Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Relationship Between Accountability and Creativity

My guest today is David Wees, teacher and technology guru at Stratford Hall in British Columbia. David is also an important part of my Professional Learning Community, and I am pleased that he agreed to guest blog here today. You can check out his blog here and his twitter here.

By David Wees

Imagine this graph represents the possible relationships between accountability and creativity.

Where would you put the activities you do as a school?  Here are some examples of activities some school do, and where I think they lie on the accountability vs creativity scale.

What you may notice about this graph is that, for the most part, activities which hold schools and students highly accountability are not associated generally with creativity and that activities which are highly creative can fall short of being very accountable.  It's not a perfect graph, and I think that some of the examples could be moved, but the idea I think is pretty clear: the more you increase accountability, the less flexible the activity, and hence the less ability for students to be creative while completing the activity.

Accountability in this sense means how the activity and the student's performance of that activity, is shared with the student, the teachers, the school, and the wider community.  Standardized tests are considered a "highly accountability" activity simply because everyone has access to how well pretty much any school did, and educators within those schools generally have access to their individual marks, and of course students get feedback about how well they did.

Creative activities to me are generally areas where the student has a lot of choice on how the activity will be completed, and how they will complete the activity.  These are often the types of activities that I think students will actually be able to do once they finish their education, and according to Sir Ken Robinson, our schools fail to provide opportunities to students to do them.

There are a few activities which fall with higher accountability and decent ability for students to be creative, and we often find that these activities are not ones which are done by most schools.  Anyway, I'm sure the model I have up there is imperfect, so I invite you to follow this link to this collaborative Google drawing I've started, and we can add other activities to this chart.


  1. I really enjoyed the concepts here, but I disagree with your label of PBL as a low-accountability activity. If it is done well, the problem-solving, the resources and the final plan all involve communication with the community.

  2. I have become almost entirely disenfranchised from the term accountability. I actually don't understand what it means anymore... or maybe its that I know all too well that accountability has become a synonym for punish, and I'm simply not willing to purchase stock in a system that attempts to scare people into doing what's right.

  3. Yeah I haven't placed PBL perfectly, but how does the greater community judge PBL, and by this community I include government agencies, parents from outside the district, etc... It should probably have a higher accountability rating but certainly not at the top, especially given the range of different styles of PBL which exist.

  4. "...accountability has become a synonym for punish." Thanks for summing up exactly what I feel. I don't think government or management really care about accountability as much as they needed to find a more acceptable way to talk about manipulation using punishments and rewards.

    --another fan of Alfie Kohn


  5. I think this is a curved relationship rather than the linear one you suggest. The question in my mind is what the curve looks like. The research on checklists certainly that some standardization is good--plus is provides commonality for shared experiences in progressive years. For instance, the kid at 10 has roughly 8 more years of learning which theoretically builds on his knowledge of the Civil War. Theres no reason why checklists in this context can't encourage creativity. For instance, pick one objective you need to get to next year--place it in the center of a piece of paper......and go wild (i.e. idea graph scenario). But realize the context for that discussion is built on the back of some degree of standardization from years before. If you take 180 days * 7 hours * 4 blocks of time in each hour = 5040. But realistically in some classes like social studies, you can cover 5 to 7 concepts in that time.....and have a 30 to 45 minute project and still be ahead of the curve time wise.

    To me this mirrors the Laffer Curve in economics. The Laffer curve says that taxes can be good at certain levels....but reach diminishing returns at others. I think the relationship you are describing is just the same. Standards can provide some good--particularly in small to medium doses.....but going beyond is what is difficult. Particularly when teachers have to deal with individualize and one to one learning.

    To be fair. I've taught in the past....but I'm not teaching now--at least in the classroom. I'm not a uber-fan of standardization....but I think that given that its here....optimizing for what exists at least in the short run is the best strategy for our students and perhaps even our sanity.


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