Creativity across Learning #8 – What kind of assessment and qualifications would best support creativity in learning?

This is the eighth post in a series on Creativity across Learning with the content drawn from an unpublished report of 2011 as noted in previous chapters. It starts with a form of words from my former colleague Carolyn Hutchison. Carolyn had been the Scottish schools inspectorate’s assessment specialist before working for the Scottish Government on assessment policy.

Timely, formative feedback is the life-blood of learning and progress; it is also the lifeblood of creativity.

A focus on what really matters in learning, an honest evaluation of the quality of thinking and its outcomes, shared with the learner, are critical factors in creativity.  This kind of assessment lies at the heart of good pedagogy and professional practice.

When judgments are made, the purposes for which they are made and who makes them become critical. Many teachers believe that overemphasis on assessment as measurement for the purposes of examinations, ‘sorting and grading’ learners and accountability tend to stifle initiative both in classrooms and establishments. They suggested that assessment for summative purposes can all too easily become the ‘tail that wags the dog’.

As teachers seek to develop creativity, they also therefore need to take care to create opportunities for meaningful formative feedback and evaluation and assessment whose prime purpose is to support learning, based on mutual respect, discussion and trust.

Assessment for summative purposes and in the later years of schooling leading to certification, is part of the central emphasis on standards and quality that is a key feature of the Scottish education system. However, there are strong arguments that we have given greater emphasis to reliability in assessment and to producing consistent results to allow comparisons between learners and establishments than to rather than to validity and the match between how we assess and what we value in learning.  More valid approaches to assessment would be likely to reward teachers for the efforts that they make to achieve all of the learning outcomes of Curriculum for Excellence [the Scottish curriculum], including those most associated with creativity.

There is strong international research evidence to suggest that such change in emphasis in assessment should improve learning and raise achievement.  Such approaches would also encourage learners to take increasing responsibility for their own learning and create a real and lasting appetite for learning and progression.

Assessment is thus a crucial area for initial teacher education and on-going professional learning. We need to understand what kinds of questions promote creativity rather than closing it down, and what kinds of tasks take students beyond remembering and understanding towards the higher order skills and creation at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Curriculum for Excellence offers opportunities to make sure that we maintain a clear focus on learners and learning, assessing what really matters to Scottish learners both in and outwith the classroom setting in the wider community.  As part of classroom practice, learning how to ask the right questions becomes more important than answers learned by rote. We can ask learners to apply their knowledge and skills in unfamiliar contexts, to design experiments and to suggest ways of testing hypotheses. We can use more ‘what next’ questions or ask learners to describe the processes that they have used so that we can judge these as well as evaluate finished products.

Elements of these and other approaches already exist, across sectors, in school-based and work-based assessment and in qualifications, but they need to be developed further. This is essential, not only for the encouragement of creativity but also for the realisation of the aspirations of Curriculum for Excellence overall.

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[The next post looks at inspection, quality assurance and accountability.]


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