Typhani Harris | October 2014

Writing Assessments that Encourage Critical Thinking

There are some definite aspects of dance education that are in need of simple memorization, however, once the memorization has occurred how do we work the concepts into the critical thinking process?  This week I am working on composing a midterm for my students, but I want it to be valuable, I want it to be measurable, and I want it to encourage critical thinking.

Ideally, when using Understanding By Design, we begin with the assessment, move into learning objectives, and then work through the activities.  However, since I am working with a new set of students, I wasn’t sure what type of assessment would work best for them so I began with the objectives; what I want my students to know and be able to demonstrate after the first 2 months of school.  As dance teachers, we assess our students on a daily basis.  We spend every class period watching, assessing, revamping, and modifying.  However, I also value the ability to articulate the experiences as well.

Some foundational objectives I am expecting my students to articulate are:

identify and translate proper terminology
critique proper technique
connect multiple genres
analyze the elements of dance

So, how do we write questions that assess these measurable objectives in a manner that encourages critical thinking?  Two great resources that I reference for critical thinking are Bloom’s Taxonomy and Depth of Knowledge.  Also, involving stimuli is a great way of modeling Common Core assessments for makers and artists.  One idea I am going to try is using a photo of a skill we are currently working on, executed incorrectly and have the student complete multiple tasks with that one photo.  Here is a sample:

Complete the following tasks:

Identify the position and action, use and translate the proper ballet terminology.
Describe the origin of the movement using appropriate kinesthetic terminology.
By drawing directly on the photo, provide corrections to improve the execution of the movement.


Image Credit: Irene Chin


Identify the position and action, use proper ballet terminology and translate.

This task is asking the students to identify a first position demi pliè, and well as translate demi-half and pliè– to bend.

Describe the origin of the movement using appropriate kinesthetic terminology.

In composition class as well as in modern and jazz we have spent ample time discussing the origin of movement, so this will assess their ability to describe that a demi-plie comes from the engagement of the deep outward rotators, and their ability to use the proper kinesthetic terms.

Finally, by drawing directly on the photo, provide corrections to improve the execution of the movement.

This will allow me to assess their ability to recognize how to do the movement properly as well as articulate how to improve the execution when done incorrectly.

My goal is to go beyond simple identification and assess multiple facets of their learning.  This will be the first time I attempt this strategy so I will be sure to update you on the progress and efficacy of this assessment.

Next Week: Strategies

Anchor Standard 3: Refine and complete artistic work
Next week will be the third of 11 articles highlighting each of the anchor standards for Dance. Each article will provide lesson seeds, samples, and assessments for the new national core standards for the arts!

About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Chief Academics Officer, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.