Dancing About Architecture

A Little Book of Creativity

By: Phil Beadle


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Size: 174mm x 124mm
Pages : 128
ISBN : 9781845907259
Format: Hardback
Published: June 2011

Dancing About Architecture is a compendium of outrageous ideas: ideas about how to take more risks and ideas about how to come up with better ideas. Ideas about how to plan experiences that leave people who are in the same room as those ideas awestruck, and ideas to help you avoid the textbook, the worksheet, the barely stifled yawn.

From using The Book of Revelation as a planning device; to seeing every experience through the prism of physical activity or song; to measuring a poem to find its real heart: it outlines a methodology that, if you use it, will make you an even greater creative force than you already are.

Picture for author Phil Beadle

Phil Beadle

Phil Beadle knows a bit about bringing creative projects to fruit. His self-described renaissance dilettantism' is best summed up by Mojo magazine's description of him as a burnished voice soul man and left wing educationalist'. He is the author of ten books on a variety of subjects, including the acclaimed Dancing About Architecture, described in Brain Pickings as a strong, pointed conceptual vision for the nature and origin of creativity'. As songwriter Philip Kane, his work has been described in Uncut magazine as having novelistic range and ambition' and in Mojo as having a rare ability to find romance in the dirt' along with bleakly literate lyricism'. He has won national awards for both teaching and broadcasting, was a columnist for the Guardian newspaper for nine years and has written for every broadsheet newspaper in the UK, as well as the Sydney Morning Herald. Phil is also one of the most experienced, gifted and funniest public speakers in the UK.

Click here to listen in on Phil's podcast with Pivotal Education - How to Teach Literacy'.

Listen to the ABC Conversations with Richard Fidler' broadcast.

ABC Conversations with Richard Fidler Broadcast date: Thursday 19 July 2012

Click here to listen to Phil Beadle's interview with TalkSport - Listen in at approximately 29:09.


  1. Dancing About Architecture: A Field Guide to Creativity

    “It is the ability to spot the potential in the product of connecting things that don't ordinarily go together that marks out the person who is truly creative.”

    It seems endemic to the human condition that we'll never cease longing for insight into where good ideas come from, how creativity works, its secrets, its origins, and the five-step action plan for making it manifest. Dancing about Architecture: A Little Book of Creativity by Phil Beadle is unusual in that it's both a strong, pointed conceptual vision for the nature and origin of creativity, and a kind of activity book for grown-ups that invites you to learn how to implement the skill set of creativity through a series of hands-on exercises applicable wherever your creative journey may take you, from the studio to the classroom to the boardroom.

    Much of Beadle's insights echo Sir Ken Robinson's work, but Beadle emphasizes another, in my opinion far more important, aspect of creativity: its combinatorial nature:
    “We create the new not generally through some mad moment of inspiration in fictionalized accounts of ancient Greeks in baths (though the conditions for this can be forced into existence), but by putting things together that do not normally go together; from taking disciplines (or curriculum areas) and seeing what happens when they are forced into unanticipated collision.

    The mind, at its best, is a pattern-making machine, engaged in a perpetual attempt to impose order on to chaos; making links between disparate entities or ideas in order to better understand either or both. It is the ability to spot the potential in the product of connecting things that don't ordinarily go together that marks out the person (or teacher) who is truly creative.”

    This point resonates deeply with the founding philosophy of Brain Pickings, and is one articulated by a great many thinkers and creators. Steve Jobs famously said that “creativity is just connecting things”; Paula Scher spoke of the mental collaging that sparks a moment of creation; As Austin Kleon put it, “you are a mashup of what you let into your life”; William Gibson called for cultivating “a personal micro-culture”; Paul Rand maintained that the role of the imagination is “to create new meanings and to discover connections that, even if obvious, seem to escape detection.”
    In the foreword, Ian Gilbert articulates the same idea another way:
    “Nature abhors a vacuum and the same applies in your head. The trouble is, if there's nothing to replace the gap left behind when you clear out all your old rubbish then some new rubbish will come along to fill it-¦ So, where do the new ideas come from to fill the void left by eliminating your old ones? This question of the derivation of ideas was one that was approached by an advertising man called James Webb Young in 1939. His short book, A Technique for Producing Ideas, became the seminal book on how to get ideas, good ones, into your head-¦ Webb Young suggests the following five-step plan to generating great ideas:
    [1] Gather the raw material
    [2] Digest the material
    [3] Don't think
    [4] Wait for the -˜Ah ha!' moment to appear (and be ready when it does. Keep a notebook by your bed)
    [5] Expose your idea to the light of day and see if it stands up to the glare

