Monthly Archives: May 2016

Thoughts about Assessing Creativity

Charles Sutton
Galileo School for Gifted Learning
Level 7 Learning
The theme of this week’s readings in my gifted endorsement class is related to assessing creativity in the classroom. It focuses on different kinds of qualitative and quantitative tools that can be used to measure various aspects of creativity from students. These tools include outside tools, that is tools that were created by other for the purpose of assessing student creativity, but there is also discussion of teacher/classroom creativity standards, and how the two should be considered together to ensure that what the school intends to measure is aligned well enough to the assessment tools to have meaningful results. Yet, the whole idea of quantifying creativity through testing seems counterproductive to the idea of being creative itself. So, additional sources were considered that discussed measuring creativity.

One resources that was discovered was an article by Susan M. Brookhart (2013) from the ASCD’s Educational Leadership page. In her discussion about assessing the creative processes used by children, the author has a rubric that she suggests using or modifying for that purpose. Yet, she also cautions the reader that the rubric should not be used to grade creativity. It’s only purpose is to give a visual scale by which the teacher can give feedback or the student can self-assess her/his creativity in the assignment. She writes

I created this rubric with some trepidation—because where there’s a rubric, there will be someone who’s thinking of using it to grade. Generating a grade is not the intended purpose of the rubric for creativity. Rubrics help clarify criteria for success and show what the continuum of performance looks like, from low to high, from imitative to very creative. For that reason, rubrics are useful for sharing with students what they’re aiming for, where they are now, and what they should do next. I do not recommend grading creativity (Brookhart, 2013, para. 22).

It seems wise to counsel against grading creativity because any attempt to quantify it diminishes the quality that makes it creative in the first place. Yet, as the author points out, we need tools to show students how they can increase their creative learning process. The question remains whether rubrics are the right approach to solve this problem.

It seems that the biggest hurdle to assessing creativity in school is the fact that teachers fail to recognize creativity in the first place. We score students on conformity rather than difference and rarely give the opposite feedback.
Brookhart (2013) demonstrates this by showing two poems, one that uses correct form and spelling and even includes a carefully drawn illustration that is a direct copy of the school’s logo, and the other which is about a boy’s self-perception that uses poor form and has spelling errors. The teacher gave only positive feedback for the first, but only negative for the second. Brookhart’s point is that the teacher failed to recognize that the second poem was more creative than the first one even though the quality of the work—the uniformity of the style—was inversely related to the level of creativity. Accordingly, the teacher only gave half the feedback.

Perhaps there is another aspect of creativity that is only marginally addressed by the discussion at hand. It seems that the grading system itself has not only limited children’s creativity, but made it less likely that teachers can see or assess creativity at all without at least making a concerted effort to do so. A large part of the problem is that recognizing creativity in the first place is left to non-creative standards. One of the first noticeable things is that most of the authors writing about the topic are defining creativity as putting together two or more divergent things in a unique way, and copying of any sort is considered less creative. Yet, if every child is taught to create by putting together to or more different things, then s/he isn’t being creative. S/he is copying the two or more divergent concepts idea of creativity. What is creative about that?

When the entire fine art’s world was becoming more and more abstract, then abstract and non-objective art became conventional. If everyone is doing divergent, non-copying, then it seems that it may not be so original to continue doing that. Yet, in the midst of these movements pop art developed were artists began copying things from popular culture like Campbell’s soup cans, ice cream cones, and balloon animals. Likewise, photorealism started to develop, where the artist became as close to camera-like in his/her reproduction skills. Were these forms of art less creative due to the copying aspects of their work, or were they more creative because they took a leap against a tide that was constantly moving toward creating works that expressed moods and feelings over anything tangible? In the pop art movement, there may have been some putting together of divergent ideas, like commercialism, society, and fine arts, but can one say the same about the photorealism movement? Yet, some extremely creative images started to develop from that movement as well. However, by Brookhart’s rubric, those artworks wouldn’t be considered creative because they don’t consider a “…variety of concepts from different contexts or disciplines…a wide variety of sources…[and they don’t combine ideas] in original and surprising ways…” (2013, fig. 1). They simply move against the tide and flow of the rest of the movements in art.

