I am helping to virtually mentor a leadership conference that will be taking
place in Maine later on this week that is being hosted by Dr. Barbara
Bridges who is a professor at Bemidji State University here in Minnesota.
As part of that conference, the following article by Dr. Douglas G. Boughton
was made available as part of the pre-reading. I am reprinting it here as I
think that you (and others) will find it interesting and pertinent to this
Promoting Creativity in the Art Class through Assessment
Douglas G. Boughton
Northern Illinois University
World Creativity Summit
Sponsored by the World Alliance of international Arts Education Associations
June 5-7, 2008
Some of you may be wondering why I have chosen to link creativity, which is
an exciting idea, to assessment which is commonly regarded as both boring
and irritating. I will make the case today that assessment, appropriately
done, is an important tool in the promotion of creativity in the arts
program. Many will argue that assessment inhibits creative behavior, but in
truth it is only inappropriate assessment that has this effect. Appropriate
assessment strategies will drive the curriculum towards the promotion of
creativity in student work and thinking. In fact, I will argue that, without
appropriate assessment expectations, the classroom conditions for creative
behavior can be effectively destroyed. I will talk first about the notion of
creativity itself, and then I will discuss the ways in which appropriate
assessment can promote it.
Developing creativity has long been one of the main arguments in support of
art education given that the notion of creativity is embedded in the idea of
artistic practice. It is widely accepted that making art requires a creative
act and this is an idea that is seldom challenged in the context of art
education. However a common error of logic is to reverse the creativity
argument by assuming that students who study a subject called art will
become creative by virtue of taking the subject. Such an assumption is
seriously flawed but unfortunately seems to have been ignored because of
misconceptions about the notion of creativity itself.
Attempts to define and measure creativity can be found littered through the
research literature in psychology and art education since the nineteen
fifties. Much of the creativity research in art education has been focused
upon giftedness and the task of identifying creative individuals. Of
particular interest to scholars in the field of creativity has been the
development of techniques to identify the personality characteristics and
dispositions of creative individuals.
The work of Getzels and Jackson (1971) in the early nineteen seventies
revealed some fascinating distinctions between the dispositions and
performance of high intelligence students compared to high IQ students. Two
large groups of adolescent subjects were identified in a U. S. Midwestern
private secondary school. These groups were tested with a range of
intelligence and creativity measures to select those students with high
intelligence or high creativity. In other words those with very high
measures in intelligence but not high in measures of creativity were placed
in the high IQ group, and those with very high measures in creativity but
not in I.Q. were placed in the other group. Those students measuring high in
both were removed from the study.
The two groups were compared in a variety of ways to try to determine
differences between them with respect to their academic achievement, which
groups were preferred by teachers, personal qualities possessed by
individuals in the two groups, career aspirations and so on. When the
comparisons were complete it was surprising to find that the high creativity
group performed equally well academically with the high IQ group in
comparison to the overall school average. Despite a twenty point difference
in the mean I Q. scores the high creative group was performing beyond the
predictive expectation suggested by their IQ score.
The obvious question raised by this finding is why? Why is it that highly
creative individuals appear to over-achieve their academic potential as
predicted by their measured I.Q. score? The researchers hypothesized that
perhaps teachers liked them and preferred creative individuals as students
in their classes. Perhaps teachers gave special attention to them. But
further investigation revealed the opposite was true. Despite equivalents
in academic performance teachers preferred the high IQ group to the high
creative group. The high creative group possessed personality and
behavioral traits that did not fit well with the teachers' preferences. The
researchers also found that high IQ students valued personal qualities
likely to prepare them for adult success, The highly creative group
preferred the opposite. Where the high IQ group favored those qualities they
believed the teacher liked, the highly creative group preferred those having
no relationship with what they believed would make for adult success, and
appeared to deliberately select those personal qualities they thought were
directly opposite those that their teachers favored (p.127). Creative
students it seems are rebellious, uncooperative and nonconforming.
