Distance learning is a challenge in itself, as is differentiated learning, even in a classroom setting when you are face-to-face with students on a daily basis. But differentiating learning from a distance significantly adds to the challenge. How do you engage high school learners in content and skill building while also considering and applying each student's unique qualities and circumstances?
Project-based learning is an awesome tool for differentiated learning, especially when projects are self-directed. My students self-direct every PBL project while I facilitate, meaning they have choice in driving question, project topic, how they will demonstrate learning, who they will share their new skills and knowledge with, etc. Students all gain the same skills and learn whatever content you assign them, but they learn it in a way that works for them. Projects are designed and catered to each unique student to ensure success for all. Click here for posts on self-directed learning for more details.
So how do you apply individuality to project design when you can't be face-to-face? It will take several posts to answer this question to its entirety, so I'm going to start with talking about creating digital personal learning plans. A personal learning plan is a document developed by each student in collaboration with their instructor. A personal learning plan includes a variety of features such as interests, learning challenges, learning styles, goals, etc. That info is then used to develop a learning plan specific to each student. Part of that learning plan includes a list of self-directed PBL projects and desired outcomes.
I have a digital personal learning plan in my store. It is a Google Slides and it is editable for YOU to include whatever features you find important for understanding your students. You will use this digital PLP to help students develop self-directed PBL projects that suit their needs, interests, etc. You do not need my resource to do personal learning plans with your students. This resource simply saves you time in having to create a template yourself. The following is a list of what my digital PLP includes. Have students develop a personal learning plan right away when they head "back to school" this fall. Get to know your students right away to ensure successful project-based distance learning for the rest of the year.
Differentiate Distance Learning with Digital Personal Learning Plans
My Digital Personal Learning Plan Includes:
Using a PLP to Design Self-Directed PBL Projects:
This is one way to differentiate learning with high schoolers, but one very powerful way. I stick with self-directed project-based learning for a reason.
If you have not already, subscribe to my email list to get your free project-based learning assessment portfolio (also Google Slides). You should have seen a subscribe pop up upon entering this site. Combine that with my self-directed project-based learning tool kit, and you and your students will be set for the year. Check back next week for virtual project topic brainstorming activities.
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In 2008 I signed on to to work as a project-based educator at a small charter high school in St. Paul. I knew that I would be taking on far more than the role of "teacher", as most educators do, but I had no idea when I started this job that I would end up being the events coordinator, which included the high school graduation ceremony. I went on to plan a commencement ceremony for 20ish students every year for 9 years.
As some of you can relate, as a newbie, I rarely said "no" to a request. So when my director asked that I take on the graduation planning, I enthusiastically agreed because I wanted to prove myself. As nervous and ill-prepared as I was to take on the responsibility of organizing one of the most important events in a person's life, I did it, figured it out, and am grateful that I did. I got to be a part of something incredible.
Many of my students were first generation high school graduates. Others were told for much of their lives that they would never graduate or amount to anything. I got to be a part of proving their doubters wrong, proving my students wrong about themselves, making them feel special, valued, and worthy, for at least one day. A small graduation ceremony, one with few graduates such as a charter school, alternative program, homeschool co-op, etc., should be intimate, special, and personalized to EACH student. Over the course of 10 years I think I've figured it out, and I'm here to share some of what we did to honor each student and celebrate their unique achievements that brought them to this profound and unforgettable moment in their lives.
Before getting into ceremony ideas for a small and intimate high school graduation, I should note that I was the graduation ceremony coordinator. I did plan it or run it by myself. I organized a student graduation committee that helped plan and execute the ceremony. Students have awesome ideas. I highly recommend putting together a committee.
How to Plan a Small Group Graduation Ceremony
1. Student-Selected Personal Speaker: Each student invites one special person in their lives - a parent, mentor, friend, teacher, sibling, etc. - to speak about that student and introduce the student to the stage to receive their diploma.
2. Senior Theme: At the beginning of the year start making observations about your seniors, and take note. By the end of the year pull seniors together to settle on a theme that represents the group. It could be an adjective that describes the group as a whole, a word that describes an experience that they all shared, or a theme that represents their graduation year. Every ceremony idea that follows below could follow the theme determined by graduates.
