Assessing student learning is crucial for Gold Standard PBL. The authentic purpose and tasks of an engaging PBL unit also require authentic assessments where students apply what they have learned. So, how do we create these types of formative and summative performance assessments that assess deeper learning skills as well as specific content?
One of my Need to Know questions for this challenge is: Where can I get high quality information specifically about performance assessment? The Performance Assessment Resource Bank curated by the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE) is a place to start. I have found informational writing assessments for elementary science projects with driving questions like “Should animals be kept in zoos?” to secondary argumentative multi-media presentation ELA projects asking “How can the needs of young people growing up in American cities be met?”.
The performance assessment tasks can be used as is, or changed to fit your specific project or unit. Many of the assessments in the bank could be used as a formative assessment checkpoint for informational content learning in the early phases of a project. Or they could serve as the later phase summative individual argumentative writing product in addition to the team presentation. If nothing else, they will spark ideas and support your own design of quality assessment tools.
If you are not sure if your own performance assessment is high quality the bank also contains resources that help you design, assess, and fine tune to ensure that the assessment is aligned to your objectives. Everything included in the bank goes through a rigorous SCALE certified review of specific criteria. I love how they are clearly aligned with BIE’s Gold Standard PBL. The criteria ensure that the tasks are:
Wherever you are (experienced or just starting out) on the path of transforming to more authentic teaching and learning this Performance Assessment Resource Bank will be a help. Check it out at Performance Assessment Resource Bank (you will need to create a free account).
First published on bie.org
The Gold Standard Project Based Teaching Practice of “Build the Culture” focusing on student independence and growth, open-ended inquiry, and attention to high quality work is crucial. However, in my instructional coaching and professional development work I hear teachers across the country say, “But doing that takes time away from all the content I have to cover!"
I usually respond with an inquiry approach by asking, "How does building the culture align with your standards?" In the back of my mind I am looking to drop bread crumbs that lead teachers to the realization that the Common Core Standards (and most other state standards) and the NextGen Science standards INCLUDE culture building!
First: The CCSS ELA Speaking & Listening standards include engaging "effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners.” From Kindergarten where the goal is to "follow agreed upon rules for discussion" to the 11-12 grade goal of working "with peers to promote civil democratic discussions and decision making." You now have standards aligned to culture building where one of the learning goals is to improve team spirit and open-ended inquiry. The focus and time taken in learning and practicing those skills is now justified.
Second: The CCSS Math standards from K - High School include a math practice of making "sense of problems and persever[ance] in solving them," "reason abstractly and quantitatively," and "construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.” Those are clear descriptors of a PBL culture where growth, open-ended inquiry, and attention to quality are valued. So be empowered to spend part of your precious time building those skills, and your problem and project based learning plans become even more tightly aligned to standards.
Third: The NextGen Science standards also include building a culture of inquiry and attention to detail. The Science and Engineering Practices of “planning and carrying out investigations to answer prior questions or test solutions to problems” in K-2 extend through grades 11-12 with “formulating, refining, and evaluating empirically testable questions and design problems using models and simulations.” Intentionally building this culture into projects creates the opportunity for students to learn and practice the skills, and you are on your way to becoming a Gold Standard PBL teacher!
Four: Just about all teacher evaluation systems include language around planning and designing lessons and units that are standards-aligned, and promote engaged student learning. As you intentionally scoop these culture-building standards into your project and capture evidence of student learning you are building your own evidence of professional growth.
As you backwards plan your projects using these CCSS and NextGen standards, be sure to check for understanding along the way. Use self and peer reflection along with collaboration rubrics as the formative assessment checkpoints. Use different student-led discussion protocols as the instructional strategy for student learning and practice.
My experience has shown that students appreciate the chance to learn about the WHY behind PBL and that HOW they learn makes a big difference. Administrators appreciate seeing that your planning aligns to standards. Parents appreciate knowing that learning how to communicate will help their child succeed in school and life. If you find yourself saying, “I don’t have time with all the content I have to cover” try to remember that culture building IS part of your content!