The overall conclusions from the study reported those things that we still
take for granted today with respect to our expectations for creative
behavior. Creative individuals are divergent thinkers because they possess
the ability to produce new forms, to risk, conjoining elements that are
customarily thought of as independent and dissimilar, or in other words "go
off in new directions." (p.131). Creative individuals also seem to enjoy
risk taking and the uncertainty of the unknown. The high I.Q. students, on
the other hand, shy away from the risk and uncertainty of the unknown, and
need to be "channeled and controlled" in the direction of the right
(predetermined) answer (P. 131). They desire conformity.
This study by Getzels and Jackson is typical of most of the research that
was undertaken in the sixties and seventies in the search for answers to the
question what are the characteristics of creative individuals? We now have
a good set of understandings that help us identify creative individuals by
virtue of their behavior. But this knowledge does not help us much with
pedagogy. If we know creative individuals are nonconforming, and rebellious
does it follow that we should try to change the personalities of our
students in the hope that they will become creative? Do we direct them to
reject authority and seek goals that will not suit them well for adult life?
Of course we cannot ethically do this as teachers, so what we have to do is
look at the problem from a different perspective and this is to pay
attention to the environmental conditions that promote creative behavior.
The early creativity research assumed creative behavior was the prerogative
of creative individuals paying virtually no attention to the external
conditions that promote creativity. For most of human history ordinary
people and researchers alike seem to have attributed creative action to
personal attributes rather than the context that promotes creative behavior.
Environmental factors contributing to creativity have been largely ignored
(Kasof, 1995). To use the distinction specified by Kasof creative behavior
has been attributed to dispositional rather than situational causes. "The
result has been a highly skewed research literature in which creativity is
studied primarily by personality and cognitive psychologists searching for
characteristics of 'creative people' and paying comparatively little
attention to external influences on creativity" (Kasof, 1995).
The creative individuals in an art class are not the students that provide
the art teacher with their greatest pedagogical challenges. While it is
interesting, and perhaps useful, to know how one might identify a creative
individual through personality traits, the major concern for the arts
teacher is what to do with those individuals who are not inherently
creative. These students constitute a far larger number in any given class
than creative individuals. If creativity is truly an inherent trait is
there anything that the teacher can do to promote creative behavior in
We will be defeated if we continue to regard creativity from the
dispositional perspective of researchers who ignore the context of
creativity. The most powerful reason for educators to examine context
rather than disposition comes from the field of social psychology and the
work of researchers such as Teresa Amabile (1982), Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
(1996), and Dean Keith Simonton (1979). These researchers have addressed
the most pervasive misunderstanding about creativity. That is the subjective
reception of a creative product. For something to be regarded as creative it
must satisfy two basic criteria. First it must be original, rare, or novel
in some way. Second, it must be valued by individuals in the context in
which it appears. In other words it must be perceived as approved, accepted,
appropriate, or "good." (Kasof, 1995).
By this definition, creativity is not purely objective and is not a fixed
attribute of the creative object that holds true irrespective of its time
and place. Whether or not an artistic product is creative in part requires
a subjective judgment that must be conferred on the original product (
Kaslof, 1995; Amabile, 1982; Csikszentmihalyi, 1988 , 1990; Csikszentmihalyi
& Robinson, 1986; Gardner, 1993; Weisberg, 1986). As such the determination
of creative artistic production becomes an issue of judgment rather than
measurement. It is an assessment issue that has a profound effect upon the
way art educators need to think about the development of curriculum and the
assessment protocols employed for determining student learning.
The fallacy of assuming that creativity is an objective and measurable
outcome of learning can have significant curriculum effects. Some art
curriculums ignore the notion of creativity entirely because of
misconceptions about its nature. For example the current set of state goals
in the state of Illinois (USA) does not even mention the word creativity.
