Teaching the Creative Process

Posted on Jun 16, 2013 by Adobe Education Latest activity: Aug 31, 2014

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The creative process has many forms, but most have these general steps in common:

  1. Framing or identifying the problem, question or challenge to solve;
  2. Gathering information about it;
  3. Providing time to incubate the material;
  4. Exploring variations of existing ideas and generating new ones;
  5. Filtering, ranking or combining ideas to find the best candidates;
  6. Elaborating and refining the solution; and,
  7. Communicating and receiving feedback.

How many of these steps do you already follow in your classroom projects? In what ways? What other steps do you take?

This discussion post is part of the Adobe Education Exchange Professional Development workshop, Creativity in Today’s Classrooms: Designing Creativity in the Upper Grades Curriculum.


Comments (14)

Jered Martinez

Posted on Aug 31, 2014 5:15 AM - Permalink

There is not enough time given to the creative process in the classroom. Yes, we may ask a question or provide a challenge. Then we may ask the students to think about it and try several attempts but students have us figured out. They know teachers have to show they how to get the answer correctly and they have to show them before the end of class. We don't allow enough time for trial, error, and failure. We are too focused on how to get it right the first time.

Barbara Swanner

Posted on Aug 27, 2014 8:33 PM - Permalink

We do these steps in classes, but not enough time is usually spent on numbers 5&6. It is the hardest one to get my students to be engaged with. I think we really do a good job with number 7, we have period long critiques, and every piece gets discussed with positive feedback and ideas on how every piece can be better.We don't just discuss one or two pieces and every student in the class participates and then I provide individual comments on every piece.

Anita Lavigne

Posted on Jul 31, 2014 2:57 PM - Permalink

I use steps 1-4 in the brainstorming and research portion of project.

Step 5 is demonstrated through research and thumbnail sketches.

Step 6 is addressed in group critiques and feedback on the evaluation sheet from instructor.

Step 7 is also part of the creative process as revisions are a part of every project.


Ernest Whiteman

Posted on Jul 25, 2014 2:05 AM - Permalink

In many of the schools I visit, these have been the steps that many teachers use. Most critical is if the projects are individual, small groups, or whole class projects. The process is altered depending on this. However, it rarely swerves from this list. The communicating and receiving feedback is a critical step that is has led to some significant changes or alterations to the project. Feedback from other classes or schools can help greatly as well. Hearing constructive feedback from peers is helpful.

Stephanie Davidson

Posted on Jul 17, 2014 7:30 PM - Permalink

I have never used these exact steps as they are listed. However, they are in some form or another implied. The students usually do steps 4, 6 & 7 automatically with each other and as I listen and walk around, I give them a hint to possible ideas or ask them questions to have them come up with them on their own. I do feel they need to spend more time on 5. Just the nature of the age of my students, they want to just go with what they are working on now to finish rather than defining to a better product.

Henry Sandoval

Posted on Jul 15, 2014 6:18 PM - Permalink

  1. Framing or identifying the problem, question or challenge to solve;
  2. Gathering information about it;
  3. Providing time to incubate the material;
  4. Exploring variations of existing ideas and generating new ones;
  5. Filtering, ranking or combining ideas to find the best candidates;
  6. Elaborating and refining the solution; and,
  7. Communicating and receiving feedback.

How many of these steps do you already follow in your classroom projects? In what ways? What other steps do you take?

I am using 1-5 step in presents my lesson plans, but I need to find more ways to improve upon steps 6 & 7. I need to focus on keeping my students in the ZPD zone, rather than the anxiety or boredom zone. This happens when my mix of students is varied between special education students, low achieving, not interested, are the main body of a particular period. It is very challenging and I am searching for new teaching methods.


tina ellingwood

Posted on Jul 1, 2014 5:39 PM - Permalink

I believe I am using all steps. I think that framing and identifying the problem is crucial. Also how the students can apply it to their own relevancy. I try to stay away from examples in the beginning of the problem solving younger students tend to want to copy what they have seen. However if they can apply it to themselves they can come up with new ways to solve the problem.

