I often struggle to find authentic ways to assess the learning of my students. I don’t like tests because I can’t design one that assesses anything beyond basic recall or gives them any choice in how to synthesize information. Tests only allow learning to be demonstrated in the way I decide.
I love projects where kids have the opportunity to show their learning in different ways. I like to give them choice on the type of project and whether they want to work alone or in groups. More often than not, students choose to work in groups. I encourage this; as an adult I value collaborative time and work better in social settings. The problem is kids often choose to create projects that make it difficult to differentiate who has learned what.
For my latest project, kids were asked to create or design a simple machine. The simple machine needed to incorporate the different things we learned (different kinds of force, motion, levers, pulleys, wedges etc.) My students had a great time creating the machines, but it was hard for me to distinguish who knew what, so I decided to interview each group.
I sat down with each group individually and asked different kids very pointed questions about the specific outcomes they needed to demonstrate. If the student could not answer a question, I sent the group back because they had more learning to do. When they came back I would get the original student to explain it or sometimes I would mix it up and ask another group member. I would proceed in this fashion until I had covered all the intended learning. I was able to ensure that EVERYONE understood.
On the surface, it has been a time-consuming practice, but when I step back and analyze further I realize there are many efficiencies. For example:
1) The information I have is authentic. I know exactly where each student is in their learning.
2) Students never finish their projects at the same time, so I have managed to get the assessing done while others are still finishing. This way I don’t have to take anything home and the students receive immediate feedback.
3) It forces collaboration. I don’t give the students the answers, they are forced to go back to their groups, figure out their mis-information fill in the gaps in their learning and come back when they are ready.
Granted this type of assessment is not easy and it does take the students a while to understand how to access other sources of information when I am busy (but that is a good thing). It is not effective for every project in every subject area, but it is a very effective tool to get a true understanding of what your students have learned.