Adobe Education
Educators and Professional Development Specialists

Teaching the Creative Process

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

  • Framing or identifying the problem, question or challenge to solve;
  • Gathering information about it;
  • Providing time to incubate the material;
  • Exploring variations of existing ideas and generating new ones;
  • Filtering, ranking or combining ideas to find the best candidates;
  • Elaborating and refining the solution; and,
  • 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 Workshops: Creativity in Today’s Classrooms: Designing Creativity in the Primary Grades CurriculumDesigning Creativity in the Middle Grades Curriculum, and Designing Creativity in the Upper Grades Curriculum.

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Dhanaraj Keezhara

Posted on 9/1/15 5:29:04 AM Permalink

I do not teach the students, I believe teaching them to observe, to reflect and create. Artistic expression allows for a tapping and channelizing of an individual’s inner creative energies. It multiplies the imaginative realms of students and also facilitates a technical push to the creative minds; where technology meets the creative mind, a perfect symphony achieved: Create with Purpose.”

Cara Foster

Posted on 5/1/15 10:46:18 PM Permalink

I think the only other thing we emphasize is prototyping and experimenting with solutions. That happens in the "Exploring Variations" portion but is important enough to be explicit. The sooner the students can move from the theoretical and into the practical, hands-on experimentaion, the better. Also elaborating on the "Communicating" step, finding ways to allow them to share their solutions and ideas brings more validity to the process and promotes collaboration both within and outside of our school community. If anyone out there is also interested in providing their students with more audiences to communicate and share their ideas with, I would love to talk!

Here is a visual of the design thinking process we use sometimes. It is influenced by a lot of research but most heavily by the work at IDEO and The Neuva School.

nanci bishof

Posted on 4/25/15 5:49:15 PM Permalink

I generally frame the project but leave as much as possible open-ended in the design of the artwork for my students. They may create a tessellation of their own design but need to work with a specific color scheme of their choosing or create multiple designs for a ceramic bowl including their surface designs. I usually show them references of student or artist examples, videos on techniques, and in-class demonstrations to build their background knowledge and give them more guidance on what I am looking for them to be able to produce in their artworks. They always have to create more than one solution and then choose from those designs what they feel will be most successful. They have to be able to tell me why the design those chose is best and then I make suggestions on refinements to improve it. Often they will incorporate the suggestions or they defend why it should be as originally designed.

Sandra Hodges

Posted on 2/23/15 1:51:13 AM Permalink

I often design a fairly basic and simple project, then as we begin and students have questions I allow them to deviate from the initial design to "break away" and create the assignment to suit them.

Dora Berry

Posted on 12/27/14 5:21:28 PM Permalink

I use all the steps in my class. Also, I incorporate the creation of stories allowing students to combine all the material.

Cassandra Smith

Posted on 12/22/14 2:48:03 AM Permalink

These are steps I use to encourage or coach students in how to think about how to answer essay questions or other tasks. It often involves a brainstorm, a mind-mapping of ideas, prioritisation of ideas and then further research, note-taking, discussion, drafting then seeking feedback and applying the desired structure.

Jesus Sandoval

Posted on 12/5/14 2:39:34 AM Permalink

When I do inquiry activities in my classroom, I follow this sequence of steps closely. I always ask a series of questions to prompt students into action. The discussion is guided toward finding a common solution to a problem or task, and design an action plan to solve the problem or experimental outcome. Given a rubric students are free to experiment and produce results. At the end they chose their own media to communicate the results to the class or the outside world when it applies.

Sandra Hodges

Posted on 2/23/15 1:52:01 AM Permalink

I do this as well. Not always as fluid as I would like, but Middle School is rarely fluid.

Susan Chen

Posted on 11/25/14 5:54:28 AM Permalink

This is a good concise list of steps. How much time is spent on each step depends upon the assignment. They are usually thoroughly covered only on major projects where the students have about two months to complete. There is always a class presentation of major projects. The presentations sparks new ideas for the class. In addition, the feedback the students receive from both their peers and myself is immensely important for their frame of reference for future projects.

