George Lucas Educational Foundation

In time-constraint traps!

In time-constraint traps!

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I need as much suggestions as possible. I just started recently at this school as a middle school Science teacher. Because of the large number of students (30 per class), and I teach 4 sections each of this grade, I have to personally take time to get to know each student on an individual basis.

So for one of the assessment, I had given the ownership of developing, designing and implementing Science projects related to Environmental literacy. As much as it was time consuming, the ideas were generated quickly and for students, it took time. With the instant feedback given by my presence as a mentor and a guide, the students were asked to submit and present 'individually' with the whole class as their audience.

However, I feel that my idea of assessing students on projects individually is very time consuming in the sense, that firstly,

- it took many time periods per week.
- some students who brought presentation on Powerpoint slides had problems with their USB flash drives, and automatic clearing of data owing to viruses etc.

Now I am compelled to accept the remaining students' works and grade them without having them to present in class. Alternatively I am thinking of asking them to present to small, various groups in classes. I do worry that I shouldn't have asked for individual presentations given the large number of students. But I really wanted to assess how much strength and confidence they have garnered in the whole process.

On a positive note, it helped me to understand the cognitive development of each learner and their aspirations, willingness to contribute to projects' learning. On the negative side, the time factor is something that I don't feel positive about. I now think in retrospective, small teams of 3-4 members or 5-6 members should have been kept as the criteria.

What do you all recommend?

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Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Hi There Khaula!

One of the things I find mystifying about school is that we tell students we are grading them on one thing, but we assess them on something else entirely. For example, one of my children has a handwriting disability. A teacher assigned a poster project, where everything was hand drawn and written. His looked incredibly sloppy, and he lost marks for that- not based on the content of his thoughts or ideas, but on how lovely the end product looked, something that had a higher degree of difficulty for him than other students, and the teacher knew he was seeing an occupational therapist for his handwriting at the time.

Now extrapolating this to your assignment- are you attempting to grade students on the content of their projects and their understanding, or on their presentation skills before an audience of their peers? If you are grading them on the performance, you should have class time devoted to talking about what the elements of a good and bad presentation are, and what you are expecting them to try to accomplish as a benchmark. That holds for whether it's an individual or group presentation.

I think if you use the templates about backwards design, (Here's a link for templates for a Backwards design lesson plan: you start with the end learning objectives for a particular lesson or unit, and then can find many ways, rather than one way, for students to achieve that end. Maybe 5 kids want to present; maybe 5 want to shoot a video, and others want to do a standard report . If you allow kids choice in choosing the end point, you will probably have fewer kids presenting individually, and more kids choosing projects that play to their strengths and demonstrate equal degrees of mastery of the subject matter, which should be the end point of the lesson, not the medium which is chosen for the delivery. I hope this makes sense.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

I agree with Whitney- so much of this is about clarity. What matters enough to be graded and what's nice but not that important- both in terms of the content and the product? I like to use Quinn's Six Questions to help me get clear on what I really think is worth grading (

That way I can give a grade for how well they grasp the content and/ or how well they created the product.

Brian Sztabnik's picture
Brian Sztabnik
AP Literature teacher from Miller Place, NY

Rubrics aren't new to education, but I find them extremely helpful when grading projects. First of all, they set clear expectations for the students so they know what exactly will be graded and how before they start their work. They also allow for some focus on your part as the grader; instead of looking at and responding to every aspect of the project, you provide feedback on specific content areas.

As Whitney and Laura have mentioned, using backwards design to plan your unit would be very helpful. And handing out rubrics to your students with their assignment is like backwards design for your assessment. Edutopia has some great rubric information and resources. You can check out their assessment guide (

Martin Richards's picture
Martin Richards
I train educators to use a coaching approach in their teaching practice

Lessons from the students

Hi Khaula Rizwan. There's lots of advice from the others who've commented so I will just recommend that you note what you have learned from this process, congratulate yourself on the successes you have achieved and next time do something different. By all means get it 'wrong' again, and again.

