Some of us might already have mid-term anxiety even though we’ve haven’t quite finished the month of September. I know I do. I like to get assessments and assignments out for vetting as soon as possible, because it takes time to edit/correct/ perfect each one. And that’s exactly what we should be aiming for: making sure our evaluations match the principles of assessment.
Many of us try to include a project mark, so that our students can excel, without the stringent ‘testing’ methods. Projects give students the opportunity to be creative, innovative and develop those P21 skills. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Please see below:
Image courtesy: https://www.battelleforkids.org/networks/p21
The framework includes 4 main areas under Learning & Innovation Skills, simply referred to as the 4C’S:
So when you’re designing your projects, you want to keep these 4 areas in mind, because they are the foundation blocks of 21st Century Learning. How do you do that? Ask yourselves these questions during the design phase:
Am I allowing my students to come up with a solution to a problem, without giving them the answer?
Am I guiding their thought process, while also allowing them to express their perspective?
Are my students working with their peers to come up with a solution?
Am I open to letting them present their solution in a way that’s unique and meaningful to them?
I’m not going to lie, projects aren’t my favorite as they require a lot of planning and tracking. Personally as well, I prefer to work by myself. Still, the undeniable fact is that working on projects is a real-life skill. We even do it in our work-places when planning school events: Award ceremonies, Sports Days etc.
In my 18 years of teaching, I’ve learnt a few thing about giving projects and I want to share a few tips with you:
1: Clear criteria must be given: Don’t be vague and say, “Ok, I want you to come up with a solution to cutting down on green-house gasses and share it with the class.” You have to state clearly (and preferably in writing) what you require of your students. Make sure when you’re setting out the criteria for the project, you answer: the ‘how’, the ‘what’, the ‘when’ and the ‘why’ questions.
2. Make the project relevant and authentic.The ‘why’ question is particularly important, because it brings authenticity to the task. Students always want to know WHY they have to do something. The buy-in has to be because it’s something that affects them, or that they’re interested in. We’re facing “global boiling”, polar ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising… their future lives are at risk (that should get their attention, if not everyone’s.)
3. A rubric goes hand-in-hand with a project: You can’t assign students a project and then just set them loose to get it done. A rubric as to how they will be marked, has to be created. You don’t keep this document to yourself either. You share the rubric and the project criteria at the same time. You explain what you’ll be looking for, how many marks will be awarded for the different areas and yes, you prepare yourself to answer questions from students.
4. Set aside class time for collaboration: Don’t explain the project and then move on to teaching something else. After you explain what needs to be done, give students time to process, chat with each other and brainstorm on how they’re going to approach the project. This allows the more timid students to get clarity from the more vocal ones, and honestly, some things are just understood better when a knowledgeable peer explains it instead of the teacher. A hard truth to swallow, but they communicate differently than we do. Different generation yada yada…more on that in the time to come.
5. Peer evaluation is necessary: Particularly with group work, it’s important to provide students with the privacy and safety of saying whether a peer/classmate actually pulled his/her weight. I’ve been in cases where 5 students worked together, and that meant, 4 ‘researched’ the topic (aka copy and pasted material off the net) and sent it to 1 student to compile in a powerpoint. That’s not equal load-sharing and while we know students don’t like to ‘rat-out’ their peers, they need to be able to assess one another fairly. You, the teacher, then have to make a judgment call: contact parents, assign a score (or don’t) and ensure that no student walks away from the project feeling like he did everything and the others just got a free ride.
6. Keep track throughout the process and don’t depend solely on the product: So this ties into the point before. A mistake I’ve made was waiting until the end of the project to assess who had done what. I would sit during a presentation, wondering why only one student was speaking, while another held the display, looking as blank as a new sheet of paper, and three others were just standing at the front of the class, pretending to look knowledgeable on the topic. I realized through questioning, that the student speaking was the only one who had done the assignment.
That’s when I realized I had to keep track in the lead-up to the project. Yes it took away from teaching time, but I had to put them in groups, circulate to make sure they were on task and ask each student exactly what they were doing to contribute, so as to nip any non-participation in the bud.
So my dear readers, sorry to say, but projects aren’t easy to assign or grade. They require more time and energy, both at the planning and marking stages. Still, they help students develop 21st Century skills necessary for the work-place and well, life in general. Not to wax philosophical, but life is actually an on-going project, isn’t it? And if we’re preparing our students for life, then we need to make sure they know how to manage one.
Hope the tips helped and please feel free to share some of your own!