Chris Frisella
With imagination and the right apps, students learn and can demonstrate their learning.

In the classroom as in court, it’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove you know.

And for generations of students and teachers, test scores have provided evidence of learning.

But the act of generating that hard proof — test-taking — proves harder for some students than others.


To level the playing field, better assess learning and prepare children for the modern workplace, educators are getting creative and encouraging students to do likewise.

Increasingly, educators are realizing they can engage, empower, motivate and teach children by enlisting student creativity as a means to assessment, say Kristen Brooks and Cindy Herren, school district technology leaders recognized as Apple Distinguished Educators.

For teachers who are ready to rethink assessments, many easy, free or inexpensive cross-platform creation tools are available, the two edtech specialists say.

“Obviously the goal of assessment is to measure student mastery,” says Herren, a K-5 technology teacher in the Waukee Community School District in Iowa. “Some students measure high, and other students don’t measure up.

“While that seems pretty cut and dry, there’s a trend that students who measure high always measure high, and those who don’t measure high tend to … fall into that self-fulfilling prophecy of failing,” she says. “What I really love about the creative process is everyone is really able to demonstrate their learning.”

A creative addition to testing

Brooks and Herren acknowledge testing serves a purpose.

“I’m not saying testing is wrong,” says Brooks, an instructional technology specialist with the Cherokee County School District in Georgia. “I just think assessment needs to be done in a lot of different styles.”

Creative assessment is a powerful supplement to testing, Herren says.

“We’re always going to have quizzes and tests and those assessments that help us gauge where our students are,” she says. “But when we think of our assessments as something outside the traditional test or quiz, the feedback that they get tends to be very empowering.”

Herren recommends using project-based assessments at least once per semester.

What’s that look like in practice? The teacher poses a question, tells students what the standards are and asks them to demonstrate their knowledge through a creative project.

“It could be through a video, through a presentation, through using PicCollage or Book Creator,” Herren says. “Let it be individual or in a group. There are just so many skills that students are able to practice in just the creation of showing their knowledge in that way.

“But it’s also the process: There’s just so much that goes into the problem-solving of what happens along the way when you’re trying to build something and maybe things don’t go your way,” she says.

Brooks also stresses the quality of learning that students gain through the creative process.

“When you're having them create something, they're not just regurgitating that,” Brooks says. “They're really thinking about the information and how to lay it out in a way that makes sense.”

Brooks and Herren also believe educators are increasingly recognizing technology as a tool for creativity, not just research. Teachers are seeing the benefits, they say.

“Their classrooms are coming alive,” Brooks says. “There's a buzz, and the kids are excited to be there.” 

Creative assessments address ISTE Standards

Not only that, project-based learning and design thinking are the foundation of many of the ISTE Standards for Students. Take the Empowered Learner standard. Indicator 1.c. says, "Students use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways." 

The Innovative Designer standard expects students to "use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions. 

That excitement for learning and the skills acquired through creation can ripple through students’ lives.

Creativity is one of the most important skill sets that employers are looking for,” Herren says.

Brooks says fear — whether of technology or of just too many options — makes some teachers hesitant to embrace creative assessment. Her advice?

“Try one thing and learn with your kids,” the Microsoft Innovative Educator says. “Any teacher who just tries is going to be a superstar.”


Learn more about ISTE 2019

Here are seven of their favorite creative technology tools:

Adobe Spark — An integrated suite of web and mobile storytelling applications with three separate apps: Spark Page, Spark Post and Spark Video. Spark for Education offers free tools for creating reports, posters, presentations and more.

Apple Clips — A free mobile video editing app that lets users capture video, grab an existing video clip or photo, and easily add animated captions and titles.

Apple Keynote — Apple’s answer to Microsoft’s Powerpoint presentation tool. Cool Keynote features allow drawing, animation, cinematic transitions, narration and sounds.

Book Creator — A simple tool to create ebooks on iPad, Chromebooks and on the web. Books created using Book Creator may be published to Apple's iBooks Store or shared online.

Do Ink — Inexpensive green screen and animation and drawing apps designed to let students “show what they know.”

Pic Collage — Free photo editor app for creating collages, stories, cards and more.

Seesaw — Simple but powerful journaling tool to capture, organize and share student learning. A free version is available.


Chris Frisella is a freelance writer who explores educational technology and its power to reshape learning and lives.

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