When many of us look at a Jackson Pollock painting, we usually think something like, “Gee whiz, give a) a monkey, b) a little kid, or c) me a can of paint and I can make a painting like that.” We’d be wrong. Even abstract artists understand balance and tone, and exhibit great craftsmanship and technical skills. The most original written ideas in the world are inaccessible when locked behind faulty grammar, spelling, syntax, or organization. Digital music composition programs like GarageBand will not cure a tin ear. Some of the most creative poetry follows the strict structures of the sonnet, villanelle, or haiku.
Too many students think that sufficient creativity will overcome a lack of skill or need for discipline or necessity for practice. Creativity unaccompanied by drive, self-discipline, or just hard work and practice isn’t worth much. Do we ask students to be both creative and disciplined? Do we set some parameters to the creative activity?
Jim Moulton writes about “freedom within a structure” – that only by setting some limits do students become truly creative. (Moulton, 2009) Students need to be able to use concrete skills within the context of a larger creative endeavor:
Good assessment guides like rubrics and checklists often have fairly specific indicators of “quality”:
§ —Your slide show must have uniform background color and font.
§ Your essay must use 80% of the words on this week’s vocabulary list.
§ —You must have at least five supporting examples for your argument.
§ —Your budget may not exceed $500 for this project.
Such parameters do not restrict creativity, but can help focus and enhance it.