Assessing Individual and Group Learning in Projects

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student teamworkStudents, teachers, and parents commonly question how individual students will be assessed during project based teaching. In her book Project Based Teaching: How to Create Rigorous and Engaging Learning Experiences, author Suzie Boss shares the following suggestions related to assessing individuals and groups throughout the project period (pp. 116-118):

  1. Clarify which components are assessed at the individual level and which components are assessed at the group level. Make these determinations as you plan your projects, and communicate with students. Give individual assignments greater weight that group tasks.
  2. Reinforce peer accountability. Use team contracts to identify roles and responsibilities, and use those contracts to empower student-to-student accountability. Provide opportunities for students to assess everyone’s contributions to the team. Make sure students know from the very beginning of the project that they will be asked to assess the work of every team member.
  3. Encourage reflection about teamwork. Throughout the project, ask students to journal or share about how things are going. This will allow you to “see” inside the team and make adjustments as needed.

As you prepare for upcoming projects, plan for assessment of individual student learning and group work. Share your thoughts with students even as you plan and ask them for feedback. Your overall assessment system will be richer, and your students will benefit greatly!

A Measure, Not THE Measure

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nfl catchNFL scouts use a spider graph to assess prospective wide receivers on twelve elements they deem important to success in the league. Those elements include height, weight, arm length, hand size, 10-yard dash, 40-yard dash, bench press, broad jump, cone drill, 20-yard shuttle, and 60-yard shuttle.   During a presentation at the ASCD Conference on Educational Leadership last October, Myron Dueck reviewed the spider graphs and actual game statistics of three top ten picks and one 63rd round pick. Interestingly, the 63rd round pick had the worst spider graph, but the best game performance statistics during his first few seasons in the NFL. Dueck went on to explain that the spider graph was A measure, but not necessarily THE measure of success in the NFL for these players.   The spider graph cannot measure all the intangibles, such as work ethic and sheer determination, necessary to be successful.

The same holds true for educators.  Nearly every state employs some type of standardized test for its students and reports the results publicly.  This represents A measure, but not necessarily THE measure of success for our schools. Is this good information to know? Absolutely. We need to know how our students are doing on these state assessments, and we need to continue to improve our pedagogy and practices in order to give students the opportunity to perform well on these assessments. Is the state test the only measure we should use? Absolutely not. We must be continually mindful of the fact that our students will continue to learn and grow in our schools, because of our efforts and their own grit.

All across the country on a school day, students and teachers will bee engaged in a variety of activities. Students and teachers will be laughing and enjoying their work. They will be in safe facilities.   These are the successes that cannot be quantified by the state assessment.

Keep up the great work! You are making a huge difference in the lives of our students!!

Benefits of SPIDER WEB Discussion

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students dicsussing with teacherSPIDER WEB discussion in the classroom increases student engagement and provides a vehicle for improving student skills in the area of dialogue. In her book The Best Class You Never Taught: How SPIDER WEB Discussion Can Turn Students Into Learning Leaders, Alexis Wiggins notes the following additional benefits of regularly employing the SPIDER WEB discussion practice that she has observed in her own classroom (pp. 132-141):

  1. Better Assessment Data on Individual Students: All the coding involved in monitoring discussion and creating the web graph provides teachers with a tremendous amount of data on individual students. That data makes it easier to identify things students do well and things that need improvement.
  2. Increase in Homework Completion: Students generally do no want to look bad in front of their peers, so they will do homework in order to meet the participation requirements. Students understand that for a SPIDER WEB to work, all strands must be firmly attached. No one wants to be the weak strand.
  3. An Ethical and Safe Classroom Environment: Since SPIDER WEB discussion results in a group grade, students are more willing to step out of their typical behavior to participate (i.e. the students who are shy are more willing to speak, and the students who are overly talkative are more willing to sit back and listen). Students are more willing to ask good, open-ended questions, often questioning thoughts and beliefs that may have otherwise been taboo in class (i.e. race, religion, beliefs, values, and the like).
  4. Greater Student Autonomy: Students are frequently their own best teacher. SPIDER WEB discussion gives students voice in their learning process, and it allows the students to learn from each other, which allows the teacher to take on a coaching role.
  5. Opportunities for Greater Equity: SPIDER WEB discussion lends itself to equal participation in class. This helps students of all varieties find a voice in the classroom. SPIDER WEB discussion can be enhanced by allowing students to write questions and responses for sharing discussion, further strengthening writing for all students.

SPIDER WEB discussion, as a pedagogical practice, can be regularly used in classrooms of all grade levels and content areas. Over time, students and teachers are likely to become more comfortable with the process, thus increasing student engagement and voice. Keep trying the practice in your classroom. You and your students will learn much in the process!

Building with Rubrics

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laying brick

If students are to improve their communication and collaboration skills, they will require feedback related to current levels of performance. In her book The Best Class You Never Taught: How SPIDER WEB Discussion Can Turn Students Into Learning Leaders, Alexis Wiggins promotes the use of a rubric for assessing SPIDER WEB discussions. According to Wiggins (pp. 17-22), the rubric should:

  1. Clearly identify the goals for the discussion.
  2. Clearly identify the skills to be increased.
  3. Clearly define the outcomes to achieved.
  4. Be used by students to reflect and self-assess.

While I concur with Wiggins’ recommendations regarding the rubric, I would also add one more recommendation:

  1. The rubric should be student generated if at all possible.

Students of all ages are capable of understanding and articulating what they should know and how they will demonstrate their new knowledge. Several years ago I taught a 4th grade music composition class, and I asked the group to develop the rubric used to assess the music generated. Our dialogue about what makes a good composition (harmony, melody, form, contrast, rhythm, etc.) demonstrated that they had a significant understanding of the content, and I found that the students were far more demanding than I would have been regarding their compositions. I was quite shocked and impressed at the same time. In the end, they produced some rather high quality compositions, they could explain them in appropriate terms, and they were fully engaged in the assessment process.

As you begin to develop plans for your SPIDER WEB discussions, think of ways to engage students in the development of the rubric to be used for assessment purposes. I believe you and your students will learn much and enjoy the journey!