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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Yes, You Can Teach and Assess Creativity!

A recent blog by Grant Wiggins affirmed what I have long believed about creativity: it is a 21st-century skill we can teach and assess. Creativity fosters deeper learning, builds confidence and creates a student ready for college and career.

However, many teachers don't know how to implement the teaching and assessment of creativity in their classrooms. While we may have the tools to teach and assess content, creativity is another matter, especially if we want to be intentional about teaching it as a 21st-century skill. In a PBL project, some teachers focus on just one skill, while others focus on many. Here are some strategies educators can use tomorrow to get started teaching and assessing creativity -- just one more highly necessary skill in that 21st-century toolkit.

Quality Indicators

If you and your students don't unpack and understand what creativity looks like, then teaching and assessing it will be very difficult. Here are some quality indicators to look at:

  • Synthesize ideas in original and surprising ways.
  • Ask new questions to build upon an idea.
  • Brainstorm multiple ideas and solutions to problems.
  • Communicate ideas in new and innovative ways.

Now, these are just some of the quality indicators you might create or use. Don't forget to make them age- or grade-level appropriate so that students can understand the targets and how they are being assessed. You might create a rubric from these quality indicators or keep them as overall goals for the students to work on throughout the year. Wiggins mentioned this rubric as a start. The February 2013 issue of ASCD's Educational Leadership also has an article that includes a rubric.

Activities Targeted to Quality Indicators

We have all used activities for students to brainstorm solutions to problems, be artistically creative and more. Now is a chance to be very intentional with these exercises. In addition to just "doing" them, pick the activities that specifically work on quality indicators of creativity. They can occur at varying stages of a PBL project, whenever the timing is appropriate to where students are in the PBL process.

Voice and Choice in Products

We know that students can show knowledge in different ways. In a PBL project, for example, public audience is an essential component, and students must present their work. PBL teachers offer voice and choice in how they spend their time and what they create. This is a great opportunity to foster the creative process. Students can collaborate on how to best present their information, what to include, and perhaps even a target audience. Coupled with the other strategies mentioned in this piece, voice and choice can build creative thinkers.

Model Thinking Skills

There are some specific thinking skills that creative people use. You will often find these in the quality indicators of creative people and embedded in the language. One example is synthesis. In synthesis, people combine sources, ideas, etc. to solve problems, address an issue or make something new. Being able to synthesize well can be a challenge. If we want our students to do well with this creative skill, we need to model the thinking of synthesis in a low-stakes, scaffolding activity that they can translate into a more academic pursuit. I find that the more I help students understand and practice these thinking skills, the better prepared they are to be creative! These mini-lessons and activities occur within the context of a PBL project to support student learning.

Reflection and Goal Setting

Whether you are using S.M.A.R.T Goals or short reflective activities, this is a critical component of teaching and assessing creativity. Students need time to look at the quality indicators and reflect on how they are doing when it comes to mastery. They can also set goals on one or more these quality indicators and how they will go about doing it. This reflective process and metacognition also helps build critical thinking skills, and should be used throughout the process of a PBL project, curriculum unit or marking period. Let's provide opportunities for students to think critically about creativity.

If we want our students to be creative, we must give them not only the opportunity to do so, but also the finite skills and targets to be able to do so. When you combine these strategies, creativity can become part of the culture of a PBL project and classroom in general. You may or may not "grade" creativity, but you can certainly assess it.

How do you intentionally teach and assess creativity in your classroom?

This post is part of a series sponsored by Autodesk.
Project-Based Learning and Creativity

Comments (19)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

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Big-Brained Superhero's picture
Big-Brained Superhero
On a mission to tap into the hidden strengths that all young people have th

Thanks for these great resources! We consider Creativity to be one of our superpowers, and one of several ways to get more typically demographically underrepresented folks into STE(A)M fields. The truth is, we're assessing Creativity all the time whether or not we realize it. Like so many of our superpowers, we should call it out more--turn the subtext into text--and provide a variety of ways in which we can exercise, and evaluate, our Creativity powers.

Shekhar's picture
Shekhar
IBDP TOK teacher

Great Resource! Creativity now seem interesting enough to be managed! Reflective rubric is a great help.
This will help me strengthen the baby step that we all are intending to take with PBL in school system.

