Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Involving Students and Audience in Project Assessment

FELLOW TRAVELERS | Cady Staff

Here are some highlights of the Oct. 3, 2012 webinar, Project Assessment, by Cady Staff, an 8th grade teacher at High Tech Middle Chula Vista in San Diego, California.


Assessment helps point out what students know or can do, while evaluation is about assigning a value to a student’s performance with letter grades, points and percentages. Cady Staff emphasizes that her focus is on assessment in PBL, rather than evaluation.


First, Cady points out the importance of creating a culture of revision in your classroom. Assessment should provide students with the information they need to make their work better, through kind, helpful, specific and timely feedback. How do we do this during a project--especially the timely piece? It can be really overwhelming, especially when lots of work comes in at once. The key is to get the students involved, in peer and self-assessment. We can’t be there with every student one on one, but we have amazing students we can train to give that meaningful feedback to their peers and themselves.

The “Peer Critique Cycle” starts with great models. We can use student work from previous time the project was done, or we can create an “anti-model” that shows what NOT to do. For example, if students are shooting a documentary, an example might show students filming someone without showing their face, reading from a piece of paper, barely speaking loud enough, and ask them to critique it with kind, helpful and specific feedback. This gives students practice being kind, even when there are a lot of things to improve in the work, and also allows you to point out some of the mistakes they might tend to make.

After seeing models, students get to work creating whatever the project calls for. Then they critique once, set their goals, revise, then critique again, until the work is of really high quality. This allows the students to get much more high quality feedback than their teacher alone could provide. Cady uses a form where students set goals based on the feedback. At the top of the handout it says, “A goal without clear steps is just a dream. But a goal with explicit steps is a reality!”

Sometimes Cady uses a set of instructions or questions to guide the students to focus their feedback. You can also have students do a gallery walk, and give feedback in the margins, directly on the work. Warm feedback is all about celebration, while cool feedback is about next steps to improve the piece. Some students may need guiding ideas for their feedback. You can also give students sentence starters for cool and warm comments, especially the first few times you are doing this, like “Can you explain why?” or “You did this really well.” Developing this language takes some time at the beginning but it can help set your students up for a variety of different forms of assessment you will be using over the year.

A student-created rubric is a great way to build student understanding of what it takes to do high-quality work and to create buy-in to the assessment process. Here are the steps:

Step One: Draw a grid on the board, and list the non-negotiable things that you must have in the project. Those will only take up a few boxes. (You could also start with nothing on the grid and see if the students come up with your non-negotiables themselves. If they don’t you can come back and add them at the end.)

Step Two: Look at an example of the work together. Whatever you are modeling it on, take a look, and go through warm and cool feedback. This really helps them figure out what they are looking for in the rubric.

Step Three: Brainstorm criteria for the grid. Is teamwork important? Collaboration? Is it important that you build a model first?

Step Four: Have students nominate criteria to add to the grid. Then they can vote on which ones they think are important enough to keep.

Step Five: Discuss how students want feedback to be given to them; numbers or written comments? How should points or numerical scores be distributed in the rubric? How and when will the rubric be used? This discussion reveals what students really value in their project work.

Step 6: Build the final rubric based on the students’ ideas. Allow them to work with it, to reflect on their own work and that of their peers, so it is a working document guiding them through the project.

The last piece to consider is making the audience part of the assessment process. The audience can be more important than any feedback they will get from their teacher. For example, Cady holds a trial in her classroom based on the novel Lord of the Flies, and a judge comes in that day. The transformation in her students is amazing. The judge gives them very meaningful feedback, based on her experience in the courtroom. She tells them how they could improve, how they could get more information out of their witness – and Cady becomes more like a member of their team, supporting them as they try to do their best.

In all of this, the goal is to provide students with as much feedback as possible, help them to see clear ways to strengthen their work, and help them grow.

Cady Staff
8th Grade Humanities
High Tech High

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