Project learning can inspire the best of high-performance teamwork, or it can be devolve into unfocused chaos. How can we support each other to keep our eye on the prize? Share your project ideas, questions, and implementation experiences.

What's in your project assessment toolkit?

Suzie Boss Journalist and PBL advocate

For an upcoming guide for Edutopia, I'm looking for suggestions and resources that help with PBL assessment. Most of us appreciate the value of rubrics and scoring guides for end-of-project assessment, but I'm curious to learn what else is in your toolkit for meaningful assessment. For example:
What are your favorite strategies for formative assessment?
How does assessment change at different stages of a project?
How do you help students evaluate their own progress?
What helps with assessing teamwork and collaboration in PBL?
How do you incorporate feedback from outside experts about student performance or portfolios?
Thanks for sharing your ideas!

Comments (11)

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K-12 Administrator/Facilitator

Formative assessment/expert feedback

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For formative assessment in the past we have had our students do a free response blog entry. On our upcoming projects we are going to have them set up a blog just for project daily reflections and work. We plan to have them start each PBL day with goal setting (which they will post on their blogs) and at the end of the day reflect on the following: 1. did I meet my goals? 2. What dilemmas and barriers did I encounter today? 3. How did I solve these dilemmas? 4. How would I rate my collaboration with my group? 5.Lingering issues/questions etc. and places to start next project block.

On their blogs they will also post their essential questions and project plans.

As we read their blogs we hope to gain a greater insight into ways in which we can help support their work as well as encourage them to be reflective and develop a better sense of themselves as a learner.

Another formative assessment tool that we will continue to use with this next PBL that is invaluable to both facilitators is the simple act of sitting with groups daily and listening to them work. We both catch a lot of information about the work that the students are doing and the directions they are headed by simply sitting, listening, and throwing in an occasional question.

Finally, for formative assessments we both write a daily reflective blog about what we noticed about PBL work throughout the day. For this next round of PBLs we are planning to continue this blog and are planning to include any barriers to success that we saw throughout the day as well as identify pluses and deltas in our work as facilitators. We will also invite students to read our blog just as we read their blog.

As for experts we utilize them in two ways. On the front end of the project students contact them for support in building background knowledge or to help design the project. Currently our elementary students are in the process of contacting experts to help them design a recycling program for our town.

The second way that we use experts is after students have completed initial research and put together their first "draft" of their project. Students identify and send their projects to "experts in the field" of whatever topic they were working on. These usually are University Professors or another professional like a scientist etc. Once they receive feedback on the project the students must use the feedback to continue their work. This is the step that most students like the most. They usually receive some pretty great feedback including things like, "Don't forget to cite your photographs because I (the expert reviewer) took the photograph that you are using in your project." Great life lessons!

Journalist and PBL advocate

Nice Use of Experts

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Hi Amy,
Thanks so much for sharing your terrific suggestions for formative assessment. I especially like your use of experts at the stage where their advice can help shape a project. Do you also engage experts at the end of a project, for a showcase-type event?
And great suggestion to have teachers reflect (on blogs) throughout the project, right alongside students.
Who else has real-world assessment tips to share?

Emeritus Faculty in the School of Engineering / University of Connecticut

PBL Assessment

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For formative assessment, I charge each team with providing regular feedback electronically - including what's working and what's not and what's planned for the immediate future. This provides me with a snapshot of what feedback I need to provide, what to do electronically, and what maybe needs classroom attention.

In terms of team contribution assessment, I do a few things. I have each student complete a self-evaluation as well as one for each team member - midway through the project and at the end. By the way, I also assign each team a task to develop a "Team Performance Agreement" or contract on how the team will operate at the start of the project. There is no right or wrong TPA though I often suggest more effort be made; they become the starting point for team problem discussions. And by the way, at the end of the project, they each grade themselves and each team member; these grades are used to adjust the team portion of the grades in a zero-sum approach.

As for grading the group report, I use a rubric (including what would bring a poor or high score on each portion) that is shared with the students prior to starting the project.

While I taught at the college level, I have shared materials and procedures with K-12 teachers who report success as I have experienced it.

Journalist and PBL advocate

Electronic Feedback

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Hi John,
Thanks for sharing these field-tested suggestions. I especially like your use of team contracts--both as a way to jump-start collaboration and as a tool for assessment.
I'm curious about the electronic tools you use for feedback. A range of tools could work, from email to blogs to collaborative workspaces. Any recommendations based on your experience?

