of descriptive-
explanatory knowledge about teacher thinking is needed. Consequently, the aim of the current
study was to discover Estonian teachers’ understandings of creativity and learning strategies.
In seeking to ascertain what Estonian teachers think about creativity and learning skills, a
questionnaire was used. The questionnaire consisted of 11 questions. Nine questions were
multiple-choice and described the background of the teachers (sex, age, length of service, etc).
Two questions were open-ended where the teachers were asked to explain two concepts,
“creativity” and “learning strategies” - what these concepts meant to them. There were no limits
to length of response and no guiding comments. The questionnaire was used since the written
responses enabled teachers to consider the responses in more depth during the writing process and
transform extant and earlier understandings into something more sophisticated (Bereiter &
Scardamalia, 1987). The questionnaire also provided anonymity for the teachers.
Participants of this study were Estonian comprehensive school teachers (teaching grades 1 – 12).
The teachers were selected from different schools in Estonia, taking into account the ratio of the
school types (basic-school and gymnasium), location of the school (rural or city) and domain of
the subject the teachers taught (natural science, exact science, humanities and art). The sample
was in proportion to the population of teachers in Estonia. Teachers were selected from 25
schools and 4 teachers from each school were asked to complete the questionnaire. Teachers were
selected from schools according to the domain of subjects (natural science, exact science,
humanities and art) and the particular teacher was selected randomly from the teachers of the
Seventy-eight questionnaires were received as 78% of the sample responded. There were 17% of
male and 83% of female teachers in this study, which corresponds to the Estonian proportion by
gender. The average age of the teachers was 41.9 years (SD=12.4) and the average length of
service of the teachers was 18.3 years (SD=12.9). 90% of the teachers had master’s level
education. 53% of the teachers taught in the urban schools and 47% in the rural areas. 35% of the
teachers taught in basic-schools and 65% in gymnasiums.
The explanations of both concepts were separated into phrases and divided into seven categories.
Five of these variables were classified by the definitions: the concept “creativity” categorised by
Torrance (1967), and the concept “learning strategies” by Weinstein and Mayer (1986) was used.
The definition by Torrance (1967) was selected for the study as this definition takes into
consideration ideas, products and also personal characteristics. The definition of learning
strategies by Weinstein and Mayer (1986) was selected since this definition covers all three areas
of learning strategies – cognitive, metacognitive, and affective areas.
Two additional categories for both concepts were inserted by the researchers – general
explanations of the concepts and misunderstandings of concept. In such way, the categories of the
concept “creativity” were:
1) The use of existing elements not created by the individual to apply them to new ideas
2) Originality: the uniqueness, novelty, and unpredictability in an idea
3) New solutions, unconscious process of joining elements into creation
4) Self-actualisation: motivation as a source of energy for change and psychological growth
5) Openness: the characteristics of spontaneity and sensitivity, which enables the shaping of
6) General explanations of the concept of creativity
7) Misunderstandings of creativity.
The categories of the concept “learning strategies” were as follows:
1) Repetition: storage of information into permanent long-term memory
2) Elaboration: relating new ideas to existing ones in memory
3) Organization: transformation of information into a different form and the development of
some schematic system
4) Monitoring their own performance against an established model stored in long term
memory with the skill appearing to be performed automatically
5) Self-regulation and self-direction via motivation, concentration etc.
6) General explanations of the concept of learning strategies
7) Misunderstandings of learning strategies.
The categorization was conducted by the two independent researchers. Independent coding by
two authors of this study suggested that the stability of the coding procedure was reliable with
Cronbach’s alpha .86.
Additionally, four variables for both concepts were calculated:
1) the number of the total phrases
2) the number of phrases, which coincide with the definitions
3) the number of total categories
4) the number of categories by definitions covered by the explanations.
Comparing the frequencies of the different categories of concepts, the t-test, chi-square test,
ANOVA and Pearson correlation were used.
