I can’t assess that…


Imagine a student delivers her math project in the form of a song.  In response the teacher declares, ‘I am not creative, so I can’t assess that.’

While I understand this sentiment, I don’t think it is necessarily true. The teacher is not the person who needs to be creative in order for creative projects to be produced.

Let’s drift over to technology for a moment. There was a time in my career when I responded in a similar fashion concerning historical information.  What I was looking for on the unit test was a rendition of what I said I class – a reproduction of the notes I had researched, I had written and I had delivered with my historical biases. If a student asked how many tanks were produced by the Soviets in WWII, I responded, “I don’t know…I will look that up later.” I – I  Captain.

Clearly I was the information portal.  The legitimacy of information, regardless of the direction it was traveling went through TEACHER.

It took me a little while to notice, and much longer to accept, that a lot of people were walking around with something called a SmartPhone.  After a while I was saying things like, ‘Good question Andrew, someone look that up!’ In less than 10 seconds we had Russian tank data from 3 different online sources. We could then discuss the variance in information and explore causational factors for that.

Anyone reasonably conscious should see that we educators are no longer the information portal. The access to information, regardless of the direction, is free and readily available. The role of the teacher is increasingly that of facilitator, the designer of the learning opportunity. Obviously we still need to know things, I get that argument, but there is clearly a shift has occurred. Some have argued we are in a change era the likes of which we have not seen since the ‘printing-press’ (@scottmcleod). I think the future of testing is to somehow design our assessments to be completed while students have online access, but that conversation is for another day.

Back to creativity…

Any major change in information accessibility has been spurred by a shift in technology (printing press, radio, TV, Internet, Smart Phones, etc…), a subsequent power-shift in society has resulted.  In the classroom, the teacher need not be an expert in all things information any more, as the student will find it.  The same is true for creativity.  The teacher need not be creative in order to encourage and assess creative works.  Rather, if both the learner and the facilitator have the right tools, one to create and the other to assess, the sky (rather than the teacher’s level of creativity) can be the limit.

The key is to perform the following steps prior to embarking on creative projects:

  1. Ask the student to identify WHAT learning outcomes he will be investigating/addressing.
  2. Have the student identify the MEDIA he will be using to do it (and this can be multi-media) e.g. Johnny used a Lego model and a short write-up to demonstrate…
  3. Ask the student to explain HOW the learning outcomes will be demonstrated via each medium

It can look like this template that I use:

Screen Shot 2013-06-15 at 8.17.39 AM

(there are more rows in the original)

Suddenly the Math teacher need not understand the iPad app that what used to create the song, nor the arrangement of the notes that give it flair.  All the Math teacher needs to do is assess the extent to which the student demonstrated the learning outcome, and that is not a significant change from tradition. A teacher who was instrumental in getting me thinking this way and influencing the template was @narynsearcy – thank you!

I look forward to sharing more on this topic and some of the templates that have helped make this shift in my own classroom and school. The first opportunity will be at the 20th Annual Pearson Assessment Training Institute 
Summer Conference: Assessment for Learning: Doing It Right–Using It Well. During the July 8-10 Portland conference I will be sharing on creativity, retesting, and blending assessments with emerging technologies.  Later in July (24th) I will be in Lexington, KY to present on similar themes at the PIMSER conference entitled: Meeting the Challenge: Standards, Differentiation and Assessment.

Oh, and I will share that Math song courtesy of @geoffwaterman

4 thoughts on “I can’t assess that…

  1. This is fantastic Myron, great post. I hope I will have a chance to sit in on this session (I’ve been teaching an AP class in creative writing for the past 5 years and I always find your sessions to be inspiring).

    Can I re-post this to our blog next week?

    1. Absolutely, feel free to repost. Creativity is a hot topic right now, and real learning has always been linked to it. What I most look forward to in this session, is letting people know about a number of interesting initiatives in my own school and district. A lot of teachers in SD67 are incorporating student assets and interests into the classroom and having great results. Again, the crux of the issue for many is, ‘how do I assess it?’.

      Look forward to seeing you.


  2. Good to see you last night, Myron! I enjoy your writing, and am looking forward to more. I’m especially engaged when reading about ideas that make so much sense that I wish I’d thought them up! When’s the book coming out?

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