New Guide Offers Assessment Tips for the ClassroomMarch 24, 2011 | Suzie Boss
Recently, I watched a team of ninth-graders share their vision for a city of the future. They had clearly done their research, investigating everything from the politics of ancient Athens to the principles of sustainable design in the 21st century. They summarized their findings online and then took their learning a step further to design a 3-D model of their ideal city.
As their classmates and teachers gathered around the scale model, the young urban designers pointed out the innovative features of their metropolis. Not only were these students able to apply what they had learned, but they did so with passion, eloquence, and creativity -- none of which would have been adequately assessed by a multiple-choice test.
If we hope to offer students more real-world learning experience like this one, we need to be willing to reconsider how we assess learning. It's a big challenge, affecting everything from the daily rhythms of the classroom to time-honored traditions like report cards. Fortunately, there's plenty of help available. Edutopia's brand-new classroom guide -- Top Ten Tips for Project-Based Learning Assessment -- is chock-full of assessment resources and good ideas ready to borrow.
I've organized these tips to follow the arc of a project-first planning, then active learning, then culminating event, and, finally, reflection. At each stage, paying attention to assessment pays dividends. Follow the links in the guide to find videos, online discussions, digital tools, and other resources from educators who have wisdom to share.
Project-based learning and authentic assessment are made for each other. In PBL, students engage in inquiry learning to answer a challenging, real-world question. As a culminating event, students typically share products they have made or information they have learned. Having an audience for these events not only adds motivation but also causes students to defend or explain their thinking.
Not surprisingly, many of the suggestions in this new guide have come from members of the Edutopia community, who tend to be enthusiastic about PBL. These creative educators aren't waiting for sweeping changes to take place on the national education stage. Instead, they're devising their own good assessment strategies now.
For example, teacher and author Shawn Cornally has been on a quest to rethink assessment as a tool "to create learning, instead of just to judge it." He shares his own strategies along with links to other educators who have inspired him.
High school science teacher James Rocco borrows the popular "Cash Cab" format from TV to create engaging, and fast, feedback moments with his students. He explains how in Edutopia's Project-Based Learning group.
Teachers from School of the Future in New York open a window on their comprehensive assessment strategies in Edutopia's newest Schools that Work series. Social studies teacher Andy Snyder has been fielding follow-up questions about the high-performing school's innovative approaches in Edutopia's Assessment group.
Big Questions Ahead
At the national level, conversations about school reform are increasingly focused on assessment. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has called for rethinking standardized assessment to go beyond narrowly focused bubble tests, and new projects are in the pipeline to build a better system for gauging what students know and can do.
The National Educational Technology Plan, released in November, pulls no punches in explaining why the current system needs to change:
"Most of the assessment done in schools today is after the fact and designed to indicate only whether students have learned. Little is done to assess students' thinking during learning so we can help them learn better."style="margin-left: 20px;">
Those last seven words are worth repeating: so we can help them learn better. That's the real goal of assessment. Getting assessment right takes time, resources, collaboration, and a willingness to rethink some of the most familiar practices of school. But it's worth the effort, according to those who have generously shared their thinking for this guide, because of the benefits for both teaching and learning.
What are your favorite tools and strategies for effective assessment? How do you use assessment to help students take learning to new heights? Please share your ideas so that we can continue learning together.