Skip to main content
Usable Knowledge

Understanding Creativity

New research provides insight for educators into how to effectively assess creative work in K-12 classrooms
Teens with laptops and a chalk drawing of lightbulb

Understanding the learning that happens with creative work can often be elusive in any K–12 subject. A new study from Harvard Graduate School of Education Associate Professor Karen Brennan, and researchers Paulina Haduong and Emily Veno, compiles case studies, interviews, and assessment artifacts from 80 computer science teachers across the K–12 space. These data shed new light on how teachers tackle this challenge in an emerging subject area.

“A common refrain we were hearing from teachers was, ‘We’re really excited about doing creative work in the classroom but we’re uncertain about how to assess what kids are learning, and that makes it hard for us to do what we want to do,’” Brennan says. “We wanted to learn from teachers who are supporting and assessing creativity in the classroom, and amplify their work, and celebrate it and show what’s possible as a way of helping other teachers.”

Create a culture that values meaningful assessment for learning — not just grades

As many schools and districts decided to suspend letter grades during the pandemic, teachers need to help students find intrinsic motivation. “It’s a great moment to ask, ‘What would assessment look like without a focus on grades and competition?’” says Veno.

Indeed, the practice of fostering a classroom culture that celebrates student voice, creativity, and exploration isn’t limited to computer science. The practice of being a creative agent in the world extends through all subject areas.

The research team suggests the following principles from computer science classrooms may help shape assessment culture across grade levels and subject areas.

Solicit different kinds of feedback

Give students the time and space to receive and incorporate feedback. “One thing that’s been highlighted in assessment work is that it is not about the teacher talking to a student in a vacuum,” says Haduong, noting that hearing from peers and outside audience members can help students find meaning and direction as they move forward with their projects.


  • Feedback rubrics help students receive targeted feedback from audience members. Additionally, looking at the rubrics can help the teacher gather data on student work.

Emphasize the process for teachers and students

Finding the appropriate rubric or creating effective project scaffolding is a journey. Indeed, according to Haduong, “we found that many educators had a deep commitment to iteration in their own work.” Successful assessment practices conveyed that spirit to students.


  • Keeping design journals can help students see their work as it progresses and provides documentation for teachers on the student’s process.
  • Consider the message sent by the form and aesthetics of rubrics. One educator decided to use a handwritten assessment to convey that teachers, too, are working on refining their practice.

Scaffold independence

Students need to be able to take ownership of their learning as virtual learning lessens teacher oversight. Students need to look at their own work critically and know when they’ve done their best. Teachers need to guide students in this process and provide scaffolded opportunities for reflection.


  • Have students design their own assessment rubric. Students then develop their own continuum to help independently set expectations for themselves and their work.

Key Takeaways

  • Assessment shouldn’t be limited to the grade a student receives at the end of the semester or a final exam. Rather, it should be part of the classroom culture and it should be continuous, with an emphasis on using assessment not for accountability or extrinsic motivation, but to support student learning.
  • Teachers can help learners see that learning and teaching are iterative processes by being more transparent about their own efforts to reflect and iterate on their practices.
  • Teachers should scaffold opportunities for students to evaluate their own work and develop independence.

Usable Knowledge

Connecting education research to practice — with timely insights for educators, families, and communities

Related Articles