Assessing Creativity

As an EFL instructor charged with the assessment of student learning, I would assess creative work with two main criteria: the synthesis displayed within the output and the impact of the work on its audience. Let us take, for example, the collaborative group project laid out in this lesson plan for the Present Perfect Tense with Already & Yet.

The Task

In small groups, students are given a scenario and assigned to write and perform a dialogue that incorporates the target grammar. Using the GRASPS acronym from Understanding by Design, by Wiggins and McTighe, the purpose of the task must first be clearly stated to students. For our example,

  • Goal: Write and perform a dialogue that breaks the ice with a new student.
  • Role: Every group member must have a role to play as a student.
  • Audience: The 4th grade class.
  • Situation (Context): There is a student who is not only new to your school, but who has only lived in your country for one year. You are curious about his or her experiences in and feelings about your country.
  • Performance and Purpose: The dialogue needs to reveal what interesting things the new student hasn’t experienced yet in your country. Then, suggest an itinerary of  other fun or interesting activities or places to visit with reasons why.
  • Standards (Criteria): Authenticity (synthesis), Engagement (impact)

Depending on a class’s ability, the teacher could adjust elements like word count, but it should be stressed that the dialogue be as authentic as possible. The teacher should strongly consider modeling a sample dialogue before beginning.

Criteria #1: Synthesis

Referring to the synthesis category of Bloom’s taxonomy, I would look to see whether or not the students had accomplished a “recombination of parts of previous experience with new material, reconstructed into a new and more or less well-integrated whole” (Wiggins, 2012).


In language learning, this would constitute students blending the target language with their existing grammar structures and syntax. While every grammatical structure has specific contextual uses, a conversation rarely remains in one time frame for very long.  It is therefore quite easy for the teacher to determine whether or not the target language has been isolated and simply used to fulfil the requirement, or the group has moved beyond to see that “words are tools for problem solving” (Gee, 2008).

Criteria #2: Impact Through Voice and Engagement

A key determiner of the impact of a performance lies in whether or not a student has found his or her “voice” in the language. While this assignment has solid contextual parameters taught and practiced during the first period of the lesson, there is plenty of room for choice in the details and direction of the dialogue to make it unique. Where is the new student from? Out of the locations already visited, which was the favorite and why? As Wiggins states, “The point in any performance is to cause the appropriate effects in a performance” (Wiggins, 2012). By the end of the dialogue, the audience should not only know where the new student has traveled, but feel they know the person better.

Since the preparation time for this assignment is relatively short, the actual performance would follow a Reader’s Theater format. Students would read or paraphrase directly from their scripts, allowing them to focus on “indicators of the more general and appropriate criterion of engaging the audience” (Wiggins, 2013), such as articulation, expression, rate and phrasing.


This assignment, complete with its assessment, serves as an opportunity for students to “self-assess and self-adjust on their own” (Wiggins, 2013) as they move towards the goal of having a similar but unscripted conversation in the target language.


Forsythe, Giulia. (2014). Bloom’s Cognitive Taxonomy Circle (Online image). Retrieved from:

Forsythe, Giulia. (2012). How will students demonstate learning? What type of assessments will you use? (Online image). Retrieved from:

Gee, James Paul. (2008). James Paul Gee on Grading with Games [Online video]. Retrieved from:

Wiggins, Grant. (2012). On assessing for creativity: yes you can, and yes you should. Retrieved from:

Wiggins, G. and McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design, Expanded 2nd Edition.  Prentice Hall.

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