What if students were able to choose when and what they wanted to be assessed on? That simple question was posed by colleague, recently to me in a staffroom chat. It quickly exploded into an hour long discussion, that resulted in about 2 weeks worth of work on re-imagining my classroom experience for next year.
I think I was alway comfortable with the idea of students choosing their own topics or concepts for inquiry, but I was never able to come up with many good assessments that allowed for good student initiated action. It was hard to think of open ended assignments. My colleague’s question allowed for an end-around to the problem of the teacher structuring tasks, and then making students fit their learning and inquiry into the teacher’s structure and time-frame.
Luckily, I teach within an MYP context, so there are skill driven objectives set out for my classes already. Currently, I set an assignment for a specified objective, like I think most teachers do. Why do I do it that way? That’s just the way it was always done. Teacher gives instruction; teacher gives assignment; teacher chooses objective; teacher gives a grade; and so on. Why do we usually not let students decide on what they want to demonstrate when studying plants, or civilizations, or poetry? Most likely, we teachers want control. If we let students run free, then how will we ensure they’ve learned!?
So what we’ve come up with in addressing that question is a simple framework in essence, but difficult in management. I will be teaching a few weeks of base content, then allowing students to inquire into anything they want that addresses the unit’s key/significant concept. I will be conferencing with students regularly (once a week minimum), and negotiating how they will meet certain minimum requirements over the course of the year. Most likely students will need to choose two or three ways to be assessed over an 8 week unit on a particular concept, and keep a portfolio journalling their progress. However, they may choose more if they are really into that topic, or fewer if they could care less. The skill driven objectives of the MYP admittedly make this much easier. The role of the teacher will drastically change. It’s honestly a bit scary! Students will be allowed to decide what objectives they want to meet; how they will demonstrate they met them; how and when they will be assessed; and who their audience will be. They will be free to choose more, while I spend more time directing, rather than dictating, learning.
So what if students actually had the choice to choose how and when they were assessed? Here are a few advantages and challenges I foresee right now before diving in. Please leave comments and feedback to help us work through this process of enabling students to direct their own assessment!
- Increased practice at research skills
- Increased practice at planning and organizing time
- Variety of assessment products (movies, blogs, teaching lessons, video conferencing, etc)
- Increased formative and self assessment, as well as re-assessing work
- Possibility for year-long assessment
- Natural differentiation of tasks
- Increased student ownership of learning
- Students targeting specific areas that need improvement
- All projects become individually tailored
- Me giving up control!
- Keeping track of all students tasks
- Managing the learning environment
- Making sure students make wise choices
- Maintaining motivation
- Testing knowledge (can you test? individual tests?)
- Changing stakeholders’ perceptions of learning
Can you think of any more?