Trevor Bryan’s Creative Complexity Scale

“There is a vast difference between being able to draw Donald Duck and creating Donald Duck.”

For many educators, Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge have been instrumental in developing educational objectives, lessons and curriculum. Their value is based partially on the fact that each provides a common language and structure which help educators when thinking about, discussing and evaluating educational goals and the means by which to achieve them. However, these models are limited in helping Art Educators because neither effectively addresses one of the core components of art education, creativity.

Both Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s DOK use the word “create” but neither one clearly differentiates between creative tasks (Click here for a comparison of the Creative Complexity Scale and Webb’s DOK). And certainly, there is a vast difference between creating a drawing of Donald Duck and actually creating Donald Duck.

Being that creativity is fundamental to any art education program, as well as many other school programs, having a means to uniformly categorize and assess the complexity of the tasks and the creativeness of the individual is essential. The Creative Complexity Scale (CCS) is designed to help art educators and other educators entrenched in creative domains make these categorizations and assessments to ensure that they are helping students move towards creative independence.

Three measures are used to determine the creativity level: decision making, predictability and connections.

Decision Making

Although professional artists may be given parameters and feedback, they are largely autonomous in that the majority of the decisions about their artwork are left up to them. If a goal for art educators is to prepare students to be professional artists, whether as fine artists or in some other creative domain, they must guide them towards independence. Art students, especially serious art students, must have opportunities to make decisions concerning their artwork, such as subject, scale and media in order to achieve autonomy and find their creative voice. Aligning art programs with the four levels of the CC Scale helps students to systematically take responsibility for decision making.


Elliot Eisner, the renowned art education theorist, discussed “surprise” as an important element of an effective learning environment. Surprises arise from a certain degree of unpredictability. If the result is known it cannot be surprising. In contrast, a creative solution can often be categorized as surprising.

There is nothing wrong with giving students projects or tasks that are highly predictable. For example, art students in lower grades or who have minimal art experience can benefit from these types of tasks.Predictable projects help provide students necessary background knowledge. But creative domains, including the arts, would never evolve if only predictable solutions were offered. To make something new and original, art students should be encouraged to seek unpredictable, unexpected and yes, surprising solutions. Variety expands possibility. As students move through the levels of the CC Scale, greater variety is required.


When discussing the author Madeleine L’Engle in his book, Creativity, Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi writes, “Like most creative individuals, [L’Engle’s] contribution has been to bring together domains that appear to have nothing in common.” Similarly, the late Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things.” Connections are the keystone of creativity. Looking to make strong, meaningful and surprising connections should become a habit of mind for any serious (art) student. As students move up on the CC Scale, they are expected to search for and make deeper and further reaching connections.

The CC Scale is made up of four levels (Click here for the Creative Complexity Levels). They are as follows:

Level One

Level one projects are any projects in which the outcome is highly predictable and all decisions, such as theme, size, media, and duration etc. are made by the instructor. Final products look essentially the same. There is low expectation for students to make strong connections.

Verbs: Match, copy, repeat, mimic, duplicate, imitate, recreate

Level Two

Level two projects are any projects in which learning a specific skill, concept or strategy is the goal. The outcome is mostly predictable and most of the decisions concerning the project are largely determined by the instructor. There is minimal to moderate variation between final products. Most connections made are confined to a single domain.

Verbs: Match, copy, repeat, mimic, duplicate, imitate, recreate, modify, vary, alter

Level Three

Level three projects are any projects in which students and instructors share roughly equal responsibility for the decisions concerning the project. The outcome of the project is less predictable, allowing more room for variation. Final products are related but vary greatly. The artwork has evidence of skills and/or concepts and/or strategies previously studied. Students are expected to make connections within the primary domain and/or to secondary domains.

Verbs: Modify, vary, alter, apply, add, revise, restructure, repurpose, interpret, reinterpret, integrate

Level Four

Level four projects are any projects in which students are responsible for most, if not all of the decisions concerning the project. Final results are highly unpredictable resulting in final products which are minimally related, if at all, and look different. Students effectively utilize skills and concepts previously studied. Students are responsible for making rich, meaningful connections often utilizing knowledge from different domains.

Verbs: Apply, add, revise, restructure, repurpose, interpret, reinterpret, integrate, synthesize, connect, create, design, distinguish, prove

A Note about the Verbs

Like Bloom’s taxonomy and Webb’s DOK, the CC Scale includes verbs. These verbs suggest how acquired skills and knowledge should be used. The previous levels verbs (italicized) are included with the higher levels verbs (in bold) to highlight the fact that the levels seldom are completely independent of each other. Often, to achieve a higher level of creativity requires the utilization of some lower level tasks.


In a 2005 paper from the National Center for Assessment, the author, Karen Hess, discusses how to use Webb’s DOK Levels as an assessment. She explains that the DOK Levels should be used as a “ceiling” not a “target.” This view basically asks that when a student has the opportunity to exhibit a higher level DOK, instead of assessing with only a yes or no, the assessor should record the highest level at which the student comfortably operates. Having a clear understanding of where a student is helps to plan targeted lessons which give the student the best chance for growth. The same approach should be used with the CC Scale when using it as an assessment tool.

The CC Scale is a tool to help individual teachers and whole departments reflect and plan in order to move students towards creative independence. Whether you are an art teacher, a STEM teacher, writing teacher or any other educator teaching a subject driven by creativity, the CC Scale can help you and your colleagues to gradually release creative responsibility to your students, setting them up for future success as a creative.


Click here for a blank CCS template.


By Trevor Bryan @trevorabryan and Rich Czyz @RACzyz

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