Sunday, November 17, 2013

Giving Assessment to the Kids

At the end of last school year Dean Shareski (@shareski) came to visit for a little lunch time Pro-D.  During our conversation we were talking about assessment and he posed the question "Why can't the students come up with the assessment?"  And the question got stuck with me.  I mean, why can't they?  Why don't we involve them more?  
As I was bell rang and I was walking back up to my classroom, the idea continued to cycle in my mind, and by the time I walked through the doors and greated my Science 9 class, I was ready to try something new.  I had barely thought it out and I had no idea if it was going to work, and frankly, I wasn't too concerned.  I just wanted to see what would happen if I gave the assessment back to the kids.

We were working on a unit on space and my intention for the day was to have them make a poster for travel to a planet.  I wanted them to think about what makes that planet special, and how it is different from Earth, and what it would be like to live there.  So when the class quieted down, this is exactly what I told them.  "I want you to make me a poster, to convince me to visit another planet."  And then I asked them, "What kind of things should we be looking for from each other's posters?"  I had given them TWO SENTENCES.  One statement.  One question.  And 17 hands shot up in the air.  I'm pretty sure my jaw dropped to the floor.  So I picked up a white board marker, and started asking kids.  We compiled a list as a class and it was brilliant.  They knew exactly what they should be looking for.  They wanted it to focus on what made the planet special.  It should be convincing.  It should be attractive and draw in the audience and be professionally done.  It should be persuasive and of course the information should be accurate.  

So we took all their ideas and boiled it down into 4 main criteria, together, in that exact moment.  And this is what they came up with:

And instantly the kids got to work.  I have never seen my students this focused and driven on any project like this - ever.  They were all working.  They had ideas.  They were coming up and asking meaningful questions.  They were getting each other to judge their work by the criteria to make sure they were on the right track.  And a week later - every single student handed their poster in.  On time.  We put them all up as they came through the door, and had a gallery walk, using our rubric to self and peer assess what they had done.  In the end, they needed nothing from me.  I didn't need to assess them.  They got it.  They understood it.  And they met the outcomes better than I ever thought possible.

Not sure why it is that we sell kids short.  Why we assume that they aren't capable of having a say.  Because from what I saw here, it is so much better when they do.  While I have not yet found a way to make this work for every single assignment, I am working to continually give students a greater and great degree of input into how they are assessed.  Just as I believe in giving a great degree of autonomy and freedom in how they demonstrate their learning, they are equally capable in speaking up for what they thing is important in how they are assessed.  And the conversations that come out of this being a collaborative process are priceless.

So thanks to Dean for posing the question.  I look forward to challenging myself (and my students) with the topic of collaborative assessment more and more in the days to come.

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