Peer/Self Assessment

When students complete their projects in my computer lab, the most often form of assessment they receive is a summative assessment that I provide.  This is usually in the form of a rubric that lists components of the project and a description of the levels of quality from excellent to poor.  I feel that these rubrics are helpful to students because they provide a guide for what is expected of them as they work through their project, but what I have found is that many times we look over the rubric at the beginning of the project and many of the students cast them aside and fail to look at them again.  While my rubric is an important tool for summative assessment, I also feel that a peer and/or self assessment can also be equally effective.

A peer assessment can help students internalize the characteristics of quality work.  I believe that when a student knows that someone at their level will also be evaluating their work, they may pay more attention to detail and quality.   I also think they will find the feedback from their peers to be more relevant.  Peer evaluation also encourages more student involvement.  For example, my fourth grade students are working on a PowerPoint presentation on famous inventors.  Typically I would be the only one reviewing the students work and presentations, but by incorporating peer evaluation, the students watching the presentations will be more engaged and get more out of each presentation.  This will also develop the students’ judgment skills.  By becoming more adept at peer evaluation, students will in turn be able to critically evaluate their own projects before they are submitted.  Another way to use peer feedback is to incorporate it into student group work.  My seventh grade students are working on group projects where they are learning how to use a web communication tool, figuring out ways to incorporate that tool in their core subjects, and presenting their tool to the rest of the class.  Peer evaluation allows the students to reflect on their role and the contributions they made to the group.  It provides accountability for all group members so that students will not “free load” off their group members since their contribution will be graded by their peers.

Self assessment also encourages students to take greater responsibility for their learning. Through self assessment, students can learn from their mistakes, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and become more active in their learning.   My eighth grade students are developing their own websites.  By adding a self assessment to the project, it will encourage the students to become more involved and responsible for their final product.  It will encourage the students to reflect on how focused they were on the creation of their website.  Like peer evaluation, it will also help the students focus on their judgment skills and develop their ability to critique the quality of their work before it is submitted.  My seventh grade students can also perform a self assessment of their role as group member during the creation of their web communication tool presentations.  This will help them critically analyze their contribution to the project and their group.

Many of my students have had little exposure to peer and self assessment;  therefore, they lack the skills and judgment to effectively complete these forms of evaluation at this time.  As their teacher, it will be my role to fully prepare the students for these types of evaluation by introducing them to these concepts and my expectations when the project is in its early stages.  While this may be time consuming, it is a valuable process as the students develop their 21st century learning skills.

Post Project Reflection in PBL

Now that the culminating event is over, the projects have been presented, the groups and individuals have been evaluated, and reflection journals have been turned in, it is now time for the teacher to reflect on the entire project experience.  There are three main groups that I would involve in this process.  They are the students, myself, and any colleagues who were involved with the project.  

Students will be asked to share their insights on the strengths and weaknesses of the project.  This reminds the students that they play an active part in their PBL journey even after the project ends.  Encouraging student feedback shows that I value their opinions and stress the importance of them having a voice in the classroom.  For the project I created, I included a student self reflection.  In this self-reflection, the students were able to think about what they did throughout the project and comment on what went well and what might not have gone well.  One could also consider using a survey, holding class discussions, or interviewing students as well.  Boss (2012) offers some great questions to ask the students including:

  • What did they think of the project focus, workload, or value of specific assignments?
  • What will you remember about this project?
  • How would you suggest improving it next time around?
  • What would you tell next year’s students to get ready for this project?

Boss (2012) also advises teachers to make blogging a habit as projects unfold.  Journal entries added throughout the project experience will help teachers look back as they complete their final reflection.  A teacher who blogs makes his or her learning public and models what it means to be a reflective teacher who welcomes constructive comments and suggestions from others.  As part of my project, I also created a teacher reflection to be completed at the end of the project.  Each major portion of the project was broken down into a spreadsheet.  From there, the teacher would be able to fill in what went well, what didn’t work, and changes for the next year.   