3. Personalized Gift Bags: Put together gift bags for each graduate with a few items that represent each unique individual. For example, if a graduate loves to bake you might add a customized spatula, some spices, a cookbook, etc. All of the items do not have to follow a theme, but should reflect the interests, passions, personalities, goals, etc. of each graduate.
4. Personalized Videos: The students in my graduation committee produce a customized video for EACH graduate with photos and videos of students learning, as well as interviews with friends, family, teachers, and more. Those videos are played at the graduation ceremony and are shared with students to keep as momentos.
5. Relevant and Personal Keynote Speaker: Small learning environments organically foster relationship-building, camaraderie, mentorships, and more, because students go through significant life and learning experiences with each other. With that said, an important figure or community collaborator that has been present in the lives of the graduates and have been supportive in their high school journey, make the best keynote speakers. Choose someone that has personal significance to graduates rather than someone random spouting off their idea of "success".
6. Graduate Performance: This is a tricky one to coordinate, but if you have a really small group of graduates, have them create and organize a performance. They can write and perform a song, a skit, a dance, poetry, and so on and so on. This is a group effort that includes all graduates. If this is a logistical nightmare, try to get a graduate or two to perform on their own instead of the entire graduating class. If you can pull off a full-group performance, however, do it. It makes students feel included and important.
7. Student Bios: Write student bios into the ceremony script. At the beginning of our graduation ceremony, the MC's introduce each graduate one-by-one by reading a written bio. The introduction includes graduates' hobbies, interests, shining achievements, and where they're headed or goals for the future.
8. Senior Shirts: Every year our underclassmen design and make senior t-shirts for graduates. Again, this could follow the theme that seniors decide on earlier in the year. Other students in the school, staff members, family, friends, community members, etc. sign the back of the t-shirts, sort of like a yearbook, and those shirts are added to graduates' gift bags.
9. Personalized Graduation Day Frames: In the past, the graduation committee has ordered basic frames and customizes them for each student. Every year one of our staff members organizes a senior photo shoot offsite. We add the photos from that shoot to each frame and give them to graduates at the ceremony.
10. Playlist: Create an album, like a "mixed tape", for each student and share it with them. Each playlist could be customized for each student or the playlist could consist of popular or significant songs from the graduation year.
11. Senior Field Trip: In the past our seniors have organized and hosted fundraisers to raise money for an offsite experience just for graduates . This is not technically a ceremony idea, but could be a field trip that they go on right from the ceremony. My students usually choose to go to our local amusement park.
12. Senior Dinner: Underclassmen plan a dinner for graduates and their parents. Graduates often have family plans post-ceremony, so this dinner doesn't need to take place on the night of the ceremony. It's just another way for graduates to feel special and soon-to-be seniors pumped up for the coming year.
13. Graduate Philosophy Statements: The director of my school started this tradition before I began teaching there, but it was a special experience for everyone involved, so we kept the tradition going for a while. Each senior writes a philosophy statement; a statement that highlights who they are, their dreams, their goals, what life is about for them, and how their high school experience helped shape that philosophy.
14. Photos Exhibit: The graduation committee spends the year collecting photos of seniors in action; on field trips, giving presentations, working on projects, working within the community, etc. The committee organizes these photos onto boards and puts them on display at the graduation ceremony. Friends and family can view the exhibit before and after the ceremony.
15. Graduating Class Slideshow: One ceremony idea already mentioned was making personalized videos of each graduate to play at the ceremony. This is labor intensive, especially if you do not have a graduation committee to take on some of the load. If it's too much, consider putting together a slideshow with videos and photos of the entire graduating class. Play the slideshow during the ceremony or have it displayed while guests take their seats.
There are so many neat ways to make graduates in a small graduating class feel special on their big day. The ones mentioned above are a few that have lasted the test of time. We have tried many other little touches, and have kept some going and have ditched others. Trial and error, right?! I would love to hear any graduation ceremony traditions that you have seen or experienced.
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How to Make Learning Personal In Your Classroom
I recently came across a comment on LinkedIn, a tirade really, about personalized learning. I thought to myself, "personalized learning? Of all things!" What could possibly be wrong with that? Personalized learning is what I have done, or thought I was doing, with my students for a decade, learning about their interests, their personal challenges in and outside of school, learning about their strengths and building off of those, planning deep and meaningful projects that reflect every inch of their individuality.
