I am considering how to make my assessment of student learning more authentic, accurate and transparent. Last semester I tried having students grade themselves which was at first not very well received by students. Yet, in the end, students seemed to really get the power of their own self-assessment. The assignments I gave were given detailed feedback, but students had to decide on the grade using the overall criteria given in the syllabus. I am considering adding a layer to this process in an effort to increase the responsibility, mental engagement, and control for students. Ideally, the students would be setting their own criteria, except setting requirements about understanding first require one to understand (this paradox is a problem).

This semester I am planning to let students create or choose their own assignments. Maybe not all of the assignments but some of them. For example, in my methods class I might require students to turn in 1) a group lesson plan and 2) a videotaped lesson of themselves with a self-analysis and improvement plan (the lesson & videotape will be required so students understand that thinking about good teaching and doing good teaching are very different). The other 3 assignments would be self-created. Students might choose to create a website for their class, an additional lesson plan, a case study of another teacher, a series of blog posts, a paper, a video, etc.

I would provide feedback on all assignments and target my feedback for all assignments to specific standards that I will create to reflect the major outcomes of each course. Some of these outcomes/standards will be based on meeting state teaching standards and others on specific course content. I will not provide a grade. I will create expectations for each standard that articulate levels of understanding that students will use as a guide for their own self-assessment (along with my extensive comments/feedback).

These main 5 assignments would not be the only assignments I give. Other assignments might include weekly blogposts, readings, comments, resource finding, etc. These assignments will serve only as formative assessment, when appropriate, and won’t be considered for the final grade.

How I plan to calculate final grades is something I still have some questions about so will be the content of another post. Let me know your thoughts on this “create your assignments” approach. I know this is not “new”, but it will be new to many of my students, so I welcome feedback and suggestions. In this approach I hope to provide freedom within parameters that still allow me and the students to make informed assessments of learning.

How could something like this be done in k-12 education?

What if K-12 students (I’m thinking of high school students specifically) were given a list of standards for a given course and had flexibility to demonstrate their understanding of these standards using mediums of their own choosing? A student in math might show his understanding of the triangle inequality using three straws while another could answer a series of test questions created by his peers or teacher.

Last year, I gave this idea a try, but from a slightly different angle. When students did not demonstrate proficiency on a math assessment that I created, they could show me through alternative mediums (a re-assessment) how they understood the big idea.

Is this where you’re headed? It seems like a good idea with college students who are presumably better able to make these types of connections.

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I am thinking students wouldn’t create only resubmits, but the initial assignments. College students won’t need as much scaffolding. High school students will likely need help by asking them, “how did this assignment demonstrate your understanding?”. “How else could you have demonstrates that you learned the material?”. These questions about teacher designed assignments will help prep students for creating own. It’s a start anyway ;)

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I would absolutely love do something like this with my classes. At this point, though, I don’t have time to sit down and plan it out, nor do I have a clear idea of what it would look like. It sounds so simple to say, “show me what you know,” but in reality, my kids would need a lot more guidance than that.

I also think I would butt heads with my principal. He is very adamant that you have a very clear, objective way of grading students. His question would be “would it hold up in a court of law?” Of course, at the same time we are supposed to differentiate…so many contradictions.

I am so interested in seeing how you have it set up and how you end up grading your students. Please keep us posted.

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Butting heads with admin will be a topic of a future post (see the “reform your classroom” series). I’n sorry you have that situation.

I’ll keep you posted. Small steps are still important steps!

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I allow my high school students to design their own assignment several times a year. One of these times is my “FedEx Project” in which students choose a challenging research assignment which they work on over the course of the entire year. I always thought that they would be excited to choose their topic of study, but every year I have done this they have been completely overwhelmed. They don’t know where to start or how to begin. Each year I have added more and more structure to the assignment to negate this. I still haven’t struck on a good balance of structure and freedom.

The idea, in theory, is a great one. In practicality it is very challenging. That being said, I think it IS a worthwhile activity because it forces students to take responsibility of their learning. This freaks them out, but it’s an important lesson and one that they should learn quickly.

If anyone decides to try this, be ready to hold a lot of hands and give a lot of guidance!

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“I always thought that they would be excited to choose their topic of study, but every year I have done this they have been completely overwhelmed.”

I have had the same experience. For me, even having kids pick from a few specific assignments brings them to a screeching halt. They are so used to being told exactly what to do and how to do it, even if they have no intention of completing it. (Can we just blame this all on standardized testing??) Then it is just a hurry to try to fill in the blanks as faster than everyone else. I can’t tell you how many times we have done a lab and kids are trying to get the data table filled in without performing the steps to get the data.

Would you be willing to share your Fedex Project? I would love to see how you have it set up.

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