Finally, reflecting with colleagues can be highly beneficial.  Teacher reflective collaboration on a project allows them to examine strengths in student work, discuss opportunities for growth, and discuss any changes that might be made.  This helps projects get better each time they are executed with a class.  Because my project involved the help of many teachers within the school, it would only make sense that they completed a teacher reflection of their own so that we could meet and discuss the project when it was completed.  

Reflecting on a project is never a one-time assessment.  Students, classes, and circumstances are different from year to year, so I feel it is important to reflect on the project experience each time it takes place.  

Boss, S. (2012, November 28). PBL Teachers Need Time to Reflect, Too. Retrieved April 09, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/project-learning-teacher-reflection-suzie-boss

 

The Role of the Facilitator in PBL

One of the greatest challenges for an instructor in a PBL unit is to adapt to the role of facilitator. As a facilitator, my role in the teaching/learning process will change and I will need to let go of the traditional notions for a classroom and learning.  No longer will I spend most of my day in the front of the classroom teaching.  My role as a facilitator is essential for the effectiveness of the learning experience for my students.  As a facilitator I will develop a project for the class, oversee and assist students throughout the project, help students become more independent as learners, and assess and evaluate the success of the project as well as the students’ performance.    

An effective facilitator defines desired outcomes for the project.  The outcomes are discussed with the students early in the project and are a point of reference throughout.  A facilitator provides the focus of the project and the path towards the desired outcome.  An effective facilitator recognizes the group dynamics and behavioral styles.  They also ensure that everyone is heard and included.  An effective facilitator is confident.  He or she is always prepared and commands the attention of the room.  An effective facilitator asks good questions that can move a group forward, facilitate conversations and provide results.  He or she helps a group think outside the box and determine a course of action.  An effective facilitator knows how to handle a group and works with them to resolve conflict and be able to work together (Rickenbach, 2014).  

With project based learning, students will develop the competencies and skills needed to be successful including the necessary 21st century skills of critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity.    Students will still learn the academic content they need through PBL and they will probably remember it better.  Project based learning helps students learn time management and become more organized.  Students will learn how to work together much like they will need to do as they enter the workforce.  By taking part in public presentations, students will develop their communication skills and their project results may actually make a difference in the community.  Project based learning is more engaging for students and allows students to take responsibility for their learning.  

In order to become an effective facilitator, I will need to make a few changes to my teaching style and they way I run my classroom.  One area that I will need to improve on is observation.  I will need to do a better job of examining student interactions and group them appropriately so that they will be most successful in their learning.  I will also need to develop a better way to facilitate groups when they have conflict.  Finally, I will need to become more adept at helping students think out of the box and look at tasks with different perspectives.  

 

Rickenbach, R. (2014, November 05). Are You an Effective Facilitator? Retrieved March 19, 2017, from https://www.td.org/Publications/Blogs/L-and-D-Blog/2014/11/Are-You-An-Effective-Facilitator

Scaffolding & PBL

Scaffolding in Project Based Learning can be defined as the support provided and the clear expectations that are set so that project goals can be accomplished. In Project Based Learning, the best projects use scaffolding in order to keep the project and students organized.  When students are well prepared and given guidance, projects are most successful.  The difficulty with scaffolding is providing direction, yet also giving the students the ability to show some initiative, creativity, and resourcefulness. McKenzie (1999) states that there are eight characteristics of educational scaffolding:

  1. Scaffolding provides clear directions.
  2. Scaffolding clarifies purpose.
  3. Scaffolding keeps students on task.
  4. Scaffolding offers assessment to clarify expectations.
  5. Scaffolding points students to worthy sources.
  6. Scaffolding reduces uncertainty, surprise, and disappointment.
  7. Scaffolding delivers efficiency.
  8. Scaffolding creates momentum.