These goals were developed a decade ago in a climate of national testing
which depends upon paper and pencil, multiple choice tests. Because it is
assumed creativity cannot be effectively measured it is ignored in this art
curriculum. It is easier to test fact recall so that is what is tested.
While it may be comforting at some basic level to know that students can
recall facts and identify artists' work such assessments overlook creative
So what can we draw from the research that is helpful for the art teacher
working with non-creative individuals? First we can dispense with the idea
that creativity is contingent upon disposition and is therefore dichotomous,
ie that one is either creative or not. Instead we need to focus upon the
classroom conditions that facilitate creative behavior. Second we can set up
interrelated curriculum and assessment strategies that promote rather than
inhibit creative outcomes, and facilitate judgment processes to determine
creative outcomes in a social context.
So what are the conditions that can help to improve creative behavior?
Czikszentmihalyi ( 1995) is one researcher who has offered many positive
suggestions for enhancing personal creativity. He interviewed nearly one
hundred creative people to gain understanding about the creative process and
his recommendations have useful application in the art classroom. They
include developing curiosity and interest, cultivating flow in everyday
life, and ways of thinking creatively. I will discuss the implications of
each of these ideas in the arts classroom context.
Curiosity and Interest
Czikszentmihalyi says the first step toward a more creative life is the
cultivation of curiosity and interest. This seems to be an obvious a
suggestion but it is often one that is overlooked in the art class. How
often have we seen art classes in which students are struggling with media
drawing uninteresting or random objects selected by the teacher, or simply
creating value scales and color wheels for the sole purpose of learning
technical processes. How often have we seen students researching the lives
of long dead artists who lived in cultures that are completely foreign to
the student's experience?
I am not suggesting technical skills should not be taught, or that artists
should not be studied. What is of the utmost consequence here, and what is
so often overlooked, is the importance of recognizing and engaging the set
of interests students bring to the classroom and from those leading to new
discoveries about technique and artists from multiple cultures. Students
have a considerable advantage over adults in that their curiosity is easily
engaged by many things they encounter in their everyday lives. If invited to
bring their interests to the classroom students will willingly oblige. But
if art practice is undertaken in the absence of student interest creative
production is unlikely to manifest. Interest is an essential prerequisite
for creative endeavor.
Journaling and diary notes make experiences more concrete and enduring, and
greatly assist students to get in touch with their interests. The point of
recording one's experience and surprises is to preserve ideas to make them
less fleeting, and after time to look back in order to observe emerging
patterns of interest. This is precisely the strategy employed in the
International Baccalaureate (IB), diploma program which provides a good
model for guidance. Here is an example of the kinds of records made by these
(not available for reprinting)
Choosing a domain or themes for investigation: In-depth pursuit of ideas
related to a particular theme is a well documented hallmark of creative
behavior. Themes develop from interests and provide unique lenses to view
the world thus enhancing interest and providing opportunity to develop novel
outcomes. Investigating a theme requires work, so there is no point
investing energy in a pursuit where there is no interest or passion for
discovery. For this reason some people need to explore a variety of thematic
investigations before settling on something to pursue in depth.
Again I refer to the example of the international baccalaureate program
which expects its students to demonstrate the capacity for independent and
in-depth pursuit of ideas, both in art and about art. Here is an example of
the range of themes that were investigated by a single senior class in
Detroit this year.
7 Growth in multiple cultures
7 love and family
7 religion in multiple cultures
7 abuse of power
7 religious cultural and emotional safety
7 cultural collision, the representation of space
7 cultural relationships
These themes were developed by the students and each was independent of the
others. Cultural issues appear in several of these, which is not surprising
given that many of the students have come to this international school from
other countries. The impact culture was a crucial issue for them. Without
exception the students in this class were highly motivated and excited about
Problem Finding, Solutions and Risk Taking
In the visual arts problem finding is an integral part of creative behavior.
Problem-finding is also well documented in the literature of creativity and
design. Both conceptual and technical problems will engage any learner.
