The ogre of orginality

prom 2011 (7) copyAdolescents may push the envelope when it comes to being different from older people, but not from their peers. In fact this age group exhibits more conformity to their classmates than any other.  So it may be a comfort to know that true originality is not really possible, new ideas are always built on old ones. If you came across an idea that had no reference to anything that you already knew, it would seem like complete nonsense.

However, generating ideas that are original and different from others around you is still extremely valuable. These ideas are springboards to alternative solutions for problems and new products. After students complete the assignment described yesterday, it is  time for them to compare their ideas were to the others in their class. Originality is determined by how an idea differs from those  of one’s peers.[1]

But how can you grade students based on what others do? As a teacher, your performance in class is partially based on how what prior teachers have done. You make an effort to find out what most students have been taught so you do not repeat too much information or leave gaps. Teenagers are highly prone to conformity, and  they pay a lot of attention to what their peers do. Grading based on originality encourages them to break this pattern of behavior.

Originality – After students completed the first exercise (discussed in yesterday’s blog) and came up with a list of ideas, they give one copy to you and keep one for themselves.  Then, you must compile a list of all the ideas and note how many students used each one.  This will require judgment to determine which similar ideas are actually duplicates. If you feel uncomfortable with determining close calls, you can let the class vote.  A consensus view is how people determine originality anyway.

Use the following scale.  Students indicate which ideas they selected by show of hands. (Remind them that you have a list of their initial ideas, if there is a discrepancy.) This grade will be determined by the percentage of students who also had that idea. So first you must figure out how many students constitutes each percentage. In the case of 5 ideas:

20 points for each idea shared with 20% or less of the students

15 points for each idea shared with 21- 40%

10 points for each idea shared with 41 – 60%

5 points for each idea shared with 60 – 80%

0 points for each idea shared with over 80%

Then, divide totals by ten because this task is only 10% of the grade.

You can also use your own creativity to modify these exercises to suit the needs of your subject and class. For  example, if teaching a math class you can assign the creation of a grading system for originality as their first creative project. Let the students work out how to statistically determine level of originality.

[1]  Torrance, E. (1990). Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking: Norms-technical manual Figural Streamlined) Forms A & B. Bensenville, IL: Scholastic Testing Service.

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