Tony Bolder

Posted on 9/27/14 10:28:15 AM Permalink

Although not word-for-word I do find that I employ all of these points within my teaching and learning. However, I think most of these pints can be read in a number of different ways, another words they are autonomous in their meaning. But I do agree that to be creative and to teach the art (not to teach how to be creative) these points are invaluable.

Gaye Kershaw

Posted on 9/21/14 5:53:25 AM Permalink

I use all of these steps in my '5 E's' inquiry based primary art room practice - Engage/Explore/Explain/Elaborate/Evaluate.

Karen Thind

Posted on 12/27/14 7:54:06 AM Permalink

I like your 5 E's.

Stephanie Davidson

Posted on 9/1/14 7:51:26 PM Permalink

I have not used any of these steps. I have never thought about it as a process. I will try to approach the process different now.

Bhuvana Sriram

Posted on 8/25/14 5:16:36 PM Permalink

I use to follow all the steps listed here in the same order in my classroom projects and I will include one more step of critical reviewing of the projects which will give some new angles and ideas to improve the projects.

Pamela Hollmon

Posted on 8/25/14 12:13:04 AM Permalink

  • Providing time to incubate the material;
  • Communicating and receiving feedback.
I believe I use the above the least. Time is limited when I see students once a week during a 50 minute block in the computer lab. Because of this, I feel that I "rush" my students to have a finished product instead of expanding on their exploration. Again, time is a factor when it comes to feedback. I encourage my students while trying not to instill my own concepts of what the product should be. However, it can be difficult, at times, when a child looks at you with an expression conveying he/she is lost.

nanci bishof

Posted on 4/25/15 5:53:06 PM Permalink

Do you have the capacity for students to store their work on your district's server? If so couldn't students continue deeper work on the same project during a second session?

Laurie Myers

Posted on 8/9/14 8:50:04 PM Permalink

  • Framing or identifying the problem, question or challenge to solve;
  • Gathering information about it;
  • Providing time to incubate the material;
  • Exploring variations of existing ideas and generating new ones;
  • Filtering, ranking or combining ideas to find the best candidates;
  • Elaborating and refining the solution; and,
  • Communicating and receiving feedback.
I use all of these ideas. I believe I use communication and feedback the most. However, I do gather as much current info as possible and explore and generate ideas. All of these ideas work together and follow each other.

uma ravi

Posted on 7/24/14 2:34:19 PM Permalink

I use most of these steps in my teaching process .I feel I lack the last step communicating and receiving the feed back.I spend more in exploring new ideas.

Phil Feain

Posted on 7/23/14 11:42:32 PM Permalink

I would say that I would use several of these steps along with several others when getting students to create a mock-up of an app in an IT class. I give them a task to create an app based on an idea or need that they have identified. Time is given for them to think about what they are going to do and then they have the opportunity to ask questions and receive feedback throughout the task. I also encourage students to spend time researching for examples via the App Store of similar ideas, look at reviews and ratings. This encourages them to get an idea of what works and doesn't and what they need to do to make their app better. They are also encourage to create designs to show their thinking.

I only spend a short time showing them how to use the app in which they create and run the mock-up on as it gives them more freedom to choose their own direction without me setting boundaries or restrictions. Students present their finished app to the class and their classmates ask them questions about how they came up with the idea to create their app, what made them go in a certain direction, etc. Student feedback tends to be very positive and encouraging, particularly when they make suggestions and additions to enhance the app. It is often very interesting to see the quality of product developed this way as opposed to a traditional programming assignment given before hand.

Stephanie Davidson

Posted on 7/20/14 3:53:21 AM Permalink

I am a high school teacher but am taking this course for multiple reasons. However, here my responses.

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.

