10 July 2013

Create -v- Creativity: Assessing Higher Order Thinking Skills

"Creativity is a human skill, and the advancement of civilization depends on it. The basics required for creativity include a deep knowledge base in a subject and a willingness to play with the ideas in new ways"
(Brookhart (2010)

What is the difference between creativity and creation? Can we teach creativity? Or do we simply provide opportunities to create?

Brookhart (2010) defines creativity in the classroom as "putting things together in new ways (either conceptually or artistically), observing things others might miss, constructing something novel, using unusual or unconventional imagery that nevertheless works to make an interesting point" (p. 124), and suggests creativity "is when you put things together so that others will have an "aha!" moment" (p. 125) - these two definitions are somewhat in antithesis to each other or at the least, not necessarily mutually exclusive. Educators provide plenty of opportunities to create and to be creative but not all learners are equal - as with everything. Educators can - and indeed have a responsibility to - provide chances to show learning in interesting, innovative and personalised ways, but to suggest that they must lead to an "a-ha" moment for others is somewhat missing the point. A learner can be creative in their learning, though not necessarily make others 'get' something; rather, they show their understanding in an interesting and original way - that shows their own 'a-ha' moment.

Whether we can all be creative is another matter - we all have the potential to be something - some of us are logical, some are artistic, some are mathematical, some are creative... however, what I do agree with is that higher order thinking skills need to be encouraged and, if we use Bloom's Taxonomy, then creativity needs to be thought about carefully in terms of how we define it, how we design learning to accommodate it and ultimately, how we assess it.

Creative thinking and Critical thinking
A few schools of thought abound in defining creative thinking - which is not necessarily the same as creativity, which is a more innate ability and doesn't necessarily require critical thinking. Many artists for example have the ability to create without the need to critically evaluate as they work, they can be 'inspired' or 'intuitive', music may just 'come' to composers. However, Norris and Ennis (1981) suggest that creativity is part creative and part critical, "creative thinking is the brain-storming or putting together of new ideas, and then critical thinking takes over and evaluates how successful the new ideas are (p. 125).

The suggestion is that creative thinking is "reasonable, productive, and non-evaluative" whilst critical thinking is "reasonable, reflective, and evaluative"(p. 125) and each is defined as follows:-
Reason. Both critical and creative thinking are reasonable.
Productive. All creative thinking is productive. Critical thinking does not always result in some sort of product, although it can.
Reflective. All critical thinking is reflective. Some creative thinking is reflective: Some creative thinking, however, is nonreflective. ntuition, inspiration. Some creativity is a mix-ture of reflective and nonreflective thinking.
Evaluative. According to Norris and Ennis, creative thinking is non-evaluative. In other words, creative thinking means "coming up with stuff," and critical thinking means evaluating what the stuff is good for. (pp.125-126). 
This is creativity as generative and in "most school assignments, creative and critical thinking go hand in hand in work that would be categorized at the Create level of Bloom's taxonomy" (p. 126). Sweller (2009) suggests that "some novelty can be achieved by just reorganizing ideas that already exist in new ways. Much of the creativity students exhibit in classrooms is this kind of creativity" (p. 127) but Sir Ken Robinson would disagree that this is creativity which he defines as "a process of having original ideas that have value" (Azzam, 2009, p. 22) and that "people are creative within disciplines, and each discipline has criteria for what is valuable and good" (p. 126).

These arguments see creativity as primarily generative or evaluative;  the Partnership for 21 st Century Skills (www.p21.org) offers a "compromise position on the question of whether creativity involves just the having of new ideas and the production of new creations or whether it also includes evaluating the value or worth of those ideas against disciplinary, social, or other standards", i.e. can creative be both generative and evaluative? (p. 127).

What Is Required for Creativity? 
How do we get better at creativity? Can we get better at creativity? Can we help learners get better at creativity? Ultimately, the question is what is it that a learner should "do" to be creative? 

Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2009) suggest that creative learners:
  • Recognize the importance of a deep knowledge base and continually work to learn new things. 
  • Are open to new ideas and actively seek them out. 
  • Find "source material" for ideas in a wide variety of media, people, and events. 
  • Look for ways to organize and reorganize ideas into different categories and combinations, and then evaluate whether the results are interesting, new, or helpful. 
  • Use trial and error when they are not sure of how to proceed, viewing failure as an opportunity to learn. (pp. 128-9).
Robinson (Azzam, 2009) agrees that "creativity feeds on collaboration and diversity" (p. 128), whilst Sweller (2009) suggests that "idea generation, reorganization of ideas, trial and error, and a deep knowledge base are required for creativity" (p. 128).

Can You Assess Creativity?
Brookhart (2010) suggests that "innovation and evaluation go hand in hand...one can discuss creativity and evaluation of the results of creativity separately, but in the end they are done together"(p. 128). However, how can educators create criteria to evaluate truly new ideas if they don't exist yet (pp. 131-2)?

Brookhard states that, "the trick is to make your assignment directions specific enough that they require working on the learning target or targets, yet open-ended enough to leave room for student-generated ideas" (p. 133). She states that to assess creative thinking, an assessment should do the following: 
  • Require student production of some new ideas or a new product, or require students to reorganize existing ideas in some new way
  • Allow for student choice (which itself can be a "creation of an idea") on matters related to the learning targets(s) to be assessed, not on tangential aspects of the assessment like format
  • Evaluate student work against the criteria students were trying to reach, where appropriate, as well as conventional criteria for real work in the discipline. (p. 132).
We must not confuse creativity with presentation - a creative learner is not the one who uses the most colour on a poster. Thinking Is a teachable and learnable skill and should not be reserved, as some misconstrue, for high achievers only (p148); we must all allow space for creativity to take shape in whatever way that may be for each individual. What we must not do is limit our learners by doing what we know or what is easiest; challenge them to think, to grow and to be original because "students who are regularly and routinely challenged to think, and whose teachers assess higher-order thinking in a manner that yields useful information for both students and teachers in their pursuit of improvement, will learn to think well" (p. 142).


Brookhart, S.M. How to assess higher order thinking skills in your classroom. Alexandria, VA: ASCD