June 16, 2021

Understanding and Unleashing Student Creativity (Part 2)

This is the second of a two-part series.

In Developing Creativity in the Classroom, the authors point out that there is disagreement among researchers about whether student creativity is best understood as a general aptitude or specific skills in line with an area of study. Yet, since schools and curricula are organized around subject areas, it makes sense for teachers to think about student creativity in terms of subject-area skills.

Accordingly, teachers are encouraged to think about subject-area manifestations of student creativity, so that they can identify creative student responses and start to design creative learning experiences. While many creative skills are similar across subject areas, a math teacher, a humanities teacher, and a science teacher may all view creativity skills somewhat differently. 

For instance, a math teacher might focus on the six skills found in the Creative Ability in Mathematics Test (CAMT), which measures specific skills associated with creative thinking in mathematics. The six criteria include:

  1. formulating mathematical hypothesis or conjectures concerning cause and effect in mathematical situations, 
  2. determining patterns in mathematical situations,
  3. breaking from established mindsets to obtain solutions in a mathematical situation,
  4. considering and evaluating unusual mathematical ideas to think through their possible consequences for a mathematical situation, 
  5. sensing what is missing from a given mathematical situation and asking questions that will enable one to fill in the missing mathematical information, and
  6. splitting general mathematical problems into specific sub-problems.

Meanwhile, a humanities teacher might focus on the process of student inquiry, which includes connecting concepts, developing interpretations, formulating opinions, constructing theories, and generating new ideas. More specifically, student creativity skills in the humanities often involve:  

  • applying existing knowledge to generate new ideas, 
  • generating arguments in support of positions, 
  • forecasting trends and possibilities, 
  • critiquing works and sources, and more.  

Creativity in the sciences includes the ability to generate original scientific products related to solving scientific problems or understanding scientific concepts. In this process, students use their scientific knowledge to construct solutions to scientific problems. A helpful guide is The Scientific Creativity Test for Secondary School Students, which measures scientific creativity along five dimensions: 

  • creative scientific problem finding,
  • creative scientific product design, 
  • creative scientific product improvement, 
  • creative scientific problem solving, and
  • creative scientific imagination.

Whatever the subject area, educators should keep in mind that manifestations of student creativity should always come in the form of generating novel ideas or products that are appropriate within the context of an academic domain. So, it’s helpful to keep the criteria of novel, useful, and appropriate in the forefront when attempting to identify and assess student creativity — no matter what the subject area.

One way of approaching assessment is to recognize the extent to which students are meeting the learning goals of novelty, usefulness and appropriateness. In other words, teachers should have a sense of what desired student creativity might look like (and sound like) and therefore be able to measure student progress towards this vision. 

With these objectives in mind, here are some guiding questions to frame an assessment around student creativity: 

  1. Novelty

To what extent has the student generated an idea or product that is novel?

  • Is the idea or product original?
  • Is the idea or product unique?
  • Does the idea or product provide new ideas?
  • Does the idea or product provide a new perspective?
  1. Useful

To what extent has the student generated a novel idea or product that is useful?

  • Does the idea or product provide some identifiable benefit?
  • Is the idea or product of practical and functional use?
  • Is the idea or product readily applicable?
  1. Appropriate

To what extent has the student generated a novel idea or product that is appropriate?

  • Does the idea or product adequately address the specific academic context?
  • Is the idea or product relevant and suitable to the specific academic prompt?

These questions could be the foundation of a rubric as they help establish a set of criteria for assessing student creativity. (Benchmarks might include: Exceeds Standard, Meets Standard, Approaching Standard and Getting Started.) Moreover, teachers can include questions more specific to the task at hand and possibly other desired learning outcomes.

As teachers seek to identify and assess student creativity they should ask ourselves a few fundamental questions: Are students achieving desired student-creativity learning goals? Are students demonstrating progress towards these goals? Any assessment should be grounded in a vision of purposeful learning, and enhancing student creativity is urgently needed to address today’s complex issues.