Considering this, it is questionable whether teachers can even recognize and define what creativity is, much less create rubrics or measuring tools to quantify it. Treffinger, Young, Selby, & Shepardson (2002) write, “The complex and multidimensional nature of creativity cannot be captured effectively and comprehensively by any single instrument or analytical procedure” (p. 25). Conversely, Brookhart (2013) says, “Creativity is a simple concept that can be difficult to get your head around. In its most basic sense, creativity means ‘original and high quality’” (para. 7). The reality is the definition of creativity is more elusive and dependent upon the times as well as the circumstances in which something is created than either group can accurately assess. It is certainly not something that can easily, in any sense, be assessed by teachers who aren’t really sure how to define it themselves. Rather than try to quantify or even qualify student creativity, teachers need to begin developing their own creativity and then make their thinking process transparent as an exemplar to their students of how to think creatively in any content area. Instead, we tend to show physical exemplars of what we think are creative works, which the students try to copy.


Brookhart, S. M. (2013, February). Assessing Creativity. Retrieved from Educational Leadership:
Treffinger, D. J., Young, G. C., Selby, E. C., & Shepardson, C. (2002). Assessing creativity: A guide for educators. Sarasota, FL: Center for Creative Learning.

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Posted by on May 21, 2016 in Education, Gifted learning


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From Where Does Inspiration Come? And, What Is Originality?

As teachers it is natural to want to invite our students to create original works in all subjects. We show exemplars of created works of art, music, dance, literature, photography, and various other mediums in order to inspire them to have original thoughts that they can build into new creations. Yet, we do not often define what originality is for ourselves or for our students. While researching the topics of inspiration, an answer to the question of originality was discovered that will help teachers get students to understand the processes of original thought and creativity.

Shaun Tan (2011) suggests that original ideas are not things that spring from something totally new. If we did come up with completely original ideas from nowhere, they would probably be too foreign for people to appreciate. Rather, he suggests that originality is combining several inspirations from varying sources in a unique way to develop a new way to show something. He gives several examples from his own work and tells about the wide range of materials that inspired each work. He writes, “Looking at my own work as an illustrator, I can discuss how this has a lot to do with combining various ideas from different sources to produce unexpected results, very much like rubbing different stones together for sparks, and gradually working these into flames” (pp. 4–5).

It seems that until students understand that when we ask them to be creative and original, we are not asking for a miraculous new creation from a blank slate, they will not take the time required for original thought. Rather, creativity, like innovation, is looking at seemingly dissimilar things and finding unique ways to combine them in new ways producing an original result. Tan’s (2011) descriptions of how he decided on the illustrations for The Rabbits come from inspirational sources that include other’s works of art, history, physics and math textbooks, observations of tree kangaroos, Victorian photography, antique furniture, architecture, and much more. He admits, “When I received John Marsden’s text for this book [The Rabbits], via my publisher, I experienced a sensation that usually accompanies the beginning of a new project: not knowing what to do. By itself, the half-page fax of text generated no ideas visually…” (pp. 4–5). He says this to explain that his creativity did not spring forth from the words of the story. Rather, he had to create a parallel story of his own based on his research, some inspirational materials, his own experiences, and his understanding of the metaphorical aspects of the story. Only then, did the creativity begin and his original ideas began to flow.

All too often students think if they don’t get that feeling or original thought instantly that it will not come at all. This is a fallacy that needs to be addressed. Originality and creativity are hard work. Inspirational images, songs, videos, photographs, stories, and other mediums can help produce new thoughts only once we have done the work to put them together and rub hard enough to create the sparks.

