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Remote Assessment in PBL

This is the fourth of a series of posts about what Project Based Learning infused with Social and Emotional Learning looks like when teaching remotely. Is it the ideal situation? Probably not, but it is the reality that many of us are dealing with. I will share my ideas and what others are doing to hopefully inspire you to action.


Many teachers are overwhelmed with remote or hybrid teaching. It is so much work and is exhausting. Connecting with students is hard! They miss scheduled Zoom calls. Don’t respond to emails or messages. It sometimes feels like beyond a few self-motivated kids, student effort is dependent on how much parents or caretakers are monitoring them.

I recently saw a teacher post about how overwhelmed she was with daily grading in this environment. She stayed up late nightly marking papers. She asked about how much formative vs. summative assessment others were doing. For me the ratio should be about 99% formative vs. 1% summative.


I, of course, love assessment, but hate grading. My advice to teachers is to use formative assessments daily, even multiple ones. This shouldn’t be overwhelming because you do NOT need to grade them. The purpose of formative assessments is to figure out where your students are to plan your next teacher moves to make.

Think of formative assessment as a thermostat taking the temperature of the room, then you adjust the heat or air based on your reading. As students complete an activity in your class, listen and observe, looking for common misconceptions or gaps in understanding. Then sequence the next day’s lessons based on student needs. This means you may have to differentiate for different groups of kids.

boring pic, but important analogy

Formative assessments are not your sole responsibility. As you create a student-centered classroom, you release control to students. You are not the only source of knowledge in the room. Formative assessments should include peer assessments, community feedback, and self reflections, on top of your observations. Let’s consider each one and what it might look like in remote learning.

Peer Assessment

There are many ways that students can assess each other, and most can be adapted for online learning. For writing pieces in Google Docs, they can leave suggestions in comments. Many teachers have students post pictures of drafts of final products on Padlet or videos on Flipgrid and then have other students add feedback for refinement. Use a Visible Thinking Routine within breakout rooms to structure productive peer assessment. Remember to model what constructive feedback looks like and provide sentence stems.

Community Feedback

Outside experts can provide excellent feedback, especially in areas of the project that may be outside of the teacher’s expertise. You can use some of the same tools mentioned above: Padlet, Flipgrid, Google Docs, etc. Students can connect via email or video conferencing to get feedback on their products, advice for research topics and resources, and coaching around content topics. In a design project, students should be surveying the community for their perspective on the problem being addressed. Social media is another way for students to get their message out and to connect to local aspects of their project.

Self Reflection

In reality, self-reflection is the single most powerful assessment. When we decide something for ourselves, it leads to substantive action. Students should be reflecting on content, SEL skills that they are developing, and the PBL process. Reserve time daily for reflection on one of these areas. Use rubrics to have students evaluate themselves. They can journal or fill out an exit ticket. This can be done many ways online. My favorite for its simplicity is a Google Form. Mix it up by having students do a Turn and Talk with random pairs in a breakout room.

Teacher Observations

My favorite teacher assessment is just listening to conversations of students during group work. Put them into breakout rooms with a protocol to follow and a task to submit at the end. Hop in to notice how they interact with each other and what they are learning. Pull small groups or individuals into a separate breakout room for conferencing to assess them. Document students’ levels on content standards or SEL competencies in a spreadsheet (note: I am not the creator of this template and the author did put their name on it).

When you need to look at handed-in classwork, read 8-10 papers looking for themes of strengths and missing aspects. Once you establish what you need to know, don’t read the rest. Don’t grade them at all! Plan an engaging way to address the pattern that you discovered.

Finally here’s two of my favorite sites for formative assessment ideas: 60 Formative Assessments and K-20 Assessment Cards.

My Mantra:

Assess more;

Grade less;

Plan cool stuff for kids!

We only have so much time in a day. Every minute wasted grading busy work that doesn’t inform our next teacher move is wasted time. Let’s use our time wisely to plan work worthy of the children in front of us. Assess in real time and use your planning period to plan and adjust, not mark papers.

Questions? Interested in a PBL workshop or consulting?  Connect with me at or @mikekaechele on Twitter.

Remote Inquiry in PBL

This is the third of a series of posts about what Project Based Learning infused with Social and Emotional Learning looks like when teaching remotely. Is it the ideal situation? Probably not, but it is the reality that many of us are dealing with. I will share my ideas and what others are doing to hopefully inspire you to action.

Remote Inquiry in Project Based Learning might seem like a no-brainer-online research! But let’s think of inquiry in broader terms and consider some other ways to guide students of all ages to engage in inquiry throughout the project cycle. Curiosity is integral to any engaging project, and we can find many ways to build it even when we are not face-to-face.


Texts of all kinds can be research. From non-fiction to fiction; from poetry to graphic novels; from websites to magazines, our students should be exposed to a rich environment of texts. Many school libraries are finding ways for kids to pick up books during remote learning and there are many online books available for free. Make sure that your students are being exposed to a wide variety of authors and texts from diverse viewpoints.

Expanded Research

Too often students are only taught how to do the traditional research of a Google search or how to use peer reviewed journals at the secondary level. There are so many other things that students can research. They can consider primary source images in history and science using routines such as “I notice” and “I wonder.” They can analyze political cartoons, listen to podcasts, watch documentaries or other videos, take virtual field trips, or watch live webcams of natural events. Expanding research to include audio and video elements helps differentiate for English Learners and kids with special needs. It is engaging for ALL students!


All sources ultimately go back to a person who either wrote it down, took a picture or video, or created some kind of artifact. So take your students directly to the source and have them conduct interviews. Students from Kindergarten to college can come up with their own questions based on the Driving Question (DQ) and talk to experts in the field. This person may have a degree at a prestigious university, or they may be a grand parent who remembers a time period in history. Experts are everywhere!

One bonus of remote learning is that there is actually more access to people as pretty much everyone has experience with videoconferencing now and can quickly and easily “join” your class without having the past challenges of distance, travel, or taking off from work.


We’re not talking about taking them, but having students create surveys around their project topic and then send them to the appropriate audience. This data collection is an important part of empathetic design thinking process. To help students to develop the SEL competency of Social Awareness, we need them to consider the DQ from multiple perspectives. Solutions to PBL should require that students address the whole community, especially those least privileged.

Surveys bring a great tie into math as students can decide what kind of graph or chart best represents the data. The results require critical interpretation to be applied to any solution that kids are considering. Creating infographs is a great way for students to communicate their results with the public affected by the problem.


Hands-on learning in PBL is a crucial way for kids to make their own meaning. Send home some instructions for experiments that they can try at home. Of course, make sure that the experiments are safe and inexpensive, but students can do many things at home with some parental guidance. If that is not an option, videotape yourself conducting the experiment at your home for student to observe. Better yet do it live so students can ask questions in real time. Another option are simulations such as PhET science page where students can play around virtually.


Like experiments, this is a great option to get students away from screens. Assign them tasks such as going out side and looking for living vs. non living things. They could be watching animals/insects in their neighborhood. Students could count traffic, notice Covid adaptations in their community, or document whether or not people are social distancing. Teaching students to have a keen eye for what is going on around them and then learning to interpret it is research too!

What other ways are you having students inquire remotely?

Questions? Interested in a PBL workshop or consulting?  Connect with me at or @mikekaechele on Twitter.