Sue Alexander's picture
Sue Alexander
7th and 8th Grade Art teacher from Reeds Spring, Missouri

There's no mystery in either talent or creativity. My emerging artists learn that talent is passion plus perseverance, and that creativity is a process to be mastered. It just seemed to make sense to me to empower them by teaching them the steps in the creative process (saturation, incubation, illumination, implementation, verification). They quickly gain ownership of their role as creative genius or collaborator, and can navigate both the vocabulary and the process with ease.

Formative and self-assessment are simplified when the project is viewed as a series of steps (even when the steps go in circles or off a cliff). The product/project evaluation (summative) is based on its success as a solution to the visual problem. One of many forms of verification they will experience as artists... or as engineers, teachers or salespeople.

In the co-core arena, that's a bonus; the knowledge transfers to other disciplines. I love it when they tell me they need to saturate on something for a bit, or that the idea got fried in the incubator, but especially when I hear one shout eureaka.

Afraid to teach/assess creativity? Just remember these words:
"If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all." - Michelangelo

Becky's picture
Becky
Gifted Education Specialist

I like that this article isn't saying divergent thinking IS creativity. It is but a piece. Also, just because something is new or different doesn't mean it is creative. A toddler pounding on the keys of a piano may be making a new sound, but it is not creative. This is from some of Jane Piirto's work on creativity: "Divergent production has often been confused with creativity. Here are Guilford's original factors that make up divergent production: "sensitivity to problems, ideational fluency, flexibility of set, ideational novelty, synthesizing ability, analyzing ability, reorganizing or redefining ability, span of ideational structure, and evaluating ability." Shoe goes on to point out that there is thinking creatively, working creatively with others and implementing creative innovation. Not everyone is well versed in all three areas but together they make a creative idea accessible.

Jen Hernandez's picture
Jen Hernandez
Art and science educator for pre-school through 8th grade

As an art teacher, my greatest challenges come from one of two common problems: either I don't give my students enough freedom to explore our materials in a project and they feel unsuccessful or dissatisfied in their product based on the expectation set up by a model; or I don't give enough parameters and students without solid guidelines are confused or bored. That's the problem with teaching creativity - it's not something to teach, it's something to guide. When I have an idea of what an outcome could look like, and I focus on teaching skills to that goal, my students are often frustrated with the task of getting from their step 1 to their step 10 - not stopping to consider that the value of the project is in steps 2 through 9 and what they are learning is not how to paint a lifelike portrait, but how to think through challenges (why doesn't his nose look right?) and finding solutions on their own. What I can't do is teach them how to create solutions to problems: that impulse has to start with them. What I can do, and what I think is the main idea of this article, is create a circumstance in which they are allowed to create and help guide that creativity toward a structured goal through modeling. That, however, is creative thinking, not creativity. I'm too hung up on the idea that creativity is too unique and too individual to be "taught" or developed into an identifiable form. Sure, it seems like semantics, but it is more than that. To suggest that creativity itself is teachable, suggests also that it is learnable and some people will "get it" and some people, naturally, won't. To think that at any age any human might not be able to "get" creativity seems quite narrow-minded to me. Maybe they don't get collaborative creative thinking, sure. But I do believe at any given moment, any person can be unique and create something different than what has been created before.

Brian D. Sadie's picture

While I'm not sure that creativity is a skill or to be taught to the point of activating on demand, it is clear that ability and education provide essentials for it. Inspiration, the spark most often leading to creative effort, loves interaction and brainstorming. Even when not tossing ideas around with others, an engaged mind that listens, sees, and discovers things does so in ways still not understood. From that often comes the creative brilliance that elevates work.

A pretty effective way to inspire some creative effort from children while engaging them with language arts, writing and storytelling in the digital world is with a platform such as the one from BoomWriter Media. It uses both collaboration and friendly competition to prompt children to develop stories for publication in a class or camp setting. That type of communal yet individual experience is a fun way to facilitate a child's creative drive.

Heather's picture
Heather
Maritime girl Canada

I think what we're missing is the value of failure. Allowing our students to experiment, fail and learn from that failure builds the attitude and resourcefulness foundational to creativity. Todays students have adults hovering at all times-in and out of school-organizing their schedules, setting them up for success and telling them what will and won't work.

Future Teacher's picture

I am currently taking a creativity class and in my opinion their is no failure when it comes creativity. It is an expression of self and if we were to tell children they failed because they were not creative to our standards then this could hurt the children emotionally and children may have a hard time trying to find the creative side of themselves.

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