Dena Wilson

Posted on May 23, 2014 3:04 PM - Permalink

I think I at least touch on most of these. One project I do with my high school graphics design class is to pose the question of what would NOT exist if we did not have visual representation (graphics, alphabets, images, etc.) A couple of students write it on the board and it starts out pretty slow - but as they think about it they soon realize that most of what we have in life today stood firmly on the back of visual representation! Then we do a timeline project that starts with cave drawings (the first recorded visual representation!) and follow through to alphabets and end up with a picture of themselves at today! It's a really interesting and "eye opening" (no pun intended!) project.

Peggy Cook

Posted on May 22, 2014 4:51 PM - Permalink

I teach high school Digital Graphics & 3D Animation classes. I have discovered that most students need thes:

  1. Allowing time to incubate the material
  2. Exploring variations of existing ideas and generating new ones

Ella Park

Posted on Dec 29, 2013 2:17 PM - Permalink

I teach graphic design at a career tech high school. Five different schools from very different social economic backgrounds with grades 9-12 come together. This year I have taken on more real world projects. We took on a project recently with our district concerning the web and icons. They wanted to use the students as a inspiration/focus group. Step one was explaining the project and making list of icon images. It is always a struggle to get them to first start with sketches. They want jump on the computer too soon. I started to see some trends in icon ideas but needed more input from my contact person at the district on where and how these icons would be used. After that meeting the director liked two main ideas and wanted to start a "conversation" with the students and define the problem and asking more why questions. How do I best facilitate that? I'm thinking my next step is to develop a set of questions or have them write them, and have them work in groups. I'm figuring it out as I go and I suppose the is part of what the design process is about, play.

Wyn Pottinger

Posted on Oct 17, 2013 5:51 AM - Permalink

I've found that most students (I teach high school classes, and a single middle school class) require some scaffolding to reach the steps listed above. Engaging them in the learning is very different than educating teachers, like the list above attempts to outline. Each of these points is valid, but not to be read by students. Using activities (even games). prompts, modeling (I talk aloud of what I would do to solve a design challenge), small/strategic tasks, listing, sketching...and more...it is possible to nudge students into thinking and creating like designers and commercial artists. Creativity can be a learned process that becomes a very valuable skill, for everyone.

Colleen Velasquez

Posted on Aug 17, 2013 11:15 PM - Permalink

I have used these steps before, but currently I'm going through a creativity crisis. I had one project I thought went very well where the students were asked where cinnamon came from. They were asked what we might do if our resources for spices dried up. This leads into the study of the Age of Exploration. Students researched the locations of spices that we value. They discussed their findings in small groups and created plans for what might happen if it was difficult to get the spices. The small groups then presented their plans to the class and we voted on the best solutions.

Phyllis Kaupp Seas

Posted on Aug 10, 2013 9:50 PM - Permalink

Saddled with the task of teaching Business Law in HS, and never having had taught the course prior, recognized how boring this course could become with just discussing the laws as they were book presented. Instead, I located Business Law "playbooks" for court room dramas, and divided the class members into groups for the different types of Laws, insuring each student had their very own part for total activity of all class members. The first such court room drama played as one would expect, pretty much by the script. But, by the time the second group started theirs, surprise witnesses began to appear with scripts the students had written themselves. And as the groups continued with their activities, expert witnesses showed up, robes, and hairpieces begain to appear; some were performed in early America type styles, and the class became the "hit" of the semester for the HS. As a matter of fact, students would get passes from some of their other classes when they knew some of their fellow classmates would be on the stand, and stand in the doorway of the classroom for "audience support". At the end of the year, my students scored higher on the exam for business Law than the other two teachers classes, (both of whom had been teaching the classes before). I found it quite satisfying that the students were researching "additional business laws" outside the classroom to introduce in class, and get the "defense" riled to verify the authencity of such laws when they were to present; many would object on different topics they found relevant, and of course, the "JUDGE" had to be on his/her game to know how to handle things....and if they did not know at the moment, they would call a "recess until the next day" so they could get up to speed.

Needless to say, this for me was one of the most creative classes I've taught, and one of the most satisfying for the students and for myself alike. We all learned in collaboration together during the semester.

marcia blanco

Posted on Jul 23, 2013 2:24 PM - Permalink

Im not sure if I unconsciously do any of these or not but it may have just highlighted why teaching this has felt so obtuse, so hit and miss for me in the classroom. I do a lot of PBL but there has always been a bit of a disconnect. I hope that this helps. I like the structure of it. It gives that framework that I think I am missing.