The average number of total phrases in creativity was 2.0 (SD=1.5) and in learning strategies 2.1
(SD=1.6). There was no statistically significant difference comparing the number of total phrases
in creativity and in learning strategies (t=1.53, p> .05). There were statistically significant
differences (t=2.18, p< .05) comparing the number of phrases by the definitions. The teachers
wrote more phrases by the definitions about creativity (M=1.7, SD=1.5) than learning strategies
Statistically, a higher percentage of teachers wrote phrases, which coincided with the definition of
the concept “creativity” than the concept “learning strategies” (t=5.65, p< .01). Phrases
coinciding with a definition of the concept “creativity” were written by 90% of the teachers and
65% of the teachers wrote phrases coinciding with the definition of the concept “learning
There was a statistically significant difference comparing the average number of total categories
covered by the explanations in creativity and learning strategies (t=3.24, p< .01) and the average
number of categories by the definitions (t=2.25, p< .05). The average number of total categories
in creativity was 1.6 (SD= .8) and in learning strategies 1.9 (SD=1.1). The average number of
categories by the definitions covered by the explanations in creativity was 1.3 (SD= 1.0) and in
learning strategies 1.1 (SD=1.2).
The total number of phrases in the explanations of “creativity” was statistically significantly
related to the total number of phrases in the explanations of “learning strategies” (r= .57, p<.01).
The number of phases coinciding with the definitions in the explanations of “creativity” was
statistically significant, and correlated with the number of phrases coinciding with the definitions
in the explanations of “learning strategies” (r= .40, p<.01). Not strong, but positive correlations
were found between the total numbers of categories of the two concepts (r= .36, p< .01) and the
categories by the definition of the two concepts (r= .35, p<. 01).
All categories of creativity and learning strategies with the mean number of phrases, standard
deviations, and the percentage number of the teachers, who wrote this category in their
explanations, are provided accordingly in Table 1 and Table 2.
Table 1. Categories of creativity
Name of category
The use of existing elements not created by the
.32 .62 24%
individual to apply them to new ideas
Originality: the uniqueness, novelty, and
.44 .75 32%
unpredictability in an idea
New solutions, unconscious process of joining elements
.77 .81 58%
Self-actualisation: motivation as a source of energy for
.23 .58 16%
change and psychological growth
Openness: the characteristics of spontaneity and
.17 .47 13%
sensitivity, which enables the shaping of new ideas
General explanations of creativity
Misunderstandings of creativity
Statistically, a greater number of phrases were in the category ‘New solutions, unconscious
process of joining elements into creation’ compared with other categories and a statistically
smaller number of the phrases were in the category ‘General explanations of creativity’ compared
with the other categories (F=22.75, p< .01).
The only category, where there was not any statistically significant difference between the
percentage of teachers who wrote this category in their explanations compared with the teachers
who did not write such, was the category ‘New solutions, unconscious process of joining
elements into creation’ (chi-square=3.65, p> .05). In all the other categories, the percentage of
teachers who did not write the particular category in their explanations was greater than the
percentage of teachers who wrote the phrase corresponding to that category (with chi-square test
all p< .01).
Table 2. Categories of the learning strategies
Name of category
Repetition: storage of information into permanent long-
.36 .62 46%
Elaboration: relating new ideas to existing ones in
.27 .57 40%
Organization: transformation of information into a
different form and the development of some schematic
.32 .60 44%
Monitoring their own performance against an
established model stored in long term memory with the
.30 .70 39%
skill appearing to be performed automatically
Self-regulation and self-direction via motivation,
.35 .69 44%
General explanations of learning strategies
Misunderstandings of learning strategies
Statistically, a greater number of the phrases were in the category ‘General explanations of the
learning strategies’ compared with the other categories (F=7.86, p< .01).
The category where there was no statistically significant difference between the percentages of
teachers who wrote this category in their explanation compared the teachers, who did not write
such, was the category ‘General explanations of the learning strategies’ (chi-square=1.62, p> .05).
Among the other categories, the percentage of teachers who did not write the particular category
in their explanations was greater than the percentage of teachers who wrote the phrase
corresponding to that category (with chi-square test all p< .01) as in the concept “creativity”.
Comparing the last two categories of both concepts, it was found that the number of general
explanations in “learning strategies” was statistically significantly greater than the number of
general explanations in “creativity” (t=9.40, p< .01). There was not any statistically significant
differences comparing the number of phrases describing misunderstandings of learning strategies
and misunderstandings of creativity (t= .64, p> .05). There were not any statistically significant
correlations between the number of general explanations in “creativity” and number of general
explanations in “learning strategies” (r= -.11, p> .05) and between the number of
misunderstandings in “creativity” and number of misunderstandings in “learning strategies” (r= -
.03, p> .05).
