Why Am I Struggling with Assessing Creativity?

Let me begin by emphatically stating that my last few days at PBL World 2013 were truly inspiring! All of it was inspiring, truly it was. However, I must admit that on the 4th day, I was confused, at some points irritated even, after Yong Zhao gave an incredibly thought-provoking keynote speech. I was not irritated at all with his keynote but what followed afterwards. I must first explain the two points of his keynote that stuck out in my mind the most. #1 Yong Zhao does not like the Common Core Standards. He went into great depth regarding why and it made sense. He began with the name itself, “Common Core.” Why do we basically want students to be common to their core? I am oversimplifying greatly here, but I am sure you get the gist. #2 What these standards do is to help produce more of the old factory-style students that lack creativity or more specifically, lack the opportunity to be creative. Zhao further explained that schools have been like meat grinders producing little sausages that are all the same, ‘common’, if you will, with the same ‘core.’ I agreed! I totally agreed and thought to myself, “No more! No more will I be a part of that process, on whatever level. My students will not be treated like little sausages.” His keynote speech ended and off I went to attend a session called “Creativity and Innovation.” I was pumped!

This next workshop was to teach us how to assess creativity and innovation. I was confused…wasn’t this in direct opposition to what Yong Zhao was talking about? Should we be assessing the only thing that young students had left that was all their own? Should we make a rubric to attribute value to that human spark that is so beautiful and unique to each individual? I was perplexed. As the workshop progressed, I realized that some of this was about figuring out what behaviors creative people have to help students become more creative. The “value” portion of the rubric was what I really took issue with. I began wondering about how to create a PBL that specifically targets creative thinking with significant content, and for some reason, something about it does not sit right with me at all. I wonder where early van Gogh and early Picasso would have been had we held their work up to a rubric. Would they have continued their creative pursuits? How would Frank Lloyd Wright have faired at age 11 or 12 with a creativity rubric? Would it have squashed his creative spirit? I hope not. Maybe it all would have gone well, maybe it would have even been better for them. I just think we need to be very, very careful with assessing creativity and innovation. I am young in my thoughts regarding many things and realize I learn by doing, so on with my next idea!

I began to think about creating a PBL to begin my year with my new 5th grade students. The driving question, which is still a work in progress so please do not judge, may be, “How do we decide what creativity is?” or “Should we decide what is creative?” or “How will we decide what creativity is?” It seems I am always drawn to the philosophical type PBL projects, but it is what it is. I teach at a Quaker school so it makes sense. I am so excited to embark on this new adventure and will be working on it all summer. Any thoughts or ideas would be greatly appreciated! I will be sure to keep you posted.


10 thoughts on “Why Am I Struggling with Assessing Creativity?

  1. Hello, Heidi!
    Last year, I asked my students to tell me the one feature they thought most important for me to grade, and created a Wordle out of it. The main word they picked? Creativity. How in the world do I grade that?
    Well, I thought of my experience within the classroom with the kids, and realized that I actually could grade creativity. I could monitor the environment and see who took an idea far beyond what most others did, and who just basically copied examples given. For my projects I give the students components that must be included, and score those, allowing them to soar well past the basics in one or more than one area of the project. I save a few points for creativity and am constantly impressed by how hard they work to show something that is different and unique and special just to them or their group. A student who hits all the basics and then takes one aspect of the project to a whole new level WILL earn an A. Somehow, that environment allows them to think differently, and to look for ways to differentiate their work from others.
    Remember when you asked, at Morimoto of Napa, how in the world they came up with their fabulous ideas? I imagine it’s because they started to believe that they could take risks, and started seeing opportunities… I can imagine someone seeing those little eye dropper tubes somewhere and thinking what a cool way that would be to serve sauces!
    So… my whole point is to allow the creativity to show itself to you. Rubric? 1- looks exactly like the example, 2- improves upon or appears different from the example, 3- exciting and fun differences from the example…
    Hope you and your beautiful family are well. I hope we’ll meet again soon!

    1. Thanks so much for your quick and thoughtful reply! I am excited to take the leap but am still wondering about my hesitancy with this assessing creativity thing. (?) I was just talking to my husband tonight about those plastic droppers with the different sauces in them! Lol I hope you are well and it is so wonderful connecting with you again. Keep me posted on how you are doing!

