Recently, I had the pleasure of listening to Can and Should Creativity Be Assessed– Creativity in Crisis- Ep. 1. This is a 4 part series with Yong Zhao and Ron Beghetto, features different guests each week with a new focus. This week’s episode, featured James C. Kaufman and Bill Lucas as they discussed– can and should creativity be assessed? This episode inspired me to share my thinking around creativity and assessment.
I guess the best place to begin, is to state some of my beliefs. I believe that all children are born with some degree of creativity. I believe that from the moment a child is born, they are looking to make connections, create meaning and are in constant pursuit of problems to solve and questions to ask (non-verbal and verbal). I also believe that schools tend to marginalize the creative dispositions of children, in favor of the 3 “C’s” compliance, conformity and convenience. Throughout the course of their formal schooling, a child’s creative muscles slowly atrophy over time– wilting away in a system that favors competition, data and individualism.
Creativity in education has always been a sort of enigma to teachers and administrators. Often times, teachers love convenient creativity. This is creativity that is valued on project posters, choir concerts, arts classes, boxes on rubrics confusingly marked, “creativity.” Situations where creativity is very clear and highly controlled.
One of the problems with assessing creativity, is how do we deal with moments of “inconvenient creativity?” These are the moments when creative dispositions reflect non-compliant, non-conformist behavior and an overall desire to challenge the status quo. These are the moments that can’t quite be assessed, but can be cultivated. This is how a creative mind exercises its abilities and challenges the conformist environment in which it appears. Creativity is much more than a product or artifact. It is a way of being, a way of experiencing the world. Inconvenient creativity is messy, serendipitous, and elusive, which makes it even harder to assess, but no less important. In order for creative minds to grow, they need opportunities to explore and experiment. For many, this is not always neatly captured in a project, poster or other typical creative output. I have shared the concept of inconvenient creativity more in-depth in various presentations and workshops, but it is a blog post for another day….
As we set sail this fall into a sea of uncertainty and ambiguity, the most valuable disposition we will all need, to navigate these uncharted waters, is a creative one. Creative minds make connections, ask questions and challenge the status quo. This is a time to amplify the creative minds in our schools and communities. It is a time to add courses that promote creative thinking, not reduce them. This is a time that we, as educators, should begin to curate learning experiences that grow the creative minds of all our students and faculty, and in all disciplines as well.
So let me return to the inspiration for this post. Can and should we assess creativity? Can we assess creativity? I do believe you can assess anything and creativity is no different. Should we assess creativity? Yes, but not the children.
I think that creative minds thrive under the right conditions. In my own class, I have completely altered my approach to teaching and learning over the past several years. In the past, I taught creativity through the lessons and projects I assigned. What I found, was a lack of creativity and a pervasive sameness, and conformity that was the antithesis of what creativity might look, sound and feel like. It was pre-packaged, refrigerator artwork and Pinterest knockoffs. They were all with the same color, same look and same process. After much soul searching, researching and reflecting, I changed my approach. I decided not to teach creativity, but to create the conditions for creativity. I did this in many different ways, too much to get into here. However, when I created the conditions for creative minds to grow, I did not see the sameness or conformity I was used to seeing. I saw the beauty of minds blossoming, identities being shaped and formed, interests being explored and questions being pursued. I soon realized, it was incumbent upon me to create the conditions to, at the very least, maintain the creative dispositions of my students, but it was my great hope and intense desire to stretch and grow these creative capacities to even greater heights than they came in with.
So, if we believe that all children are born creative, then why is it so many adults declare they are “not creative?” I think we are approaching assessment and creativity from the wrong direction. I believe we should assess educators and administrators ability to create the conditions for creative minds to thrive. Children are able to exhibit creative solutions, questions and connections, when nurtured in an environment that promotes creative dispositions. Teachers are able to exhibit creative solutions, questions and connections when administrators create the conditions for teachers creative dispositions as well. Our focus, with regards to creativity development, should be on the administration creating the conditions for teachers to feel comfortable taking risks, challenging the status quo, asking questions and playing with ideas and concepts through experimentation and exploration. Teachers should be creating these same conditions for students in their classrooms as well. We should empower students to make connections between disparate ideas, pursue relevant and meaningful interests and questions and exhibit the creative thinking process through exhibitions of learning. We should all be creating the conditions for wonder, imagination and discovery.
I believe that assessing children’s creativity is the wrong approach. If we want true systemic change, we need to focus our attention on the adults, not the children. We need to create learning environments that foster the types of thinking we want to grow in our students. Without a doubt, creative thinking is one of the most essential dispositions needed, in a world with a surplus of problems to be explored.
So, how do we create the conditions for creative minds to grow and thrive?