Teaching and Testing for Creativity


Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein recently posted, Do Arts Teach Creativity?, on Psychology Today. In their essay, they discuss the difficulties educational institutions face when trying to implement creativity as part of the curriculum. It’s an interesting article and they are correct in what they say.

First, they tackle tests designed to assess creative aptitudes. These tests include the Torrence test developed back in the 1960s. Creativity tests focus on stuff like the fluency and flexibility of an individual’s thinking abilities. Michele and Robert consider these tests shams, and they are correct.

Testing individuals on components of the creative process does just that, test individual parts. And possessing the ability to generate ideas, doesn’t mean you’re creative. It just means you can generate a bunch of ideas.

The authors also go on to explain how including art in a student’s curriculum doesn’t mean that creativity is being taught. And they are right again. Much of art making is craft oriented, technical stuff dealing with eye-hand coordination. In drawing courses, it’s very important to work on line quality. To do so, you repetitively draw lots of lines. But that’s not creativity. Yes, you could say that in a small, personal way it is. That’s because the person may not have drawn in this way before. But for most of us, changing a tire would also be a creative act since very few of us have done that.

So how do we include creativity in the curriculum? We do so through project base work where students go through the whole creative process to see how it works. That begins with finding problems. Then students should follow by conducting research, generating a bunch of ideas, synthesizing concepts, choosing the best ones, prototyping, reflecting on what’s happening, changing one’s mind and then making the final product. Only after going through that whole process time and time again do students get it. It’s not one step, it’s a process.

The good thing for art departments is that it’s most easily done through the arts. It can be done through any subject, but it follows naturally in art classes. That’s because the art departments employ this thing called the studio model. And by design, the studio model presents students with ill-defined problems which they are expected solve in novel ways. It’s real-world learning; there really is a product. So the knowledge sinks in.

The trick for art departments is to stress ideation and for students to record the process.  Recording the process helps students reflect on how they came up with their new solutions. It’s easy for students to forget how they came to a solution. Process books serve to refresh their memory.

Creativity isn’t a trick. It isn’t a single task. And it isn’t just for artists. It’s a process—one that can be learned. Testing for creativity can only come when the whole process is taken into consideration, not just one part of it.


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