Ernest Whiteman

Posted on 6/25/14 5:20:53 AM Permalink

Hands-on has been the best tool for the middle grade classes that I have helped lead. We can walk them through the processes of videography or graphic design but allow them to take the leaps in their creativity by stepping back when necessary to let students make the connections or the creative decisions. For instance, in one school, we planned and plotted a video about music and make gains and losses in the number of ideas presented. But, we needed to figure out how to include the voices of all the students. Once we had a plan, we went to work on showing them how to produce high-quality video and audio. We shot so much footage that in the editing stage much of it was left out. Once again, there was some conflict about including scenes and shots. But, this time one of the students, acting as a ambassador, showed many of the students how to operate the editing software and when looked at from an editing POV, many of the students began coming to agreements more about what needed to be included in their video.

Melanie WEST

Posted on 5/30/14 4:22:59 AM Permalink

Thank you so much. I found this workshop to be supportive and inspiring! A lot of the recommended techniques are things I instinctively do in my workshops and classrooms. It would be helpful to have a resource that charted out options for the different learning styles. For instance, if you had a lesson on the interconnectivity of the biosphere, a list of ideas to help the teacher incorporate the various learning styles (outside of naturalistic) to help students internalize the concept. It could even be a general chart that inspired ideas to help teachers connect with different learning styles as they prepare students for hands on project based learning.

Dena Wilson

Posted on 5/20/14 10:54:35 PM Permalink

A pretty comprehensive list to be sure. The number one thing I keep in mind is that I would rather frustrate them with too little information/instruction than so much I stifle creativity and end up leading them to create what I personally envisioned. The last thing I would want is a classroom full of projects that look much like the way I would have done it instead of the beautifully creative surprises they deliver time after time!

Mark Hajewski

Posted on 9/22/14 5:35:08 AM Permalink

I couldn't agree more. Many students are locked into habits of mind, and they look for validation in each and every step of their process. Creativity should a little messy in this respect. Students should feel safe to make mistakes and be given time to redirect. We need to carefully choose our instruction in creative projects so they have enough to move forward, define the size of the sandbox that get to playin, and avoid influencing their creative destination as much as possible.

Sue Alexander

Posted on 3/28/14 11:56:53 PM Permalink

I have found that embedding direct instruction of the creative process within a simple first project helps my 7th and 8th grade students approach later works with more confidence and delivers much better outcomes. Less formal reminders, like "I don't think that chick is ready to hatch; back in the incubator she goes." help reinforce the process until it becomes habit.

Jean Harper

Posted on 3/23/14 8:53:03 PM Permalink

My lessons include most of the steps listed. First, the art problem and the objectives are presented. These are launched by initial activities that explore or brainstorm possibilities. During this part of the lesson, students gather information about their ideas and practice skills in a sketchbook. We often share solutions to the problem or show work from other years both examples and non-examples. The students are then given time to refine and complete their work. We conclude with student or teacher discussions following the four steps of art criticism to provide feedback.

delia delgadillo

Posted on 3/21/14 3:51:51 AM Permalink

The steps I already know are all of the above. I knew that in order to have a creative outcome and think critically you needed to do the folowing steps. The only thing I am really being refreshed with is how the creative process is numbered and in ways it is made into a step by step format. This was helpful to see beacause it did remind me of exactly what should be done in order to think creatively and freely. I am currently trying to use this outline to finish my school work because I know it has to be thoughful and creative.

Jean Discorfano

Posted on 11/13/13 7:05:49 PM Permalink

With the type of classes I teach, strictly CS6 and Premier Elements a lot of the information does not fit my curriculum. I have students for two week stretches, 4 hours a day, for a summer camp on web design. They strive to make a website and they really are free to use all their creativity for this. I do use some structured lessons to teach them how to use the Adobe programs but once they start their webpages they basically have free reign, (with a few restrictions.) I have printed out the list Robert Cocanougher posted for my own use.

