Typhani Harris | November 2014

Critical Thinking Assessments Part II

Building critical thinking assessment and skills is not an easy task

It is one thing to encourage a deeper level of thinking and a whole other thing to have students demonstrate it. A couple weeks ago I attempted a midterm exam that really pushed students to engage in critical thinking assessment (see Writing Assessments that Encourage Critical Thinking).  There were multiple reactions to the midterm. Some students said it was too hard, others said it was easy, and some even said I used too many “big” words for them to understand. But it was a good trial run to see where the students fell on the critical thinking assessment spectrum.  The most common issue was simply that the students didn’t fully read the question, and if they did they just looked at the surface.

The first section had students analyze photos of skills they have been working on in class and evaluate how the execution can be improved.  Overall, they did pretty well on this task.  Next I wanted to assess if the students could recall the elements of dance (Body, Energy, Space, Time) and apply those elements to various scenarios, so I posed the following question:

A dancer is completing a 3-phrase composition study, each of the phrases are performed axially with multiple tempo changes. What suggestions would you offer this dancer to improve the dynamics of the phrases?

In order to answer this question students would have to acknowledge that the phrase is missing the Energy and Space elements, which is where most of the students stopped as many of them answered with the phrase needs energy and space. However those are not concrete suggestions, not to mention this question has multiple correct answers which they also struggled with. They wanted one right answer.

Another question where they struggled with only seeing the surface of the question was:

How is the energy of a literal clay and mold different from the energy of an initiated clay and mold?

Clay and Mold is a composition study that involves generating movement by having one student act as the clay and one as the molder. This question was really assessing if they first remembered how they used this study to generate movement, and then if they could use that recollection to describe the energy that is generated by each. Most of the students just stopped at the difference between the literal and initiated clay and mold studies, but at a higher level it was assessing that they knew the composition study, they knew the energies involved, and that they were able to attach an energy quality to each of the studies.

This assessment allowed me to see where my kids are when it comes to reading into a deeper level of questioning. I decided not to use the evaluation as a part of the students’ grades because although I felt that they were adequately prepared to take the assessment, I did not feel they were adequately prepared for the type of questioning that was involved.  After the midterm, students completed an assessment analysis to evaluate their metacognition. I wanted the students to analyze what the question was asking, why they chose to answer it the way they did, and how they might alter their answers now.

In two groups the students competed by analyzing the question and their answers and then had to perform certain skills in order to answer the question for their group. Once the questions were discussed in groups, the students began realizing what each question was looking for and how to better prepare their answers. They also felt, in the future, they would do better on assessments with this level of questioning.

Learning is about growth and progress, and that should always be at the forefront of education.  If you’re looking for more ways to build critical thinking assessment and align it to your true goals for learning, check out our Assessments for Makers online class.  Creating this assessment was definitely a chance for growth and progress for both me and my students, and I am excited to see how we continue to grow together!

Next Week: Common Core

NDEO National Conference: What does the nation say about dance and common core?

This week I will be attending the National Dance Education Organization’s national conference in Chicago so I will be sharing the highlights of the conference as well as the connections being made across the nation when it comes to dance and common core!

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.