I spent some time trying to discern this mystifying LinkedIn comment, but was unsuccessful. I found what I expected to find; a variety of definitions, all with the same basic idea, that personalized learning is instruction designed around the unique needs of every individual learner. I also discovered that several terms appear to be used interchangeably including individualized learning and differentiated learning. Differentiated learning is not the same as my perceived definition of personalized learning at the time, by the way. I'll get to that in another post.
I moved on. I chalked it up as a comment from an individual that was either completely misled somewhere along the line or that we just fundamentally disagreed about the value of personalized learning. Then I came across an article written by Alfie Kohn. Not a recent one! It was written in 2015. This article finally uncovered the logic behind the comment. Personal learning is what I do. Personalized learning has taken on new meaning while I've been sitting here in the dark.
Four Reasons to Worry About Personalized Learning by Alfie Kohn
Personalized learning, according to Alfie Kohn, is the customization of learning FOR students by rather than BY the students themselves. Personal Learning, Inc. is software (for-profit) that analyzes student test scores to then produce a "personalized" set of basic-skills drills with the intention of improving test scores. This my friend, is NOT what I do. I now fully understand the sentiment behind the LinkedIn diatribe, and with this new frame of reference, completely agreed with it.
What I do is PERSONAL learning. What then is personal learning and how can you do it with your own students?
What is Personal Learning?
Personal learning is the facilitation of deep, meaningful, and authentic learning experiences designed around the unique interests, backgrounds, skill levels, goals, strengths, weaknesses, personalities, and so on of EACH student. The teacher/facilitator builds a relationship with every learner and enhances learning by creating an environment that reflects and celebrates the unique attributes of each child.
"Everyone is genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid." Albert Einstein is commonly given credit for saying this, but I've read he didn't actually say it. Regardless of who said it, there is truth in it. Obviously a fish climbing or being able to grasp the concept of its own intelligence is hyperbole. But there are parallels to children, and the point remains - not all children are the same and shouldn't be treated as such, especially when it comes to their education. To cast an umbrella over all of your students, to expect all 5 year olds to be able to read at the same time, for example, is nonsense.
Every student walks into your classroom each day with a unique set of challenges, levels of energy, reading or writing abilities, amount of sleep they had the night before, personal traumas, learning styles, etc., than their peer sitting next to them.
Those differences matter. They matter when it comes to learning. You may get irritated when one of your 15-year-old students falls asleep during your lecture on transcription and translation, but they are kids, and what inspires one may not inspire another. It's not a personal attack on you, but it is personal for them. They may not have an interest in the topic. They may be hands-on learners. They may simply be exhausted from football practice the night before, then to work from there to help support their family, and home to finish up school assignments.
There is a lot to take into consideration here when you're talking about deep learning experiences. This student might do what she's told, get the grades, get into a good college, but did she learn anything? Was it meaningful? Is she leaving school with a passion for learning? Not likely. Making learning personal leads to real, deep, authentic learning that will carry with them through college and their careers. This is what I want for my own children and my students.
So how do you make learning personal for 30 students? The same way you would make learning personal for 1 student, such as a homeschool scenario. By building relationships with your students and moving to a student-directed, teacher-facilitated model.
How Do I Make Learning Personal?
1) Build Meaningful Relationships With Your Students:
The photo below is me working with a student on her student-directed, interest-driven project. Every element of her project was designed with her interests, goals, strengths, weaknesses, etc. in mind. She is dissecting several marine organisms. Her interests and career goals at the time revolved around marine biology.
In the past our students have completed personal learning plans in Powerpoint format. The photos below illustrate a few of the slides. The students then hang onto this personal learning plan and revisit it with their teachers often. Below is a snapshot of an old personal learning plan created by Jennings Community School. I have my own version of a PLP that is included in my PBL bundle mentioned above.
You are likely wondering when in the world you're going to have time for all of this in addition to teaching content. A personal learning plan meeting with each kid, multiple times per session? Yikes. This is a valid concern. You will do this with student-directed learning. Hear me out!
