Creating Effective PBL Assessments

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Assessment is always a touchy subject in education. The stereotypical assessments that come to mind include state or national standardized tests, multiple choice tests, and scantrons. However, assessments in PBL are much more than a simple measure of right or wrong. Well designed assessments help the teacher see how well students understand the material and whether or not they are growing academically. These measures should challenge students in a non-threatening way, align with their work in the unit, and guide their growth.

This week we developed assessments for our PBL units and were asked to reflect upon these assessments as they relate to J.S. McTighe’s key principles of assessment. Below is a list of my intended assessments and brief descriptions on how they relate to these principles.

Weekly Notes: Each student will explore the course materials for each week before we meet in class. They are to take notes on what they learned for use during in class activities. This is assessed as a completion grade but the true purpose of this activity is twofold. First, these notes are taken to ensure that students are exploring course materials before class. Secondly, the notes ensure that everyone has some sort of foundation before primary source analysis begins and that they have something to reference as they begin their analysis work in small groups.

Document Analysis Practice: This is the hard work of the course – learning to analyze and corroborate historical documents to answer guiding questions. Because this is truly difficult work, students do these activities in class in a small group with the professor available when they become stuck. These activities are designed to help them learn the analysis process in a safe environment, essentially scaffolding the research process.

RAFT Writing: Because this project focuses on how everyday people experienced history, working on understanding perspectives is an important learning target. As such, students will write from the perspectives of others about historical topics through RAFT assignments. Again, these are largely completed in class so that students can get the help of the professor or peers when they need it the most.

DBQ Writing: Similar to the RAFT writing, students will practice short document based question writing assignments in class. These are designed to teach students how to construct an argument using historical documents as evidence for that argument. These are also largely completed in class so that when students struggle, there is a support system immediately available to them.

Reflection Blog: The reflection blog gives students an opportunity to put the skills they’ve learned in the classroom to practice on an individual level. In this activity, students research topics related to the course materials of the week and locate 3 to 4 primary sources that help them answer the driving question (what was history really like for those who lived through it?). This is an activity designed to scaffold the final assignment – the anthology book.

Anthology Book: My plans for this assignment are still a bit blurry but the overall goal is for students to answer the driving question for each era studied in class by compiling documents from their blog and creating an eBook that answers the driving question. Students will put the primary sources in context of each era’s reputation through secondary sources and either corroborate, add to, or challenge the narrative. Ultimately, this activity encompasses all of the goals of the prior assignments: content coverage\historical background, source analysis and corroboration, perspective, persuasive argument, and reflection.

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