Scaffolding provides clear directions

As instructors create projects for project based learning, they have to try and anticipate any problems or difficulties that may arise.  The directions and plans for the project need to be clearly written so that students can efficiently move toward a productive learning experience.  Much thought needs to be put into the planning of the lesson so that the students know exactly what they need to do and what is expected of them.  As I have created my project “My Dream Playground,”  I have worked hard to think of every possible problem that may arise or issue that my students may encounter; however, since I have never planned a project of this magnitude, I am sure that there are things that I have missed.  I think that as long as the instructional designer has put a lot of thought into the project–the steps, directions, activities, and assessments, they will be well equipped to handle any potential problems and eliminate them either before the project begins or as the students work through the project.  

Scaffolding clarifies purpose

In project based learning, students are presented with the purpose of their project as soon as the driving question and entry event take place.  The students know why they are taking part in this project and the project has meaning because they know they are presenting it to a wider audience beyond their teacher and class.  In project based learning, each task builds on the prior tasks.  Each lesson and activity in “My Dream Playground” builds on the next in order for the students to complete their final presentation and reach the ultimate goal of coming up with a feasible playground for the school.     

Scaffolding keeps students on task

A timeline or calendar keeps students on task and helps guide the project along.  Students know what is expected and when it is expected so that they are not wandering in all different directions.  In “My Dream Playground,” the students will be provided with a calendar of events so that everyone knows the timeline for when different parts of the project are due.  In addition, with each major portion of the project, students will be given guidelines or rubrics for what is expected of them.  They may go about accomplishing the steps of the project in different ways, but they are all given the same guidelines to follow so that they can stay on track.

Scaffolding offers assessment to clarify expectations

In the beginning of scaffolded projects, students are provided rubrics, standards, and examples in order to define excellent work.  For my project, students will be provided rubrics for their oral presentation, 3D model, and peer evaluations.  Expectations and a sample of quality work will be provided from the start, and students will continually meet with the teacher throughout the project.

Scaffolding points students to worthy sources    

In a scaffolded project, the teacher undertakes the preliminary research.  Realizing that the internet lacks credible sources, the teacher picks the best sources in order to help students accomplish their task.  Depending on the teacher, students might have to use the resources provided by the teacher or they may use those sources as a springboard to further their research.  In “My Dream Playground,” I will provide the students with four sites they can use to research the size and cost of playground equipment and playground surfaces.  They will be allowed to look for other resources, but not spend too much unnecessary time on this.  If they choose to use a different resource, they will need to obtain teacher approval before using it.

Scaffolding reduces uncertainty, surprise, and disappointment.

Instructors are expected to test each aspect of a scaffolded project to anticipate anything that might go wrong.  This will eliminate any student frustration as the project progresses and maximize student learning.  After students have completed the project, lessons may be further refined.  Each aspect of the “My Dream Playground” project has been carefully scrutinized so that the lessons and activities run smoothly for the students.  It is hard to anticipate every roadblock so changes will most likely be made during and after the project has been completed.  

Scaffolding delivers efficiency

Project based learning is very involved.  However, when properly scaffolded, students are focused, have clear expectations, and remain on task.  The “My Dream Playground” project has been carefully planned with a clear timeline.  Each lesson builds on the next leading up to the final presentation.  

Scaffolding creates momentum

The entry event, driving question, and its subquestions will create a great deal of excitement and momentum for the project.  They draw the students’ attention into the project and set the wheels in motion in order to motivate the students to project completion.  

McKenzie, J. (1999, December). Scaffolding for Success. In From Now On. Retrieved March 4, 2017, from http://fno.org/dec99/scaffold.html

 

Assessment & Project Based Learning

Student achievement is measured in a variety of ways in Project Based Learning.  Of course the end product is the most important, but we cannot solely focus on it.  We must acknowledge that meaningful learning takes place throughout the project.  In PBL students learn more than just content.  They learn how to work with others, solve problems, clearly present ideas, and learn from mistakes.  Assessment in PBL acknowledges not only what the student has learned, but also how they learned it so that they can use it again in the future.  

The first step in effective assessment is to establish clear performance targets.  In my project, My Dream Playground, students are presented with a driving question or problem to solve from the beginning.  I have also outlined the subject area content standards that will be addressed in the project and created summative assessment rubrics that list my expectations for the final project model and presentation.  Throughout the project, students collaborate with their group members as they complete pieces of the project and they reflect on their work as they complete their group project checklist and learning logs.  Weekly feedback will be provided to the individual students and groups to help them stay on track, and improve their work so that they can be successful with the final product.  