    Part of the first step that we often overlook, however, is the need to feed our brains with all sorts of -˜raw material' and not just the sort most related to our work. If all you do, as an educator, is read education books then you will never be very creative. You will never succeed in doing what Steve Jobs [-¦] calls making a -˜dent in the universe'. Genuine creativity needs a collision of ideas, something that will never happen if all your thoughts travel in the same direction. Arthur Koestler in his seminal book on creativity, The Act of Creation, talks about -˜bisociation'. An idea travels in one direction and then suddenly is broadsided by another traveling in a different one. It is used in humor all the time. What's blue and white and climbs trees? A fridge in a denim jacket. That sort of thing.”

    Dancing about Architecture goes on to explore, both in practical terms and as a broader cultural vision, how we can foster this combinatorial capacity in our individual creative journeys as well as in formal social frameworks like the education system and the workplace.

  2. Phil Beadle's inimitable style will be familiar to many and his passion for learning and desire to stir things up comes flooding through this small and very well-formed volume. His editor, Ian Gilbert, sets the tone when he opens the foreword thus: 'Creativity is like pornography. It's hard to define but you know what it is when you see it. And it can get you into a lot of trouble bringing it in to school.'

    The book consists of a series of chapters that are designed to provoke and on the whole he succeeds in startling, getting the reader to laugh, to think and to re-think. His premise is that we have unused potential both in our curriculum and in our classrooms and he wants to shake us out of our torpor. He also offers a range of techniques for 'treating the arts as forms for pedagogy' rather than the arts being the (stultifying) content focus of tired pedagogical approaches. Rather than trying to liven up lessons with 'fun' starters, Beadle offers the prospect of the whole lesson being exciting, engaging and loaded with relevant content, surely the Holy Grail of teaching and learning?

    'Dancing about architecture' is a genuine proposition, as is the 'punctuation ballet' and the potential for a mashup of physics and rugby. The ideas presented in this book are achievable by beginning and experienced teachers, provided they have the desire to have fun themselves. The comic tone should not deceive the reader: this is a serious book which offers teachers the opportunity not to be bored or boring.

  3. I finished reading Phil Beadle's book, Dancing About Architecture at 2.39 am I have never read an education book quite like this.
    Basically, it's about creativity (or the lack of it) in education. Clearly, it is a ridiculous little book which advocates ignoring Ofsted; not having planned lesson outcomes and being unclear about what it is that students are supposed to be learning. Heresy. But I'm inspired.

    I decided that I was going to act on and teach the structure of JB Priestly's somewhat turgid play, An Inspector Calls using hula hoops.
    To Do list
    1. ask PE dept if they have any hula hoops
    2. research how to hula
    3. think about something else
    4. wait for inspiration
    5. give it a go

    After some reflection, I came up with a plan. The lesson started with us trooping outside for a hula tutorial . (Why? Because I could and the weather was good.) Obviously I'll be required to make a fool of myself and so will the students. Some will feel intensely uncomfortable and try to find excuses not to participate. Do I need a strategy for that, or should I just wait and see what happens?

    Anyhow, I will then ask what hula-hooping and guilt have in common. I have some expectations, but will be interesting to see what they think.
    I will then ask them to meditate on these connections whilst simultaneously hula-hooping and reading Act 3. I've not attempted this yet, but I'm imagining it's tricky. They will be in teams of 5/6 to cover all characters and if any hoop hits the floor, they have to go back to the start of the page and read again.
    Maybe they will decide that the lesson was designed to make them think about how hard it is to do something relatively straightforward if you're feeling guilty. Maybe not. I'm not going to have an objective - I will ask them to decide what the objective was when we've finished. I have no idea what will happen and according to Mr Beadle, that's probably about right. He says, “what fascinates here is the infinity of potential in having the outcome completely lead by the process.”

