One of the compromises I make as an educator is grading assignments. I really like all the other stuff that comes with teaching, but grading is something that wears me down and seems to be my least favorite part of the job. Usually I structure my classes so that I have the smallest amount of grading possible or so that grading is as easy as possible. I've noticed 2 effects of this on the students. First, they get the message that detail is not important. If their teacher is just going to breeze over it, then there's no need to be super careful or take too much pride in what they do. Second, their work is not important. If their teacher, who may be the only person to see this, doesn't give it much attention, then what's the point?
So I changed things this semester.
How do I record and assess what kids learn while doing PBL?
A big question to be sure. In my practice I don't give tests or quizzes. I find these to be inauthentic assessments of what students have learned and what's more they cater to a certain type of learner. Lately I've been tweaking an assignment that serves as an assessment, reflection, and documentation of what the student has been learning in a given amount of time. I call it the T.I.L. (Things I Learned)
This week, as part of the Pendulum Project Prototype I asked all the students to give a presentation regarding their experiences and plans for future paintings. To communicate my expectations for the presentations I planned to show them an example presentation and give them a model to work from. While this has worked in the past I wanted to try something that I heard from a colleague. The three level grading system.
The three level grading system is something that I saw while browsing Mike Amarillo's blog, another HTH teacher in Chula Vista. I saw that he had these descriptions of different "levels" of student work for presentations. Through a few emails he told me about the system that he uses. What I liked about it was that it clearly described expectations for student work in 3 levels of completion.
For example I used this for our presentations today as follows.
Basic Presentation: Key information included. All group members speak. Clear delivery
Advanced Presentation: Basic and diagram showing variable effect is high quality and well organized.
Challenge Presentation: Advanced and group shows expert knowledge by including calculations, answering audience questions, posing meaningful questions for themselves, etc.
After I gave my example presentation I had a discussion with the class where we categorized my work as Basic, Advanced, or Challenge. We talked about why it fit as one or another. In reality what I was doing was critique as a lesson, but what was different was that my expectations had already been outlined and so we were able to get specific very quickly.
Philip Estrada is a teacher at High Tech High Media Arts in San Diego California. He teaches Physics by having kids build things in a woodshop.