PBL and DER: changing the assessment landscape

My Year 11 extension class (very soon to be Year 12 extension class) have reconfirmed my love of the project-based approach to teaching and learning. These guys – all your typical bookish, Extension students, lovers of writing and reading, all likely to *miraculously* get the ‘verbal linguistic’ badge on a Multiple Intelligences test – are not the kids you’d expect to revel in a student-centred project-based classroom. But they have created amazing, amazing things I would never have seen had it not been for PBL.

If you want to get an overview of the project, check out my earlier post: My paperless extension Year 11 class – who said DER was DEAD? What I wanted to focus on with this post is the final presentations and how the project was assessed.

Keeping in line with my valuing of ‘assessment for learning’ or what is also referred to as formative assessment and the PBL model I use influenced by BIE, I ensured that students were assessed throughout the project. The project was to be completed individually and students were given 7 weeks to complete all tasks in preparation for their presentation of learning to the class. Below are the tasks:

PART A: Investigation – 5% (week 6)

(approx. 750-1000 words)

PART B: Draft website (including draft appropriation) – 5% (week 7)
NB appropriation guidelines:

• short film (3-5 minutes)
• digi-story (2-3 minutes)
• narrative poem or suite of poems (no more than 30 lines in total)
• dramatic reading of a narrative (3-5 minutes)
• interactive multimedia narrative (max 15 minutes to navigate all screens)
• short story (1000-1500 words)
• picture book (max 10 openings)
• play (performance time max 10 minutes)
• radio play (performance time max 10 minutes)
• recorded monologue (3-5 minutes)
• other – see teacher with your idea
PART C: Presentation (5 minutes speech + presentation of appropriation) – 5% (week 8 )

You are to present your research and appropriation to your peers.

PART D: Website (including journal) – 5% (week 8 )

5 pages on website: research into BOTH texts (one page per text – 500wds per page); learning journal entries (one per week minimum 250 words each w/ links and videos); draft appropriation and final appropriation.

All tasks were turned in on edmodo and links to the developing websites were posted to the class edmodo group to the chorus of ‘ohhs and ahhhs’ as students looked at one another’s sites.

The final websites were amazing – so clever, colourful, engaging, full of rich and meaningful content. These students owned their work, and what’s more it was available to a live real-world audience. What impressed me even more was the standard of the appropriations that the students created. They all did something very different – none of the pieces created were ‘teacher-led’ or bland. They all reflect a tiny piece of these students – capturing their skills and knowledge at this point. Reflecting their passion and commitment.

As can be seen above, the final assessment for this project was the presentation. This is in line with the PBL framework where students are required to present their learning to an audience. My students presented to each other and me. This is pretty much your usual classroom presentation – nothing fancy in the set up but what was interesting for me was how the presentations were assessed. Having read Black & Williams (Inside the Black Box) as well as Petty (Evidenced Based Teaching) and Hattie (Visible Learning. A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement) I am keen to introduce more peer and self-assessment into my programming. It makes sense that up-skilling students on self and peer assessment will improve learning. It’s almost impossible to master a skill or some content if you don’t know what needs to be mastered – we all need some form of criteria to guide us.

My experience is that the students traditionally viewed as ‘very capable’ tend to fear self-assessment more than teacher or peer-assessment. In fact, peer-assessment isn’t something they’re dearly fond of either. These students often resent being ‘assessed’ by anyone but teacher. Why? Maybe it’s because for these students more than any the ‘gold star’ is crucial to their learning experience. They crave the grade – their sense of place in the school hierarchy depends on it. They have been conditioned to learn in light of a grade.

When I told my Year 11 class they would assess each other’s final presentations they were apprehensive. The sweat beads dried when I told them peer-marks would only account for 20% of the final grade. The sweat beads returned when I told them self-assessment was necessary also. I asked them what was a fair proportion for the self-assessment grade. They pleaded for 5%. I laughed. I explained why self-assessment is crucial to their development as effective life-long learners. They nodded. I argued for 20%. They got me down to 10%.

“So how does this peer and self-assessment work, Ms Hewes?”

Great question. I had two options. I could give them the criteria I had created myself for the presentations or I could get them to create one themselves as a class. Knowing the teacher-babble of my criteria, I got down in their mire of criteria writing with my class – all the while with one eye on the clock knowing my lesson time was shrinking by the minute. How do you create a criteria with students? Simple – just ask them what the task required them to do and what a great presentation might look like. After a really deep chat (and sometimes debate) the students decided on 7 criteria. I triple-checked with them that they were happy with the list – they were 🙂

During each student’s presentation the class were to use the criteria to assess their peers. At the conclusion of each presentation they typed their feedback based on each criteria into an edmodo note and posted it to the class group. They completed this process for their own presentations as well – self-assessment. I used the same criteria to mark the students – haha!

So what did they present? Check out their awesome work:

10 Things I Hate About Shrew

Second Star to the Right,  and Straight on til Morning

Lost in Wonderland

Red Riding Hood

The Hyde Complex 

Pig on a Stick – A Threat to Civilisation


14 thoughts on “PBL and DER: changing the assessment landscape

  1. Since doing my Masters online through the COFA online OMINUIM platform, I have had to engage in a lot more group work and peer feedback and assessment. The reason this is so valuable is that you become so much more aware of other approaches to a task that you would never have thought of. In line with this, I have also started to do this more in my classroom. I tell students that their work should not be a secret and to share it with the class. Often I get students find an example of an artwork and then they have to comment on one other persons example. Or, they have to submit their own work and get the same sort of feedback. Often it is informal, and I think that this has encouraged a more collegial dialogue amongst the students. It also removes competition and gets them to pat each other on the back.

    The websites are awesome Bianca!
    Well done once again – always a teacher I am in awe of! 🙂

    • Students need an authentic audience for their work … four walls and 30 people does not make for much of an audience for meaningful work. The web is there fore a reason. It was built by us, for us … a work in progress.

  2. Congratulations to you and your students….this is how all assessment for and of learning should be…using the tools of contemporary communication in a participatory culture.

    • Thanks Prue! Yeah it really is the way ahead for English in Australia in my opinion … it’s going to be a challenge but imagine what our young people could do if given the opportunity to actually use the tools available to them?
      The thing that teachers need to know (and I will blog about this soon) is that I didn’t even know how to use this website making tool (weebly) but the kids worked it out – as they do! It was always about me guiding the students through the tasks, helping them to develop those ‘soft skills’ that are rarely assessed well by summative assessment.

  3. Wow, this looks fantastic! I have just been trawling through your students’ websites and they are great! Mind if I borrow some of your ideas for my Preliminary Extension class next year?

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

  5. Hi Bianca, I’m starting my first prelim ext 1 class next term and love this blog and your others, especially on PBL. The link for your Paperless class doesn’t work at the moment, do you have another link?
    I’m hoping to incorporate some of the ideas from here, and things from Hattie’s great book too into how the classroom works, less about me more about the students. Cheers,

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