Writing Assessment: A Creative Approach

By Jeremy Hyler

In April, I wrote a post about standardized testing. In that post I mentioned how students’ confidence could rise if they were given the opportunity to do more authentic assessments where they could be creative. Unfortunately, standardized testing does not allow for this.  Students can’t demonstrate their knowledge through any other mode except multiple choice, short answer, or essay format on those tests. Not all students think the same way or even learn the same way. So, why are we asking all students to show what they have learned in the same way? Differentiating our assessments, making them more authentic, and allowing for creativity allows our students not only to show what they have learned, but also to tell us who they are as individuals. I believe there are a number of different ways that students can express their creativity, where they are showing higher-level thinking skills and taking a vested interest in what they are learning.

In our book Create, Compose, Connect: Reading, Writing, and Learning with Digital Tools,  my co-author Troy Hicks and I show the different ways that teachers can foster creativity in students at the middle school level through the use of technology in a language arts classroom. Many of the lessons and ideas, however, can be adapted for upper and lower grades. I try to open the doors for students not only to be creative, but also to write for more authentic audiences. There are two activities that I have my students complete throughout a book project project: an online book review usingEdublog and a digital book trailer using Animoto. Below is a table that shows how I  assess these two projects and still allow students to be creative.


Creative Guidelines
  • Pics/images/drawings/video – What can be done to enhance appeal for the book?
  • Music – What type of music selection can help set the tone for the book?
  • Links – What links can be added? Author pages? Other books that relate to the novel?
  • Word Choice – What can be said without giving away the plot? What literary devices can be used to help paint a picture for the audience?
  • Color – What background colors can be used to help set the tone of the book?
  • Voice – What are you going to say as a writer so the audience can clearly hear the your voice?

As students read novels, I hand out the guidelines for the blogs and digital book trailers they will create. We spend one full class period discussing blogs, their purpose, and what they look like. Students enjoy writing blog posts because doing so allows them to use their voice within their writing. Often times students express concerns about the writing prompts on standardized testing because they aren’t allowed to put their own voice into the writing and directions aren’t clear. The blogs that the students write help propel their creativity and allow them to work within guidelines without being restrictive. Students can reveal their creativity by including pictures, links, and videos. In addition, they can use their own voices because students write about topics they are interested in, and after the assignment ends they can continue writing about topics of their choice in their blogs. Furthermore, students know they are writing for a more authentic audience where thousands of people could potentially read their ideas, not just one person who doesn’t care how an anonymous student performs.

As students finish their blogs and move into creating their digital book trailers, they really start to take ownership of their work because they are in the driver’s seat when it comes to creating their short videos. They get to choose the colors, pictures, videos, music, and words. My students are the producers of their video. Each student gets to make the decisions on what their final product looks like and it reflects who they are as individuals, which makes them take more ownership of their learning and students take a vested interest in the task at hand.


Student example of a Digital Book Trailer – shared with permission


Students today are begging for more creative opportunities within the walls of our classrooms. Standardized assessments force our students to think more linearly. Students are only allowed to show what they have learned through multiple choice tests and through standard written essays. Students should be allowed to demonstrate what they have learned through different modes such as blog posts and digital book trailers. Students should be allowed to be creative.

Whether we build creativity into our existing lessons, units, or the assessments that are required, it is time to bring creativity back to the classroom and allow our students to be the individuals that they are.

You can follow Jeremy on twitter @jeremybballer.



One thought on “Writing Assessment: A Creative Approach

  1. Hello! I am currently a student studying English education and I absolutely loved this post. I agree that students cannot fully show what they are capable of through mundane, inauthentic projects/assessments. In my personal experience, classrooms that have allowed creative options for projects produced the most passionate and amazing results. In one of my college courses, we were given the option to do a creative project in lieu of our standard final paper. The entire class really got engaged and it was amazing to see the talents that people had that no one knew about, from original song performances to art pieces. It was also clear to see that everyone had to have a deeper understanding of texts in order to turn the ideas in the text into a different form of media. This leaves me to wonder why creative projects are not implemented more frequently in high schools, where different types of students have an opportunity to show they understand the topic in their own way and, as you said, allow them to be individuals.

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