Fundamentals of Creativity

Source: ACSD website, Feb 2013

1. Creativity Takes More Than Originality

Scholars generally agree that creativity involves the combination of originality and task appropriateness(Kaufman & Sternberg, 2007; Plucker, Beghetto, & Dow, 2004). This combination may seem contradictory. How can something be original and at the same time conform to a set of task requirements? And isn’t originality sufficient for something to be judged creative? Why must it also be task appropriate?

2. There Are Different Levels of Creativity

Researchers have drawn a distinction between these two levels of creativity: the contributions made by everyday people (little-c creativity) and the lasting, transformational contributions made by mavericks within a domain (Big-C creativity). In an effort to broaden the concept, we developed a more nuanced, developmental model, which we call the Four C Model of Creativity (Kaufman & Beghetto, 2009). This model describes the following levels of creative expression: 

  • mini-c, or interpretive, creativity (such as a 2nd grade student’s new insight about how to solve a math problem).
  • little-c, or everyday, creativity (such as a 10th grade social studies class developing an original project that combines learning about a key historical event with gathering local histories from community elders).
  • Pro-C, or expert, creativity (for example, the idea of the flipped classroom pioneered by teachers Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann).
  • Big-C, or legendary, creativity (for example, Maria Montessori’s new approach to early childhood education).

 The Four C Model provides a framework for including creativity in the curriculum and helping students develop their creativity to higher levels.

3. Context Matters

The key insight from this research is that teachers should do their best to minimize features of the environment that can impede creativity (social comparisons, contingent rewards, and so on). Instead, teachers should help students focus on the more intrinsically motivating and personally meaningful aspects of the work by discussing how students might incorporate their personal interests into the tasks and by acknowledging their creativity.

4. Creativity Comes at a Cost

Creativity is often associated with fun, fluff, and frills. A quick Google image search on creativity yields a vast array of playful images, including laughing faces, smiling light bulbs, colorful arrays of crayons, and explosive bursts of paint. These images belie the more serious aspects of creativity. Creativity can have benefits that transcend temporary enjoyment. It can produce effective solutions to highly complex societal problems; lead to higher levels of career success; and create intense personal enjoyment, engagement, and meaning in life (Kaufman, 2009).

But the benefits come with a cost; creativity requires work, effort, and risk. Many years of painstaking effort are needed to develop the expertise to make creative contributions that go beyond the everyday level. Moreover, even everyday creativity takes effort, subject-matter understanding, the ability to put a new spin on the task at hand, and the willingness to share one’s creative expression with others—risking rejection, ridicule, or worse

5. There’s a Time and a Place for Creativity

Accomplished creators know when to be creative. Therefore, it’s important for teachers to teach (and model) how to read a situation and determine whether and how to express one’s creative ideas, insights, and behaviors. In other words, students need to develop creative metacognition—a combination of creative self-knowledge (knowing one’s own creative strengths and limitations, both within a domain and as a general trait) and contextual knowledge (knowing when, where, how, and why to be creative) (Kaufman & Beghetto, in press).


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