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Project-Based Learning (PBL)

How PBL Prepares Students for CCSS Test Performance Tasks: Part 2 – PBL is Already Aligned for Assessment

May 20, 2014
Photo credit: Thinkstock

Editor's Note: This is the second part of a report adapted from the Buck Institute for Education's Google+ Hangout of April 9, 2014 with Justin Wells of Envision Learning Partners and BIE National Faculty member Andrew Miller. In Part 1, we discussed how the Common Core tests are being designed, and looked at a sample ELA performance task for assessing research skills.

How PBL Aligns with CCSS Assessments

In contrast to earlier tests that were mostly "based on the nouns, measuring what students knew," claims Justin, "what we're now measuring [on CCSS assessments] is the verbs, which live in the land of performance assessment. That's why project-based learning has an advantage over traditional instruction – it's based on verbs." In projects, students create, decide, produce, solve, inquire, propose, justify, plan, analyze, evaluate, synthesize and present.

It's easy to see how the performance tasks being planned for the CCSS tests are well-aligned with PBL practices. Look how much the sample eighth grade performance task discussed in Part 1 of this post reflects BIE's 8 Essential Elements of PBL:

Significant Content

Claim 4 by Smarter Balanced asks students to research, inquire, and "analyze, integrate and present information" -- hard to argue with the importance of that. Whether it's in college, on the job or at home, everyone needs to know how to function well in today's information-rich society.

21st Century Competencies

Students must use critical thinking and problem-solving skills, communicate in writing for a specific purpose, and perhaps be creative and innovative in their approach to the task. The only one of the 4C's this lacks is collaboration -- but trying to measure that would really blow the minds of traditional test makers!

In-Depth Inquiry

Although the task is not extended over the typical length of time of a project, and does not include student-generated questions, it does involve the investigation of an issue through close reading of several diverse texts. That qualifies as inquiry.

Driving Question

It's not stated explicitly, but the DQ is clear to me: "Should the library spend its money on more books or more computers?"

Need to Know

The scenario set up in the performance task creates an authentic need to know more about young people's use of the Internet, their reading habits, and the pros and cons of the issue -- not to mention how to write an effective argumentative essay. And, as many of you PBL practitioners could tell, that 30-minute "Introductory Classroom Activity" sure sounds (almost) like an Entry Event – there's an engaging activity, a connection to the real world, a challenge and a preview of what the task is.

Voice and Choice

Student test takers decide for themselves which side to argue when writing their essay, and which evidence to draw from which resources.

Critique and Revision

OK, there isn't much time for this in a couple of hours in a test-taking situation -- but I hope students have time to review and edit their first drafts!

Public Audience

While it's not an actual presentation of their work to a real person, students are asked to write their argumentative essay to an imagined authentic audience -- the library staff and the decision makers.

What PBL Teachers Can Do to Prepare Students

Generally speaking, PBL teachers should "stay the course," advises Justin. "We're preparing our students well because PBL is about performance assessment." In the world of performance assessment, two of the key concepts relevant for PBL teachers are that a test must result in a product or performance, and the product or performance has to match the learning target. "The first one is easy for PBL teachers to get their heads around," Justin says. But the second one needs careful attention. "The verb matters; what is the thinking skill this is really getting at?"

To illustrate the point that teachers need to design project tasks which truly measure what a standard is asking for, Justin offers this example:

This means that PBL teachers need to provide scaffolding during a project to support students in learning how to think in the specific ways the Common Core demands. As BIE National Faculty member Andrew Miller puts it, "In a project, the performance tasks we design better have 'analyze' if the CCSS says 'analyze' -- we can't oversimplify when we look at a standard."

When PBL teachers design and conduct projects, we need to be sure that our projects are rooted in the verbs targeted in CCSS-specific skills, such as close reading of text and writing in response to text. Justin admits:

Andrew points out:

A Tailwind for PBL

Justin concludes:

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  • Project-Based Learning (PBL)
  • Assessment
  • English Language Arts

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