Assessing Creativity in Education by Paul Collard

Access and Inclusion August 04, 2014

How do we put a teacher’s or a learner’s creativity to test? When assessing creativity, what should we measure? Paul Collard, CEO of Creativity, Culture and Education (CCE), explains how the ‘Creative Habits of Mind’ framework is helping assess creative learning and teaching. Mr. Collard will be speaking at the 2014 WISE Summit.

How do you assess creative teaching and learning? To start with, you must define what you mean by creativity. The fact that creativity is now a subject of intense international interest means that there are large numbers of academics, researchers and consultants investigating, analysing, speaking and publishing on this subject. Far from making it easier to develop a framework to assess creativity, it actually makes it much harder. This is because definitions of creativity are expanding and the word is increasingly used to cover different areas of human behaviour and activity. Creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, while related, are often unhelpfully elided. The creativity of genius is often confused with the natural creativity inherent in all human beings. The language used to discuss creativity is increasingly opaque and often incomprehensible to a teacher who is attempting to nurture creativity in their classrooms.

At Creativity, Culture and Education (CCE), we have tackled this issue head on. Firstly, we argue that the focus on nurturing creativity in education should be on developing an individual’s natural creativity, creativity that gives us the capacity to understand who we are, to adapt and change and to imagine and deliver a better tomorrow. Every young person has the potential to access creativity within themselves, and is central to their ability to succeed in the 21st century.

Secondly, CCE worked with the Centre for Real World Education at Winchester University to develop a language of creativity which teachers understand. It defines behaviors and skills that teachers value. Described as ‘Creative Habits of Mind’,  these skills and behaviors were defined as:

 Inquisitive         Wondering and questioning
                          Exploring and investigating
                          Challenging assumptions
 Persistent         Tolerating uncertainty
                          Sticking with difficulty
                          Daring to be different
Imaginative        Playing with possibilities
                          Making connections
                          Using intuition
Disciplined         Crafting and improving
                          Developing techniques
                          Reflecting critically
Collaborative      Cooperating appropriately
                          Giving and receiving feedback
                          Sharing the ‘product’[1]
Since the development of this framework, CCE has tested it with teachers in many countries, who found it to be very helpful. They find the definitions easy to understand and are confident to use them in class and believe that the described attributes are essential for the successful development of children and young people.

However, many teachers say that they find it hard to assess the extent to which their pupils possess these characteristics. This is because the traditional frontal transmissive style of education, that primarily focus on transferring knowledge from the teacher to the pupil allows few opportunities for children and young people to display such creative habits of mind. For instance, while most teachers recognize that inquisitiveness and curiosity are vital to developing a deep learning practice, there is often little time in class for students to ask questions or for their questions to influence the direction teaching and learning might take.

This led CCE to focus on whether the delivery of knowledge and a traditional curriculum was incompatible with the developing of creative habits of mind. CCE’s experience internationally is that most curricula can be delivered by deploying a teaching practice, one that creates the space for learners to develop their natural creativity. In this sense, the way you teach matters much more than what you teach.

This approach to teaching and learning focuses on how the learning environment is managed, rather than on what is being taught and has been shown to be effective in all subject areas. Entitled ‘ the High Functioning Classroom’, this approach ensures that pupils are challenged rather than directed, that learning is relevant to their lives,  and that they are physically, emotionally and socially engaged in the learning. It places pupils at the centre of the learning process, ensuring that their observations, their histories, their communities and their perceptions are central to their learning.

In this context, assessing creative teaching and learning becomes much easier. It is clear what skills are being developed, and teachers, using the ‘Creative Habits of Mind’ framework find it easy to analyse the extent to which these are present or being developed within their pupils. It also allows teachers to evaluate on their own practice, and ensure that the various elements of the ‘High Functioning Classroom’ are present in their classrooms.

However, it is important to provide teachers some initial training to help them understand the concepts and to ensure that they are able to integrate them into their teaching practice. This is central to what CCE now does, and it has shown that this approach is as effective in English classrooms, as in those in Lithuania, the Czech Republic or Pakistan, all countries where CCE now develops and supports programs.

[1] The full publication is available at