Sunday, February 10, 2013

It`s All About Choice

I have read a fair bit into project based learning and other sorts of assessment alternatives in the last year or so, and I decided to implement my own program last semester. We had a PD session today about some of the ways that we can motivate some of our students to complete major assessments with more regularity. They are usually pretty good about completing tests, because all that is required of them is that they sit and write when the teacher tells them too. The trouble comes in when they are asked to complete a project of some kind. Often I never get the project in at all from these sorts of students. It can be maddening.

This year I decided to give them more control over the method in which they demonstrated their understanding of the content. We have a significant EAL population at our school, which translates into a host of issues one wouldn't necessarily have to deal with in a non-EAL school. I'm not keen to get into the issues, since I think the approach I've taken for projects will work in any classroom.

I'll give an example. We studied a graphic novel version of Macbeth (again, EAL) last semester, and at the end of the story I presented my Grade 10s with their final assessment. Using the projector I walked them through the rationale behind the entire program, gave them the rubric I would use to assess their learning, and presented the with the different methods they could demonstrate their knowledge and understanding. They could write a persuasive essay, write an alternative ending, write a short sequel, create a visual essay (presentation with a thesis), or they could film and edit a short movie with one or more essential scenes from the play.

Initially, many of the students gravitated toward the movie assessment (which could be done with a group of up to 5 students). However, many of the quickly realized the need to depend significantly on each other in order to achieve the success they wanted and that tended to deter them. I thought most students would choose the presentation, but only a few did (they could do it alone or in pairs). I received a final submission from each type of assessment in the end.

This sort of demonstration of learning was incredibly impactful for my students, because it was the first time for many of them where they could show me their understanding in their own way. Obviously, some leeway had to be given in terms of some of the technical issues that can crop up in each of the assessments, but, for the most part, they did a great job. Two of the standout projects were completely different in type and scope (one was a short film of 3 scenes and the other was an excellently written alternative ending) but they were both very good demonstrations of understanding.

Another great effect of this process was the enthusiasm I saw in many of my students. They were EXCITED to show me what they new about Macbeth. The process of showing me what they knew was as much a learning experience for them as was actually reading the play/graphic novel. It was great to see, and I know that I am going to try and implement this assessment model as often as I feasibly can.

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