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Aurora Institute

The Creative Process — Spark It!

CompetencyWorks Blog


Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Rethink Instruction, Learn Lessons from the Field

Instruction of the creative process is primarily the domain of arts educators, but application of the creative process belongs in every classroom. It is central to 21st century learning, and direct instruction of the process shouldn’t be marginalized.

Teachers know that students don’t integrate learning that is shallow, and that the creative process helps their students invest in what they learning. Most teachers, however, have not had any education about creative thinking and how to actively encourage students to engage in it. There is more and more science behind creativity, which means that it’s time for educators to expand their own understanding of what it means to be creative and why it matters in their classrooms.

Revision, in any content area, is desired by teachers and resisted by students. In competency education we have to find a way to get past this bifurcation. We can morph student perceptions of revision from “I have to do it again” to “I get to make it better” with the consistent use of a creative thinking process. The more success students have with the process, the more they will develop independent creative thinking habits. Knowing and using the creative process can help students invest in their work, and can make revision an integral part of learning. Teachers, however, need to understand the components of the creative process. They also need to recognize that creativity is relative to the context in which it is being used. In other words, the student who draws the same cartoon character on all of her possessions is exhibiting confidence in a skill, not creativity, and that’s why the art teacher might look blankly at a colleague who raves about the student’s creativity. The context matters, so it’s important to have a shared understanding.

Creativity is a label that gets slapped on people who happen to find visual arts easy to manipulate. We treat creativity like it’s a talent that is native to some people, and not to others. We fail to recognize that it is a teachable skill, just like writing, math, or a new language. Most of us have an area of strength, but creativity is the only one that we treat as though you inherently have or you don’t. A quick survey of any chart of 21st century skills will tell you that we need to change our thinking. Students need to be creative thinkers. If you’re not convinced, go listen to Sir Ken Robinson talk about the importance of creativity in education.

Fluency, flexibility, elaboration, and originality are the steps that are most commonly identified as the creative process. The identification of these steps dates to the 1960s and the work of psychologist J.P. Guilford. They aren’t mysterious concepts that are the sole provenance of artists. We all recognize each of these actions, but we need to put them into deliberate, systematic practice. Today, you will find the creative process in content standards across the county. In my own state, they are included in the visual art standards for middle level learners.

Are your students are being explicitly taught the creative process? You can begin to include it in your classroom with the use of a simple mnemonic.








 Post a SCAMPER chart on your classroom wall, ask students to use it daily, and see if you can ignite some creativity. Be warned, however, once you light the fire, it might spread rapidly!


Creative Problem Solving: An Introduction (3rd Ed.) by Treffinger, Isaksen and Dorval (2000)

Barbara Weed holds a B.F.A and a M.S. Ed. She is a National Board Certified Teacher. Ms. Weed taught middle school art for seven years, and is currently an instructional coach. She has been engaged in school transformation, as a parent and as a teacher, for many years.