Assessment FOR Creativity #5: Using Meaningful Tasks

projectsThis is the fifth in a series of posts on assessment FOR creativity, that is, classroom assessment that is not aimed at assessing creativity itself, but at thinking about the ways classroom assessments may support—or stifle—creativity. Assessment for creativity allows students to demonstrate knowledge by using it in varied ways, and is structured to support intrinsic motivation. It entails at least three factors:

  • 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.
  • Assessment FOR creativity provides opportunities to use content in new ways, through examining multiple perspectives, solving problems, and applying ideas in original situations.
  • Assessment FOR creativity builds intrinsic motivation through the use of choice and meaningful tasks.

Today I wanted to address the last criterion, the use of meaningful tasks in assessment.

footballpracticeAll of us want to feel our activities have meaning. Sometimes—for example, for firefighters rescuing people from a burning building–the worth and purpose of our tasks are obvious. More often, when tasks are more mundane, we find meaning by considering the long-range value of the things we do. Parents change diapers and manage sleepless nights because they value the health and well-being of their children. Ball players struggle through exercises and drills with a view to the games in which the skills they build will be useful. While we might not want to think students view school activities as the parallel to wet diapers and tackling dummies, the associations can be apt. Unless students see the usefulness of the tasks we assign them, both motivation and creativity are likely to suffer.

Not surprisingly, one of the key attributes associated with teaching for understanding is the role of authentic performance tasks (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005) or performances of understanding (ALPS, 2012). Whatever we call them, these tasks put learning to use and answer students’ ever-present question, “Why do we need to learn this?” Because real-world contexts rarely entail clear-cut multiple-choice alternatives to problems, meaningful assessments offer multiple paths to solution.

Imagine, for example, a high school history class in which some of the key goals came from the Language Arts Common Core.

Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

InterviewImagine that those same students were also studying the Viet Nam War. Students could undertake an oral history project in which they interviewed older relatives and friends about their memories of key events. They could integrate material from the interviews with information gathered from print and online sources to create an original product (research report, Prezi, simulated television broadcast, etc.). Criteria used to assess the project could include the degree to which students accurately integrated information from multiple print and online sources, the effectiveness with which they integrated the interview into its historical context, and the degree of understanding of historical events evidenced in their product. For younger students a performance assessment could entail wiring the lighting for a model house; writing a graphic story; creating a dialog between historical characters, or planning a short survey and analyzing the results. In each case, the knowledge being assessed is used to do something meaningful. Meaningful tasks are not rote repetition of information placed in a decorated cover (like the multiple “reports” of my childhood) but real opportunities to use information in flexible and original ways. More details on planning meaningful assessments in a future post.

How have you used complex meaningful tasks in your assessments? We’d love to hear more.

ALPs. (2012). Teaching for understanding introduction. Retrieved from

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common core state standards. Washington, DC: Author.

Wiggins, G. & McTighe. (2005). Understanding by design 2nd Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

One thought on “Assessment FOR Creativity #5: Using Meaningful Tasks

  1. Pingback: LEGO-tastic! | creativiteach

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