Grading for Creativity, not Conformity

Comic courtesy of Daniel Powell, illustrator and writer, also one of my former students and co-author of Transparent Teaching of Adolescents. 

I appreciate the much-needed refreshers on the integration of creativity and creative components in lessons for students. I've read about some fantastic ideas for students that allow for artistic expression. We do tend to get stuck in a pedagogical rut now and then, and a splash of imagination simply wakes us up! 

But we need to make sure we are truly emphasizing creativity and not conformity. If we're going to run into trouble with anything to do with creativity, it will be in our assessment of it.

Below is a rubric I found that purports to emphasize creativity:


Required Elements
Includes all of the required elements as stated in the directions.
Includes all but one or two of the required elements as stated in the directions.
Missing 3 or 4 of the required elements as stated in the directions.
Missing 5 or 6 of the required elements as stated in the directions.

All are appropriate and add to the enjoyment of the project.
Some are appropriate, and add to the enjoyment of the project.
A few are included and are appropriate to the project.
A few are included, but are inappropriate or distracting.

Exceptionally clever and unique; design enhances the project.
Clever at times; thoughtfully and uniquely presented.
A few original or clever touches enhance the project.
Little evidence of uniqueness, individuality, and/or effort.

Exceptionally neat and attractive; typed or very neatly hand-written, appropriate use of color, particularly neat in design and layout.
Neat and attractive; typed or neatly handwritten, good use of color, good design and layout.
Generally neat and attractive; handwritten, some use of color, some problems in design and layout.
Distractingly messy or disorganized; handwritten; little use of color; several problems in design and layout.

Required Elements: This category, depending on what the required elements are, may be stifling to creativity. Instead, this teacher might consider offering the student an option to choose a single required element or more, thus opening some breathing room for creativity. Consider that the depth of a project is only as good as the depth of the focus. Too many “things” will halt creativity in its tracks. Creativity thrives with focus.

Graphics, Pictures: For a tangible project, I can understand why this category would be here, However, it limits the student to a two-dimensional product. Unless this is a 2D art class, which I’m sure it isn’t, then why the required format? What if the student wanted to create something three-dimensional or create a video, song, or speech? Consider those students who don’t do so well with artwork, per se. However, they can sing or dance.

One of the best thematic analyses I ever received was a student who wrote a piano composition for Chopin’s The Awakening. It was absolutely breathtaking, taking the listener through Edna’s frustrations and realizations.  What really hurts is that the student had to ask me if she could be permitted to write music, given that the assignment was expected to be presented in an online format. I was floored by her request and painfully made aware that I had potentially immobilized any number of other students with my rubric for that project. Creativity and options go hand in hand.

Creativity: Here’s where we may really be messing things up. This shouldn’t be a category at all.  The creative nature of the project is through the process, not the product. Either way, the teacher misses the mark because she’s combined too many points in this category:  uniqueness, cleverness, and effort—all of which are very different, have nothing to do with creativity, and if she wanted to assess them, they’d need to each be their own category! Creativity is not a what, it's a how. 

Neatness/Appearance:  Notice that the student who uses a computer or word processor for this project automatically makes above-average. I’m not saying that graphic art is not creative—it is!—but think like a student for a moment. You’re assured of a better grade if you use a word processor. Already, your creativity is being manipulated.

As we strive to allow students to truly and authentically create, we just need to make sure our assessments of the same do not mistakenly support conformity. Take another look at your rubric.

Mindy Keller-Kyriakides is the author of Transparent Teaching of Adolescents: Defining the Ideal Class for Students and Teachers.  Become part of the conversation!