George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Yes, You Can Teach and Assess Creativity!

Andrew Miller

Instructional Coach at Shanghai American School
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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.
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Comments (20) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

zep's picture
Education Specialist

Spot on "Future"! The notion of assessing creativity is antithetical; take an interest in the kids' creations and support them!

Stephanie Bartlett's picture

Educating for Creativity: A Global Conversation is a book by Dr. Robert Kelly that I would highly recommend for those interested in incorporating creativity in their teaching. His research identifies seven strands of creative development (easier to create criteria for assessment) and his book explains the concept of creativity and how it can be applied into educational practice.

RichardHall01's picture

You can't really go wrong with the following reads:

The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything - Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica

Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative - Ken Robinson

There are also a great many TED talks from Ken Robinson. I had the pleasure of being part of a seminar and it was truly inspirational.

Creating Innovators- Tony Wagner

A great book with some creative links to video content at its heart.

Mike Morgan's picture

The value in assessing creativity lies in the feedback you give. It's not about a grade, it's about growth and being willing to take risks in your thinking.

Jennifer Kelly's picture
Jennifer Kelly
Parent of three lower school boys in Denver and author of a parenting blog

A rubric is a good way to think about what you are doing in the classroom. That should be combined with purposefully watching teachers who excel at getting the most out of their kids and encourage them to get even more creative in their thinking. The two together are a great way to grow as a teacher. Here is a link to an article about a second grade teacher in Denver who won an Ignite Innovation Award here.

Margarita Finkel's picture
Margarita Finkel
Social media for e-learning & technology

Thanks Andrew for sharing your ideas with us. It'd be great if more educators could share their experience about how they implement and assess creativity.

I've just posted this question on (I often use it as I can fallow many conversations there between educators and parents) in hope that I can gather more information, more experiences and ideas around this topic

Mike Morgan's picture

Well, this is a great concept and one that deserves it's proper recognition. "Failure" shouldn't be an option. To be honest, failure really isn't an option and after 10 years of actual teaching I have seen that "failure" in it's traditional sense doesn't really exist in many schools. And that's a good thing. But it still is important to both coach students to bring out their creativity and also to let them know how they could improve. It's worth understanding that not all children care to delve into their expression of self. There's a difference between providing feedback that tells a child that they failed to be creative and telling them they are not able to be creative. Plenty of kids like the easy way out, want to be told what to memorize to get a grade, and just re-do what has already been done. That's reality. That's often easier. So, we have to guide them to better understand how to be creative, provide opportunities for authentic creativity through problem-based scenarios, and give specific/targeted feedback.

Did the child show any growth as measured by your indicators? Give them the feedback that informs them of what they demonstrated. If they showed growth, good. Let them know what you observed. Did they demonstrate little growth? Well, they need to know that too. And it's the same with creativity of any other critical skill as it is for the various content areas.

Create a rubric that provides feedback on key attributes of creativity (from the Critical Skills Program)
-recognizing conformist, conventional, in-the-box thinking and seeking alternatives
-expanding existing ideas
-synthesizing old ideas into unique or fresh ideas
-taking risks

There are plenty of questions you can ask as a coach that can encourage creative thinking. Provide feedback. It's true that it is great for a kid to be free to create and think independently. But we still need to be prepared to guide them, provide ideas to extend their thinking, and challenge themselves to push themselves further. On top of all of this, you're always going to be expected to report out progress and somehow "quantify" the learning. This is a step in the direction of doing all of those things.

zep's picture
Education Specialist

"Plenty of kids like the easy way out, want to be told what to memorize to get a grade." Isn't this a symptom of any system that continues judging kids as symbolized by a grade? Our children are trained to do what's necessary to be given the ultimate carrot, a grade; do you every see children on their own in a field or playing in the streets who take the easy way out?

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