The Learning Accelerator Blog/Investigating Creativity in the Classroom: Research Tools for Teachers and Leaders

creativity professional development research & measurement seeking and measuring broader aims

Investigating Creativity in the Classroom: Research Tools for Teachers and Leaders

by Beth Holland on April 12 2023

Creativity is the competence to leverage self-interests, motivation, imagination, and prior knowledge in flexible ways1 to generate, evaluate, or improve ideas; imagine new ways of solving problems;2 forge new connections — across content and people;3 create new understanding; or communicate thinking through writing, drawing, voice, music, or any other means of expression.4

At The Learning Accelerator (TLA), we identified a challenge in the field: although teachers often express the desire to learn how to foster creativity, they don’t always know how to factor it into their instructional design, have access to the tools and professional learning to make it a reality, or know whether their students are developing the creativity skills that will benefit them in the future. To address these challenges, we partnered with BetterLesson and Adobe to provide educators with professional learning and creative tools as well as a means to measure their effect. Over the past year, the TLA Research & Measurement team has developed and piloted two survey instruments to understand teacher as well as student perceptions and behaviors related to creativity.

Creativity has long been heralded as a critical skill for today’s students. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) included it as one of their 4Cs before the turn of the century.5 In 2015, the World Economic Forum listed it as one of the top three skills — just behind complex problem solving and critical thinking — for success in 2020.6 The 2017 National Education Technology Plan (NETP) identified it as an essential component for learning, advocating that ALL students need to become active creators with technology to narrow an emerging Digital Use Divide.7

A 2019 Gallup study on the state of creativity in schools found that when students experience more creative classrooms and use technology in meaningful ways to demonstrate their creativity, they are more likely to engage in problem-solving, demonstrate critical thinking, make connections across subject areas, and have deeper understanding as well as greater retention of content.8 However, not all students experience these opportunities. A 2022 report from Project Tomorrow, “Beyond the Homework Gap: Leveraging Technology to Support Equity of Learning Experiences in School,” found that in schools serving Black and Latino/a students as well as those experiencing poverty, teachers were 54% more likely to report concerns about the equity of students’ creative learning experiences, and the students in those schools described fewer creative learning opportunities than their peers.

Teacher and Student Creativity Survey Design

To inform the design of the surveys, we conducted a literature review focused on creativity with technology. Based on that analysis, we broke the overarching theory of creativity into eight separate constructs — broad concepts or factors — based on the ideas of creative thinking, innovation, and creativity specific to technology. For the teacher survey, we then piloted questions asking about attitudes towards creativity in learning (perception) as well as teaching for creativity (behaviors). Our analysis found that while this survey could be reliable, it was not a valid measure of those constructs.

Based on that analysis, we revised the survey and reorganized it into four dimensions based on the 4Ps of Creativity: Person, Press, Process — which was divided into creative communication, creative problem-solving, and creative thinking — and Product. Then, we used this new 4P’s structure to design and test an accompanying student survey. The results of both pilots are described below.

Teacher Creativity Survey

During the first phase of the project, we designed and piloted a survey to understand teachers’ perceptions and behaviors around creativity. To test the instrument, we collected and analyzed responses from a sample of 455 educators from 47 states. Our analysis revealed that while teachers value creativity (perception), they do not always demonstrate practices that would foster it in the classroom (reported behavior). At the same time, although a majority of the respondents felt supported by their leaders, they also indicated that they have not received adequate professional learning to design classroom experiences that foster creativity. Particularly given this finding, site and district leaders may choose to use this survey to identify areas or topics for future professional development as well as potential bright spot classrooms that could help others understand what could be possible.

Student Creativity Survey

In piloting the student survey, we sought to understand whether it would be a reliable and valid measure to help the field understand students’ perceptions and behaviors around creativity. In addition, we wanted to understand the usability of the instrument in terms of length and clarity of the questions. Finally, we hoped to make some student-level observations based on their responses.

Seven teachers of grades six-12 from four schools (two charter, one public, and one private) asked their students to complete the survey, allowing us to collect 324 responses. Collectively, these schools served a diverse student population from across the country. Our analysis of the data led to some interesting observations, though given the limited number of participating classes, we cannot consider them representative findings.

In general, the students indicated that they want to create things that help others and work on class projects that are important to them. They also agreed or strongly agreed that they possess the skills to come up with novel solutions by relying on their prior knowledge. In contrast, when asked how often their teachers ask them to share their ideas, a majority indicated that it only occurs sometimes. Similar to the teacher survey findings, student perceptions rated higher than their behaviors. Of note, the least frequently reported behaviors were those associated with whether students used their imagination, making connections to the real world, and being rewarded for showing ideas in digital form.

Putting The Surveys Into Action

Based on the teachers’ feedback on the students’ experiences taking the survey, we reduced the number of questions in this revised survey. In this shortened form, teachers could use it throughout the year to inform the design of different activities or projects. Leaders could look then look at changes over time to identify opportunities for professional learning or as evidence of continuous improvement.

This spring, we are using these surveys as pre-post measures in conjunction with a series of professional learning workshops conducted by BetterLesson. In addition, we are in the final stages of developing a protocol that teachers could use to inform the design of new lessons or activities and to help their students develop new vocabulary around creativity. Our Creativity in Schools strategy card will continue to be updated as we learn and produce more.

  1. Hatano, G., & Inagaki, K. (1986). Two courses of expertise. In H. Stevenson, H. Azuma, & K. Hakuta (Eds.), Child development and education in Japan (pp. 262–272). New York, NY: Freeman.
  2. Gallup. (2019). Creativity in Learning.;
  3. OECD. (2021). PISA 2021 Creative Thinking Framework.;
  4. Gregory, E., Hardiman, M., Yarmolinskaya, J., Rinne, L. & Limb, C. (2013). Building creative thinking in the classroom: From research to practice. International Journal of Educational Research, 62, 43–50.
  5. P21’s Frameworks for 21st Century Learning (4C’s)
  6. The World Economic Forum’s Ten 21st-Century Skills Every Student Needs
  7. 2017 National Education Technology Plan
  8. Creativity in Learning - Gallup

About the Author

Beth Holland is a Partner at The Learning Accelerator and leads the organization's work in research and measurement. She brings both a rigorous academic background and practical experience to the team’s research efforts.