Keynote Anna Sfard


Creating routines and routinizing creativity:
Schooling for creative action and for literacies

More than a decade ago, in a TED talk that became viral and has been seen since then by millions of viewers, Sir Ken Robinson asked the provocative question “Does school kill creativity?” In this talk, a series of arguments with which this claim may be supported is critically reviewed. The point of departure is the assumption that schooling may be usefully thought of as the process of routinizing students’ actions. Thus, for instance, learning mathematics means becoming able to perform historically developed routines of mathematical discoruse. Within this conceptualisation, mathematical literacy becomes the tendency to mediate our diverse activities, whether in school or beyond, with stories about mathematical objects learned at school. These definitions make it clear that literacy requires creativity, the ability to make unusual cross-discursive transitions. Having analysed the reasons why traditional schooling fails in encouraging literacy, I make some suggestions about what can be done to make sure that schools foster rather than “kill” creativity.


About the speaker

I conduct research and teach in the domain of learning sciences, with particular focus on the relation between thinking and communication. By researching this issue, I hope to contribute to our understanding of human development at large, and of the growth of mathematical thinking in particular.

I am working within conceptual framework growing from the assumption that human thinking is a form of communication. Inspired mainly by the work of Wittgenstein and Vygotsky, this basic non-dualist tenet implies that discursivity – the fact that all our activities are either purely communicational or imbued with and shaped by discourse – is the hallmark of our humanness. Our discursive inclusions and exclusions are what situates us socially and culturally and positions each one of us with regard to everybody else. Our discourses are also repositories of complexity that underlie our ability to build on achievements of previous generations rather than beginning every time anew.

Results of my theoretical and empirical research guided by this communicational (or “commognitive”) framework have been summarized in the monograph Thinking as communicating: Human development, the growth of discourses, and mathematizing (2008). My other volumes, edited or co-edited, include Learning tools: Perspectives on the role of designed artifacts in mathematics learning (2002), Learning discourse: discursive approaches to research in mathematics education (2003), Development of Mathematical discourse: Some insights from communicational research (2012), and Research for educational change: Transforming researchers' insights into improvement in mathematics teaching and learning (2017).

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