Tan, S. (2011, July 12). Originality and Creativity. Retrieved from Eric:


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How to Separate the Good from the Bad in Cooperative Learning Scenarios

One of the things that is consistent with all of the team-based, problem-solving, education programs is that they incorporate some level of competition within a cooperative learning environment. While talking to a parent at my school last week who has a son on the Odyssey of the Mind team, she said, “…they did great. Took third place in the state. They just missed getting to the nationals. I have never seen so many kids so disappointed and upset about getting third prize for the state” (anonymous, personal communication, May 10, 2016). This conversation, among other recent competition-based events, reinforced my feelings that competition is inherently bad for education; it is the antithesis to cooperative learning. While Odyssey of the Mind, Future Problem Solvers, Lego Robotics, and other similar programs all incorporate cooperative learning and problem solving aspects, they also involve competition which seems to run counter to the benefits of the programs.

Robert Marzano (2007), who advocates for competition for the purpose of engagement, also suggests tempering its use saying, “…qualifications apply to the use of competition. First and foremost, it should not cause embarrassment…members of losing teams might feel devalued and even scapegoat individuals…” (p. 103). He goes on to say that if we use competition in a friendly manner for fun, then it has value as a motivating factor. Yet, it seems difficult, if not impossible, to predict whether the students will accept the fun aspect of the competition without getting too competitive on their own or even against teacher guidance. Rather, it is more likely that the students will become more competitive than the teacher directs just based on the competitive nature of American society.

Lickona (1991) writes, “Competition in America has deep cultural roots. But cooperative interaction, experienced regularly in some form over the full course of children’s schooling, at least holds out the hope of tempering the worst aspects of the competitive ethic that now bedevils our culture” (p. 188). Instead of tempering the bad aspects of competition through cooperative learning, it seems that eliminating competition—especially from projects that are cooperative in nature—would allow the full benefit of cooperative learning experiences to shine through. Kohn (1993) take it a step further saying that competition is harmful on a number of levels. First, he compares competition to lead paint. While eating candy and other sweets is relatively harmless and benign in small amounts, there is no correlation to eating lead paint. It is always bad regardless of how little one ingests. Like sugar to our teeth, Kohn suggests that completion slowly eats away at the safe and secure learning environment that children need while eroding self-esteem. Furthermore, using competition in school sends the basic message that others are obstacles in our way toward success, which is the exact antithesis of cooperative learning which sends the message that we all succeed at a higher level when we work together. Finally, making winning, which is always the goal of competitors, the motivational reason to do the work reduces the classwork as a means toward achieving an extrinsic reward. That cheapens the value of the learning itself and the cooperative aspects of the scenario in the eyes of the child. Why would I want to do the work or cooperate for its own sake if it is just a way to achieve something else? The fact that I need a reward at the end means that the work itself is not worth doing. These are all reasons why good programs like Odyssey of the Mind and Future Problem Solvers should eliminate the competitive aspects of their programs.

If the programs eliminated competition as the motivating factor, then what would be left to encourage the children to do the work? Well, the nature of the problem solving scenario in and of itself has intrinsic motivational value. If the students see real world applications that they can use their learned skills to solve, and the problem is interesting and authentic to the student, then the work itself should be motivational. O’Brien and Dillon (2008) write that one of the strongest motivating factors can be achieved in the following way. They write, “Providing more compelling reasons to read and to practice and build fluency with a range of texts…includes information on what readers understand and how they understand it—not just competition and comparative performance, but a focus on reading to learn interesting things” (p. 83). That is, when we make the materials interesting and compelling, and the participants can understand why they should do the work, then the work itself is reason enough to motivate students. Cooperation can work uninhibited by competition with the students getting the full benefit of both learning and cooperation without using extrinsic rewards (and punishments by losing) to coerce the student to learn. This is the limit to where it may be beneficial to using strategies like Odyssey of the Mind and Future Problems solvers while working in gifted education. Students can become engaged in meaningful work for the greater good with its own intrinsic rewards, but it should be done in a completely non-competitive environment for full benefit.