2) Organize Learning Experiences That Are Personal In Nature:
Make learning personal by organizing and facilitating learning activities that give students voice and choice; student-directed learning in other words. Student-directed project-based-learning is a wonderful tool for making learning personal. There are many points in the PBL process where students have choice. Students can design their own projects based on their interests. If you don't have the flexibility to allow students to choose their own topics, students can still design the rest of their projects.
For example, if you need to cover the topic of photosynthesis, students can still choose how they will gather information, how they will demonstrate learning, and what authentic audience they will share it with. One student may want to work on tech literacy, so may choose to demonstrate learning by creating an animation. Another student might prefer to work with their hands, so chooses to demonstrate learning by creating a moving model.
All of my project-based learning resources in my TpT store are designed to give students choice while still providing structure. My project-based learning bundle and instruction manual is a great way to start student-directed project-based learning. This bundle also includes my personal learning plan. You could also try out my PBL Tool Kit if you have specific topics you would like to create projects around.
You are the facilitator of student-directed learning activities, not the director. You are guiding, offering feedback, providing community connections, etc. This gives you the freedom to work the room, talk with students independently, have PLP meetings, and even have that organic, casual dialogue with individuals or small groups of students. By cutting down on lecture and lesson planning, you free up time to build relationships with students and create learning plans that best suit the interests, needs, and goals of each child.
Alfie Kohn said "If the child is off-task...maybe the child isn't the problem...,maybe it's the task." Transitioning from a didactic pedagogy to student-led personal learning wouldn't be an easy transition. Change is hard. But with the right tools, support, and determination, you can do it, and it will be worth the time and energy. You will start to see some of those "behavioral issues" disappear that likely stem from boredom and confusion. You will have students that have lost their love of learning somewhere along the way find that passion again.
Thanks for stopping by. If you ever decide to make learning personal in your classroom through student-directed learning, I'd love to hear from you. How did it go? What have been some challenges? What has gone well?
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If you follow my blog you know my philosophy by now. Every topic I discuss here from student-directed learning to learning through travel leads back to one goal - that all of my students have a passion for learning. My dream as an educator is that all learners LOVE to learn. Janie Scheffer is on that mission with her own students, to ignite a passion for reading and writing specifically. She does this with conferring. Check it out.
Janie is a former classroom teacher and current freelance writer in Minnesota. She has taught in various classrooms K-12. Her love for all things reading and writing encouraged her to pursue a master’s degree in literacy. When she is not reading or writing, you can find her sipping coffee, enjoying the outdoors with her husband, or taking her sweet puppy Mabel Jo for a walk.
Conferring Creates Conversation, Collaboration, and Camaraderie
Would you like to better connect with your students as unique readers and writers? Do you feel the demand of state standards and numerical data collection pressing down on your shoulders? Do you wonder how to manage it while still fostering a love for reading and writing within your classroom?
You’re not alone. I’ve been there. The summer of 2017 I was grappling with my literacy instruction in my first grade classroom. For three years previous, I had continuously refined my practices and felt as though I had a pretty good grip on my guided reading groups and writer’s workshop. Collectively, mini lessons fueled by learning targets, independent practice at each student’s level, and literacy materials that supported the needs of my students proved to be overall effective. In many ways, my literacy instruction was shaping into what I had imagined – targeted literacy instruction for each student, driven by data collection.
Yet, I knew something was missing. Sure, as a class we enjoyed stories together and wrote stories together. We discussed authors that we liked and tried writing like them. But I had to face the harsh reality that most of my energy and focus revolved around helping my students meet the following: 80 words correct per minute benchmark, achieve sufficient comprehension levels, write across the pages in narrative, opinion, and informational formats, and so forth. Data meetings provided beneficial focus and analyzation of each of my readers and writers, propelling me forward in meeting the needs of my students even more. The scale, though, had tipped. My classroom instruction was out of balance. The demands of literacy benchmarks overpowered what I wanted to be the true heartbeat of my literacy classroom: a genuine love for reading and writing.
