Intersection of PBL & SBG

Disclaimer: I’m not completely sure of my thoughts at the moment. This post is an attempt to provide some mental order but I’m searching for a balance. Thoughts are truly appreciated. 

I shifted to a standards-based grading/reporting system two years ago and fully appreciate the way that conversations have opened up. Students may still be focused on the grade but we talk about what they have learned and what steps they need to take in order to improve in an area. My lessons are more focused with the feedback I now collect by reporting on specific strands instead of facing class averages. At the same time, I’ve seen my assessment types narrow to traditional-styled assessments (a la pencil and paper variety). Why? It’s an easy and efficient way to collect data on student learning. Students take an assessment, they self-grade to get immediate feedback, I provide additional comments and a current level of achievement against a standard, and lessons are adjusted as needed.

The problem? Students are taking more assessments in my class than before and I don’t feel as if a variety of assessment types are offered. In the past, the vast majority of my assessment came from student projects. I’m searching for that sweet spot that pushes me back into a project-based/portfolio atmosphere while maintaining the data regarding student learning.

Some of my sticking points:

  • Student-initiated assessments have been a success for many students. They continue working and questioning until they reach a better understanding. But, is the scope of this understanding limited by the types of assessments I provide? I attempt to give questions that provide ample opportunity for thought processing but the context is still within the confines of an assessment question.
  • I’ve chased a project-based unit with an assessment for fairly dismal results. Students created models to build analogies for cell organelles. Projects were quite good but when I asked students about organelle functions, many did not seem to have transferred understanding. Did the project prepare them for discussing the function of a cell organelle?
  • Where does a storyline unit mesh with SBG? I see storyline as a vehicle for an integrated project-based learning unit. A framework is cast around students and they operate within the story. Students create. This could be in the form of a guide to a park, a book about dragons, a museum of Ancient Culture, the grand reopening of Camp Halfblood after mythical monsters destroyed the former camp, quilt squares used for a memorial…During these units, students are expected to be constantly working on some aspect of the project. Conversations take place between groups and with me. At the end a celebration showcases student work and is a culminating event of the story.

Now, I’m getting closer to the crux of my dilemma.

  • What is the student does not fully participate in the project?
  • What if the student does not submit any of the work?
  • What if the work submitted is not up to minimum requirements?

Student example: Imagine that student in your class who prides him/herself on being a walking encyclopedia. They are like a sponge and immediately absorb information through listening, reading, etc. This student thrives on traditional-type tests, though may have difficulty on questions asking for connections. However, when given a project to work on, this student is going to do relatively little. The bare minimum will be submitted. Should this student be given the opportunity to take a “reassessment” that is a series of questions instead of working through the project and interacting with peers? I think not. In six years of work as an engineer, I never saw the possibility of taking a test instead of completing a project. Wow, clients would not have returned to the consulting company if I decided to not meet a submittal on time.

In the past, I’ve given less traditional tests in a school year than I have fingers. Recently, my test rate has increased. I’m fully sold on the principles of standards-based grading/reporting yet want a return to a higher variation of assessment types that mesh more with a project-based classroom. Am I the only one hitting the wall on this?

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3 thoughts on “Intersection of PBL & SBG

  1. As an ex-engineer myself, I understand the argument. But I’m also a mom who once had teenagers. They are not engineers yet. They are still packing that knowledge in. And all teenage boys are like turtles, and will carry things round on their back until hell freezes over rather than give them up to grading. I don’t know why. Their feet smell, too 🙂
    Have you thought about giving them a survey instead of a test? They could put their name on it, and surveymonkey is more removed from the angry teacher. It could be that students are unprepared to answer the questions in the way they were posed.
    I am making forays into project-based learning, and I found that the rubric was crucial. I also noted that students were far more responsive to feedback via electronic medium ( a Word document with comment son it, or instance), but that I also had to tell students when to stop and move on. They’ve had 9 years learning how to ingest and regurgitate – you can’t fix it in a few months.
    I also learned that when I told the kids I was learning how to teach this way, they were more willing to help out in teaching me, by doing the work!

    • Thanks for the input. I brought up the link to engineering to focus my thoughts on the project. I think that students need to see the integration of ideas and work towards a goal. And yes, years of segmented instruction in the ingest/regurgitate model makes the shift difficult. I am using rubrics/criteria targets and students work through Google Docs to get feedback. In your forays to pbl, do you have a system similar to reassessment on tests? Is it a continual feedback system or do you provide a different opportunity nested within the project for students to show improvement?

  2. I am not an expert and have similar concerns and goals. I plan to use a menu of projects, routine work, or self graded quiz as options. I also plan to have a traditional 2-4 tests in a year. This 2016-2017 goal. So stay tuned. Jason

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