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Learning Celebrations are Authentic Assessments of Student Understanding

by Maggie Meyer and Jenna Glock


Reprinted with permission from INTELLIGENCE CONNECTIONS, Newsletter of the ASCD, Multiple Intelligences Network, February 2004, Volume XI, Number 3

Oftentimes as educators, we ask ourselves how we can really tell if students are grasping the content. Do they really understand? The ideas of Howard Gardner and the message provided by an ancient Chinese proverb have been our guides in designing curriculum and assessments that engage learners. Constructing learning experiences that are based on the multiple intelligences provides all students with the opportunity to be successful. When it comes to assessment of that learning we use the same concept in designing authentic situations we have called learning celebrations. A paper and pencil test does not touch true understanding. Unfortunately, it has become the standard way for students to show their knowledge. To demonstrate understanding we feel learners need to have choices so they can show evidence of their learning through the intelligence of their choice. To be a useful assessment, that learning should be applied in a setting that demonstrates genuine understanding.

We have discovered that some of the most meaningful moments in teaching and learning have occurred during these celebrations. When students have multiple choices in ways to demonstrate their knowledge, the evidence of their learning is more accurate. We wanted the students to actually become the experts through the learning process. This assessment isn't just a fancy term for a presentation at the end of a unit. To actually engage in an authentic celebration is to witness a true display of student understanding.

Described below are two examples of compacted versions of some curriculum we have implemented that culminate in learning celebrations.

Watershed Presentation

Water We Doing? is a unit based on the concept of water and its value as a natural resource. The essential question for the unit is: How are human beings responsible for the maintaining of healthy watersheds? Through lessons designed using the multiple intelligences the students explore watersheds, biodiversity, wetlands, groundwater, aquifers and impervious surfaces among many other things.

"We all live downstream" student presentation

To show their understanding of learning objectives the students choose from a variety of ways to demonstrate that they are experts on certain topics. These choices are also designed by implementing the multiple intelligences. The assessment is a learning celebration where students become presenters at a Watershed Conference. They invite adults and community members to attend sessions where they share their understanding in multiple ways.

Watershed presentation

Watershed Presentation Choices

Choose one of the following ideas to implement which will involve an audience and demonstrate your understanding of content at a Watershed Conference session:

1. Construct a three- dimension model of a watershed. Be prepared to give a sufficient definition of a watershed and an explanation of your design. This needs to be an intricate design reflecting new learning. Point out impacts of human development and the value of natural resources.


2. Design a set of ten survey questions about water as a natural resource. Ask at least ten adults to respond. Tally and analyze your results. Visually share your process and conclusions during your presentation.


3. Compose an instructional song about watersheds. Make sure this is a teaching song and you are providing new learning as well as fun. Create some hand movements or rhythms for group participation. 3B. Make a musical collage of songs that reflect the importance of natural resources and/or human impacts along watersheds. Be prepared to give background information to your audience.


4. Where does our wastewater go? Schedule a docent-led visit of LOTT, the water treatment plant for Thurston County. Prepare a list of questions to ask and take notes and photos as you go. Share your new information visually, (diagram? model?) explaining the water treatment process and interesting data you learn.


5. You choose an idea for a project or product that will show your understanding of watershed concepts.

Explain it to me for approval before you start. Think about implementing technology such as Power Point or digital photos into our conference presentation.



6. Write a guided imagery focusing on a biodiversity within a watershed or in a riparian zone. Make sure it has new information and learning within it to show you are an expert. Find appropriate music to play in the background as you engage your audience.


9. Construct ten math problems that provide us with watershed data that you think is valuable. Allow us time to solve your problems but explain to us your solutions and their significance to our conference.


8. With your parents, explore a section of a river or creek along your watershed. Use your senses and record your observations. Take pictures if you can. Share that data and your experience with the class.



9. Design and illustrate a watershed newspaper. Include both current events and informational articles on topics such as land use perspectives, water conservation, and water quality.


Leadership is a unit based on the idea the individuals have positive qualities that enable them to develop into successful leadership positions. The personal intelligences are emphasized in this learning experience. The essential question is: What kind of person do you want to be? After analyzing the qualities displayed by positive leaders through lessons designed using multiple intelligences, the students research several leaders of their choice. In the process, they explore qualities demonstrated by each leader. Each student makes the choice of which famous leader he/she would like to explore more about and become.

Night of Notables

Students begin to creatively fashion clothes from their parents' closets and dress like their leaders. After much research, they take on their leader's mannerisms and accents if necessary. To culminate the process, The Night of the Notables is a learning celebration that allows the student to demonstrate their understanding by presenting to an audience the leadership qualities they posses as their adopted leader.

Night of Notables.

The audience participates by trying to guess the identity of the student's leader. As one student said, "This was the best learning experience I have ever had. I have never worked harder in my life. I learned so much about history, leadership, as well as how to do research. I will never forget about becoming Helen Keller."

The demonstration of true understanding should not be a score on a test but a display of learning that deserves a celebration. As an ancient Chinese proverb states, "Tell me, I will forget…. Show me, I will remember…Involve me, I will understand." Isn't this what teaching and learning is all about?

Night of Notables

About the authors

Maggie Meyer has had a variety of experiences as an educator. For thirty years her responsibilities were as an elementary classroom teacher. For the last five years she has worked with gifted and talented students in a variety of capacities. She is currently working in the School Based Enrichment Program for the North Thurston Public Schools in Lacey, WA. Along with Susan Wertz and Jenna Glock, Maggie developed a teacher resource book titled, Discovering the Naturalist Intelligence, Science in the Schoolyard, published by Zephyr Press. Maggie's other writing has been displayed in a variety of publications including Educational Leadership and Clearing Magazine. She also has had the opportunity to be a workshop facilitator and online instructor /coach for colleges including Harvard's Graduate School of Education. Maggie has extensive experience with multiple intelligences, community problem solving, watershed education and developing integrated curriculum. Email:

Jenna Glock has been working with identified high potential students at the elementary, middle and secondary level for the last seven years. She currently is an educator of fifth and sixth grade students in a self contained gifted program for the North Thurston Public Schools in Lacey, Washington. Jenna's background and training has been in the areas of Biology, Chemistry, Educational Technology, and more recently Gifted Education. Her passion lies in teaching and developing integrated curriculum that engages all learners in a variety of ways. Along with colleagues Maggie Meyer and Susan Wertz., Jenna has coauthored a book which focuses on developing the naturalist intelligence in students through the use of multiple intelligences and the science process skills. The book is titled, "Discovering the Naturalist Intelligence: Science in the Schoolyard" and is available through Zephyr Press. Jenna actively involves herself at the district and school level. She serves on her school districts Math Leadership Cadre, Students Improvement Plan Team, and is a Science TOSA. Jenna has also facilitated a variety of workshops and presentations in the areas of environmental education, multiple intelligences, the naturalist intelligence, and community problem solving. Email:

Copyright © 2004

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