May 10, 2007

Involving My Students in Writing Assessments

Basic graphic organizer that I use with my students to help them see the whole picture.

One of the components of the independent project that my students are working on is related to either art or community service. When I've done this project before, I have considered throwing out this part because it's not really language arts related like the rest of the project. Originally, it was only a fine arts component, but I added community service as an alternative option for those who are painfully artistically challenged.

Although the art component feels like it should be discarded from the project, it often inspires students to reach beyond the expected, and it seems encourage them to add pizazz to the entire project. For example, one of my students chose LOVE as a theme. For the creative writing component she will be writing several poems. She has chosen to combine the art component with it and make an illustrated book of poetry. I doubt she would have illustrated that book of poetry had it not been for the art component.

I almost threw out the art component this year because I've been trying so hard to build stronger rubrics, and I could not figure out how to write a rubric to this component that is wide open. And I mean WIDE open:

Fine Art or Community Service Component
For fine art:
Create, perform, present, or share with the class:
…or other alternative means of expression


For community service:
Plan and implement a community service project related to your theme.
Document your process using journals, copies of letters, and pictures.

Most years I've basically given students full points on the art part if it was halfway decent. There were always students who thought taking 10 minutes to glue some pictures on a poster board should be considered art. But what had I really said they could or couldn't do? Sometimes collages make wonderful pieces of art. It was so subjective. I was ready to hit delete on this section, when it occurred to me that my students could write their own rubrics for this section.

How will I know if you perform well in this area? Well, why don't you tell me?

I'm not going to be one bit humble here. I was insanely proud of myself for thinking of this brilliant idea. Student input is one aspect of assessment where I could use some improvement. There are very basic requirements, but the approaches still leave a lot of room for student choice in this project. Why not involve them in creating the criteria for certain parts of the project? This is all about students learning something they want to learn. The more they make choices, they more they will gain from the experience.

Okay, so with that back story, today was the day when students had to turn in the criteria they established for themselves. Even with that, I gave them options. Some turned in a checklist of things that will prove they have excelled this is component, while others turned in some impressive rubrics with descriptors on a 5 point scale. Seriously! Full-blown rubrics! I love those kids!

In the end, I'm still going to have students who turn in poor quality work, as I had several students not turn in anything. These are the same kids who will draw some stick figures on notebook paper and then argue that they've worked hard on it. However, the majority of the students have set the bar high for themselves. They're owning this project, and they're excited!

This is the stuff we teachers live for!

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