The results of this study indicated that teachers do not exactly understand the meaning of
creativity and learning strategies, concepts that are practiced in everyday life of the Estonian
It was gratifying that 90% of the teachers could find some phrase according to the definition to
describe the meaning of the concept “creativity”. Nevertheless, teachers had a narrow
understanding about the concept. For most of the teachers (58%), this concept means to provide
new solutions, for example, to solve problems in original ways or create some new end products.
5% of the teachers gave general meanings of this concept such as ‘being innovative’ or ‘natural
gift of people’ or ‘adding something’ etc. The limited knowledge of teachers about the concept of
creativity is also claimed by Weigand (1971), Fontana (1981) and Bereiter (2002). 12% of
participating teachers wrote as the meaning of creativity with such phrases as ‘ability to apply
rules’ or ‘ability to follow instructions’ or ‘ability to present the learning material’ etc which
were to be considered misunderstandings of the concept of “creativity” in this study.
Concerning the concept of “creativity”, teachers understand that it is related to new ideas and new
products, but they do not understand the areas of creativity concerning personal characteristics.
The category ‘Self-actualisation: motivation as a source of energy for change and psychological
growth’ was mentioned by 16% of respondents and the category ‘Openness: the characteristics of
spontaneity and sensitivity, which enables the shaping of new ideas’ was mentioned only by 13%
of the teachers.
Despite the fact that in this study, where one of the widest definitions of learning strategies (in
cognitive, metacognitive and affective areas) was covered, the teachers displayed limited
knowledge about the concept ‘learning strategies’. Only 65% of the teachers could provide
comments on “learning strategies”, that coincided with the definitions of the concept. There was
also no statistical evidence that teachers mentioned one category by the definitions more than the
other one. Cornford (2002) has written that teachers do not teach the all learning strategies. The
reason could be that teachers are aware of only a limited number of learning strategies as
indicated by the current study.
It is unfortunate that 50% of the teachers in this study gave general meanings to the concept
“learning strategies” such as ‘ability to learn’ or ‘ability to work in school’ or ‘ability to obtain
knowledge’ or ‘ability to read textbooks’ etc. 33% of teachers demonstrated misunderstandings
of the concept ‘learning strategies’ like ‘school teaches to learn’ or ‘ability to answer to the
teacher’s questions’ or ‘understands teacher’s demands’ etc.
The teachers understand the concept “creativity” according to the definition more than the
concept “learning strategies” in Estonian schools. It can be reasoned that this is due to the fact
that in Estonian society it is more common to speak, write or discuss about creativity than about
learning strategies. As evidence of this phenomenon, the Google system has included (in
Estonian) the key-word “creativity” more than 600,000 times and “learning strategy” less than
Teachers’ understandings of these two concepts were related. Teachers, who wrote more phrases
according to the definitions about one concept, wrote more phrases about the other concept too. If
teacher’s explanations about one concept consisted of more categories of the definition, then it
consisted of more categories about the other concept. Consequently, the understandings of the
basic concepts may be related i.e. teachers with a narrow understanding about one concept have a
narrow understanding about the other concept. There was no evidence that teachers who
misunderstand or can give only general explanations about the one concept misunderstand or
provide only general explanations about the other concept.
The study demonstrated that despite Estonian teachers’ understandings of “creativity” were
closer to the definition than understandings about “learning strategies”, the participants displayed
limited knowledge of both creativity and especially learning strategies. The results of the current
study indicated that Estonian teachers’ understandings of creativity and learning strategies are
very narrow. The concepts ‘creativity’ and “learning strategies” mean something concrete for
teachers and they cannot understand the comprehensive meaning of these concepts. The
understandings of the concept “learning strategies” have often been a very general meaning i.e.
the ability to learn or ability to understand.
For teachers to be better facilitators of student learning, they must simultaneously consider a
range of different aspects of creativity and learning skills and make connections between them.
As creativity and learning strategies are items that should be assessed by the Estonian National
Curriculum (Põhikooli …, 2002) the results of this study emphasize the need for adequate
knowledge about creativity and learning strategies to help teachers assist students more precisely.
Consequently, teacher-training courses (both theory and practice) related to these problems
should be paid higher attention.
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