Checklists make work better and learning richer

Self-assessment is when students evaluate their own work. Self-assessment helps students learn and do better work (advice from “McKeachie’s Teaching Tips”). The trick is to get students to be critical at the appropriate level. One problem with many self-assessment exercises is that many students say that their work is better than it is.

One of the benefits of checklists is that they create gaps in students' knowledge, and that makes teaching easier.

To facilitate self-assessment, I’m trying to create checklists for all assignments. For example, one assignment in Judgment (a portfolio course for senior-level ad strategy students) is to make a strong resume. The specifics of the assignment include the checklist. Students use the checklist to make sure they thought of everything to make their work as strong as it can be. The checklist must be turned in along with their resume. And I use the same checklist to evaluate their resume and to determine their grade.

The checklist helps students realize what’s important on an assignment. And if a student doesn’t know how to address one of the elements on the checklist, he/she usually contacts me at that point instead of skipping over that element of the assignment. Some students turn in work with items not checked off of the checklist (often with a note or a question mark next to the check box). I like this because we can have a conversation about something that they already realize is a problem with their work. They are eager to learn what they know they don’t know. In “Made To Stick,” Chip and Dan Heath say that when there are “gaps in people’s knowledge” they are eager to know more. The checklist makes students curious (and interested), and that makes teaching easier. The self-assessment is working.

I have not figured out how to make a detailed and objective checklist for all projects, but I’m getting better at it. The key is to be specific and add guidance to the student how to improve their work on the specific criteria. Try to make each check item objective, measurable and quantitative (rather than subjective).

I have always included a rubric with each assignment… a list of 4 – 8 criteria on which the work would be evaluated. By turning the rubric into a checklist with 20 – 30 specific items (along with specific guidance), it becomes a tool that students use to create better work and engage deeper in the learning. Give it a try.

Here’s the checklist for making a good resume: ResumeChecklist

How to be a good creative (copywriter, art director).

Tom Lichtenheld is an accomplished creative director (at Cramer-Krasselt and now freelancing). Before that, he was a fantastic art director (at Fallon). Last year he spoke at the VCU Brandcenter’s Friday Forum on the myths about creativity. It was a great presentation (see my notes on that topic here). I recently ran across some more of my notes from the presentation. Tom made a list of seven things to be a good creative. Here is Tom’s list combined with my thoughts:

To be a good creative, one must give the creative director:

1) Passion (the most important thing): This was the top thing for Tom, and it is the most important attribute listed by most people when talking about being creative. Passion creates the desire to want to be creative. Passion fuels the need for generating the strongest idea. Passion helps us endure the endless pursuit for absolute beauty in the writing and art direction of advertising.

The author, Sir Ken Robinson, is an expert on creativity and innovation. His book is about finding your passions and how that can change everything.

2) Studiousness: Being a good creative is a never-ending pursuit of knowledge. Knowledge about the craft (writing and art direction). The craft is ever evolving. Knowledge about people – people in general and specific knowledge of the target audience. There’s always more to know about the target audience. Knowledge about culture – what are cool things that people are doing around the world (fashion, hobbies, technology, opinions, interests, etc). Culture is how creatives use their craft to connect with people… they do it by creating culture. Knowledge about he brand. How do people use is (apart from it’s primary use), why do consumers buy it (really), how does the brand fit in with people’s aspirations in life?  As a creative, there’s always more to learn

3) Constant focus on the brief: Creatives are paid to think of millions of ideas. To succeed in that mission, it is natural to veer away from the direction of the brief. That’s OK. That’s expected. In fact, that’s encouraged. However, good creatives always get back to the brief. The ideas that are presented are always on brief. And if ideas are presented that are off brief, those ideas have rationale telling why they diverted from the direction of the brief.

4) More ideas (and fewer pixels): Wonderful direction! The best tools for generating the best ideas are:  paper, pen or pencil, and brain. Notice that “computer” is not on the list. Our capacity to generate ideas is infinite. And all we need to tap into the endless resource of ideas (our brain) is the passion to want more ideas (see #1 above), the background knowledge on the topic (see #2 above), paper and pen/pencil (to record the plethora of ideas that will flow.

5) Good presentations of the work: Raymond McKinney (a CD at The Martin Agency) once told me, “Ideas that are presented like shit, are shit.”  In my years in the ad business (and my years outside of agencies, too), it was easy to see that the ideas that were presented well had a better chance of approval than all of the other the ideas. The guys who always presented their work in a strong, fluid, and easy-to-understand manner, got their work approved. Approved work equals bonuses and promotions. Learn to present your ideas well.

6) Acceptance of critiques: As the saying goes, “Everyone has an opinion….” Creative directors are hired to have opinions and to give critiques. It’s their job! Good clients give good feedback (compliments and criticisms = critiques). So creatives job is to accept all critiques, use them as tools to make the work better, and flourish. The opinions of the creatives are important, and everyone has an opinion. Creatives who don’t respect the opinion of the client or the creative director, tend not to get respect.

7) Independence: Good creatives take direction (as described on in #3), while at the same time they push ideas further (as described in #1). Creatives are expected to own the projects, push the work on their projects, and see the projects through without micromanagement. Creatives that require close scrutiny or micromanagement are less creative and drain the mojo of everyone else.

Tom Lichtenheld makes a great presentation. He is smart, he is down to earth, and he is funny. Every junior art director and junior copywriter should tape this list to his/her cubicle wall. Live by these ideas, and you won’t be a junior for long. And when you’re ready to be a creative director, Tom has a new list for you. Along with this list of how to be a good creative, he shared ways to be a good creative director. I’ll post those thoughts later.

Collaborate on ALL projects

Today in my lower-level ad writing class (called Story), I had scheduled to give a short quiz on the assigned reading. Just ten multiple-choice questions.


Understanding Comics

I learned more about collaboration from the today's quiz on this book, "Understanding Comics."

Before I gave out the quiz, I asked if anyone had any questions. One student asked if the quiz could be collaborative. She explained that I encourage collaboration on all work in the course, so she asked, “Why not on the quiz, too?”

Everyone in the class was all for the idea, except me. On one hand I do encourage collaboration. On the other hand, what if some students didn’t prepare for the quiz as much as they should have?  He or she would get a free ride. And that idea rubs me wrong.

Fortunately, everyone in my class is engaged in the course, comes to class prepared, and works hard. So I decided to try it. What’s the worse thing that could happen, right?

We decided to break the class into groups of four students. One quiz per group. The groups needed to collaborate, and turn in one quiz per group.

Instead of the classmates silently taking a quiz like drones in a cell, this idea turned the quiz into a wonderfully collaborative learning experience.  Bravo!  It was an amazing success!  The discussions that were going on during the quiz were fantastic!  Thoughtful, smart, and on topic.  Groups were debating the merits of different answers. The small group size was great — I think 3-4 students per group is ideal.  There’s enough people to have diverse POVs (for good discussions), and the groups are small enough where even the quiet folks can have a voice.


"Understanding Comics"

"Understanding Comics" is a smart book on storytelling.

After the quiz, I asked the class what they thought. It was unanimous. Everyone liked collaborative quizzes, including me.

I decided that all of my test and quizzes are going to be collaborative… in all classes.  Give it a try, and let me know what you experience.

By the way, the quiz was on the first 60 pages of “Understanding Comics.”  It’s a fun book on visual storytelling.