Unschooling: Creative ways to Evaluate Comprehension (Part 2)

Welcome to the second installation of my post about creative evaluation in unschool. In part 1, I talked about how easy it can sometimes be to get stuck in the “standard” methods of evaluating and integrating knowledge, methods that for most of us, were used almost exclusively in our school career, namely written answers and essays. While written evaluations can be great, I feel it’s important to incorporate a diverse range of techniques to ensure your kids are absorbing and integrating the things they study. One way to look at it is to make a goal of incorporating at least some of the various types of thinking and learning available to humans- for example, artistic expression through fine arts, theatrical and expressive approaches and verbal analytical. You can also think about the different mediums available for any kind for learning- 3D materials like clay or paper mache, expressive mediums like poetry or dance, or technological methods such as digital animation. In Part 1 I gave some examples of artistic and theatrical techniques, so today I will attempt to cover Verbal presentations, creatively written methods multimedia presentations.

Verbal/ Acoustic C

One method of summarizing learning that can be fun is to conduct a theoretical interview, either with a character in history or with an expert in the field your child has been studying. For example, my boys became interested in the theories of Stephen Hawking at one point, so we decided to stage an interview with the famous scientist, asking questions about not only his published ideas but what he might think about certain real-world problems. Obviously this portion has to be speculative, so it can help kids think creatively about how a certain pattern of thinking might be continued. If you have more than one child working on the topic, or a sibling willing to help out, you can expand the premise to create a full-fledged radio show. One child will be the host and can create catchy mottos or talk in goofy voices, etc. , while the other is the “expert” or another guest speaker. Let them get creative, setting up props, choosing introduction music, or commenting on current events. All of this seeming silliness will help to cement the relevant information in their minds.

You can also take the interview format to the next level by making a recording of it, in newscast fashion, and posting it on YouTube, a homeschool social media forum, or just sending it to friends and family. If you or your child has video editing skills (or wants to learn) you can even create a short film, either live-action or animation. In the example I gave in part one about my kids making a clay model of a slot canyon after visiting Utah, they also made a (very short) clay animation film about a hiker and his dog getting swept away by a flash flood! They gained a deep appreciation for the painstaking process behind this craft, as they had to rearrange each figure minutely for every shot, to resemble real movement. Not for students in a hurry to get their project over with!

The last possibility I can add to this section is for the musical types. Composing and performing a song can be a great way to end a study unit- or add to another type of presentation. If your child is proficient with an instrument, creating their own song is a wonderful way to diversify their skills. Otherwise, just create a simple/silly rhyme, maybe accompanied by a drum or rattle, etc. can serve just as well and be a fun, creative outlet.

Creative Writing

We have talked about the pros and cons of the traditional essay or short answer questions, but there are plenty of ways to use the written medium creatively when integrating learning. One that is somewhat more common in curriculums that I’ve reviewed, and is one of my favorites, is to write a letter from the perspective of a historical figure or archetype (i.e. Roman soldier or American immigrant). This allows kids to think empathetically about how historical situations might affect individuals and families. Another version of this idea is to write a letter to a historical figure, expressing opinions on what they accomplished or asking questions. You can also use this concept for other arenas, like writing to a famous scientist or author. And of course, you can take the idea to the next level and have your child write a real letter to a politician, scientist, author, activist or anyone else they might be interested in. If you’re lucky, you might even get a response!

Other important ways to incorporate creative writing into your studies is to have your student create a poem or haiku. This medium is great for encouraging connective thinking, metaphors and symbols, and the importance of pairing down and choosing words carefully to achieve the best rhythm and flow. Finally, if your child is motivated to write a short story incorporating elements of your study, the possibilities abound. For example, you can write a story about a historical event that has an alternative ending, speculating about how the world would have been different had history unfolded in a different way. Or they could create a fantasy story in which the main character has to solve math problems, or apply scientific principles, to save the universe!

Multimedia Presentation

Finally, one of the most fun ways to sum up what a student has been learning is through a multimedia presentation. This is a broad term, so the examples could be almost infinite, but some of the most common would be a powerpoint type presentation- which could include narration or music chosen or even composed by the student, as well as images, poetry, spoken word, etc-combined with an oral presentation. It could also include a video that’s been animated or creatively edited, a song or skit that’s recorded or played behind images, or any other combination of artistic, theatrical, verbal or written mediums.

Another incredibly creative idea, which I can only put in the multimedia category, is to create your own board game or, for the techy’s out there, their own video game!

There are so many fun and creative ways to help your kids absorb and express learning, especially as unschoolers. There is an infinite variety of ideas, so I hope I have given you some inspiration and starting points in this two-part series- and I hope you have a great time trying something new with your kids!

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