Torrance Levels of Learning and Naturally Creative Thinkers

Kathryn HaydonEducators

Torrance Levels of Learning and Naturally Creative Thinkers

By Kathryn P. Haydon



There are three levels of teaching and learning as suggested by educator and psychologist E. Paul Torrance:

Level 1: Recognize and Memorize
Example: “In what year did Columbus land in the Bahamas?”

Level 2:  Think About What You Know
Example: “How are Columbus and an astronaut similar and different?”

Level 3: Employ creative thinking skills including: imagining, experimenting, discovering, elaborating, testing solutions, communicating discoveries.
Example: “Suppose Columbus had landed in California. How would our lives and history have been different?”

Many students thrive in a level 3 learning environment.  For many students, especially those who are highly creative, the opportunity to consistently create, innovate, solve, explore new ideas, and learn at a rapid pace is not a choice; it is essential to their academic and emotional well-being.  Memorization and rote tasks, without practical application to problem solving scenarios or ability to utilize creative problem solving skills, can be difficult and frustrating.

Without the deep level of engagement that comes from level 3 activities – imagining, experimenting, discovering, elaborating, testing solutions – creative students often manifest behavioral characteristics that can often be mistaken for problems.  Manifestations of a lack of level 3 learning for a creatively-inclined student might appear as behavioral problems, defiance, attention deficits, underachievement, and psychological issues such as depression.   In simplistic terms, without the depth and complexity that their brains crave to fully engage their thinking, highly creative students have difficulty finding a constructive direction in which to channel their thinking and solving capacities.

There are multiple strategies that can help bridge the gap between a student and his or her learning experience.  The first is to provide the child with flexibility and freedom to direct his/her own learning.  This might include choices, alternatives, and opportunities for the child to provide input and ideas as to how particular assignments or classes would be more meaningful; individual pacing and advancement through subjects; and flexible age groupings.  The second strategy is to integrate many more level 3 learning opportunities across the content areas.  Connecting curriculum to a child’s interests and abilities creates intrinsic motivation that increases engagement in the academic day and improves educational outcomes.

Characteristics of a Creative Child:

Inspiring Quotes:

“The simple awareness of what creativity actually means can be transformative.”

— Haydon and Harvey, Creativity for Everybody, 2015

“Creativity is the highest form of mental functioning.”

— E. Paul Torrance

“When creative children have a supportive teacher—someone tolerant of unconventional answers, occasional disruptions, or detours of curiosity— they tend to excel. When they don’t, they tend to underperform and drop out of high school or don’t finish college at high rates.”

Newsweek, July 2010

“We all have distinctive talents and passions that can inspire us to achieve far more than we may imagine. Understanding this changes everything. It also offers us our best and perhaps our only promise for genuine and sustainable success in a very uncertain future.”

— Ken Robinson, The Element, 2009


Torrance, E. P. & Goff, K. (1990). Fostering academic creativity in gifted students. (ERIC Digest No. E484). Retrieved from ERIC database. (ED321489)


Kathryn Haydon helps you maximize your creative strengths so you can do your best work. Through keynotes, workshops, and consulting, she trains individuals, leaders, and teams to find the unique spark that leads to deep engagement and productivity.

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