I have a friend whose son is in second grade. It is now March. As far as his mother can determine, the teacher has yet to make a positive comment regarding a child’s work. Accurate work is met with more work. Mistakes are met with red marks and, “Do over.” The intent is high standards, but it would be hard to imagine a situation less supportive of creativity.
A few posts ago I suggested that assessment for creativity, that is, classroom assessment supportive of creativity, had at least three key attributes. The first was:
Assessment FOR creativity builds intrinsic motivation through a sense of increasing competence. This requires the wise use of diagnostic and formative assessments, as well as appropriate feedback.
For students, understanding their own progress matters. This shouldn’t be terribly surprising. All of us are more motivated to work when we see ourselves improving. Think about a skill you have developed. Over the last several years, I’ve been learning to make mosaics. While I’m still far from expert, I am much more skilled than I was at the beginning. I look forward each week to trying new things, and while everything I try doesn’t work, I continue to improve.
In mosaics, my improving skill is fairly obvious—pieces fit better. Mosaics look more like I envisioned. But in school subjects, progress can be less clear. Helping students build a sense of competence requires at least three things:
- Student successes and needs must be clearly communicated.
- Needs must be communicated in a way that makes it clear that progress is possible.
- And most basically, instruction must be such that students can actually progress.
Assessments are at the center of all three, particularly formative assessments. Formative assessments—assessments that give information and direction to both students and teachers—help students understand where goals have been met and where they still need work. Imagine my friend’s son receiving a paper that, instead of just saying, “Do over” said, “Good clear research question and methods. The explanation of your data is not clear. Do that part over and resubmit. If you need help with the graph, see me.” That kind of comment takes longer to make, but it also makes it much more likely that the student will be successful the second time around. And, of course, formative assessments give teachers information that allows instruction matched to student needs. Without that, real progress is unlikely.
What does all this have to do with creativity? Intrinsic motivation is associated with creativity, and it is built through an increasing sense of competence. Supportive formative assessments give teachers essential information, and provide students a sense of hope and possibility. They also build a classroom atmosphere that allows for creative risks. With that, anything is possible!