I’m not a fun teacher. It’s embarrassing to admit, but making my class engaging does not come naturally. Many of my middle school colleagues fit right in with our quirky middle school students, but I don’t. So I need to work extra hard at being engaging.
In my second year of teaching, I realized I could make my assessments something my students looked forward to doing by switching to a strategy called a one-pager.
Assessing Learning With One-Pagers
With a one-pager, a student mixes art with parameters related to course content on a single sheet of white 8.5 x 11 printer paper to show what they understand about the content. A teacher can make the assessment formative or summative by modifying the parameters and increasing or decreasing the rigor.
The most powerful part of using art this way is that it makes the one-pager less about finding the single correct answer and more about crafting a response to the criteria the teacher presents. Students get to be creative, and since there are many different ways for them to answer the prompt, their thinking is challenged in new ways. They’re not trying to find the solution—they’re trying to find a solution they can stand behind.
While one-pagers have criteria, there aren’t rules. This point is critical because it means students have freedom to lay out their one-pager in any way they want. I’ve seen incredibly creative one-pagers, and grading them is fun. I know that doesn’t sound possible, but one-pagers are often so unique that seeing how students document their learning can be really enjoyable.
The most crucial element is that students have freedom in the evidence they select, the answers they create, and the placement of different elements on the page.
I’m an English teacher, but after I shared a short presentation on one-pagers with the math department, two math teachers sought me out to let me know they had tried this strategy with their students and found it really effective. I realized that this assessment tool might be useful in other areas as well.
Next I’ll explain how to structure a one-pager on a nonfiction text—in English language arts or any other subject—and how to structure one in math. I’ve discussed this strategy in relation to literary texts over at the NCTE website.
Using a One-Pager With a Nonfiction Text
If you want to assess students’ understanding of a nonfiction text, you can start by having them write the title and author somewhere on page. Next, they should add a quote from the text—their favorite line, or the one they see as most important—and explain in writing why they chose it.
Next they should explain the main idea or ideas of the piece in their own words, and write down two questions they have about the text—I often give sentence starters for this.
Then they get to the art, drawing a picture that relates to the main idea or ideas. Students have a lot of fun with this. It’s important to emphasize that you’re not assessing the one-pager based on appearances—what matters is that they show their understanding.
I also ask them to list a couple of key terms—they decide what those are—and supply their own definitions, and to list a couple of interesting or fun facts they learned and a couple of personal connections to the text.
Finally, they can add images or icons to their key terms, and write captions for their images, to make the one-pager understandable to someone who hasn’t read the text.
Using a One-Pager in Math Class
To use a one-pager in a math class, students write what type of problem they’re explaining. They also create two real-life examples—little stories like, “We had 10 apples after the party, and we know Sarah took 5, but we aren't sure how many we had to begin with. How many was it?” Then they draw a real-life example. Coming up with the real-life examples often takes as much creativity as the artwork.
Next they show different ways to solve the problem, if there are multiple ways. They also write their own sample problem modeled on the teacher’s example. They should list and explain key terms, and think of a question they have about the process or application—once again, giving them sentence starters can help here.
Finally, they should describe the step that’s trickiest to remember, and come up with a strategy for remembering it.
Some Additional Tips
If students don’t like to draw, they can find an image on the internet, print it, and either cut it out or trace it. Few of my students have done this, but it’s an option. I tell students that icons and stick figures are fine—the idea is not to create a masterpiece but to display deep understanding.
I make coloring the images optional because sometimes students get too caught up in making the art perfect.
When making an exemplar, I always show students one that’s based on a different text from the one they’re working with—and it’s purposefully an exemplar where the art is not outstanding. I tell students I made it and explain what I was thinking for each of the elements. I tell them I could have done better with my drawings, but was more focused on the ideas. And I let them know it’s fine for them to focus on both the ideas and the art.
There are many ways to use one-pagers aside from assessment—as posters, for example. But starting off using them to assess learning will help your students see themselves as creators of their own knowledge.