Good curriculum and good assessment go hand-in-hand. So it is not surprising that the fourth key principle in developing curriculum supportive of creativity relates to assessment. In curriculum for creativity:
Assessment includes multiple formative and summative assessments, including some that offer choices and use content in new ways.
In all good curriculum, we start with big ideas. Then we decide what we want students to be able to do with those ideas. That process can lead us to develop both effective practice activities (which can serve as formative assessments) and appropriate major (summative) assessments. Last week I talked about why creating meaningful practice activities is so essential for learning. Of course the same principles are true for major assessments as well. When we ask students to apply information, they will learn the most, and showcase their ideas most effectively, if they are engaged in projects that are meaningful to them. And while it is true that most public school teachers must prepare students to take traditional tests, if traditional tests are the primary type of major assessments, we may teach an unintended message—“Only test scores count.” While, sadly, sometimes public schools feel like that, if we want real learning for understanding to occur, we need to create assessments that both require students to use the information and send the message, “Your thinking about the content counts.”
And so, for many of the same reasons we choose formative assessments that require using content in new ways, we do the same for summative (major) assessments. Using content in new ways is closely associated with creativity, interest and learning. But what about choice? How does that relate to creativity?
Creativity and intrinsic motivation have important and complicated ties. In general, the things that push individuals toward extrinsic motivation (rewards, competition, close surveillance, for example) tend to push them away from creativity. Factors that tend to move individuals more toward intrinsic motivation—or at least self-determination– also tend to support creativity. One of these is choice.
This is another instance where doing things that are supportive of creativity enhances learning and classroom health in more general ways. Just yesterday a young educator-friend called me, excited at the success of her new middle school homework policy. She assigned five different assignments for the week, of which students are to choose three. Suddenly her homework-hating students were thoughtfully considering which of the offered options they should complete. The easiest three? The ones on topics that puzzle them? Some combination? Feeling in control of their learning made a difference in their attitude toward the assignments. And they are doing their homework! Clearly, assignments that are completed are much more likely to help students learn.
And how does this relate to creativity? Certainly, if some of the assignments are open-ended and give students opportunities for originality, students’ creativity is likely to be supported. But it is more than that. The practice of giving students choices –sometimes, for some things—helps creative a classroom atmosphere that fosters intrinsic motivation—and thus creativity.
There are risks to giving choice in major assessments, but they can be managed. More on that next time!