Assessing project learning

Published by Lori Pickert on October 5, 2008 at 03:39 PM

I answered a question from Megan in the comments here, which I thought was important enough to share here in the main blog:

You *can* assess your children’s project learning. You can, for example, download your state’s learning standards for your child’s appropriate grade and keep track of what goals and benchmarks your children meet as they progress through their project. Then, if you wish, you can cover the material unmet by the project in other, more direct ways.

Most schools use the standards to plan what they will teach, thus breaking learning up into pieces that correspond to the different subject areas (math, language arts, science...) and even to the specific benchmarks. This is an example of “teaching to the test”.

Project learning is holistic. Reading, writing, researching, drawing, constructing, measuring, computing, experimenting, comparing, contrasting, discussing, reporting... But you can still identify work done during the project as meeting those original learning standards. You just do it as you go along, and you plan to make up for anything that isn’t covered.

Allowing children to learn this way requires trust – trust that delving into a long-term project really will give children what they need. In a school setting, it requires the administrators to trust the teachers — that they will make sure the students are meeting the learning standards and that they will address any areas that aren’t satisfied during the project work. It requires allowing classrooms to do different work — because every group of children will create a unique project. Usually, schools are not comfortable with this. In homogeneity is safety.

The need to assess varies greatly among homeschooling parents, but is uniformly very important to institutional educators, who at every level are required to meet standards imposed from above. This need has created a situation where students are learning facts and skills that are disconnected from each other and from real life.

Authentic learning requires authentic assessment.

This week, I’ll talk about keeping a project journal (parent’s, not child’s), which can be a tool for ongoing assessment if that is something you want to do.


Comment by Megan on October 6, 2008 at 03:30 AM

parent's project journal - I'm going to look forward to that post...

Thanks for the insightful answer about assessment. With R in public middle school the issue of assessment is IN MY FACE these days...

I just don't think those letter grades really communicate how much she knows or can communicate to others. It seems that both her contribution to the life of the school and the benefit she receives from participating are lost in a sea of numbers, percentages, letters, and gpa calculations.

So here's another question for you, Lori -

How have you counseled schools who have adopted a project approach to view assessment and report progress to parents and administrators?

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 6, 2008 at 01:25 PM

I actually worked on a team that developed an alternate assessment that took into account the habits of mind that the curriculum was meant to instill and strengthen --

There is a saying - "We treasure what we measure." Illinois schools changed their curriculum a few years ago in reaction to the state standardized tests dropping a writing section and adding more reading comprehension. Writing programs were dropped and more focus was put on reading instruction. There is no denying that direct correlation.

By assessing the skills and behaviors that are truly meaningful to us, we reinforce their importance as part of the curriculum.

Project learning has no boundaries -- children are able to learn as deeply as they wish for as long as they wish. Limits are imposed only by their own interest, not by a teacher timetable. Therefore, you can't set a rubric at the outset saying "this is what the children will learn" and then check off each box as it is completed.

Rather than doing all their planning at the front and all their assessment at the end, teachers must plan and assess as they go along. Again, authentic learning requires authentic assessment.

Comment by estea on October 6, 2008 at 08:37 PM

love those "habits of mind" ~

my inner psychologist really enjoys the assessment process! snuggling up at the end of the day with my comp book, noting the good stuff we pushed through and any pithy (!) observations about new skills, lightbulb moments, funny things the toddler brought to the convo.... ;)

thought honestly i must limit my little margin notes sometimes... "we should do x! and x! and read x! and x!" i get carried away with what *i* think we should do. (although i have no qualms about strategically/casually placing a library book...)

the journals are fun to read through later.. like the sketchbook you kept from when you daughter was 4 to pull out when she's frustrated with getting the lines of a grasshopper just right.

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