Thankfully, during the summer of 2017 I was approaching my final semester of graduate school and was needing to hone in on a final action research project and paper. My predicament with my literacy instruction provided the answer for my wondering of what to research and pursue. I quickly came across the work of Patrick Allen and Lucy Calkins, experts on literacy conferring. Their books opened up a whole new perspective for me and literally shaped my action research and current literacy instruction:
Patrick Allen – Conferring with Readers
Lucy Calkins – Conferring with Writers
The practice of conferring, I believed, would bring back the JOY of reading and writing in my classroom, through human connection. At the basis of conferring, a teacher sits with one student at a time during reader’s and writer’s workshop to engage in a student led conversation about the student’s reading or writing.
Patrick Allen states: “Sitting next to a child while you confer guarantees that those few minutes will begin and end with the child.” This resonated with me immediately. I wanted my interactions regarding literacy with my students to revolve around them, NOT how they measured up against certain benchmarks.
I was over the moon to find out how systematic conferring is. Raise your hand if you’re a type A personality like me? Most teachers are, let’s be honest! Systematic, in that the teacher plans these short student led conversations weekly, and so conferring becomes a routine for the teacher and the students. Even more, because this is a systematic practice, conferring becomes a powerful tool within a classroom community.
Lucy Calkins argues: “Conferring can give us the force that makes our minilessons and curriculum development and assessment and everything else more powerful. It gives us an endless resource of teacher wisdom, an endless source of accountability, a system of checks and balances. And, it gives us laughter and human connection – the understanding of our children that gives spirit to our teaching.” BINGO. Human connection and spirit to my teaching was lacking as I solely chased numerical data. I knew I had to give this conferring a fair shake.
As the new school year approached, I excitedly planned for my conferring action research in my first grade classroom. The following was my initial focus for implementation:
Human connection paved the way for authentic learning and growing. Through conversation, collaboration, and camaraderie, I was able to connect more meaningfully with my students than ever before.
It didn’t take long before a simple “What are you reading/writing today?” sparked the 5-10 minute conference. As the teacher, I was careful to ensure that the student’s voice commanded each conversation. And, I’ll be honest, this was easier with some students than others. But what I found was patience and allowing ‘think time’ communicated to the student that I’m not pushing, this is not a high-stress situation, and I’m here whenever the student is ready. For a few of my students, it took until December for them to embrace conferring, especially leading the conversation.
With my more reluctant learners, the collaboration aspect of conferring was key. Again, driven by casual conversation, conferring should be a low-risk situation for all students. Therefore, when I talked about conferring with my students, I presented myself as the ‘coach’ coming alongside them. Often, I’d say things like “We are a team when we confer!” just so that the idea that I’m an evaluator within the conference diminished.
And finally, camaraderie was established. By spring of 2018, there was a level of trust and rapport with each of my students that I had never achieved before. With camaraderie, our 5-10 minute conversations evolved into deeper learning. Students were choosing to share with me incredible nuggets of information that got at the heart of why they were the readers/writers and even humans that they were. While getting a clear understanding of who they were as readers and writers, I also got glimpses into their hearts as humans. Priceless.
Which brings me to my last point… data collection. It took me a while to determine my data collection methods during conferring. And truthfully, I was overwhelmed to think about another collection of data. But all those incredible nuggets of information practically wrote themselves down, as important as they were, I found that data collection was easy – yes EASY! – because it didn’t revolve around numerical data or word lists or timed tests. In fact, I came up with a simple electronic record on my iPad that allowed me to quickly type up the data at the closing of each reading/writing conference. See below for a snapshot of it:
The overarching theme of my conferring data was the reading and writing behaviors of my students. In other words, I now had a living document of what my students DO as readers and writers. Knowing their habits, their strengths and areas for improvement, and their processing/thinking while reading and writing was so beneficial. In reviewing my data collection, I was able to provide one TP (teaching point) for individualized instruction for each conference. Often, the TP would align with the reading/writing learning target of that day or week, but not always. And that is the true advantage of conferring; there is flexibility and opportunity for you as the teacher to determine what’s important for the student you are sitting alongside on that particular day.
I’m going to leave you with words from Patrick Allen that I can confirm are true:
“Coming to know conferring has been a journey, but when you spend time and intention on an instructional practice, the benefits are well worth the effort.”
