Getting Creative with Assessments

First, it should be known that I've become a Twitter fanatic! When I first opened an account in 2017, I was immediately overwhelmed by all of the @s and #s. I spent about ten minutes perusing the posts before slowly backing out the Twitter door. Almost a year later, I decided in order to grow myself as I hope to grow my students, I needed to get "out" of my classroom, my school, my district, and even Texas! I logged back into Twitter in an attempt to grow a Professional Learning Network (PLN), and my teaching has been forever transformed. Seriously.

Justice Wargrave Takes a Bow
What does this have to do with creative assessment? A few months back, I participated in one of my favorite Thursday night Twitter events, #MasteryChat! The topic of the chat was assessments, and it addressed the three categories of them: for learning, of learning, and as learning. The chat inspired me to evaluate and reflect on my current practices, and while I do have adjustments that need to be made, I am pleased that many of my assessments encourage students to creatively demonstrate learning for authentic audiences. Today, I'm sharing with you one of my all-time favorites with you!

Student-Designed Programs
We recently completed our study of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. For those of you unfamiliar with the plot, this suspenseful piece tells the tale of ten strangers invited to an island, only to learn the premises upon which they've traveled to this remote location are hoaxes. Each is keeping a terrible secret, and one by one, the characters meet their demises as judgment is passed. My students (even the reluctant readers) absolutely adore this time-tested novel. Providing them with a traditional assessment felt like not only a disservice to Ms. Christie's masterpiece, but it also sells my students short. I had to offer them better, and during my 2:00 am brain blast, the And Then There Were None Murder Mystery night assessment came to be.

The premise is simple; the results are anything but! Students invite friends, family, and community members to visit Soldier Island for a live murder mystery night. From the time the doors are open to the time the last guests leave, students maintain the setting and characterization of Christie's novel. We begin in the school library where I welcome guests to the evening and introduce them to the game:

1. Guests rotate in groups with clue sheets to various areas of the school where they meet the costumed characters of the novel in settings designed by mimicking Christie's novel. (Students demonstrate knowledge of setting and characterization.)

2. The characters are anxious for justice. In each of these areas, they plead their cases while describing their demises. This includes the crime they themselves are accused of, as well as their background and whom they believe the criminal to be. (Students demonstrate skills in persuasive writing, plot, public speaking, characterization, and red herring.) Lastly, and most importantly, game players have the opportunity to ask questions of the characters. This requires my kiddos to be experts in not only their characters but in their abilities to impromptu speak without giving away the Who Done It.

3. After guests have had an opportunity to meet all ten characters, they return to the school library.
Here, the characters wait for them at the front of the room, interacting with each other as they did in the novel as game players stream in. Next, they line up in the order in which they died, and they present the "Ten Little Soldiers" poem, each speaking the lines associated with his/her character. (public speaking, fluency, prosody)

4. Guests take turns guessing who committed the crime and provide their reasons for thinking. (inferencing, providing evidence, deductive reasoning)

5. The real criminal reveals himself/herself and provides a 2-3 minute confessional monologue, being sure to tie up all of the loose ends for guests.

Playing to a Packed "House"
For students who don't want to play a character, there are several other roles available: room host, guest host, set designer, makeup artists, program designers, and writers. Everyone has a job to do, and no one succeeds without the other. True collaboration!

While it may appear as just a live game night, my students learn more from this assessment then they ever could by simply reading the novel and taking a paper and pencil exam. More importantly, I know what they know, and I have the entire picture. (You simply can't fake your way through a might like this!) They must critically think, problem solve on the spot, schedule, collaborate, write, and design sets and costumes... all while staying within the boundaries of Christie's original work.

The night is a win for everyone: The community gets to participate, my students have an authentic
audience, and I have an assessment that does Christie's novel justice. Bonus: Every year my past students return to play the game designed by the current class. This year, since it was my third year, I had sophomores and freshmen decide to spend their Friday night with us... encouraging, supporting, and cheering for this year's cast. They could have been anywhere else! I think that says a lot about my kiddos and the impact of this assessment.

This summer, when I finally get a breath, I'll post more information here about the assessment.

** If you are interested in the assessment but have younger students, you can play the game with The Westing Game novel.

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