    It may all go horribly, disastrously wrong but they are unlikely to forget it. In that case, as Phil says I'll, “rip it up and start again.”

    Post lesson: I learnt two things today. Firstly, hula hooping is really quite difficult. Secondly, letting go and taking risks can be hugely enjoyable and extremely worthwhile. Actually the second one was more something that I'd forgotten - but it was freshly confirmed by having one of the most enjoyable lessons of my career.

    Things were looking good when the PE faculty were able to give me 30 assorted hula hoops. I quickly reviewed my planning which consisted of:
    1. Inform students that today's lesson would take place outside and that they would need their copy of the play and a hula hoop
    2. Give out hula hoops and hope at least one student is sufficiently talented to give short tutorial.
    3. Pose question: what do hula hoops and guilt have in common
    4. Explain task: students to work in teams of 5 or 6; they are to Act 3 whilst simultaneously hula hooping. If hula hoop is not “in motion” then the team have to go back to the beginning of the page they are on and start again. Differentiation: less able are allowed to use their arm to keep hula hoop spinning.
    5. Check learning
    6. Students to suggest possible objectives for lesson and state whether they have met -˜em.

    Wowzers! A six-part lesson plan!

    The students were magnificent. After 20 minutes of attempting to read the play we had established that it is pretty much impossible to have an impromptu group reading of a play whilst hula hooping. But had we learnt anything else? My favourite conversation in response to the hula hoop/guilt debate went like this:
    Student 1: I learnt that you feel guilty when you drop the hula hoop because your team has to start the page over again.
    Student 2: I didn't feel guilty when I dropped it.
    Student 3: That's because you're Mrs Birling! (for those who don't know, Mrs B is a character who refuses to take responsibility for her actions)

    Other interesting outcomes included the observation that the structure of the play is like hula hooping because it just goes round and round in circles with nothing really changing. Awesome! It might have taken me hours to have -˜taught' that idea.

    Some of the learning objectives the students came up with at the end of the lesson included:
    To be able to work as a team and accept responsibility for failing your team
    To discover the relationship between hula hooping and Act 3 of An Inspector Calls
    To be able to multi-task
    To be able to concentrate on a task and co-operative effectively
    To be able to learn through my dismal failure to hula hoop!

    All of these are laudable objectives. But had I chosen just one of them, how much would I have limited the opportunities for learning?

    We then had a discussion about what other crazy stuff we could do to inspire each other. Some of my favourite ideas are: build a class boat; fly kites; make cakes. My personal favourite suggestion was, “Why don't we all go to sleep in the lesson, have a dream and then write about the dream.”

    To finish, I asked students to jot down their reflections on what we'd done and these are some of their comments:
    “At the beginning I thought it would be a bit silly-¦but I learnt that I needed to concentrate more on the play and it was a change to be outside in the fresh air.”
    “However pointless this lesson appeared to be, upon reflection links were made that helped me understand the play better. It was also philosophically eye opening.”
    “I loved this lesson! I enjoyed the hula hooping challenge. I like role playing but only in a small group of friends, so that was fine. And I caught some sun - yay!”
    “I thought the lesson was refreshing and new. It helped gain a different way of learning. However, I hate hula hoops, use footballs instead :)”
    In terms of cost effectiveness, this is the best money I've ever spent - my teaching has been transformed and everything is different now. Obviously I don't teach this way every day with every class but being able to deviate from expectations on a regular basis is a breath of fresh air for me and my students.
  4. Testimonial for Dancing about Architecture:

    The innovative nature of the resource - What makes this little book so unusual and so welcome is; it is short and slightly off the wall, but based on the experience of a highly experienced and respected teacher. It is a practical and effective account with so many practical ideas packed into eighty pages which can and are changing the way some of us teach. It encourages the teacher to approach our planning in a far more creative way. Phil includes examples, resources and ideas which have worked.

