Imagine trying to learn how to drive a car from a book or from lectures given by expert drivers. You study diagrams showing the position of the accelerator, brake, and clutch pedals. You read about the process of releasing the clutch as the accelerator is depressed. You memorize the appropriate braking distances… When you have read or heard about all of the various skills and techniques used in driving, you get behind the wheel for the first time and take your driving test. (from ALPS Teaching for Understanding website)
How successful would you have been in passing such a test?
Without the opportunity use the information you’d read or heard—in this case, practice driving the car–it is unlikely that you would understand it in a meaningful way. In the same way, students learning new content must go beyond just hearing content in order to understand it—they must expand on it, apply it, change it, or draw inferences from it before the material becomes their own. This is the Learning for Understanding that is an essential part of the Creativity in the Classroom model.
Such activities also provide opportunities for assessment in ways that support creativity. The second characteristic of assessment FOR creativity is as follows.
Assessment FOR creativity provides opportunities to use content in new ways, through examining multiple perspectives, solving problems, and applying ideas in original situations.
If we ask students to apply the things they are learning in new ways, we both support their meaningful learning and gain a glimpse into their thought processes. Such assessments require more than a creative cover for a report, but demand creative thinking about the content itself.
Imagine, for example, that students are learning about ecosystems. They have read about ecosystems and seen labeled diagrams of pond life. If we assess that knowledge by asking students to label another pond, very similar to the one in the teaching illustration, it is likely that they will respond with recall–but we will have no way to know if they have internalized the ideas enough to apply them to another situation. But what if they were challenged to label (and justify their labels) in an alien environment like this one.* Or, better yet, share a couple examples of imaginary ecosystems, or show the video below, and then have them create their own. If they really understand the concepts of consumer, producer, etc. they will be able to apply them appropriately, use their imagination, and probably have fun!
In considering how you might plan assessments that ask students to apply content in new ways, you might start with questions I suggested in planning activities around the Common Core Standards.
- Is there a place it would be helpful to generate many ideas? For example, if you have students suggest multiple paths a historical (or literary) figure could have chosen (and potential consequences), it will provide insight into how well they understand the historical context.
- Would it be helpful to take a different perspective or point of view? Assessments that reflect point of view need not necessarily reflect human beings. Think about students writing a narrative from the perspective of an atom telling the story of chemical bond or the carbon cycle.
- How could I use a “what if” question? “What if” questions can require both imaginary and fact-based responses. “What would be potential consequences if our planet’s gravity increased to 1.5gs? 3gs?” “If we tripled the size of the sample but the proportions of responses stayed the same, what would be the impact on probability levels?”
- How could I incorporate metaphor? Think about the understanding that could be demonstrated by creating a metaphor for direct vs. alternating current, the circulatory system, or the theme of Romeo and Juliet.
- How can I get students to ask questions and investigate? Assessments that put students in the role of investigators can require deep understanding. More about projects, in the next Assessment FOR Creativity post.
And I’d like to add one more to the list.
- How could students apply their knowledge in a new situation? Students studying the impact of setting on a novel can write piece that uses a similar setting—or sets the novel’s characters in a different setting. Students studying magnets can identify a new way/place to use them. Students learning about nutrition can be challenged to create healthy menus for varied circumstances—vegetarian, various ethnic cuisines, or local flora and fauna.
How have you assessed students to include or support creativity? We’d love to hear about it.
*In my quest for alien ecosystem graphics, I stumbled upon a strange and amazing website that could provide an imagination boost for those of you who teach about evolution–as well as some glorious alien ecosystems. The Sagan4 website, as best I understand it, is a project in which artists and others are creating an evolving alien ecosystem, beginning with a single cell. This multi-year project includes a blog and a wiki of complete (imaginary) planetary history. Truthfully, I haven’t been able to invest enough time to sort it all out, but it looks like a treasure trove of resources for students who might analyze how the evolutionary processes on Sagan4 are similar to or different than those on earth. And, of course, they could create alien creatures with their own evolutionary history. If you use Sagan4 in a lesson, please share! Here’s a taste of their creations.