Each group’s final playground model and presentation will be there own.  They will be given criteria for what makes a good project, discuss the qualities of good work with their classmates and me, and be provided with examples of exemplary projects.  However, in the end, they will use their own ideas and work together to create their model and presentation and no two projects will be exactly the same.

In order to meet the math standards for this project, the students will be taught how to measure, and find area and perimeter in a hands on way. We will do this by using the math worksheets I created and going out to the playground location to answer the questions.  Formative assessments of these worksheets and weekly quizzes will help me figure out who is understanding the concepts and who needs more help as the project progresses.    

When this project is finished, we will all reflect on its successes.  I will fill out an evaluation for how I felt the project went.  My students will also complete a self evaluation and peer evaluation and also reflect on the project as a whole–what they liked, what they didn’t like, what they learned, etc.   

My students have not had a whole lot of experience with self and peer evaluation.  I will need to spend time teaching my students how to take ownership of their own learning and take pride in their work.  We will also need to discuss constructive criticism and how to offer suggestions to others as they work on their projects and presentations.  I created a rubric for the peer evaluation of the practice presentations, but I would rather use that rubric as a teaching point with the students and have them help me edit it to make it their own once we have completed lessons on self and peer evaluation.   

Differentiation through Project Based Learning

Transforming one’s classroom from a traditional setting to the implementation of project based learning can be an intimidating task.  One of the questions that can arise is how educators can differentiate learning in a project based setting.  McCarthy (2016) points out five key areas that can be differentiated in order to meet the learning needs of all students.  They are:

  • Authentic Purpose
  • Entry Event
  • Need to Know protocol
  • Checkpoints
  • Student Voice

Students who are at risk or struggle with learning in a traditional setting might become less motivated to learn or really cannot understand that what they are learning applies to the real world.  Through project based learning, students have a wider audience and they apply what they are learning to real-world activities.  They are not just answering to their teacher.  When they see that their projects make an impact on the wider community, they might be more motivated to work.  No longer can students say, “When am I ever going to use this?”

Likewise, a strong entry event sets the tone for the project.  It gets students engaged in the project and develops a purpose for what they are going to learn.  A strong entry event connects students interests with the curriculum.  Like the authentic purpose, an effective entry event shows students how the curriculum relates to their world outside of the school walls (McCarthy, 2016).

It is important to check for content understanding throughout the entire project.   McCarthy (2016) calls this the Need to Know protocol.  It is similar to the K-W-L  strategy except the questions are revisited throughout the entire project until all the questions are answered.  Because the Need to Know protocol is frequently run throughout the project, new questions may arise.  When the instructor reviews the answers with the students, the students vote whether the question was fully addressed.  If there are students who do not feel the answers were addressed, then the instructor must give additional support to those students who feel they need it.  The students help determine whether they feel their academic needs were met rather than the instructor deciding whether the content was covered.

Weekly or bi-weekly checkpoints should also occur along with daily formative assessments.  Students who pass the checkpoint move onto the next skill level; however, students who do not pass the checkpoint will receive differentiated support to meet their needs.  Checkpoints are useful to the instructor and student because they help identify any problems or misconceptions before they get too far into the project (McCarthy, 2016).

Finally, one of the biggest ways to differentiate learning in PBL is to allow for student voice.  Students might be able to design the topic focus, make choices on the end product, and/or design their own plan of action (McCarthy, 2016). This aspect may be hard for instructors who are very used to leading the show, but it is very important for students to be able to help lead their learning.

The two areas that excite me about project based learning are the authentic purpose and student voice.  I think when anyone with any type of ability feels like what they are doing has meaning and when they have a choice with regards to completing the task, learning will undoubtedly take place.  As I read about the Need to Know protocol and the checkpoints, they seemed very familiar and logically take place even in a traditional educational setting.  Formative assessments take place daily in both settings; however, I feel that the checkpoints discussed in PBL are more planned and probably take place more frequently in a PBL setting.  It seems that when carried out effectively, PBL feels more planned and more attention is paid to detail and whether all the students are understanding the material rather than just covering the content.