So, just like when I hear teachers say "I don't have time to teach that along with my content" I ask you—how do you build a classroom culture that aligns with student learning?
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I listen to a table of 10th grade World Studies students take turns explaining how women are affected by the lack of access to education in underdeveloped countries. One girl, listening intently, speaks up and asks “Why aren’t they allowed to go to school when our research shows that education actually raises the incomes of families?” The rest of her group pauses and looks at me. I repeat her question and reply, “I wonder if that has a simple answer? Go add that to the project wall questions. The rest of you make a list of other questions that this initial research brings up.”
Moving from good to great Project Based Learning involves being aware of the specific, intentional “teachermoves” you make that drive student inquiry, engagement, and excitement for learning. One “move” I made that enhanced my PBL teaching was developing the classroom project wall into an active teaching tool,
rather than a bulletin board. The project wall is the visual space in the classroom that helps manage information, project questions, calendars, standards, assessments, and resources that guide student learning during the project.
Your project wall can support your use of each of the Gold Standard PBL Project Based Teaching Practices :
1. Design and Plan: One of the ironies of PBL done well is that the best projects arise not from spontaneous decision-making but from detailed planning. A powerful project wall will be the classroom hub that shows the results of your planning. The more that crucial elements of a good project - the driving question, list of student-generated “Need to Know” questions, resources, and the schedule of formative and summative assessments - are visible to students, the better they become at taking control of their learning. And the better you become at facilitating, rather than controlling, their learning. BIE’s Assessment Map and Student Learning Guide are simple, powerful, (and free) planning tools.
2. Align to Standards: The well-planned project must clearly align student learning to targeted content standards and skills. The project wall is a place to keep those standards and skills front and center. A PBL teacher I respect has a wall where students group their inquiry questions in categories under the standards. This is a powerful, visual learning strategy that helps her students become meta-cognitive about what they are learning - how their own curiosity and inquiry is linked to key content and skills. It also provides a conversation point for parents and administrators, showing how your PBL teaching is aligned to standards.
3. Build the Culture: Make sure the classroom norms, which have been co-crafted with your students, are front and center in the project wall. These norms and the student-generated questions reinforce the value of student voice and choice. Keeping the project calendar visible and updated allows students to know what needs to be done. The project wall becomes a resource that you can direct students towards in order to answer their own questions. Here are more great tips on building a culture of collaboration, critique, and questioning in your PBL teaching.
4. Manage Activities: The great PBL teacher is always dancing back and forth between individual and team work time, and whole group and small group instruction. The project wall helps to manage this dance with visual information needed for each of these aspects: schedules, assessment checkpoints, deadlines and class norms.
5. Scaffold Student Learning: Similar to managing activities the project wall can support the scaffolding of student learning. The visible list of questions, aligned standards and skills, and flexible calendar ensures that you are providing students with opportunities to practice, apply, and reflect on their learning. As your formative assessment shows that students need more or less scaffolding, you can adjust the project calendar and keep students aware through the public information on the project wall.
6. Assess Student Learning: High quality formative assessment is crucial to scaffold student learning towards the summative products of any good project. Along with the public flexible calendar of checkpoints and deadlines, your project wall should also make all assessment rubrics public and accessible. The project wall should make it clear what assessments are individual or team based. The assessments need to be linked to the list of student questions, and identify which of the 4 C’s (communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity) are being assessed.
7. Engage and Coach: A comprehensive project wall will boost your PBL teaching and support student engagement only as much as you include it as an intentional, frequent teaching tool. I always knew my students were more engaged with a project when I saw them, on their own, referring to the wall with their team mates. The more I asked them about which of the Need to Know questions they were learning, had them continuously update the list of questions, referred them to the calendar, rubrics, and class norms, the more students became self-reflective and supported each other in learning.
How will you boost the power of your teaching with a project wall?
