Creativity and Rigor

Defining creativity is like describing clouds….easier to talk about in general terms, impossible to nail down the specifics. I can always choose the scientific approach, such as, “the first line of cumulus clouds appeared on the horizon…like a bunch of marshmallow tops supported by a base of darker flatter clouds” Or the poetic approach, “The bearded God blew with such strength that the normally pillow-like clouds transformed into a thunder-clapping swirl of angry rain-clouds.”

So I turn to Bloom’s updated taxonomy to help me get a grip on things like this. Bloom’s taxonomy is a way to think about learning that is hierarchical, meaning that the lower level skill sets like memorizing lead to the upper level skill sets like creativity. Each level can be used to describe the expected skills to be learned. Teachers can use these levels to construct learning objectives for students that leads finally to a more rigorous use of creativity.

“Bloom’s Taxonomy is a classification of the different objectives and skills that educators set for their students (learning objectives). The taxonomy was proposed in 1956 by Benjamin Bloom, an educational psychologist at the University of Chicago. The terminology has been recently updated to include the following six levels of learning. These 6 levels can be used to structure the learning objectives, lessons, and assessments of your course. :

Remembering: Retrieving, recognizing, and recalling relevant knowledge from long‐term memory.
Understanding: Constructing meaning from oral, written, and graphic messages through interpreting, exemplifying, classifying, summarizing, inferring, comparing, and explaining.
Applying: Carrying out or using a procedure for executing, or implementing.
Analyzing: Breaking material into constituent parts, determining how the parts relate to one another and to an overall structure or purpose through differentiating, organizing, and attributing.
Evaluating: Making judgments based on criteria and standards through checking and critiquing.
Creating: Putting elements together to form a coherent or functional whole; reorganizing elements into a new pattern or structure through generating, planning, or producing.

University of Arkansas tips…

Dumbing Down the Curriculum

Sometimes I feel that American education settles for remembering the curriculum rather than pushing students to attain the higher levels of learning. When the curriculum has been teacher-proofed teachers don’t need much pedagogy. When the curriculum is scripted anyone can lead the students in memorizing. And when the tests have been standardized, individual learning is subordinated to getting the answers right. And just so we are clear, the funny part is, that it all starts with memorizing! Standardized testing may indeed be the best way to test if something has been memorized.

Learning is Memorizing and More!

Learning is memorizing—memorizing how to spell, memorizing your math tables, memorizing the notes of music, or the steps in a dance. Memorizing the times tables and saying them in under a minute….1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12….2,4,6,8,10,12,14,16,18,20….3,6,9,….you get the idea. This was something they made me do in 4th grade in 1968. But then they expected me to know how to apply the multiplication tables. tFor example, in higher orders of Bloom’s taxonomy there were math problems, like the order of operations that asked you to apply what you had memorized….math was cumulative, memorized, understood and then applied.

Pedagogy Leads to Creativity

Memorizing is essential, but not all that there is to learning and to life. And with this foundation students need to go on to the upper levels of learning from understanding to applying, analyzing that leads to evaluating, and finally to creating something new based on what has been memorized. This is where it gets complicated and where we need to use wonderfully crafted language, the pedagogy of learning, to help us propel students to the heights of creativity.

Verbs Drive Rigor

One of the more helpful parts of this taxonomy is the use of verbs to help you write more clearly about what is expected of students. Some of the verbs that are useful in designing objectives for learning are:


“design, formulate, build, invent, create, compose, generate, derive, modify, develop.”

University of Arkansas tips…

Example of Lesson Objective for CREATIVITY OBJECTIVES

By the end of this lesson, the student will be able to design an original homework problem dealing with the principle of conservation of energy.

University of Arkansas tips…

Can you feel the rigor in the example cited above? The student is expected to come up with an original homework problem. So much is expected in this one cleverly crafted lesson objective. If we really want to improve the current education system we might consider writing our lesson objectives with better verbs and more rigor. And giving the students the time to memorize is very important as it will help them to understand, apply, analyze, evaluate and finally create.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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