Forensic Science Teacher (11th-12th grade/Pittsburgh, PA (Penn Hills HS)

Formative Assessment - Cash Cab Moments

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Within our forensic science class, I have had a tough time making certain that all students stay on task during the collaborative work. One way to motivate their level of engagement is to include formative assessments that are challenging, rewarding and punitive. I will simply have "Cash Cab" moments. Our students are aware of the Discovery Channel show and can relate to the consequences (especially getting kicked out on the curb). Our students will make their way to the main lab desk, answer a question and receive all of the points or none of the points for their effort. The consquences of the all or nothing 'Cash Cab' moment increases their focus in our lab. Very few, if any students, get kicked out on the curb! Its challenging, stressful and great fun. Try it!

Formative Assessment - Interviews

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My primary task is teaching various software packages to students, a "sampler", but also project management. Like a corporate environment, I really push team planning, and I sit with each team every couple of days for a status update. After some Q&A time, I tell them their "grade", and why, and what they should do to improve. I print out a class roster with lots of space on it, write down the date and title for the evaluation, and keep a lot of those sheets for reference if there are any questions.

Director, Antioch Center for School Renewal

Quality Criteria

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In our Critical Skills Program (, we ask folks to first gain clarity about what the work should like like when it's done well (form criteria), what it should demonstrate the student knows well (content criteria), and what the student should demonstrate while engaged in the work (process criteria). Sometimes Quinn's Six Questions ( folks get clarity on these. If at all possible, we ask them to co-create the Quality Criteria with their students (to increase student ownership of the product, content and process). By revisiting the QC, students and teachers gain important formative feedback about what needs to happen next. We also encourage teachers to use a variety of reflective techniques (written, verbal and non-verbal) to help students self-assess in each of the three areas.

Arts Integration Specialist

We use a lot of digital

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We use a lot of digital portfolios with things like LiveBinder and we are looking into Google's new digital portfolio app for next year for our formative assessments. For ongoing assessment, students meet with their teacher twice a quarter. At each meeting, the teacher fills out a review form and the student fills out a review form. They compare the forms and look for commonalities and areas of disagreement. Students truly guide their learning in this process. In the end, they have a full, rich body of work to share from their projects. This is such a great forum topic! I'm conducting a poll at my website for what my next free podcast should address. I'll definitely add the assessment piece to whichever category is chosen!

Project Foundry Guru

Common Project Process

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Piggybacking on what Amy said above regarding narrative reflections, individual student time logs along the way provide opportunities for real conversations in addition to practicing the skill of writing articulate, active statements. They are difficult at first to get started with students, but with consistency and use in ending presentation materials, become easier than one thinks. The practice instills a discipline for lifelong reflection and parallels many real-world situations (eg- consulting).

Ahead of the project work, a commonly understood pre-proposal/preliminary research step goes a long way to seeding student interest and ensuring project ideas don't become too gangly. From my experience, the most challenging piece of doing this is fending off our desire as adults to push the students to where we want them to go just because we have the answers. However, this initial back and forth (similar to the contracting idea mentioned above) provides a number of opportunities to reinforce best research techniques. Likewise, the process values the creative, non-binary process.

Another simple, yet powerful formative feedback loop is what we at PBLS call result forms (aka- reflective yes checks). Essentially product reflections, these simple forms reiterate common expectations for common deliverables (e.g.- video, presentation, research paper) combined with relevant reflective questions (e.g.- Who is/was your target audience?). What's great about a tool like Project Foundry is you can easily collect these overtime and then say search for all my presentation results and have an authentic summative conversation how about how a student's reflection regarding presentations has or has not evolved.

Lastly, there is a missed opportunity for formative assessment when student work is just passively turned in. Students should be responsible for scheduling time with the project finalization (eval team or whatever you may call it) and completing their self-assessment rubric. In addition to this shifting to more student-centered education, it also provides subtle places for more formative feedback and provides a more student involved final evaluation since they as assumed in the process have an active role. Easier said then done in silo 50 min classrooms of course, but common in many of the PBL schools we work with.

Journalist and PBL advocate

Download Guide

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Thanks to everyone who shared suggestions! The guide is now available for free download:
Please share your feedback so we can keep growing this conversation.

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