Khaula Rizwan's picture
Khaula Rizwan
Grade 3-5 Tech teacher

Hi Whitney,

Thanks for replying. This clarified some of my misconceptions regarding assessments. And I agreed, 'One of the things I find mystifying about school is that we tell students we are grading them on one thing, but we assess them on something else entirely'. Having a mild disability myself (hard of hearing), I remembered my Urdu language teacher who had made my Urdu classes miserable. While I demonstrated excellent content reproduction, the dictation part was something I felt needed to be modified or at best adapted with visuals. But I didn't get any accommodation. I struggled and lost marks sometimes.

I checked out the link, but I am figuring out how to go on with the backward planning. Its new but interesting.

Khaula Rizwan's picture
Khaula Rizwan
Grade 3-5 Tech teacher

Hi Laura,

Thanks for posting about Quinn's Six Qs. They got me thinking, and for the next project I will be willing to be clear-headed myself and then decide what it is that I would like the students to know, learn and apply. At the 5th Grade, I was doubtful if they will move past the analytical stage with respect to Blooms' taxonomy, but the learning outcomes were better in oral than in written responses. So I guess I am hooked on getting students to improve their written responses and contents during project times.

Khaula Rizwan's picture
Khaula Rizwan
Grade 3-5 Tech teacher

Rubrics are really helpful. But I have never shared rubrics with my students up until now. Here is my thought, though I would like you all to share as well.

Going deeper in the cultural context, we as a nation are hard driven when it comes to criticism and fair acknowledgement of each others' works. Its the new breed of the educators and teachers like us who have already gotten the gist of criticism and and its powerful impact on learning and holistic development. My students, firstly, were not used to criticism-both positive and negative. They welcomed praise as praise, and criticism as something that is exclusively negative. It took a while for some of them to truly absorb the hidden power of this wonderful tool. Some of them broke down, because they thought the teachers 'disliked' their works, or the reproduction of their contents in their own ways. While remaining fair and giving them honest feedback, I believe I had opened a latent part of their personality that would give way to more courage, and more determination. I addressed this case with whole-school faculty meeting as well, that we need to get the students to understand both aspects of feedback. So while breaking down is natural for adults too, children sometimes have a hard time getting used to this process.

Coming back to rubrics, I felt like seeing how far the students would go to show mastery. Most of them did well, some of them took my feedback and incorporated it during their next projects. I have the habit of making mistake, then learning from mistake which alone is a powerful determinant for successful learning. So getting them attuned to making mistakes the first time around, gave them the advantage of giving better projects next time. At other times, I alert them before, whilst at few others, I leave them on their own to figure out the best approach to deliver a project.

What are your thoughts?

Khaula Rizwan's picture
Khaula Rizwan
Grade 3-5 Tech teacher

Haa! I felt better that I am not alone. And that with every failure, there is something to celebrate as well.

Btw, what is meant by 'coaching approach'? Any links I can follow up on?

Thanks, Martin.

Martin Richards's picture
Martin Richards
I train educators to use a coaching approach in their teaching practice

Hi again Khaula Rizwan

A 'coaching approach' has many different names around the teaching profession. In essence it is an approach that includes the belief that students want to, and can learn, and the students are whole and healthy and do not need to be fixed or corrected. There is a positive interpretation of whatever's happening in the classroom for example. There is also a future focus when deciding what to do now in the present moment which matches many teachers desire to make a positive difference in their students' lives.

Two essential skills are Curiosity and non-Jugement. The ICF (International Coaching Federation) describes eleven coaching skills which I have interpreted from a teaching perspective. For a fuller explanation read here

I have seen teachers using a coaching approach - for example focusing on the positive aspects of a situation, and redirecting students attention to their choices - used in such a way as to transform lessons and learning with almost magical ease.

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