McCarthy, J. (2016, November 15). How do I differentiate through project-based learning?. In teachthought. Retrieved February 5, 2017, from http://wegrowteachers.com/differentiation-in-a-project-based-learning-unit/

 

 

What is Project Based Learning?

 

Project Based Learning is an instructional method where students actively work for an extended period of time to investigate and solve a real-world question, problem, or challenge in order to obtain knowledge and skills.  Students work with a partner or small group to perform research, present the material they have learned in the form of a project, and obtain feedback for their learning (BIE, n.d.).  

Project based learning and problem based learning have many similarities, but also some subtle differences.  Larmer (2015) identifies these differences between project based learning and problem based learning:

  • Project based learning often incorporates many subjects. Problem based learning most often applies to one subject.
  • Project based learning may take weeks or months.  Problem based learning tends to be shorter.
  • Project based learning has many steps.  Problem based learning has specific steps.
  • Project based learning includes the creation of a product in some form.  The final product in problem based learning can be a product or a proposed solution in written form or as a presentation.
  • Project based learning uses real world scenarios and tasks.  Problem based learning uses case studies or fictitious scenarios for investigation.   

Teachers should consider incorporating project based learning into the classroom because it moves students away from using rote memorization of information to pass a test.  After memorizing information for the test, students tend to forget what they have learned.  The hands on approach of project based learning capitalizes on student interest and provides real-world scenarios in order for them to obtain skills and knowledge.  Project based learning prepares students for the real world beyond their education.  It teaches students how to think critically, collaborate with others, and effectively communicate what they have learned to a larger audience.     

The Buck Institute for Education (n.d.) includes these essential components as part of project based learning:

  • The project should be focused on student learning based on content standards and skills including critical thinking, collaboration, and communication.   
  • The project should be focused on addressing the answer to a problem, question, or challenge.
  • Students should seek answers to questions through inquiry, research, and application.
  • The projects should have real world applications.
  • Students should have a voice in the project.  They can choose how they work and what they create.  
  • Students and teachers should reflect on learning including the effectiveness of the inquiry, the project activities, the quality of work, obstacles that were encountered and how they were overcome.
  • Students should give, receive, and use feedback to improve their process or products.
  • Students should publicly display or present their project to people outside of the classroom.

 

Larmer, J. (2015, July 13). Project-based learning vs. problem-based learning vs. x-bl. In edutopia. Retrieved January 21, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/pbl-vs-pbl-vs-xbl-john-larmer

What is project based learning (PBL)?. (n.d.). In BIE. Retrieved January 21, 2017, from http://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl

 

Obstacles to Integrating Tech in Language Arts

Using technology should be an integral part of education in today’s classrooms, but it does come with its challenges.  It can make the learning situation much more complex, yet educators recognize these difficulties and continue to work and prepare themselves to try and integrate technology successfully.  

In the area of language arts, technology has changed the format and types of communication that people encounter which adds new challenges to language arts instruction. Literacy used to involve being able read and write and make meaning from the written word.  With the ever-present and constantly changing internet, 21st Century literacy skills now include being proficient in media literacy, digital literacy, and information literacy (Roblyer, 2016, p. 261). Teachers must develop new instructional strategies to help students adapt to a more global means of communication.  This means while teaching students how to read and write, we also must empower them to be able to analyze and critique the messages portrayed in images, language, and sound (Alliance for Media Literate America, 2001).  We also have to teach them to recognize when information is needed and how to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content in an ethical manner even when guidelines and rules continue to change or are ambiguous (“What is digital literacy?”, 2009).