  2. Heidi,

    This is such an interesting struggle, and I’m glad you’ve shared it. As a teacher, I have also struggled with how to assess the intangible qualities that are, at the end of the day, as or more important than the more easily quantified traits. Whenever I feel compelled to say that I can’t or won’t assess creativity, though, I wonder if there’s something of a cop-out embedded in that philosophical stand. Grading creativity, collaboration, etc. is hard. Am I avoiding it because it’s wrong or impossible or because it’s so darn hard? I happen to believe that just about any quality worth focusing on can be assessed in some form. The hard work comes in identifying what the indicators of creativity are in a student’s work. But, on the other hand, we certainly know a highly creative piece of work when we see one. Couldn’t we define, for each assignment or for the student’s body of work as a whole, some of the indicators of creativity? In the process, we’d be reinforcing for students the value of going beyond just what’s required. Students pick up very clearly on what we value by seeing what winds up in our rubrics, what they’re graded on. Because of this fact, I worry about the message we send when we don’t assess creativity.

    Keep wrestling with these tensions – it’s worth it!


    1. Yes, I think we can and I have been given many great examples of the behaviors to assess during the creative process. The definition I was given during my workshop at PBL World 2013 was that creativity is “creating something that others value in some way.” The value part is what I struggle with as well as really being able to observe all of the creative process. Perhaps I could get students to reflect on their process and then assess from that but what if they cannot really effectively express their process? What am I assessing? Their ability to express themselves in writing or their creative process? I agree that this struggle is totally worth the process. I will keep you posted on what happens and thanks for your response!

  3. Granted this is an oversimplification but for me this represents the fundamental difference between a skill (can be actively taught and assessed) and what we call a habit of mind (can be fostered–and we should work terrifically hard to foster it). I think a skill like collaboration can even have a scope and sequence but a habit of mind like creativity or curiosity has to be thought of differently. I recognize that I disagree with many I greatly admire on this but I have feel comfortable assigning a value to someone’s creativity.


    1. I can’t even wrap my head around a scope and sequence for creativity. Do we even need one? Just assessing the behaviors of creative process is enough for me to think about at the moment. I have read so much about what we should be doing that I wonder if these big thinkers have actually tried doing it and seen it successfully done themselves. Two very different things. I remember asking Martha Denkla (a famous MD and researcher) at a conference if she had ever tried herself or observed all of her suggestions about ADHD and learning differences in a classroom with over 20 kids with multiple learning differences and she said, “Actually no I haven’t and good point.” So, I will wait to see what it is really like. I loved Frannie’s thoughts about the “process” vs. the “product.” All really great stuff and definitely worth the struggle. What usually happens is I have to eat my words later! Lol

  4. Perhaps the struggle is differentiating between the process and the product? If the process is a novel one for the individual student, if it includes risk taking, if it involves extending the known into an unknown, then perhaps those processes can be assessed rather than ant outcome that results from the process?

    1. Yes! That is what I am hoping. but to observe the process as objectively as possible, I think, will be very difficult. Excited to try and reflect and collaborate throughout the process though! Thanks for your thoughtful response. 🙂

  5. Your reference to VanGogh and Picasso were interesting. My favourite museum in the world is the Museo Picasso in Barcelona. It walks through Picasso’s works from beginning to end of his life.

    What I found most interesting was Picasso’s many, many, many copies of others’ works (especially Velasquez’s Las Meninas) that slowly morphed into his own cubist design. For part of one of his major works, Picasso painted over 50 versions of the same horse, each one becoming increasingly cubist. He had a deliberate system for finding his creativity.

    Schools willmalways have curriculum standards, whether you call them Common Core or Australian curriculum or whatever. That doesn’t make them bad. The tragedy happens when those standards are taught in isolation, especially in a kill-and-drill fashion. If planned well, units of study with highly creative assessment tasks can address common core or whatever standards you want them to address.

    Should there be a rubric for creativity? Not unless you can define it. Should there be a rubric to assess the extent to which a project includes good research process, close reading skills, writing organisation, and presentation? Yep. And the project can still be creative.

    I wrote a bit on not confusing standards with standardisation: http://expateducator.com/2012/07/31/are-we-confusing-standards-with-standardization/

    I suspect you’ll find the balance of creativity and content 🙂

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