Students have most difficulty identifying conceptual problems.
Finding solutions to problems requires divergent thinking and is another
essential characteristic of creative behavior. This is not so much a
function of creative disposition as it is a habit of mind. Such habits of
thinking can be learned but this requires an individual to consciously seek
alternative solutions to a single problem, to experiment, to play, and to
I once spoke with a student who was an ice skater, showing me his work in
which he represented himself in the apex of a magnificent leap above the
ice. The representation of his flight through the year was graceful and
elegant. The expression on his face however was a fearful grimace quite at
contrast with the elegance of his pose. It was such an obvious contradiction
I asked him why he had represented himself in this way. He said " I am a
competition ice skater. I can never get better unless I fall down and
falling down hurts! But the more I fall down the better I get"
In much the same way the experimentation of students working with ideas and
media in an art class is one that requires the willingness to fall down and
the freedom to take risks. As Elliot Eisner says producing novelty means one
has to work at the edge of incompetence. This is risky when you don't quite
know what it is you are trying to do. Without a supportive and trusting
classroom environment risk taking is not likely to occur.
The Idea of Creative Flow
Czikszentmihalyi is well known for the idea of flow which he suggests is the
importance of developing habits of engagement with ideas that become self
sustaining (p. 349). When one finds an intellectual task that is engaging
it is important to be able to pursue it with enthusiasm and sustained
The average school is a very poor place in which to develop creative flow.
The structure of a normal school day conspires against the development of
any sustained pursuit of creative activity or other kind of intellectual
engagement for that matter. In most schools lessons are divided into short
time periods of 40 to 80 minutes during which it is scarcely possible for
students to collect their materials, let alone their thoughts, in order to
generate an idea and begin work. No sooner do they get started the bell
sounds and they have to return their materials and move from one classroom
to another and repeat the same process over again with a different subject
matter. In the course of the day most students start and stop their lessons
between five and eight times. Imagine the frustration when one discovers
something of interest he or she may wish to pursue only to have to shut down
and start something else.
Compared to the intellectual staccato students experience in school,
opportunities for out of school visual and intellectual stimulation
represent a veritable landscape of treasures. When students can experience
the abundance of imagery offered through television, video games, movies,
billboards, magazines, the Internet, concerts, exhibitions, community
events, and even their phone, it is no wonder they lose interest in school.
There are no easy answers to this problem given the structural limitations
of school administration. However, I have seen some hope in the work of
gifted teachers who are able to construct the art learning experience as an
integral part of the students' life at school. Once interest is engaged in
the classroom these teachers encourage students to return during free
periods, recesses, lunchtime, and even after the official school day ends.
These classrooms are always populated and there is a buzz of excitement
among the students in the room.
At one school I saw in Frankfort, Germany the teacher and her students
frequently worked with soapstone so the floor was always covered in white
dust. It was easy to identify the art room as center of activity because the
corridors throughout the school were covered in white footprints becoming
more and more dense as they converged at the art room door. Other teachers
in school complained to me that the students spent too much time in the art
room, and even cut math and science classes to work on their art projects.
At another International Baccalaureate school in New Mexico students live on
campus and so do the teachers. The art teacher at that school told me that
he cannot keep the art students out of the art room. They return during the
day and consistently stay well into the evening. Almost every night he has
to visit the room late in the evening and even into the early morning to
send the students to their rooms to sleep. Even then they return after he
leaves and continue working.
In both these cases students are experiencing exciting engagement with ideas
because their teachers have set up appropriate physical and intellectual
conditions, an atmosphere of trust, and the freedom to work in supportive
classroom spaces beyond the normal classroom hours. The work of students in
both these schools is extraordinary. A feature of the programs is a personal
visual diary called the Research Workbook in which students develop their
themes and connect their life experiences with the pursuit of artistic
expression. These books are intimately connected with the studio work.
