Authentic assessment: sharing what we know

This year I am teaching Year 11 Standard English. As mentioned in a previous post (somewhere, who knows where?) I find teaching these guys both fun and challenging. They know that their preliminary courses don’t really ‘count’ towards their HSC. Most of these kids don’t want to go to uni and as such are not ‘getting an ATAR’. Of course they could be doing English Studies – the new non-ATAR, no HSC-exam Engish course – but they’ve elected to do Standard English anyway. This brings the fun and the challenge. They love to talk about their world and their lives. They like to be shown new texts and to talk about why they like them or don’t like them. What they don’t really like to do is write essays. It’s a shame then that about 75% of the Standard English course is writing essays or at least ‘analytical’ texts.

This year we’re looking at ‘Conflict’ as our Area of Study. We’ve had some great class discussions about conflict and my students have written some very moving, personal pieces about conflicts they have encountered in their lives. Fun. Writing essays based on ‘texts’ we have studied in class = not fun. So we got through the assessment task – an essay plan and an essay. And now we’ve got two weeks to kill before we move on to our next module. So we’re going to create visual texts based on what they know about conflict and how they can share this with a specific audience.

This is their task:

You are to create a visual text that helps young people (between the ages of 6-12 years) better understand conflicts – how they arise, how they may be resolved, what consequences may occur. Your purpose is to entertain and educate.
You could create:
– a digi narrative
– an interactive narrative
– a short film
– a website
– a comic
– photo collage

Pretty cool, huh? We have a public school right next door to us. In fact, my two children attend the school, so I’m going to see if my class can present their visual texts to an authentic audience – children between the ages of 6-12. Working individually or in small groups the students have to select an age group (we put them in K-2, 3-4 and 5-6 year groupings) and then decide on a conflict that this age-group would encounter (we wrote a list of these on the board – it was really fun chatting about what it was like being that young and the things that mattered to you!). Once the audience and purpose have been decided, students need to select their medium of communication. I’ve given them the freedom to choose, as you can see above. Student choice is a key element of Project Based Learning.

Tomorrow we have our first double period for the project. I’m going to get the students to complete some of these project planning forms from BIE to help get them organised for the project. I want them to see that there is a concrete deadline for these texts. I wonder if two weeks is too short a time frame, but then my experience is that the longer you give students to complete a task, the longer they procrastinate. (Aren’t we all the same?) To help them with this planning I might model an example on the board for them – a cartoon about a bunny that doesn’t like eating broccoli. I want them to see that this task requires them to ‘apply’ what they have learnt about conflict to a new situation. A bit of butcher’s paper might come in handy for the next step – the early planning of the narrative for the text. This will involve them returning to the aspects of conflict that we covered in class and that were evidenced in the texts we studied. They also need to revisit what they know about how meaning is made within visual texts. The cool thing is that we studied an interactive, multimodal text as our prescribe text – Inanimate Alice – so they have a good idea of how conflict can develop within a narrative.

I know this task seems massive, but working together with a concrete deadline and clear directions for each lesson (thanks to the BIE planning forms) I think they can do it – let’s see, hey?


5 thoughts on “Authentic assessment: sharing what we know

  1. Pingback: PBL + me = why? | Bianca Hewes

  2. Hi Bianca,

    I’m in Kelli’s English Curriculum Studies class and I’m finding your blog very helpful, so thanks!

    I like the idea of Project Based Learning, but how do we reconcile this attitude towards learning with the Australian Curriculum, and the requirement for exams and essays?

    One of my other tutors at university has been quite vague about assessment requirements, and when I asked for clarification she said “Don’t worry so much about the assessment. It’s about learning”. But the assessment is what contributes to 50% of my unit mark. So how can I not worry about it? I might get all the knowledge I need, but I still need to pass the assessments.

    Do you think there will be a time in the future where schools will scrap traditional methods of assessment and completely take on Project Based Learning?


    • Hi Kaitlyn,
      I think that there isn’t much ‘reconciliation’ needed between PBL and the AC – they are totally best mates. The focus on ‘creating’ as well as student engagement and reflection on learning means that the two are great together. The emphasis on testing simply means that the projects need to be well-designed to ensure that all of the ‘basics’ are covered – students need to see these elements as ‘need to know’ content and skills to master in order to succeed with the project.
      I think it certainly is important to worry about assessment – I think educators need to make the assessment as visible as the learning required to ace the assessment.
      Yes, I think there will be a time when summative assessment no longer reigns as king – it might not be for a while, but ultimately it is the teacher in the classroom who can shape a student’s understanding of assessment and the role it plays in learning. The emphasis should be on assessment for learning and assessment as learning practices with students aware of the purposes of assessment of learning – that it is simply a measure of progress and not competency.

      • Hi Bianca,
        Thanks for your reply! I’m working on creating a summative assessment task right now and your comments are helping me get my head around it. Cheers!

  3. Pingback: Tess Ostermiller » Reflection Week 2- Bianca Hewes: Authentic assessment: sharing what we know-

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