If you’re feeling stuck, weighed down, and ready for the LOVE of reading and writing to ignite within your classroom, I’d say start with conferring. Don’t just dabble, commit. It will prove to be worthy of your time and your students' time. It is NOT 'just another thing to do' on our never ending ‘To Do’ lists as teachers. YOU CAN DO IT. Happy conferring!
I spend a significant portion of this post talking about the purpose and advantages of learner-led assessments. If you are already determined to add learner-led assessments to your routine and already know how awesome this approach is, scroll down to get directly to student-directed assessment strategies.
I have two wonderful children, a two-year-old daughter, and a 4-year-old son. When I was pregnant with my daughter, my second child, I thought she would be effortless. I’ve done this child-raising thing before after-all, I thought. I’d already been through the infancy experience, the teething, the tantrums, the separation anxiety phase. I’d been there, done that, and thought my second child would fall right in line. I would know exactly how to respond when similar challenges, questions about life, and milestones inevitably arose.
I’m not sure why this was my thinking. As a teacher at a school that is personalized in nature, I am very aware of the importance of individuality. Children vary in their interests, learning styles, backgrounds, skills, and abilities. My children couldn’t be more opposite from each other. I came to the realization that each one of my children, just like my students, will have to be raised differently, with some distinctive approaches and expectations. Putting an umbrella over my children, asking them to perform the same activities, master the same competencies, in the same way, and under the same time-frame would be disastrous. This goes for children in school learning environments as well.
How then can we provide a learning environment for our children where individualism is not only recognized but celebrated? We can accommodate for student differences by setting the stage for student-directed learning. Students take ownership of their education in a student-directed learning environment (back track to posts from my student-directed learning series).
In a student-directed learning environment, learning is active rather than passive. The instructor acts as a guide and facilitator of learning. Students initiate and design projects that are based on interest and relevance. Learners write their own goals and methods of accomplishing those goals. Learners create their own assessments based on their goals for the future, competencies needing growth, skill level, pace, learning styles, and more. They self-assess often and reflect on their work. They go back and revise and improve. They lead evaluation meetings with their teachers and an evaluation committee, and conduct parent/teacher conferences using a student-created conference assessment.
Self-assessments are key components to student-directed learning. Not only do students create their own assessments, but they also evaluate their progress using said assessment throughout the course of the learning activity. The student-created assessments that I implement in my classroom are typically project-based learning rubrics. I provide a blank rubric template to be produced by each student according to their project goals. I include word banks with categories and levels of mastery to assist students with the process as they become more confident student-directed learners. That rubric template is available in my store. Scroll down for the link.
Student-generated rubrics allow students to improve in areas specific to their needs in addition to content knowledge. Some students may want to work on organization, others may have already mastered that skill. Some may want to practice and improve on presentation skills, others may not find that relevant. Categories can be across the board from content to social-emotional skills, to career and life skills. Not only are student-created rubrics personalized, they also give learners the chance to have some authority over their education. Some may not see that as a good thing. I see it as imperative for success in a rapidly evolving society. One size does not fit all. This is true now more than ever before, so we shouldn’t be assessing in such a way.
There are a variety of advantages to child-led assessments. The greatest advantage is the intrinsic motivation to learn. When you give student’s choice and voice, they organically invest in the outcome. Learners develop a strong self-concept, intrapersonal intelligence, the skills to identify their own strengths and weaknesses, and the wherewithal to grow and adapt. That in itself invaluable for lifelong learners.
Another result in favor of student-directed assessments is the development of competencies that are relevant to life outside of the classroom. A traditional assessment, whether it be a multiple choice test or a teacher-created rubric, doesn’t always address critical life skills, emotional and social awareness, or technical abilities, for example. They are generally intended to assess content knowledge only. Learning important subject concepts isn’t a bad thing. The trouble comes when the assessment ONLY targets content knowledge, and it’s the instructor determining the measurements for all students, not individuals.
Student-generated assessments along with consistent self-reflection and meetings with the facilitator/teacher throughout the learning process gives students indispensable feedback. Students go back and revise and improve their work. That in itself, the motivation to improve, is a skill often lost in teacher-centered classrooms with teacher-created assessments. The result of creating one’s own assessment, having voice and choice in one’s learning and outcomes, and aiming to improve, is passionate, life-long learners. Putting personal opinions about education aside, isn’t that a solid accomplishment and desire of all educators?