Developing creative flow is a subtle and sometimes complicated endeavor. It
has to do with capitalizing upon existing interests, encouraging students to
connect their inside school lives with outside everyday experience. In
essence students connect school art experience with their lives as a whole,
thus enabling "flow" to develop and maintain its force.
The Role of Assessment in Fostering Creative Behavior
I want to return now to a comment I made it the beginning of this paper.
While it is true that for someone to create a work of art that they must
engage in a creative act, it is not true that students who study a subject
called art will necessarily develop the capacity for creative thought. In
fact it may well be the case that the opposite is true largely because of
the kind of assessment practices employed in schools.
Why is this the case? If we know what situational conditions are likely to
promote creative behavior then it makes sense to develop assessment
strategies that enhance those conditions rather than negate them. For
example we know creative behavior is more likely to occur If curiosity is
fostered, if students are encouraged to pursue interests thematically, if
they are prepared to play with ideas and engage in risk taking behavior in
the search for solutions to problems, and if physical conditions support the
idea of creative" flow" described by Czikszentmihalyi'.
I have long argued in support of the use of portfolios as an assessment
tool, (Boughton, 2006; Boughton & Wang, 2005; Boughton, 2004; Boughton &
Wang, 2002, Boughton, 1996) because good portfolios do more than provide
evidence for assessment. They drive curriculum in such a way that creative
engagement is more likely. A good portfolio will demand students to
demonstrate their interests and show the ways in which they have integrated
classroom learning with their lives. A good portfolio will require in-depth
and sustained reflection, and will provide a good opportunity to engage
interest through the pursuit of thematic content. For a portfolio to have
the best chance of becoming a living record of students' creative thinking
less assessment is better than more. When a portfolio is formally assessed
the criteria should include the requirement for evidence of student
interest, systematic, sustained and individual pursuit of ideas, evidence of
The way to destroy creativity through inappropriate assessment is to
structure the art program as a series of directed projects that always
receive a grade leaving no possibility for a collection of work to be judged
as a record of thinking. If the teacher always chooses the topic, the media,
the visual references, the reference sources, the strategy, the style of
representation, and the look of the potential outcome where is the
opportunity for student interests to be engaged? Why would a student take
risks the search for solutions when he or she knows they will be graded on
every project they do? Every outcome needs to be a winner! Where is the
opportunity for students to pursue a theme? Instead, assessment practices
that require thematic study, that do not assess each project, that require
evidence of productive risk taking, demand evidence of sustained independent
investigation are more likely to encourage creative output.
My final point is to return to the essence of the argument about creativity.
Creativity is not measurable, it is something that is determined by judgment
in a social context. It does not make sense to ignore the significance of
collective judgment about artistic production. There are some good models to
guide us with this process. Assessment by students of their colleagues work,
and self-assessment within a community context, both help to address the
perennial problem of determining the creative quality of artistic products.
Moderation processes employed in many countries in the world at the senior
school level, and also by the International Baccalaureate program Diploma
Program go some way towards addressing the need for community determination
of the value of art products, and whether or not they contain evidence of
In the United States the mandates of district, state, and national school
systems for at least the last twenty years in have increasingly demanded
that accountability is demonstrated through testing. The pressure to
demonstrate accountability is extreme and teachers are pressured to produce
grades on a regular basis to satisfy the demands of administrators and
parent groups even in the case where art is not tested with multiple choice
exams. In the art class this pressure has had the effect of working directly
against the development of strategies to enhance creative behavior in art
Assessment against the measure of standards has afflicted math, reading and
the sciences more particularly than the arts. However the search for ways
to achieve predictable and agreed standards in the arts deflects attention
away from the search for creative outcomes and the exercise of imagination
in our students' art making efforts. Failure to distinguish between
standards and standardization in the practice of assessing art destroys the
likelihood that students will experience the curricular conditions necessary
to stimulate creative thought. It is time to move back towards a more
rational relationship between the creative outcomes we desire the methods we
use to assess it.
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