Creative Writing: Feedback and Assessment

Creative Writing: Feedback and Assessment

I, like every other (language) teacher the world over, am always thinking about the best way to assess. What do I mean by ‘best’? The most cost-effective, the most useful, the fairest…? And ‘best’ for who? Students, teachers, employers, educational institutions…? As I’ve explained in previous posts, in an attempt to find a practical answer to these questions,  I’ve introduced continuous assessment and peer assessment over the last couple of years in my two on-line creative writing courses, notably the blogging course (Creative Blogging Course).

 In this ongoing reflexion, I came across three interesting terms this month: authentic assessment, ipsative assessment and indigenous assessment. The first two I discovered in the article entitled Does University Assessment Still Pass Muster in ‘THE’ which explains that authentic assessment concentrates on skills such as problem-solving and critical thinking and involves ‘tasks that are more realistic or contextualised to the “real world”’ and ipsative assessment involves trying to measure progress. More detail can be found about this in an article by Gwyneth Hughes in The Guardian. Scroll down to the comments which make for interesting reading too.

Partly, because this is not the way we have been trained to assess so it seems as if it’s a denial of our skills and formal training (despite the introduction of the CEFR ‘s ‘can do’ approach almost twenty years ago now, recently updated in a companion volume). As my colleague Amanda pointed out “teachers essentially make grammar equivalents in their head : if the candidate uses the conditional, then they are at the B2 level”.

In other words, disparate linguistic items (essentially grammar points) are easier than other skills and sorts of knowledge to assess. With two colleagues, I am currently creating an online placement test to advise students on whether or not they need to do a short remedial English module before the start of term, and apart from oral and written comprehension skills the test is invariably grammar based. So as an experienced teacher, this is instinctively how I assess.

All of this begs the question: how can creativity be assessed in a meaningful way? This, seems to me an important issue because if it is not assessed then the implication is, it is not important to the normative system within which we work. 

This month I am reworking the feedback grids that we use in class for the creative writing workshops for second year undergraduate LANSOD students (students who specialise in domains of study other than English). In order to understand the manner in which the grids are used in class see my article Diversity in Creative Writing Workshops, paragraphs 25-28, with a previous version of the grids in appendix C.

I’m presently thinking about tweaking them to encourage student writers to take their peers’ feedback onboard and draw relevant conclusions about what they need to concentrate on in their writing. They are also invited to think at the end of the course about whether or not they have progressed and if so how. You can also see, in the attached document (which is work in progress and has NOT been adopted for the course as yet) a proposition for a points system. Any comments welcome.

Working on a communication that I have been invited to give at the IUT in Montpellier entitled Creative Writing and Storytelling for EFL Students: making it up as we go along, at the beginning of July, I have been thinking about  the relevance of creative writing and storytelling in different domains, such as economics and medicine and research in general. And so I was delighted to read Pat Thomson’s blog entry this morning: ‘the joys of creative re-description’ in which she reminds us that working with and analysing data is a creative process and creating new terminology when necessary is akin to re-describing the world (Richard Rorty) . She concludes with the following:

“When we researchers develop more than one term for our research results, then we are actually building a new vocabulary. Our new vocabulary might help other people to see things differently, start a conversation or they might extend what we did.

And this kind of creative re-description is often how we signal our claim of adding to knowledge. We have given a new name to a set of results – our work with them, the patterns we have produced, the constellation of results we have made, has produced something not quite like everything else out there. So we have a new term.

The act of re-description is creative, and legit.”

Which resonated with my weekend reading, Samuel R. Delaney’s novel Babel-17, the name of the language the heroine Rydra Wong has to learn in order to save the world and in which the author explores the relationship between thought and language: 

“language is thought. Thought is information given form. The form is language. The form of this language is …amazing” (20). Wittgenstein would have approved.

In the beginning was the word. And all that.

Photo by fig_tart on Instgramm

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