164: Assessing Synthesis and Creative Thinking Skills (2 of 2)



Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 11.05.06 PM


  1. Concept Maps
    • Description
      • Students create drawings or diagrams that show connections between major and minor concepts
    • Purpose
      • Observable assessment of student’s schemata – webs of associates they hold for various concepts
      • Can compare teacher and student mental maps of content
      • Students build awareness and control over the connections they are making with content
      • Can assess prior knowledge
    • Step-by-Step Procedure
      • Select a concept that is central to content and has lots of conceptual associations
      • Practice making a concept
        • lay down primary connections
        • then lay down secondary and tertiary connections
        • draw lines connecting concepts with descriptions of the relationships on the line
      • Model how to make concept map in collaboration with students
        • think aloud while adding concepts and relationship lines to the map
        • ask for students to volunteer topics and relationships
      • Give students time to create concept maps of their own on a different topic
    • Analysis Steps
      • Compare student concept maps with teacher generated ones
      • Can code for or scan for similarities and differences in
        • primary / secondary / tertiary relationships
        • types of relationships among concepts and their descriptions
    • Extension Ides
      • Use large grid graph paper for concept maps so that students can reasonably use distance among concepts to represent their degree of relatedness
      • Assign concept map as a small group assessment
      • Ask students to write explanatory essays based on their concept maps
    • Pros
      • Backs up cognitive research on the value of being aware of one’s mental maps
      • Visual way to see students’ mental associations
      • Favors visual learners who are at a disadvantage at verbal assessments
      • Helps students be aware of mental associations and their ability to grow and change them
      • Can serve as a note-taking and pre-writing activity
    • Cons
      • Comparisons among student responses are difficulty to make
      • Non-visual learners may find this activity frustrating
    • Caveats
      • Clarify how to identify primary, secondary and tertiary relationships and how to use phrases to describe specific relationships by modeling how to make a concept map with students (use think aloud a lot while doing this)
  2. Invented Dialogues
    • Description
      • Students create dialogues between key characters or key people by using actual quotes or by inventing reasonable quotes to represent their points of view
    • Purpose
      • Students practice capturing the essence of other’s perspectives and styles of communication
      • Improve understanding of theories, controversies and opinions
      • Students practice creatively synthesizing, adapting and extrapolating beyond the material being studied
    • Step-by-Step Procedure
      • Select 1 or more controversial issues, theories, decisions, or personalities associated that are associated with important topics in the course and lend themselves to dialogue
      • Write a short model dialogue that goes with associated people and topics
      • Make transcripts of famous speeches, debates and correspondence available to students
      • Prepare a handout that includes instructions, guidelines for using quotes, expectations, etc.  Provide guidelines that show how to use quotes to create original dialogue.
      • Discuss your model dialogue with the class.  Describe how it meets criteria and guidelines.  Demonstrate through think aloud how you created the dialogue
      • Give time in class to start the dialogue.
      • Encourage students in teams to give feedback on dialogues by taking turns reading aloud dialogues and giving warm and cool feedback.
    • Analysis Steps
      • Can assess dialogues for several qualities
        • number and quality of key points
        • quality of reasoning in exchanges
        • degree to which speakers stay “in character”
    • Extension Ides
      • Have students work in jigsaw paris.  Each is responsible for one point of view and together they combines their research to create a dialogue representing multiple points of view.
      • Ask students to act out part of their dialogues live in class or in video.
      • Provide specific feedback on dialogues that will help students refine them to finished products.  See Writing Workshop article for details.
      • Convert key ideas in dialogues into essays
    • Pros
      • Draws on higher order thinking skills more than essays
      • A lot of room for student choice
      • Assess students’ knowledge of content and creativity skills
      • Can help students internalize theories
    • Cons
      • Hard and time-consuming for teachers and students
      • Students who doubt their creativity may balk at this technique
      • Students who are not used to writing balanced written pieces may need extra coaching
    • Caveats
      • Start with limited topics and modest guidelines
      • Don’t be too concerned if first products are not very convincing
      • Too many guidelines may stunt creative thinking
      • Describe how you thought through challenges while constructing your own dialogues to show students that struggle is normal and tips for overcoming struggle
  3. Annotated Portfolios
    • Description
      • Students create a collection of examples of creative work, supplemented with students’ own commentary of the significance of each selected example.
    • Purpose
      • Assess how students’s creative work aligns to the learning targets of the course
      • Students practice applying content to new contexts
      • Students build metacognition of how their work aligns with course goals
    • Step-by-Step Procedure
      • Choose one of the central topics or problems of the course.  Ask students to respond to that topic or problem with 2 of 3 work samples that demonstrate creativity.
      • Ask students to write how each work sample responds to the proposed topic or problem. If needed, provide sample annotations for students to use as models
      • Have students turn in their works samples and commentary in an folder, binder or envelope.
    • Analysis Steps
      • Portfolios can be assessed for several factors including:
        • Students’ creativity in resolving the topic or problem
        • Quality of synthesis in annotations in commentary
          • how well do these incorporate information related to course learning targets
    • Extension Ides
      • Use as an first draft for a final portfolio that students will submit after they’ve had time to respond to descriptive feedback
      • Encourage students to add work as the course progresses and update their annotations to show their growth
      • Let students develop their own focus prompt for the portfolio as long as it aligns with course learning targets
      • Arrange an exhibition to display portfolios.  See this article on Learning Fairs.  
    • Pros
      • Students can use images AND prose to show solutions to problems
      • Student select personally meaningful examples and connect these to course goals
      • Teacher learns what students value and appreciate
      • Can help prepare students to present their work to prospective employers
    • Cons
      • If it’s not carefully integrated into the course, students may see academic value in it
      • Take a significant amount of time to assess
      • Students may spend too much time selecting pieces and not enough time interpreting them
    • Caveats
      • Use guidelines to make portfolios more comparable
      • Link portfolio to a larger graded assignments to reward students for the time that goes into this


The strategies above all require students to actively process and make personal connections with content in order to create new products.  They all build metacognition – knowledge of how one is learning a course.  Being more aware of the connections one is making can give one better control over these relationships so that they can be deliberately cultivated and changed.


Preparation Steps
  • Analyze central topics and problems in upcoming projects.
  • Decide whether or not any of the strategies above can be used to process the central topic or problem in ways that are helpful and meaningful.
  • Develop model products for the selected strategies.
Early Implementation Steps
  • Introduce the strategy by showing a teacher-created model and talking through how that model was created.  Be sure to model what challenges arose and what strategies were used to overcome these challenge.
  • Provide class time for students to work on the strategy and get timely teacher and peer feedback.
  • Assess products using rubrics if that’s practical.
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Incorporate works into larger products that be featured in live displays of student work – especially the dialogues and the portfolios.
  • Adopt student’s favorite strategies into classroom routines.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *