Assessment: Who’s in Control?

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?

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7 Responses to Assessment: Who’s in Control?

  1. brianneises says:

    Reblogged this on embed∙ed and commented:

    Originally posted on Inquiry Within.


  2. Hi Brian,
    Very impressed with this idea. Another plus would be the opportunity for children to collaborate with their peers. We all know how powerful peer assessment can be as a source of feedback, especially when students are aware of what good feedback looks/sounds like.
    Would love to hear how it all works out!



    • brianneises says:

      Sandra, Authentic collaboration is indeed a hope I have! I hope that students will make natural connections with each other, and not just in the class, but with other students around the world. My dream would be students who collaborate and share globally via videoconferencing, chatting, and blogging 🙂

      Hopefully much of next year will be spent blogging on Inquire Within about our process!


      Sent from my iPad


  3. What a great idea! I would like to pick this conversation up with PYP teachers as well. We are currently trying something like this at our upcoming Student-led Learning Reviews. We are asking the children to create a plan that will illustrate their ‘learning journey’ for their parents. They will need to create activities (assessments?) to demonstrate their understanding of concepts, the knowledge they have acquired through their investigations and the skills they have developed throughout the year. Your post is making me think about ways we might be able to do this throughout the year – not just at learning reviews.
    Thanks for sparking our imaginations!


    • brianneises says:

      Many of the ideas for this have definitely come out of my own researching more into how things are done in the PYP. Our workshop leader training last summer was an eye opener into how to bridge the gap between not only the programme objectives and frameworks, but also the pedagogy implemented in them.

      I love your idea of a ‘learning journey’ and may just use that as an overlay in my own thinking of how to motivate students on their journey. An excellent article on planning for inquiry, especially framing the questions we ask students when they plan is

      Would love to dialogue more and find out how things go for you and your students!


  4. You might be interested in an important experiment in “crowdsourced grading” in 2009 In the States.

    You can find the full story here.

    “I did want to include one paragraph to show the reaction from the highered blogosphere..
    I’m fascinated that the blogosphere was so annoyed with me for wanting to teach responsible judgment practices as part of my pedagogy. I think it is because grading, in a curious way, exemplifies our deepest convictions about excellence and authority, and specifically about the right of those with authority to define what constitutes excellence. If we “crowdsource grading,” we are suggesting that those without authority can also determine excellence. That is what happens in the non-refereed world of the internet, that’s what digital thinking is, and it is quite revolutionary. ”

    I think you are really onto something and wish you the best of luck


  5. brianneises says:

    Thanks Michael. That is an interesting idea for grading. I wonder though, how well that would apply if all the students are doing different things? I could see it being quite effective if all students were writing or presenting about the same topic, in the same way. Essentially, it seems like an elevated and systematic form of peer-assessment. I love the quote about peer-assessment by Black, et, “Peer assessment is uniquely valuable because students may accept criticisms of their work from one another that they would not take seriously if the remarks were offered by a teacher. Peer work is also valuable because the interchange will be in language that students themselves naturally use and because students learn by taking the roles of teachers and examiners of others.” (Working Inside the Black Box, Black, et al, 2004)

    I do indeed hope that by students choosing how and when they will be assessed, that they will begin to choose peers to be part of their evaluation process more and more often. I also hope that students will begin to choose parents and other “outside” sources to take part in their evaluation too. MYP assessment Criteria should make that a viable option, and result in some interesting moderation of our understanding of how to assess the objectives!

    Working Inside the Black Box can be found at:


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