Creativity, Innovation

Taxonomy of Creativity

Sonya terBorg

I have been doing a little more research on the topic of creativity translated into a taxonomy and came across a really interesting paper written by Robert Stahl in April of 1980.  Titled: A Creatively Creative Taxonomy on creativity: A New Model of Creativity and other  Novel forms of Behavior, his paper was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association in Boston, April 7-9, 1980.

In the paper, Stahl outlines his own ideas for a Taxonomy of Creativity.  What he does that I found really interesting, is that rather than focus solely on the physical manifestation of the creative process (what is produced), he looks at intent and purpose behind the act of creative thought and behavior (how it is produced).  I like that because I think it opens us up as teachers to keep our focus on the ‘bigger picture’. It would be easy to look at a taxonomy like the one Peter Nilsson shared and do what I was about to do which is start a pool of ‘activities’ that would fit nicely inside each category.  This is exactly the reason why (I have now figured out) the idea of a boxy taxonomy of creativity didn’t sit with me.  I am not saying I disagree with it, I am saying that I think like many things, it could be misused and perhaps stifle the very thing it is trying to promote.

Here is a graphic I created from the report that details the steps in Stahl’s taxonomy with the first step at the top.

Accident: Behaviors or products that occur by chance – when you drop the can of paint and end up with the paint splatters as your ‘art’.

Accomodation: Behaviors or products that are a result of typical, casual or routine adjustments one makes to ease every-day living – and in and of themselves are new, unique.

Reproduction: Working with the purpose of producing an exact replica of something, such as by tracing or photocopying.  Purpose is exactness of the reproduction.

Duplication: Differs from reproduction in that you are trying to copy without using direct methods (tracing).  This stage requires no knowledge of the purpose or meaning behind the work, just a desire to duplicate it.

Fabrication: Modifying or altering the surface features to give a new appearance.  Purposeful rearrangement, re-mixing or recombination of surface features.

Imitation: Model or replicate with some understanding of the principals, abstracts or guidelines represented by the original product or entity.   Following a set of instructions would be an example of this.

Transfersion: Applying principal or procedures in a setting somewhat removed from where they were first learned. I think of things as simple as someone who knows how to weave fabric or paper, then making a lattice pie crust in the kitchen.

Substitution: The intentional effort to manipulate parts of an original item, substituting some parts for ‘better’ choices, creating something with the same message or meaning but different features.  Think ‘iPads’ for this one.

Experimentation: The effort to combine, mix and use a set of guidelines or principals understood as abstractions, as well as the concrete entities they represent.  Being able to pull ideas and objects from different areas to create something new – think of writing a paper or preparing a dissertation.

Innovation: When you understand the intent behind a set of principals and utilize this meaning to create something that is different to how others have portrayed these concepts in concrete form.

Generation: Using two or more sets of ideals or principals and combining these to create a new set of ideals or principals that represent the “best” of the two previous sets.

After briefly describing each of these in his report, Stahl goes on to say:

The,above represent rather short descriptions of the categories suggesting
ways of looking at the mental processes leading up to different types of novel
behaviors and products for the individual. It does not describe the specifics
of the resulting products or behaviors since these are to be left to external
criteria. Classroom teachers and researchers are thus urged to pay more direct
attention to the types of thinking going on before the behavior or product
rather than to merely infer certain thinking activities from the products or
behaviors themselves.

I like that the job for teachers/researchers is to observe rather than to define the criteria for creation or to set creative tasks.  That was my stumbling block.  If the extent of ‘creativity’ in my classroom was going to be measured by how insightful and creative my own planning ideas were, I knew that I would be massively limiting the scope of what goes on in the room.  Cue in the Inquiry Based Curriculum!  If you are like me and teach in a PYP school, your job is to facilitate inquiry.  I think we throw this phrase around a lot and sometimes without knowing what it means or what that looks like.  It takes guts and restraint and preparedness and more restraint to become an observer in your own classroom!  If you see it done – and see it done well – it is amazing to watch!

I had the extreme pleasure in my last year at Yokohama International School to work with Tasha Cowdy. Tasha taught Kindergarten and I was teaching third grade.  At the end of the year, we taught summer school together for three weeks.  That year, I was blown away by what true, authentic inquiry looks, sounds and feels like.  She is a master at the art of facilitating authentic inquiry.  It is not about her, but about the kids in her class and how she can help them extend what they know, stimulating them when needed, providing additional resources or facilitating discussion.  It is remarkable.  And hugely inspiring. Check out her blog for more information on what inquiry looks like in her classroom.

Regardless of the taxonomy or how many steps, what has struck me as important is realizing that as educators, we need to:

  • be vigilant observers
  • look for ways to add to inquiries at the right times
  • mindfully integrate tools to support inquiries/creativity
  • communicate, communicate, communicate
  • encourage self-reflection on ‘knowing’ as a way of promoting further creative inquiry