I use the following assessments strategies with my project-based learners. If it seems like a bit much, try a few things at a time or attempt to introduce some of the ideas gradually. At some point in your journey to a project-based learning environment you will be able to implement all of these strategies seamlessly because they are building blocks. They work off of each other. Good luck!
Project-Based Learning Assessment Strategies
At the beginning of a session or project have students write personal and academic goals. You are setting students up to be able to design their own assessments based on their vision, needs, and learning goals. Each of my students has a personal learning plan (PLP) that they create with me at the beginning of the school year. This is where they record their strengths, interests, and short and long-term goals. They return to their PLP periodically throughout the course of the year to reflect and adjust their plans. You may also consider asking students to write goals specific to a given project. They can create a few goals before they start.
I use PLP's for goal-making, I have students make project goals before each project, and I also have students do my "goals maker PBL challenge" at the beginning of the year. I guide students in the goal-making process. There is no specific system . Do what works well for you.
2. Student-Generated Assessments :
PBL projects are typically assessed using rubrics. I use a generic rubric for my beginner project-based learners. Eventually students can begin to create their own rubrics where they determine criteria to be evaluated. Criteria might relate to goals, strengths that they would like to build on, interests, skill level, and even the nature of the project. This idea could apply to any assessment style, not just rubrics. You could even have students design formative assessments throughout the course of the project.
For example, if your students are doing a neurology project and they're learning about neurotransmission, allow students to decide how they will demonstrate their understanding of that concept. They might create a moving model, an animation, a poem, etc. The list goes on. Check out my previous post on 100 Ways to Demonstrate Learning.
PBL Formative Assessments
Generic Project-Based Learning Rubric
Student-Generated Rubric with Word Banks
An important life skill is the ability to reflect on one's work, identify areas that could use improvement, and make adjustments. Teachers have to do this every day - reflect and adapt. Ask students to self-evaluate periodically throughout the course of the project and again before their final project evaluation with you (facilitator/teacher). My students fill in their generic or self-generated rubrics as their self-assessments. We often have work days where students work on their projects while I meet with students one-on-one to take a peek at their progress and go over their self-assessments.
A critical element of project-based learning is feedback, and another important life skill is the ability to accept constructive feedback and make improvements. This isn't a skill that everyone innately has. Students often revolt when asked to pump up the quality of a project or go back and try this or that. Establishing high standards of student work starts with feedback and the chance, and expectation, to improve. The end goal is for students to want to improve, or get excited about the prospect.
Foster as many opportunities for feedback as possible. One way to do this is through peer-evaluations. Have students share their work with each other, offer suggestions, and the chance to go back and make improvements. You can ask them to develop partnerships for a specific project - a project buddy. You can have them do project circles where students get together every so often to share their progress with the group. Students can then ask questions, give suggestions, and offer insightful feedback.
5. Community Expert Evaluations
The same idea applies here as with peer-evaluations except community experts have an authentic perspective. In project-based learning students connect with community experts (look back a couple weeks for a post on this concept). If learners are doing a project on puma habitat, for example, they might connect with a local zoologist, conservationist, or ecologist. If their final product is creating a documentary they might bring in a film-maker from the community to help with formatting and editing. Students can maintain consistent communication with these community members throughout the project process and ask that those experts evaluate their progress as they go. These community experts can also attend final presentations and play a role in final evaluations.
6. Student-Led Final Evaluations with Instructor and/or Evaluation Committee
After students have presented their final products to the class/teacher AND their authentic audience (see last weeks post on authentic presentations) I meet with them one-on-one to go over their rubrics (generic and/or self-created). They bring a self-assessed rubric to this meeting. The student justifies their self-evaluation, I give them my feedback, determine credit, we talk about future goals, and move onto the next project.
This process can - and should if you can make it work - be done using an evaluation committee. An evaluation committee is a small group put together to evaluate student projects. The group might consist of another staff member, students, community experts relevant to the project, and you, the instructor. This limits subjectivity when assigning a final grade or credit and offers students feedback from a variety of perspectives.
If you're interested in implementing any or all of these strategies, consider checking out Getting Started with Project-Based Learning Package from my store that includes 20 integrated PBL projects, an implementation manual, and all of the templates necessary for seamless execution of PBL, such as a personal learning plan.
