Helping our students to acquire 21st century skills is a true challenge. In this post, I will try to give some hints to develop and assess collaboration and creativity skills.

21st century skills include collaboration, cooperation, critical thinking and creativity. There is wide agreement that a focus on these skills is needed to prepare students for the future. However, our planning is so tight that maybe we do not include explicit activities that develop these skills or if we do maybe we do not assess them.

I would like to share a couple of activities to develop cooperation and creativity with our students.
To develop collaboration among students I am a firm believer in project work but the scope and format of this entry would not allow me to do it in depth so instead I have decided to write about a very simple activity that fosters cooperative work among students and can be easily developed. It is called "Jigsaw reading technique".

Defined broadly, Jigsaw is a grouping strategy in which the members of the class are organized into "jigsaw" groups. The students are then reorganized into "expert" groups containing one member from each jigsaw group. The members of the expert group work together to learn the material or solve the problem, then return to their "jigsaw" groups to share their learning. In this way, the work of the expert groups is quickly disseminated throughout the class, with each person taking responsibility for sharing a piece of the puzzle.

Let me suggest a simple way to carry out this technique:

- Divide the reading text into separate extracts and form student groups. The groups should be diverse in terms of ability.

- Form temporary expert groups in which students are assigned to the same extract. Give students in these expert groups time to discuss the main points of their segment and to rehearse the presentations they will make to their jigsaw group.

- Then bring the students into jigsaw groups that are composed of one student from each expert group. Have each student present her or his extract to the group. At the end of the session, you may give a quiz so that students are held accountable for learning all the material.

The teacher's role in the jigsaw is to facilitate learning. When students are in expert groups, the teacher can support students by encouraging them to find ways to put information they learned into their own words, to relate the material to their own lives, and to give examples that help them explain the material to their group. Students should be encouraged to help each other and to make sure everyone in their group understands the material and will be confident presenting it to his or her group.

After all groups have finished their work, the teacher should ask students to reflect on the way they collaborated in their group. Laura Candler offers very good strategies and rubrics that help students analyze their group work and facilitate the teachers’ assessment of collaborative students’ projects:
http://www.lauracandler.com/strategies/co-op.php

Regarding creativity, I would like to share an activity that I learned from Mario Rinvolucri. It is called “The sandwich task”:

The teacher will dictate the students some sentences belonging to a story, poem ,song and the students will have some time to continue with the story following the teacher’s instructions, once again , they will be interrupted and given a new prompt , they will keep on in this way until the story gets to its end.
The example below is intended for upper-intermediate students , but looking for an adequate text it may work at any level.

EXAMPLE

It was hot and dry and the monsoon was three weeks late .The village was parched.
( 2 sentences to describe the village)
_________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________

The sun blazed high in the sky and the crops withered in the field . The men came together and went to the temple to pray for rain.(2 sentences to describe the temple) _____________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________

And the men came back from the temple and no rain fell , so the women of the village gathered together and went to the temple to pray. ( 2 or 3 sentences with the invocation by the women ) _______________________________________________
________________________________________________________________

And the women came back from the temple but there were no clouds in the sky and no sound of monsoon thunder ; and then a little girl of 8 had an idea. ( 2 or 3 sentences describing the girl ) ____________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________

The little girl left the house taking with her her father’s most treassured possession and went to the temple to pray. Half an hour later, she came out of the temple and opened her father’s black umbrella. NOW FINISH THE STORY AS YOU WISH.
Then read the whole story to a partner.

As a teacher trainer I have shared this activity with Secondary teachers (you could adapt it for Primary level too) and all of them have given me very positive feedback on it. If you have not tried it, please do. You will be amazed at the number of different versions and students will learn a lot and have fun at the same time. Who said dictations are boring?

Now the question is: how can we give feedback to students on their creativity when they are asked to write a composition or deliver an oral presentation on a specific topic?

First of all, we should provide our students with models of creative outcomes. For example, we can ask Primary students to write a Haiku following some models and then ask them to be creative in their own Haikus instead of asking them to focus only on accuracy. Let them write their poems and then praise them on their strong points but insist that they should add something of their own if they only care about accuracy and repeat the given models.

With Secondary students, we can ask them to write an opinion essay and explain to them that we will assess not only their language proficiency but also their ability to show an original viewpoint on the issue, which would include developing ideas that do not merely repeat the writing prompts in their books . Therefore, we should talk to students about creativity, give them plenty of examples and then we can proceed to assess it. One cannot assess what one has not taught.

As I am sure all teachers assess coherence, cohesion, language accuracy and other linguistic features, I will try to help by suggesting how we could include “creativity” in our assessment rubrics (grading the use of creativity from 1 to 5):

1. The work is predictable throughout, relies on the models given, there is no apparent personal touch.

2. There is little sign of personal voice, touch, or style.

3. The work is somewhat creative. The ideas/materials used show signs of
imagination and personal style.

4. The work is creative. The ideas/materials used are effective. A voice and style are present.

5. The work is highly creative. The ideas/materials used are imaginative and effective. There is attention to detail. A clear and confident voice and style are present.

I hope you will find my proposals useful and I would love to read about your strategies to develop and assess collaboration and creativity.

About the author:

Loli Iglesias comes from the Basque Country and has been teaching English at Secondary level for 17 years. She is currently working as a teacher trainer for the Department of Education of the Basque Government. She develops seminars on Professional Development and CLIL. Her main interests are CLIL and ESL methodology . She blogs at clilingetxo.blogspot.com

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