See some great examples of project walls from Katherine Smith Elementary School .
previously posted on BIE.org
One of my last posts described Using a Project Wall to support Gold Standard Project Based Teaching. One part of a project wall is the Need to Know list. Since then I have coached many teachers on how the Need to Know (NTK) is a physical list in the classroom and an integral process that enhances student learning. It does this through making student inquiry visible and central in an authentic PBL unit, as well as provide evidence for developing your Gold Standard Project Based Teaching.
Design and Plan, Align to Standards: As you develop your PBL unit and the driving question or problem statement you will make a list of all the content standards and skills you want students to learn through the project. Turn that list into questions and keep them close as you implement the project. Use it to guide the class creation of the Need to Know list—if students don’t ask about a particular piece of content or skill, you can lead them to see that it’s important. Refer back to it throughout the project and reflect on how you have formatively assessed student learning. Have they had opportunities to learn and deepen those content standards and skills? If not, how could the project be revised for next year?
By keeping a record of standards alignment and formative assessment work, you’re collecting evidence of your own teaching practice—no matter what evaluation system your school or district uses, they all ask for evidence!
Build the Culture: Launch your project with specific protocols that get students creating the lists of what they will need to know and learn based on the driving question and problem statement. Here a couple of great ones: NTK Process and Question Formulation Technique. A crucial teacher move here is NOT providing answers! The answers come through the project. The teacher role is to ask more questions, follow up questions, and "What else?". You want to build the culture where questions and curiosity are the norm.
Teaching inquiry, creating and posing questions, and making conjectures about solutions are now part of speaking and listening standards, mathematical practice standards, science and engineering practice standards, and all decent College and Career Ready standards. Take pictures of the NTK lists in your room to build evidence for your teaching practice in terms of classroom routines that build a culture of student engagement.
Manage Activities, Scaffold Student Learning: For the NTK list to become central to student learning you must make it an active part of your teaching. Use it as an exit ticket - "How did what you learned today help answer one of the NTK questions?". Use it as a hook into the next learning activity, whether student work-time or more teacher led - "Your goal today is to answer the NTK question ___ ."
Crucial to the NTK process is having students physically handling the list itself. Have each student team consolidate all the different class sections’ lists into one summary list that all sections will start with. As a differentiation scaffold for ELL or students that need more practice, have them work to make a neatly printed poster of all the questions. Let them know that when the poster is done they will need to explain why they think the questions are important.
I have seen teachers cut NTK posters into strips and move each strip from the NEED to the KNOW side of a project wall when a formative assessment is done; or, put red, yellow, green dots next to items on the poster list. You can give teams envelopes with strips of the cut up questions and have them rearrange them in some sort of priority order; and of course with some sort of justification explanation! I have seen giant classroom “chalk talk” posters that grow and expand as the project progresses.
All of this is more evidence of your teaching practice that help students learn the content and skill of inquiry. Be sure to take pictures and keep samples of student work that shows mastery and growth.
Assess Student Learning: It should be pretty obvious now how the NTK list is integral to your formative and summative assessment. Be sure to create an Assessment Map in your planning, and try to return to it, making annotations as you go to the NTK list. This will make the project better next year. And again, provide evidence of your teaching and professional learning!
Engage and Coach: Active use of the physical list in the classroom is a powerful tool for facilitating student learning. Any good sports coach has tools of the trade (whistles, clipboards, stopwatches, play books, game film to watch, etc.). The NTK list is one of your tools.Gather teams around the list on your project wall for quick ‘huddles’ to focus their work time. Ask students questions related to the NTK questions in your
individual and group check-ins. Make early project teams based on which questions students choose to learn about as a way to leverage the power of student choice into engaged learning; of course, this has to result in some sort of jigsaw so that ALL students learn the basics all the content. Keep a copy of the list on your own clipboard with annotations of student learning.
Once more: all of this is evidence of your Project Based Teaching! You may need to point this out to the administrators as they do their evaluation observation cycles. Work on these strategies with your instructional coach and have them collect the evidence for you. The more you use the NTK list in your teaching, you will be amazed to see students start to refer to it, and what you hear them asking!
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