Category Archives: assessments

Assessment Alternatives

Although I teach in a project based learning and standards based grading school, the standards are not always a part of the final product, but are assessed along the way as they are foundational knowledge for it.  So it seems I still end up having students writing short essays to explain the standards for most assessments.

I was looking for some ways to shake this up so students did not just have to write for every assessment. Here are two ideas that I came up with. The first was to have students create a short presentation of primary source images. Then students screencasted themselves explaining why they chose the images and how the pictures explained the standard.

The second was for students to sketch pictures to explain the standard. I have been thinking about visuals lately especially after meeting Amanda Lyons at Educon and seeing her great visual notes (check our her blog Visuals for Change). I showed them RSA Animate ‘s site and some of their videos as an example of images supporting someone’s thoughts. (If you want to make real RSA style videos check out this post from Paul Bogush.)

Amanda Lyons Community Mural at Educon

 Since I wanted this to be quick and easy for assessment I just asked the students to draw their pictures and then either write some sentences next to them explaining the drawings or come explain their sketches to me verbally. I wanted the process to be simple since I was more interested in their visual thoughts than I was in creating a video.

How do you encourage visual thinking in your classroom? What are alternative ways of assessment that you use to keep it fresh?

#sbar rejected

Exploded Model T 

We have a nice discussion started in the comments of my last post about #sbar (standard based assessment) in elective classes. In that post I think I had some difficulty articulating my problems with sbar in my classroom. Most of the comments came from a point of assuming that there needs to be specific standards for my class. I do not share that assumption.  I come from a more open perspective of giving students varied learning opportunities and they learn what they choose to learn.  I think I found an example to explain this that makes sense (at least to me).

This weekend my family went to Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. This is a huge building full of the history and culture of technology in America. It has tons of vehicles, planes, and trains in it along with farm equipment. The amount of history and science in that place is overwhelming.

Now I know how schools sometimes “do” fieldtrips with a scavenger hunt of items to find and write about or some other assignment. That is not how my family does museums. We came to the museum with no pre-determined agenda  about what we would learn.  My family explored the various parts of the museum, looked at the exhibits, and interacted when possible. Interactive items were my kids favorite parts by far, no matter how simple it was. We talked about the exhibits and asked each other questions. I never assessed my children’s learning. I just let them experience it. I (lead learner) did steer them toward things I thought were interesting or important and they steered me to the things they wanted to see.

Lin generating electricity

When the day was over I knew they had learned many things because we experienced them together. I felt no desire to give them an A, B+, or C-. They did not earn a 3, 4, or 5 either. The real purpose of grading of any kind is ranking students. Even sbar is ranking students against a list of norms for their age/grade level.

I feel the same way about my applied technology class. My goals for students are for them to problem-solve, think critically, and work collaboratively. These things are difficult to assess objectively. I want students to experience challenges in my classroom and feel free to attack them without worrying about failing attempts. Educators often talk about a “sandbox” space in schools where students can experiment and play. That is how I would ideally describe my classroom. Students, in my humble opinion, get enough standards in their other classes. I give them a freer environment to explore and experiment.

Again I think sbar is a good tool for core classrooms where meeting specific standards is required. But my classroom focuses on doing and experimenting and I believe a failed attempt at solving a problem can be just as important part of learning as success. Grades are not really necessary for any of us to learn.