Robert Cocanougher

Posted on 8/29/13 9:06:54 PM Permalink

This discussion is similar to others on creativity in this Exchange so I will include this list again. Teachers must be up on the latest thinking on the subject and not just apply scientific problem solving methods. Doing creative work and getting it analyzed in a critique takes advantage of a good teacher and other students.

brainstorming: any of a number of problem-solving techniques that are designed to expand ideas and encourage creativity. List making, mapping, associative thinking, and metaphorical thinking are common strategies used.

divergent thinking: an open-ended problem-solving strategy. Starting with a broad theme, the artist or designer expands ideas in all directions.

convergent thinking: a problem-solving strategy in which a predetermined goal is pursued in a linear progression using a highly focused problem-solving process. Six steps are commonly used: 1. define the problem, 2. do research, 3. determine your objective, 4. devise a strategy, 5. execute the strategy, 6. evaluate the results.

critique: any means by which the strengths and weaknesses of designs are analyzed.

cause-and-effect critique (or formal analysis): a critique in which the viewer seeks to determine the cause for each visual or emotional effect in a design. For example, the dynamism in a design may be caused by the diagonal lines and asymmetrical balance used.

compare/contrast critique: a critique in which similarities and differences between two designs are analyzed. Often used in art history classes to demonstrate differences in approach between artists.

descriptive critique: a critique in which the viewer carefully describes what he or she sees when observing a design.

objective criticism: the assessment of strengths and weakness in a design based solely on the visual information presented.

subjective criticism: the assessment of strengths and weaknesses in a design based on nonobjective criteria, such as the narrative implications of an idea, the cultural ramifications of an action, or the personal meaning of an image.

metaphorical thinking: the use of metaphors or analogies to create visual or verbal bridges.

recontextualization: a postmodern practice in which the meaning of an image or object is changed by the context in which it is placed.

Mark `Adamowski

Posted on 9/6/13 1:45:40 AM Permalink

Thank you for submitting your valuable list. I'm new to Abobe Education Exchange. It seems to have gems of knowledge around every corner.

Sue Alexander

Posted on 3/28/14 11:47:25 PM Permalink

Thank you for the excellent list Robert. Now I just need the MiddleSchoolese translation.

Ken Hakstol

Posted on 8/26/13 4:00:22 PM Permalink

The process you have listed is a model for colllaborative problem/passion based learning. If kids use this flow in their learing from primary grades by the time they are teenagers the creative habit of mind will be so natural. It will direct them as learners and citizens of the planet.

Nick Robertson

Posted on 7/30/13 11:35:38 AM Permalink

The creative learning process identified in the general steps is very close to what we taught but we did not identify them in such a structured way. In the lessons we used it was the steps we missed, or did not fully realize, that stopped a good task from being a great one. We were probably lacking in generating new variations, although we did do these in a limited capacity, and filtering and ranking. Another time pressed area was elaborating and refining.

My excuse, and I’m sure I’m not the only one, is when teaching VET or Certificate courses the standardization is based on a large variety of competencies and these competencies must be shown in order to finish the course. While we housed these comps in projects the variety of software needed to be taught cuts down on deeper exploration which tends to rely on the students own investigation outside the allotted hours. In my view standardization in assessment created by government scoring and University entry levels, tends to inhibit the diversity in exploring software and enlarging projects fully. This is perhaps the lineal model that Robinson mentions in his videos, that is, its based on an older scholastic system that’s needed to be updated.

Students that loved the design process would further investigate software to solve their own problems, others would need more structured projects.

Nicholas Murray

Posted on 7/18/13 4:26:01 AM Permalink

I agree that the process you identify is important for learners to follow to access, understand and apply the creative process. I find that it is sometimes useful to make comparisons to 'thinking theory'. If you look at either Bloom's or Anderson's taxonomy as a framework for thinking, the same processes are identified (just different labels). What I find interesting is that the ranking of thinking/creative processes in this way allows learners to understand the level or difficulty of thinking and therefore the time and application they may need at each stage. So I might explore/highlight with my learners that the gathering of information (comparable to the 'remember' thinking stage) is a relatively easy cognitive process. The process of evaluation (gathering and applying feedback) required much more careful thought and planning for it to be a useful process.