Kohn, A. (1993). Is competition ever appropriate in a cooperative classroom? . Retrieved from Alfie Kohn:
Lickona, T. (1991). Educating for character: How our schools can teahc respect and responsibility. New York: Bantam Books.
Marzano, R. J. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
O’Brien, D. G., & Dillon, D. R. (2008). The role of motivation in engaged reading of adolescents. In K. A. Hinchman, H. K. Sheridan-Thomas, K. A. Hinchman, & H. K. Sheridan-Thomas (Eds.). New York: The Guilford Press.

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Posted by on May 15, 2016 in Education, Gifted learning


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How is creativity subjugated to other subjects and devalued in school

by Charles Sutton

Watching the Amy Tan (2008) and Sir Ken Robinson (2007) TED education videos about creativity raised questions regarding the seemingly reciprocal relationship between schools and creativity. In yet another TED video, sixteen year old entrepreneur Eddy Zhong (2015) makes a similar point. Zhong discusses how schools teach academic intelligence while ignoring all of the other kinds of intelligence that people can and must be able to develop to thrive. Among these intelligences that suffer most in traditional school settings is creative intelligence.
Zhong (2015) talks about how poorly he had been doing in school until he was given the opportunity to use his strengths to creatively developing new, innovative product designs for various entrepreneurial conferences. When he approached his high school peers to see if they would be interested in partnering with him to develop some of his new technology ideas, he was essentially disregarded by the entirety of the high school population. Yet, when he brought the same ideas to younger children, roughly 5–6 years younger than his peer group, they were enthusiastic about his creative endeavors offering their lunch money and ideas to support the creative development of the products. Zhong reasons that something about school over those five to six years from elementary school to high school makes the children lose their ability to think creatively and to take risks. This is strongly similar to the message that Robinson (2007) delivers in his own TED video.

What all of these videos have in common is that they show that creativity involves risk taking. Schools, on the other hand, are built to promote correct answers and specific academic intelligences. In an article entitled The Risks of Rewards by Alfie Kohn (1994), Kohn point out that study after study demonstrate that extrinsic rewards—including grades—diminish a child’s creative abilities. He writes, “students who are encouraged to think about grades, stickers, or other “goodies” become less inclined to explore ideas, think creatively, and take chances” (para 10). In other words, the more we reward children with good grades and other extrinsic incentives—and and punish with bad grades and other negative reinforcements—based on being correct in ways that require only a narrow scope of academic intelligences, the farther we are from fostering the other intelligences that students need to become successful adults. This is especially true of creativity because being creative requires risk taking that runs counter to the play-it-safe kinds of intelligence that is primarily supported by stressing the necessity to always give correct answers.

If this is the case, how can educators foster the different kinds of intelligences that are not currently being supported with as much rigor as are the traditional academic intelligences? It seems that a key may be found in Kohn’s (2016) most recent blog post. In the article, Kohn discuss how educators (and parents) often mistake quantity for quality when it comes to some of the key aspects required for learning. For example, we think that children need to be more motivated and more loved. Students must develop more self-esteem and they must internalize more of the values that we are trying to present if they want to be successful. Notice the emphasis on “more,” which is a term describing quantity.

While all of these things seem reasonable upon first inspection, they are counterproductive because—like intelligence—we tend view them as one-dimensional entities when in reality each of them is multi-dimensional. Instead of saying that children need more motivation; so, we will give them good and grades to help drive them, educators should be asking what kinds of motivations are constructive to better overall education quality promoting various kinds of intelligence, including creative intelligence. If we do, we will certainly want to foster intrinsic motivations and abandon rewards and punishments, including the current grading systems which only work on extrinsic motivational levels. Similarly, instead of thinking about all love as good, we need to realize that children primarily need unconditional love to help foster better learning in a safe environment. Conversely, if we heap on more conditional love for only those who act like we expect them to act and/or for only those who always get correct answers, then we are using love to control them while at the same time we are reinforcing less use of the creative intelligences with which children run the risk of making mistakes, thereby getting less love. Similar points can be made for self-esteem and internalization.

