This tweet came to me from Greg McVerry during this week’s #edchat conversation about promoting creativity in schools.  The discussion thread was about assessing creativity.

While I do not think that creativity itself can be assessed, I do think that it needs to be part of the assessment process.

And I’m not talking about the creative pictures students make with Scantron bubbles or turning test papers into origami.

I believe that as education becomes more individualized and differentiation becomes a mainstay in classroom delivery, it is important that we assess students the way we are expected to teach them.

If we discover that a student finds it easier to write out a math answer in paragraph form, or that a student expresses ideas best through drawing, why do we test them the same way–death by bubble?  If we know that a student needs to move to learn, or that a student works better with background noise, why do we test their knowledge while they sit sedentary in a silent classroom?

I am reminded of the wonderful story that Sir Ken Robinson tells in his TED Talk and in his wonderful book, The Element, about Gillian Lynne, who was thought to have a learning disability as a child due to her restless nature. Through the wisdom of an insightful psychologist, it was discovered that there was nothing wrong with her.  She was just a dancer. She ended up being a world famous choreographer with Broadway productions like Cats on her resume. Her grades in academic subjects even improved once she started dance school.

So what should assessment look like if we are to include our students’ creativity in the process?

I believe that the way our students attack a new situation, a new problem or challenge forces them to use their creative strengths.  We, as teachers, need to know these strengths as well as foster them and expand them.

So how do these strengths fit into the assessment process?

Back to the bright, colorful tweet at the top of the page.

Student-assembled portfolios.

Allow students to choose the assignments, projects or achievements that best show how they have met the learning standards set for them at the start of the year.  Allow them to keep a blog, an online portfolio or website. Allow them to verbally present these portfolios if they choose to. Challenge them to explain the process they went through picking each piece, much as a researcher or scientists explains the process by which he or she reached a conclusion.  Challenge students to reflect on their own accomplishments, their own learning. Allow their creativity to shine. Even a first grader can put together a small portfolio of his or her best work. I’d love to be a fly on the wall as they explained each choice!

This of course requires us, as educators, to provide a variety of learning experiences and assignments and well-defined expectations for quality work.

But we’re already doing that. 

OK, Devil’s advocate. I know, I know–how can we measure AYP goals in this manner?  Let the students still take the darned tests. But don’t let them be defined by them.

Another post to ponder
What is creativity anyway?  by Elizabeth King

Critical Thinking Sites by Jerry Blumengarten


  1. Reply

    Thanks for a post that will hopefully lead others to be "creative" in finding ways to assess students who are able to create projects that involve the highest levels of thinking. When we give students the opportunity to attain mastery in a way that demonstrates and fosters creative problem solving we give them the opportunity to fully engage and perform their best. It seems that many people are still stuck on an idea that if you say the word "create" you mean give the students total freedom. If a student communicates that he/she has learned about a concept, by creating a project, it only enhances their ability to think critically and make decisions. Why not let them contribute to the rubric or create that as well?

  2. Reply

    Mary Beth – awesome suggestion. Portfolios are great, especially when suffused with authentic projects and performances. We should be using them as our "standard" assessments, sampling from every school and membership population, and helping one another understand what makes student work – not test scores – excellent.

    We need to be wary, though, of confusing choice or differentiation with creativity. We all bring creativity to the table. Sometimes we find new creativities in ourselves when we consider the ideas, prompts, and/or work of others. However, a student who produces a variety of products in response to choices offered by the teacher might be hedging bets or expressing novelty preference. A student who makes a beautiful drawing in response to each bit of class content may be treading water in terms of creative growth. We need to be sure to offer time for play and discovery, for failure, feedback and growth, and for creativity to come from students as an emergent behavior, as a personal, not necessarily assigned, response to the self and the world.

    Does that make sense?

    All the best,

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