Saturday, September 7, 2013

Assessing creativity with critical thinking

The other day as I showed one of the new Common Core ELA aligned presentation rubrics published by the Buck Institute for Education to a few colleagues I noticed a somewhat strong reaction to the word "creativity" being included in one of the sections. To be clear, this rubric is meant to assess a demonstration in project based learning that falls in the category of communication but the word creative shows up in the above standard "presentation aids" section. While the list of potential 21st Century Skills developed by various groups and organizations can be overwhelming many like to focus on the four C's (critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity). While I have argued for inclusion of compassion in a previous blog entry I think it's worth exploring the intersection of critical thinking and creativity and consider merging them for assessment purposes.

Just over one year ago, Grant Wiggins argued the merits of assessing creativity in a blog post. In that post he mentions synthesis as a level of thinking for creativity. I agree and think we can expand that to include evaluation and application as well. Using Sir Ken Robinson's definition of creativity, the process of having original ideas that have value, you can see how this might apply to the upper level of Bloom's taxonomy. Isn't the process of creating valuable ideas really evaluating, analyzing and applying prior knowledge in order to synthesize it into something original and useful? Paul Curtis of New Tech Network recently addressed this creative process through questioning in his recent blog, A Good Question is Better Than a Great Answer. As  he notes, "it is clear that fostering creativity and innovation can only happen if students are asked questions that don't have a predetermined correct answer". As students engage in in-depth inquiry, the process of moving from left to right in the image above would necessitate the application of prior knowledge (activated by a Driving Question) as a point of divergence followed by the analysis and evaluation of the ideas generated to converge toward solutions. Through this process of synthesis comes Robinson's "original ideas that have value." Returning to Grant Wiggins, he offers a rubric for creativity that includes language of synthesis like:
  • The problem has been imaginatively re-framed to enable a compelling and powerful solution
  • There is an exquisite blend of the explicit and implicit
that make even more clear the intersection of critical thinking and creativity 
Incorporating elements of design thinking and project based learning to identify challenges and solutions of value can be a fantastic invitation to creative thinking. Fostering creativity is one thing, assessing it is an entirely different matter and in my work training teachers implementing PBL, the issue of assessment is often one of the more daunting challenges. As a teacher, on presentation day, having too many things to assess in a short and intense time can be overwhelming and counterproductive. Instead of using separate rubrics meant to assess creativity and critical thinking you might consider using one with the language of critical thinking while looking for student processing toward original ideas that have value.