While Gardner introduced the concept that there are multiple intelligences that young people must develop, schools tend to ignore most of them in favor of linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence, and even then only promote a very narrow view of those intelligences that ignore the child’s creative potential (Lane, n.d.). While many educators do make a concerted effort to include multiple intelligences in their lesson plans, for the most part the other intelligences are used to support the brand of academic intelligence that is promoted in school instead of teaching via these intelligences for their own sake.

Even art and music teachers tend to support the inclusion of their own programs in school by saying that learning music or art helps a child succeed in mathematics or other traditional academic disciplines. Kohn (2015) writes, “[about justifying music education] Lending new meaning to the phrase ‘instrumental justification,’ efforts to bring music to children’s lives are often defended on the grounds of improved performance in math or a boost in general cognitive capabilities. (When was the last time you heard someone justify algebra as a way to help kids be better musicians?)” (para 4).

His point is that music, art, dance, drama, poetry, and other creative endeavors have independent value. They don’t need to subjugate themselves to math and language arts to be worthwhile. Certainly no one makes the point that math and language arts should be taught to help students perform in music and art better, although it is certainly true that they do just that. Educators automatically recognize the individual value of these intelligences while ignoring the value of teaching the creative intelligences for their own sake. This diminishes the students’ creative abilities.

Kohn (2015) goes on to discuss four reasons why subjugating the creative and other intelligences to the traditional academic subjects that schools tend to value over the others is counterproductive to a child’s overall education. Yet, the most compelling reason is that in doing so we devalue some of the very intelligences that help children succeed as well-rounded individuals. The being better at math or linguistic studies becomes a reward for using the arts and thereby children become less interest in the artistic activity in a similar way to the way that many students become about academic subjects when extrinsic rewards are offered. He writes, “Scores of studies have found that offering people a reward for doing something (such as reading or helping) tends to reduce their interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward. One reason for this effect, though not the only one, is that anything presented as a prerequisite for something else — a means to another end — comes to be seen as less desirable. The recipient of the reward figures, ‘If they have to bribe me to do this, it must be something I wouldn’t want to do’” (Kohn, 2015, para. 8). A child hearing the argument that we should teach art or music to make them better at math or language arts thinks, on a subconscious level, that if math performance is the only reason to teach creative arts, then why should I want to do it at all?

In summary, schools tend to subjugate the creative intelligences to some of the more traditional academic values. This devaluation of creativity is the primary reason that traditional education programs tend to turn out adults who haven’t learned how to innovate or create. By focusing on two of the seven intelligences identified by Gardner, educators are ignoring large areas for the development of creative skill. Instead of using the arts for their own value, which is essentially creative, schools want to justify creative programs as enrichments or elective that help students become better at mathematics and language arts. This subjugation of one intelligence to another makes creatively less important and even less desirable to children.

Kohn, A. (1994, December). The risks of rewards. Retrieved from Alfie Kohn:
Kohn, A. (2015, September 30). Do this and you’ll get that: A bad way to defend good programs. Retrieved from Alfie Kohn:
Kohn, A. (2016, April 23). Why lots of love (or motivation) isn’t enough. Retrieved from Alfie Kohn:
Lane, C. (n.d.). Multiple intelligences. Retrieved from Tecweb:
Robinson, S. K. (2007, January 6). Do schools kille creativity? | Sir Ken Robinson | TED Talks. Retrieved from Youtube:
Tan, A. (2008, February). Where does creativity hide? . Retrieved from TED:
Zhong, E. (2015, February 6). How school makes kids less intelligent | Eddy Zhong TEDxYouth@BeaconStreet. Retrieved from Youtube:


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