Do you give a cumulative final exam at the end of the school year? Is it mandated by your school? If not, why do you assess your students that way?
Final Exams and the weight they hold on final grades has been something that has bothered me for a while. At a previous school, the final exam was worth 20% of the student's overall grade. One bad exam day and, poof, there goes your average. If you have earned an A for the class, why should you have to take the exam when it only serves to penalize you for small lapses in memory or a missed bubble on a test sheet? If the final exam is designed to assess what you know and you have shown what you know throughout the year, what is the point? Regurgitating a whole year's worth of information is not a meaningful assessment of what a student knows. I gave projects as a final exam for as long as I could until I was forced to give the common final exam at my previous school. My challenge for teachers who are not required to give a common final exam is try something different.
Traditional exams fail to assess what all students know. They are great at assessing type "A" personality students who can cram for an exam, spit out the information, and then move on to the next test. The rest of us need something different. An opportunity to shine in a way that can still be assessed, but also removes the anxiety of an all or nothing exam.
I am very lucky to be working with schools that are actively moving away from the traditional assessment approach and are embracing Project Based Learning. Teachers feel much more excited about projects than they do MC tests. The students feel the exact same way. Here are some quick start tips for those interested in using a PBL approach to the end of the year assessment.
1. Identify the areas of growth and content you want to see in students.
Every content area has benchmarks that we want to see students reach. Identify the most important ones and outline them clearly for the students. Provide examples of assignments and/or readings completed during the year that connect to them.
2. Create a rubric that outlines how each benchmark can be recognized.
Rubrics should clearly lay out each area that a student will be assessed and what is needed for the teacher to recognize their work. Rubrics are not easy to create and will take time to get just right. Do your best and talk to students to make sure nothing is vague to them.
3. Give students the freedom to explore different mediums when creating their projects.
The more freedom many students have, the better the projects you will receive. Some students will need very strict guidelines to follow and other will excel when given complete freedom. You know which students those are in your class. Keep that in mind while support them through the process.
4. Give time for students to present to the class.
Student presentations allow the teacher to assess them using the rubric and also serve as a nice review of the material covered in class. Seeing the content over and over again in different formats can really help all students retain the information.
I have done this with my students I have received some of the very best projects I could hope for over the years. Here is one example that used interpretive dance to connect characters we encountered in our readings that year,
There are so many amazing possibilities for students if we give them a chance to showcase what they know in ways that go beyond the traditional exam. I hope more teachers out there will take a chance on doing things a little differently this year.
If you have any questions about Project Based Learning and how you might bring it to your classroom or school, feel free to reach out to me. My Summer is filling up, but I still have space if you want to connect.
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