I get asked by classroom teachers all the time – “but how can I evaluate creativity??”

For me, this is a simple answer:

Judging creativity is all about criteria. Just like cow judging.

I know, I know.  That seems like a really strange comparison, especially if you’ve never been to a state fair and seen cow judging.  Lucky for you, I used to be in 4-H and can describe this amazing process.  Bear with me.

When I was a kid, I lived on a dairy farm and my brother and I were part of the 4-H dairy club.  The highlight of the year was in “showing” your cow at the local fairs.  You wash your cow, you clip her hooves, you spray her hooves with black shoe polish to make them shine.  You clip her hair and then lift it on the back to make her look a little taller.  You put a halter on her and lead her around a ring with sawdust on the floor (ruining that whole black shoe polish trick).  There is a judge in the center who looks at each cow and seemingly is making a very hard decision.

If they come over to your cow, it’s exciting because that means they see something unique.  The judge might have you put her in a certain position (the right front foot slightly ahead of the left) to get a different angle of the cow’s body.  They might look at the udder up close.  Then, the moment of truth comes.  They point at you and put you in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th place in a line.  Then, the judge gets a microphone and explains their decision on the placement to the crowd.

Yes, there is a crowd that gathers for these things.

Now, when I participated in 4-H, I loved to show the heifers (think teenage cows).  But, my mom was a nationally-known cow judge.  So, she wanted me to learn how to be a dairy judge and participate in that part of the show.  I hated it.  Mostly I hated it because it took the mystique and the fun out of the process of showing the cow.

Suddenly, instead of participating the performance, I had to memorize body parts like the placement of the “pins” and the placement of the udder.  There was a checklist of things to look for when comparing the animals.  The cow with the most positive “checks” in the categories got the win.  But the part I hated the most was the reasoning.  The part where I had to take the microphone and explain why I had made my decision.  What if I was wrong?  What if another judge would have done it better, or used a different reasoning?  See – the judges were being judged too.

The same is true in education if you think about it.  Teachers (the judges) are being judged (by the administrators).  No wonder the teachers don’t want to have to assess creativity in the classroom.

What if they are WRONG??

But the thing that I learned through dairy judging is that the reasoning is the key.  As long as you have that checklist and are comparing the process and the technique and can back it up, then there is no right or wrong.  There is creativity in the judging as well.  Which bring us back to inspiration.  Because if you evaluate something creative, you can become inspired by its creation and then explore how to make it even better.

And so, our cycle is complete.

Now, I know a lot of people out there want a criteria checklist to be able to use in the evaluation of creative pieces within the classroom.  If you haven’t already, try downloading the Assessment Toolkit that I have provided here, or even the Principal Walk-Throughs form that I encourage administrators to use.  These two things will give you an idea as to ways you can assess creative works, as well as what to look for within an arts-integration lesson.  But remember: the evaluation isn’t what matters most.

It’s the creative cycle itself that changes our students and ourselves.

Happy Friday everyone!