In order to deal with these new skills, teachers must include new strategies in Language Arts instruction. To advance reading and writing skills, teachers must teach students how to read not only written text, but also multimedia text.  Using multimedia in instruction helps students decipher text that is nonlinear (Robyler, 2016, p. 263).  Teaching about information literacy should not be isolated to one lesson, but should be an ongoing process.  Students need to learn how to perform proper searches and evaluate information for reliability and credibility each time they seek out information.  Finally, we cannot be afraid to allow students to interact socially.  Instruction should allow students to share their work and encourage collaboration with their peers and with others on a more global scale.

It seems wonderful that there are policies in place that recognize the need for using technology in Language Arts instruction and Roblyer (2016) lists a lot of great strategies for addressing these needs, but let’s be honest, there is still one large issue that needs to be addressed—professional development.  It’s hard to expect an educator to even know how to grow as a literacy professional and connected educator when they do not receive any type of quality, formal instruction.  Many times school leadership does not provide this type of professional development so it is up to the educator to personally seek out their own professional learning through developing personal learning communities and communities of practice (Roblyer, 2016, p. 268).  One would hope that an educator would realize the valuable knowledge gained and be motivated and have the ability to seek out these relationships and opportunities.

References:

Alliance for Media Literate America. (2001). What is media literacy? AMLA’s short answer and longer thought. In Center for media literacy. Retrieved November 8, 2016, from http://www.medialit.org/reading-room/what-media-literacy-amlas-short-answer-and-longer-thought

Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching (7th ed., pp. 261-268). Upper Saddle River: Pearson.         

What is digital literacy? (2009). In Cornell University Digital Literacy Resource. Retrieved November 8, 2016, from https://digitalliteracy.cornell.edu/welcome/dpl0000.html

Integrating Technology into the Library

It is no longer a question of whether to use technology in schools, but how to effectively use technology to enhance student learning.  As the library media specialist for my school, my role is to come up with innovative ways to use technology across the curriculum, design student experiences that use technology in original ways, select appropriate resources, and collaborate with my colleagues to plan effective student-centered technology enhanced lessons.  These lessons must allow students to develop their information literacy and computer skills, interact with members of the community, and understand that the skills they are learning can be applied to their everyday lives (Hughes-Hassell, 2001).

Technology is a tool that can be used in the library to solve problems.  Hughes-Hassell (2001) states that it can be used to “gather, organize, analyze, and present information.” There are many ways to use technology effectively in the library in order to make it more engaging, relevant, and authentic. One basic way is to use technology to play review games with students on library skills, genres, parts of a book, library terminology, the Dewey decimal system, etc. Using video in the library can really help create a more complete picture when presenting lessons to students. Chances are pretty good that you can find a clip on YouTube to enhance any lesson and if not, you can upload your own video to share with the students.  It is very expensive to house current encyclopedias on site at school; however, through technology, my students can access the most current electronic resources such as encyclopedias, journals, and magazines to gather research information. Digitized resources through the Library of Congress can augment lessons through the use of primary sources.   Technology can help students communicate with other students from around the world or reach out to scientists, researchers, and authors.  Older students might contact experts using e-mail.  Skype visits with experts might also be set up to aid in lesson understanding and allow students to communicate with authors about books they have read and the writing process.  Portable technologies, such as laptop computers or iPads, can be used to gather data outside the classroom and tools such as spreadsheets can be created to help students analyze their data.  Students can use a variety of authoring tools like presentation tools, digital booklets, animated reports, and videos to present any type of project or research.  Technology can also be used to take students on virtual field trips and simulate real-life experiences for students. Webquests can guide students to search the internet for specific information.   Technology can provide scenarios and interdisciplinary connections to enhance learning.  For example, after reading the book Gopher Up Your Sleeve  by Tony Johnston, students might use websites like enature.com to learn more about the animals in the poems.

Technology on its own does not facilitate learning, but a huge difference is made when it is used in conjunction with meaningful resources and authentic experiences.  School librarians should collaborate with teachers to design learning opportunities that utilizes technology to address the needs of the learner and curriculum goals.  

 

Hughes-Hassell, S. (2001). Enhancing student learning with technology. In American Library Association. Retrieved November 6, 2016, from http://www.ala.org/offices/sites/ala.org.offices/files/content/publishing/editions/samplers/penaasl.pdf