Creative learning is a difficult concept to define because it is multidimensional and complex. The more complex the learning, the more difficult it is to assess. If creativity involves originality and imagination, how can creative assignments be graded using a set of predetermined criteria? How can creative works be evaluated objectively, when creativity seems to be so subjective?
One Vanier chemistry teacher who has been grappling with this is Jailson Lima. He has been working at the confluence of art and science in his Liberal Arts Science course. Jailson’s students work includes creative interpretations of some of the scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century, such as quantum mechanics. You can see examples, along with student rationales, in the Student Gallery on the artandchemistry.ca website.
Students start by creating an artistic representation of concepts studied in the course using colored pencils, glue, old magazines, etc. This warm-up exercise is designed to explore the creative process and how the flow of ideas can lead to multiple outcomes. In addition, they write a 500-word document about how this first attempt could unfold in a more complex and elaborated work. Although this assessment is mostly formative, it is considered as one “lab activity” and is marked accordingly.
The next step is to identify the specific ideas the student wants to convey in their final artwork and the materials that will be employed. This step is a milestone that forces students to become actively involved at the early stages of the multi-week project. It also provides an opportunity for the teacher and student to communicate before the student tackles the artwork itself. After working on a draft piece, students receive feedback from two teachers: a science teacher who addresses the scientific concepts, and an art teacher who gives feedback on the art component.
A detailed rubric for grading the final art is provided before students work on the draft. It is important that students know the criteria and the breakdown of the marks allocated to each item and the rubric gives you some framework for your evaluation of their work. The draft is formative, but receives a symbolic mark (2% of the overall course grade).
After handing in the final version of their artwork, students write a reflective learning journal in which they assess their own artwork based on the rubric provided. They also have to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of their work. A student’s self-assessment does not change the grade given on the artwork; however, there is a grade for the journal based on the quality of the arguments made.
There are a few other tools in the teacher toolbox that help make evaluating creative assessments a little easier. As Jailson does, we can collaborate with colleagues in other disciplines to provide insight into creating rubrics and to help in evaluating the submissions. Jailson also maintains a website, which gives students a gallery of previous submissions so they have a better idea of what’s expected of them.
The first time you try any new assignment, it’s important to be flexible, and this is certainly the case with creative assignments. Leave room in the semester for added time, if it looks like your original timetable is just not going to work. Ask students to help tweak the rubric, before and after they’ve done the assignment – they will have experience in performing the task, and can tell you that certain aspects are harder or easier than the rubric reflects. Be prepared to adjust the whole assignment based on the first few times you try it – it’s normal to be a little unsatisfied with the initial run-through, and it’s important to take the experience to improve the assignment for next time.
The key to successful creative assignments is recognizing that the process is perhaps more important than the final outcome. By expressing their conceptual understanding using creativity and imagination, students can enhance their cognitive capacity, enrich their cultural development, and find joy in the learning process.
Pedagogical Development Office