In CEP 811, we have spent substantial time investigating different technologies and how those might be integrated into our own classrooms to deepen student learning and drive student achievement. We crafted hands-on collaborative lessons and projects utilizing technologies such as remixing video, creating infographics, and experimenting with maker kits. At times, figuring out how to weave new technologies into my lessons as an Italian teacher proved difficult, but these efforts were ultimately worthwhile, as they pushed my thinking as an educator and have inspired me to try new approaches.
This week we were challenged once more, but this time, we were asked to think of how we would assess “creative problem solving during maker-inspired lessons.” At first blush, this might not seem such a challenging task. However, assessment is rarely easy, and this is especially true in today’s educational climate in the United States. Since the advent of federal initiatives like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, teachers and students have been under ever increasing pressure to do well on standardized tests. Because of this, as Gee (2010) noted, teachers and their students are burdened with the yoke of a “skill and drill” approach to teaching and learning. Gee goes on to state that “standardized skills” can be gotten anywhere and often much cheaper than we can provide here in this country. For this reason, he predicts that if our citizens are to “survive in a developed country outside of low-level service work, they’re going to have to have innovation and creativity.” Yet, this begs the question of how teachers and students can assess creative, collaborative, diverse educational endeavors that work against the rote regurgitation of facts.
In the present era of an almost hyper-concern for accountability, I must not only provide quality, actionable, constructive feedback for my students, but I must also have hard data that is as objective as possible to justify my grading to students, parents, and administrators. Therefore, as an educator charged with the assessment of student learning, I would assess creative problem solving during maker-inspired lessons in the following ways. First, I would map out my curriculum and coordinate it with the world language content standards. Rather than originating in a skill-and-drill space as it might seem, I believe this process is just as necessary as it was for Isselhardt (2013) and his school in Baltimore. We as teachers are still responsible to our students, parents, administration, districts, and ultimately the state for meeting (and hopefully exceeding) the expectations they have adopted in terms of standards and benchmarks. This is also in line with Bransford, Brown & Cocking (2000), “To develop competence in an area of inquiry, students must (a) have a deep foundation of factual knowledge, (b) understand facts and ideas in the context of a conceptual framework, and (c) organize knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application” (p. 16). After I have mapped out what we are expected to learn and be able to do, I would then backward plan each unit. According to Wiggins and McTighe in Understanding by Design (2005), backward planning involves beginning with the end in mind. I begin by developing and planning the performance task would I want students to be able to perform at the end of a unit, For example in a unit on foods and restaurants, I would expect students to create a culturally appropriate restaurant dialogue in Italian. I think about this final assessment and plan my instruction like a road map on how to arrive at that destination. Mapping out what one expects one’s students to be able to do is critical for any assessment. Wiggins and McTighe assert, “Our theory of understanding contends that contextualized application is the appropriate means of evoking and assessing enduring understandings” (p. 152).
At this point, and only at this point, would I begin to think about the actual assessment. This might seem a bit of a circuitous response to how one assesses a creative endeavor; however, this foundational work is both relevant and critical. A teacher cannot effectively assess work about which s/he has not deep thinking. We have to prepare ourselves to assess just as we would prepare our students to be assessed in order to avoid confusion and to make our expectations clear. Students become confused, anxious, and even upset when they do not know what is expected of them. For this reason, I would involve them in the creation of their own assessment rubric. Doing so facilitates student investment in the work, and it has the added benefit of giving them a clear understanding of what will be assessed and how. Naturally, some aspects of a rubric in a language class would have to involve some criteria such as natural, appropriate sounding language in terms of vocabulary and grammar. This can easily be done by crafting more holistic style grading rubrics such as those utilized in the International Baccalaureate program with a site like Rubistar.4teachers.org. In addition to these “typical” criteria that the students and I agree upon, we would also fashion a set of expectations around evaluating their creativity in the accomplishment of their performance task.
This aspect of assessment proved most difficult for me. I do not believe as Wiggins (2012) “naysayers” that one cannot assess creativity. I do believe that it is both purposeful and necessary. The challenge comes in how one actually evaluates creativity. Teachers can quickly get into trouble by grading according to subjective rather than objective measures. Thus far, the best resource I have found for how to evaluate creativity with some measure of objectivity is Wiggins’ own rubric. The students and I would tweak it slightly to make it a bit more student friendly. I suspect that asking them to produce something that is “an exquisite blend of the explicit and implicit” might prove difficult for them to wrap their brains around. In any case, with some work, Wiggins’ rubric would be an exemplary springboard for effectively collaborating with my students on demonstrating how they push themselves creatively.
Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., & Cocking, R.R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school. National Academies Press. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309070368.
Gee, James Paul. (2010, July 10). James Paul Gee on Grading with Games. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JU3pwCD-ey0&feature=youtu.be
Koestler, A. (2013, April 23). Creativity [Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil reside in the same individual. ~ Arthur Koestler]. Retrieved February 25, 2017, from https://www.flickr.com/photos/bitesizeinspiration/8674201831
Isslehardt, E. (2013, February 11). Creating Schoolwide PBL Aligned to Common Core. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/PBL-aligned-to-common-core-eric-isslehardt
Wiggins, G. (2012, February 3). On assessing for creativity: yes you can, and yes you should. Retrieved from http://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2012/02/03/on-assessing-for-creativity-yes-you-can-and-yes-you-should/
Wiggins, G. and McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design, Expanded 2nd Edition. Prentice Hall. pg 13-33.