    The impact on learning and the work of the teacher in the classroom, to what extent and in which areas - -˜a teacher is only ever truly limited by the scope of their ambition.' Dancing About Architecture is not the usual educational text, bemoaning the state of schools and education. It does not spend pages upon pages blaming the kids, the parents, the teachers, the government. It does, however, provide a platform for a change in approach to professional development. This is a short book which can be applied to all curricular areas as it asks the reader to approach the planning process in a creative and imaginative manner; not what we want students to learn but how they will go about learning it. It is not filled with lesson plans for the teacher in a hurry; indeed it does not promise to make our lives easier. What it does though is leave us with a smile on our faces and a feeling that things can be better. Creativity does have a place in our lives.

    How the resource supports or enhances the everyday life or work of teachers, pupils or schools - In Dancing About Architecture, the writer provides some examples of work which can be hugely useful on and after development days. Work that can be used to inform and enhance teacher effectiveness as well as whole school ethos. The book is not only fun to read but also provides mountains of ideas which are easily transferred to our everyday lives in schools. Practical and achievable differences to classroom practice can be immediately implemented making the classroom a fun place to be. In particular his section entitled -˜Ask your Body' which asks us to think about juxtaposing games and sports with parts of our subject area. Great ideas for badminton apostrophes and penalty kick quotations flying around in my head now.

    Cost effectiveness in terms of educational aims and results - not just price - Dancing About Architecture is a book which should take a central role in whole school future planning. At a time of, seemingly, constant educational change, Phil Beadle provides a different angle to the way in which we approach teaching. His book overcomes so-called challenges to creativity in the classroom by getting straight to the heart of the matter. Active, enjoyable and, most importantly, memorable learning occurs. Students are having fun but concentrating and learning at the same time. And that can't be a bad thing, can it?
  5. Now, we should all get this - the power of creativity and the importance of arts in education. I certainly do because I worked on the now defunct Creative Partnerships programme. In my experience of encouraging teachers to rediscover their innate creativity, some jumped on board with gusto while others thought the programme was too messy, too noisy, too disruptive and too risky.

    Mr Beadle of course has been practising creative teaching techniques since he decided he had better get a proper job as a teacher rather than following the rock star route.

    I happen to know that some teachers find the notion of creative teaching and learning pretty insulting partly because teaching is a creative occupation.
    The trouble is it is increasingly difficult to make it so, what with the current governmental obsession with facts and discipline.

    In this neat little tome, Dancing About Architecture, Mr Beadle eloquently and enthusiastically argues the importance of how bringing the arts into -˜traditional' curriculum subjects will give students a deeper, more memorable and more meaningful learning experience. This means having a go at juxtaposing subjects, for example the well-known system of learning punctuation through kung fu moves.

    To help, the author offers simple techniques and resources to help, including how to write poems based on mathematic principles, as well as mixing sport into all areas of the curriculum.
    This is a great book to have at your fingertips to liven up a dull lesson. I'm sure readers of Ink Pellet -˜get' Mr Beadle's approach. 

    It's just the rest of them. Isn't it?
  6. An interesting book which highlights Phil Beadle's unique approach to teaching, learning and motivation. Many teachers may find the ideas too challenging and unwilling totake tghe risk of “falling flat on their backsides”
  7. ...if he could convince Ofsted to accept even some of his methods, that would indeed be a step in the right direction! I believe that this is a book which should be available in every staff-room. Whether every teacher should have one - I'm not so sure...!
  8. I found the title intriguing and the focus on creativity very refreshing. I love the idea of -˜maverick' teaching: doing what's best for the students and not what's best for results/inspectors/or anyone other than the students in your charge. “They deserve and desire you to be brilliant” is a great starting point for any lesson, and one I will be spreading!

    I really enjoyed reading Dancing About Architecture, and have taken quite a lot of reinforcement from it: it's ok to try different things, to do what's best for the students, to be a maverick. The thoughts from the staff of Robert Napier School are fantastically -˜odd', and I think I will be referring back to them regularly for more inspiration!
  9. Overall, I found the content interesting and thought provoking without being revolutionary. My topic area of science does not always lend itself to these abstract pedagogies. However, within science there are many really drab and dull areas of more or less rote learning where the opportunities abound. I have my own ideas about what to do with the practical learning issues, but wonder if we would ever have the time to do them justice. Humanities and social science subjects could be revolutionised by this approach.