Students from all backgrounds, skill levels, age groups, and instructional environments can take an active role in their education by simply having the chance to create and manage their own measurements of success. Every student is able to create their own assessments, and they will take pride and ownership in the outcome.
Personalized Learning Buzz Words: What are they and what do they mean?
I talk a lot about personalized learning in this blog, which I'm not sure I've ever explained. I just talk about it here as if everyone knows what it is. Everyone likely has a basic understanding of it based on the words themselves. It's learning that is personal. Students learn by having their personal needs met and interests considered. Personalized learning by nature accounts for and works around differing abilities and skill levels.
Some words associated with personalized learning that I often use here include: competency-based learning; autonomy, mastery and purpose; differentiation; student-directed; mastery-based; proficiency-based; interest-driven; project-based; and self-efficacy.
This article does a really great job of defining these words and explaining why they're important. As a parent I want my children going to school where the meaning of those terms are considered and applied to my child's education.
What approaches do you take to personalize learning in your classroom? I'd love to hear some ideas. Have a fantastic weekend, everyone!
Hope, Agency, Mastery and Other Terms Educators are Redefining, by Anya Kamenetz
Happy college season! For some, that season is long over, having completed early applications over the summer. Phew! Now all you have to do is wait! For some, you're still trying to get everything figured out. Preparing application materials for deadlines, considering a gap-year. Maybe even wondering if college is for you at all. I get that. I've been there! College is truthfully not for some in my opinion. You do you!
There is a lot to consider when choosing your path. If the path you have chosen is to go to college, your job isn't over yet. You still need to find a great fit. There are a lot of variables to consider, such as tuition, financial aid and scholarships, location, academic programs, and acceptance rates. If you're interested in exploring college options, check out this FREE college search activity that helps you determine what you are looking for in a college experience, and which schools will best provide that experience.
And if weighing those basic options wasn't challenging enough, colleges also differ in how they're grading student work. In fact, some colleges are not grading at all. No A-F grading system, no failing, no GPA. Some schools do this to mitigate the pressure of grades; to measure learning based on student-performance, quality of work, and growth; and/or to provide detailed feedback on student work to foster the desire to improve.
This post isn't about which assessment method is better. It is about providing information and alternatives. It is up to you to determine which method is the best for you. Consider your learning style, interests, past experience, and goals moving forward.
I've compiled a list of colleges and universities in the United States that offer alternatives to the traditional A-F grading system. Check them out, and who knows, maybe this is just what you need?
Note: this list is not exhaustive. I'm sure there are others. Do your research. If you have a particular school in mind, but wonder about their assessment approach, find out!
Narrative Reports - a narrative report is a detailed, written evaluation by the professor on student work and progress. It often times is the entirety of the student's transcript. The purpose of this is to provide important feedback and opportunity for growth. Some schools provide grades with the narrative, but is typically the choice of the student. The following colleges provide narratives on transcripts.
Colleges with Alternative Grading Methods to the Traditional A-F Approach:
ePortfolios - many colleges and universities have turned to ePortfolios rather than letter grades. ePortfolios are online portfolios where students submit evidence of learning. The portfolio can then be shared online.
No fail grading systems - some schools have eliminated failing grades entirely along with GPA's. Transcripts usually include alternatives to the A-F grading system along with narratives.
What's interesting about this is that there is a huge range. It's not just super-progressive schools that have taken on new methods of student grading. It's private and public, ivy-league and community colleges, traditional and progressive. They're all great schools trying to do what is best for the students. So don't think you can't consider a school that doesn't offer a failing grade. There are no rules! Do what is right for you. To figure that out you may have to do some soul-searching. Happy hunting, and good luck!!
Encourage students to learn new skills with project-based learning:
Try something new and you might be really impressed! I created a project-based learning resource on trying out new skills, choosing one to master and sharing the experience with the community. This would be a great project for teachers and students that are new to project-based learning. It was written with middle and high school students in mind, but could be adapted to just about any age or skill level. Project-based learning by nature is personalized, so student choice is a theme throughout the project and all of of my products on my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot. Check it out - Project-Based Learning: Learn a New Skill.
To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.