Student-designed assessments are a hot topic in today’s education system. Classroom teacher and illustrator extraordinaire David Rickert is guest posting on the 2 Peas and a Dog blog to discuss this important topic.
My most memorable class in college was Plant Biology because my professor, Dr. Jensen, made it fun and exciting. He was quite the character. He dressed up in costumes that related to the lectures, like throwing on a grocer’s apron when he talked about fruits. One of the labs involved going to the greenhouse to sketch plants for an hour. And for our final project, we were allowed to embark on a personal project to demonstrate our understanding of some facet of plant biology. We could do anything we wanted.
I decided to write a song. It wasn’t a great song, but after 25 years I still remember a lot of it. It may come as no surprise that I don’t remember a single question from the final exam, but shoot apical meristems and xylem and phloem are still part of my vocabulary because of that song. You can bet I worked harder writing the song than I did studying for my exam. It was an assessment that worked because I was able to take one of my interests and apply it to something I was learning.
The Power of Student-Designed Assessments
When students have the opportunity to design their own assessments you’ll be amazed at how it will transform your classroom, your students will be actively engaged in learning and creating meaning.
However, when I first had students design their own assessments, I had some reservations about it. What if they only wanted to do the easiest task they could think of? What if they can’t come with something that engages them creatively? What if they created a bunch of PowerPoints and Prezis, which is what the word “project” means to a lot of them?
Instead what I got was much more powerful. They demonstrated talents with drawing and music that I didn’t know they had. Some of them learned a new skill. They created dances and songs for musicals. They used Instagram and Twitter to create memorable work that connected with people outside of their friends.
You have to give up a significant amount of control over what you will get as assessments. You have to inspire them to do great work. You have to find a way to assess it all. How can you make student-designed assessments work?
The typical approach for projects is that students start them after they have completed a unit. However, there’s no reason why students can’t start developing ideas for what they’d like to do from day one. This gives them extra time to work – for example, with a recent novel unit students had four extra weeks. This also provides them with extra time for feedback and problem solving along the way and provides you with some time to monitor their progress and help them out.
I typically give students one day a week to work on projects with the time gradually increasing as the deadline approaches. This provides me with time to conference with them.
You’ll find that a lot of them are motivated to work outside of class on their project so you don’t have to give them much time to work in class. Many of them will be using programs or technology that isn’t readily available at school anyway. So class time isn’t as big of a factor.
Ensuring Learning Outcomes
I remember one time I was presenting to district administrators about book trailers that many of our English teachers were creating. One of them asked a great question: “These look fun, but what did they learn?” It was a great question. The kids loved it, but they didn’t really learn anything.
So what’s the solution? Start with the standards.
If you’re not working from the standards, you run the risk of creating activities that are fun and engaging but could become huge wastes of time where no actual learning takes place.
Here are some 7th-grade reading standards dealing with literature that you could use:
- Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.
- Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact (e.g., how setting shapes the characters or plot).
I had my students fill out the rest of the rubric themselves. If you’d like to read more about how students can create their own rubrics, click here.
Require A Model or a Rough Draft
Students need a goal to shoot for. Require your students to provide a model of what they want to create. Any group of kids can get together and knock out a movie with no effort, but having a model forces students to manage the quality of their final product. They have to think about what makes it work and what skills they need to acquire to get there. Not all of them are successful at this, but it’s an effective way to frame the discussion.
Require an Audience
We all know the power of considering an audience, and I always assess consideration of audience to be a main focus, even giving extra points if they successfully connect to an audience outside of the school.
I require the final product to be housed somewhere, like on YouTube or a publicly accessible website. They can’t just provide a link to a file Google Drive. It needs to be somewhere where people can actually find it. I provide bonus points if they can connect to an authentic audience. Ensure that this is acceptable by your school districts – some school districts do not permit student work to be publicly displayed.
About The Author
David has been a classroom teacher for 21 years in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio. He has taught everything from 7th Grade Language Arts to dual enrollment English Literature and a bunch of stuff in between. Part of his work as an educator has been designing comics for teachers to use in the classroom. His most popular sets use comics the go over the basic plot of Shakespeare plays to make them easier to understand for students. You can also get great teaching ideas by visiting his blog.
Read More About Assessment
- Using Technology for Student Assessments
- Quick Assessment Tips
- Measuring Student Learning Tips for Teachers