    It is unfortunate that less able pupils often find it difficult to employ imaginative techniques due to the fear of being wrong, again. Some way of opening the mind up for these students would be great, as merely asking or encouraging is not enough, perhaps another book here?

    I love that you encourage us all to use dramatic skills and encourage that in our students, get the passion in however and wherever you can - legally!

    Thanks for providing the resource sheets at the back of the book for the lazy perfectionist.
  10. I remember saying a few years ago that in order for education to become relevant to our students, we would need to work hard to turn it into the new rock n roll! Well Phil Beadle may well be the lead guitarist of this new super group. Here is a book about teaching, and more importantly, learning that is; cool, irreverent and entertaining! From the reference to Frank Zappa in chapter one, I knew this book was pure Phil Beadle. Buy it, read it and get ready to rock out!
  11. Phil Beadle's new book, Dancing About Architecture, is a well thought through testament to the power of creativity and the arts in education. Drawing on artists' thinking across disciplines, Phil explores how connecting seemingly disparate ideas results in work that can astound, inform and surprise. He encourages the educator to focus on process, not outcome, in much the same way that an artist focuses on process. This inevitably means taking risks if the process becomes the focus, then risk taking becomes something joyful and, ironically, risk free what does it matter if tangents happen when the outcome is not primary or set in stone?

    Any educator that tries out the very practical and applicable ideas and resources in this accessible, and concise book will find themselves part of a journey of discovery with their students; they'll become a part of the process in a different, more immediate way; and even more pertinently, they'll get to experience the joy of creative thinking and practice and the endless possibilities it throws up. Phil respects and acknowledges the teacher as an intelligent, talented, creative individual and offers them the possibility of reclaiming the classroom as a place of possibility, more effective learning and exploration, free of the anxiety of the Ofsted inspection, that most bogus of pantomimes.

    The kind of practice outlined in Dancing About Architecture means the whole student is engaged, mind and body. This is learning they'll retain because it engages all of them in unexpected and playful ways. The rigid hierarchy of what subjects 'matter' and the sheer aridity of sit-behind-a-desk-and-do-a-worksheet that's been set up by hundreds of years of academic hegemony is thrown into sharp relief as the nonsense that it is in this book. We were, as Phil points out, not evolved to sit behind a desk and do a worksheet. Personally, I can't think of anything more dreary.

    The practice outlined in Dancing About Architecture is, ultimately, common sense. This book kicks the desks over, opens the windows and lets learning in it invites us to live life in a more joyful, human way. You won't regret giving it a go. Equally, anyone who is interested in the possibilities of how their child can be educated or in creative thinking, and especially those in the arts and especially those who happen teach in the arts, whether that's in a school or like myself, in an arts setting should give this a read. I've learnt a thing or two, and I've been working and teaching in the arts all of my adult life. In short, I highly recommend this book it's a guide to the bright future of education.
  12. Phil Beadle has not only written an excellent book he has designed a masterpiece for creativity-led education. Let this be your bible of learning theory and practice. I predict Beadle's next book will be a collection of examples from people like you teachers, parents, policy makers, change managers, innovation specialists, volunteers about how the ideas and practical tools in Dancing About Architecture have transformed your thinking about education, producing results worth shouting and writing about. Don't miss Beadle's invitation to dance your fitness in all matters educational is guaranteed to improve towards athletic proportions. Don't ignore this building block for the future of education. It contains the blueprint for architecting hours of fun in the classroom as well as serious learning results. Where Sir Ken Robinson tells us what to do in education, Beadle show us how to do it.
  13. My expectations for this book were very high from the moment I received it. As part of the Independent Thinking Series and with the now infamous Phil Beadle as the author the pressure that such a small book was under was quite immense. 

    I finished the book within a couple of hours and to be honest couldn't wait to get rid of it. Why? Simple really; the power of this book to transform the practise and views of my teaching staff is potentially huge. Phil has written a book that is accessible to all, compelling in its arguments, provocative in its thoughts and, best of all, heavily supported with practical examples and ready to go resources. In short, this book opens a universe of possibility, threading creativity through the very fabric of life and ultimately making learning fun and memorable. And it made me laugh. Not bad for a book that fits in your pocket!

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