Dispositional learning: Rethinking wellbeing assessment through creative pedagogies

Exploring creative pedagogies and assessment, this article shares research into how dispositional learning and creative practices can reshape educational assessments, fostering wellbeing and creativity among pupils.

Creative learning as a social justice issue

At a time of political, educational, social, environmental and economic challenges, young people face uncertainty about their futures. In response, educational policy such as the OECD Learning Compass 2030 (2019) and UNESCO 2030 (2015) call for educational reform through a broader set of educational goals. Central to this change is a renewed emphasis on learner wellbeing through transferable competencies which equip them as future change makers.

Wales and Scotland have also redesigned their curriculum in favour of more holistic learning. The Welsh national curriculum for example, has six areas of learning which acknowledges the relationship between wellbeing and creativity, offering young people a more balanced curriculum diet. Educational policy in England, however, has become progressively narrower, favouring memorisation and high stakes testing, which is impacting negatively on pupil and teacher wellbeing.

Creative pedagogies for wellbeing

Research highlights the links between creative learning and wellbeing as learners feel more confident to make, challenge and explore together (Stephenson and Dobson, 2021; Celume et al, 2017). The expressive arts, particularly, operate from a unique set of pedagogical principles which value children’s active participation, emotional sensibilities and cultural references as rich learning resources. This can offer an efficient pedagogical tool for developing intercultural learning, as well a connecting curriculum content in a meaningful way.

Drama Worldbuilding: inquiry-based learning in action

However, creativity is difficult to ‘assess’ and ‘measure’. There is an urgent need to develop more understanding of the ways that learner creativity can support young people to navigate uncertainty. Central to this understanding is addressing gaps in research which provide evidence of children’s perceptions of creative engagement (Cremin and Chappell, 2019).

Drama Worldbuilding (Stephenson, 2022) is a creative pedagogy which, like Dorothy Heathcote’s ‘mantle of the expert’, uses fictional scenarios and story to position young people as responsible social problem solvers. Historical, geographical, literacies, social and emotional learning are all integrated within these story worlds. For example, a topic about the Mayans could be approached through a dilemma of a friendship between two children in opposing communities at war. As children build their own fictional identities and backstories within these worlds, they are challenged to take purposeful collective action in response to dilemmas. Using a diverse range of expressions and communication such as creative writing, spoken word, visual art and performance, exposes multiple viewpoints to navigate. Oracy is naturally activated. The playful nature of the pedagogy means that children can try out ideas without the consequences of the real world.

We must adapt assessment practices

If we are to think of our classrooms as rich eco-systems, then we must radically adapt our teaching, learning and assessment approaches so that they empower learners. The research offers insights into the value of formative assessments methods which captured children’s perceptions of learning.

As an example of this, teachers across Bradford Primary schools are utilising the dispositional model as an observational tool, in order to recognise, adapt and articulate classroom learning. This has supported teacher noticing of pupil learning in new ways as well as integration of new applied drama curriculum across the schools.

Dispositional learning and transferable competencies

Whilst acknowledging that there are many forms of applied drama and creative pedagogies which are valuable within curriculum, exploring the impact of creative pedagogies through a dispositional model holds some key insights.

My research examined Year 5 and 6 Primary school children’s perceptions of learning through an applied drama and story-based curriculum, across 18 months. Analysis of the research revealed a set of 8 Creativity and Wellbeing dispositions, or habits of mind, which evidence children’s perceptions of creative learning.

Image 1: 8 Collective Creativity and Wellbeing dispositions (Stephenson, 2023)

Crucially, these dispositions were seen to shift and develop over time. Children stated that they were able to recognise and articulate their learning in new ways they were ‘becoming more open to working through struggle and difficulty’. These critical insights suggests that the dispositions were teachable, transferable, and cumulative.

Table 1: Eight Creativity and Wellbeing Dispositions and Transferable Competences (Stephenson, 2023. P.12 )

Rather than focussing on memorisation, the research uniquely highlights the importance of affect in relation to creative pedagogy and wellbeing. Affect can be thought of as emotion, perception, ethics and sensibilities (Ahmed, 2004). Affect shapes our habits of mind or dispositions which in turn, drive learning and influence the ways in which we apply knowledge and skills in particular contexts.

Rethinking formative assessment through creative pedagogies

Much like creativity, affect is also difficult to measure and subjective. Currently, assessment methods in schools and policy discourses focus more on meta-cognition or learning to learn leaving dispositional learning ‘untapped’. There is a danger, that our current assessment methods are not wholly fit for purpose in equipping learners in a modern world. Affect influences the way that we feel about ourselves and our ability to act within the world and therefore a critical part of wellbeing.

In equipping young people with a broader range of skills, knowledge and wellbeing dispositions necessary for creating a more sustainable world, education needs to radically rethink what, why and how we teach. Story Makers Company, Leeds Beckett University, our collective research with schools, young people and artist educators continues to focus on developing greater understanding of creative pedagogies nationally and internationally across all age phases.

Dr Lisa Stephenson is Course Leader MA Creative Learning and is also Director/Founder of Story Makers: Research centre creative pedagogies.


Ahmed, S., 2004. Affective economies. Social text, 22(2), pp.117-139

Celume, M.P., Sovet, L.A.U.R.E.N.T., Lubart, T. and Zenasni, F., 2017. The relationship between children’s creativity and well-being at school. Creativity, innovation and wellbeing, pp.346-363.

Cultural Alliance and Paul Hamlyn., Oct, 2019. The arts for every child: Why arts education is a social Justice issue https://culturallearningalliance.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Arts-for-every-child-CLA-Social-justice-briefing.pdf

DeBellis, V.A. and Goldin, G.A., 2006. Affect and meta-affect in mathematical problem solving: A representational perspective. Educational Studies in mathematics63(2), pp.131-147.

Heathcote, D., Johnson, L. and O'Neill, C., 1992. Collected Writings on Education and Drama. British Journal of Educational Studies, 40(2), p.190.

James, S.J. and Houston, A. and Newton, L. and Daniels, S. and Morgan, N. and Coho, W. and Ruck, A. and Lucas, B. 2019. 'Durham commission on creativity and education.', Project Report. Arts Council UK.

Newlove-Delgado, T., McManus, S., Sadler, K., Thandi, S., Vizard, T., Cartwright, C. and Ford, T., 2021. Child mental health in England before and during the COVID-19 lockdown. The Lancet Psychiatry8(5), pp.353-354.

PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) 2018. Global Competence: www.oecd.org/pisa/pisa-2018-global-competence.htm.

Stephenson, L., 2023. Collective creativity and wellbeing dispositions: children's perceptions of learning through drama. Thinking Skills and Creativity, p.101188.

World Health Organisation May 2019. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response.

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