How Should I Grade You?

We arrived at the end of our second unit of the school year.  My freshmen had worked heard and learned a lot.  Their blog posts proved it, too.  I didn't really want to give them a traditional test.  Rather than rewarding their hard work, it felt like the test would just be a way for me to stress them out.  Instead, I asked them, "How should I grade you?"

The lesson activator encouraged a class discussion of the purpose and value of traditional tests.

It seemed that we all understood that teachers give tests because they need grades, evidence of learning.  However, while tests are efficient for teachers, students felt like they rewarded those who were good test-takers rather than those who had worked hard and really learned something.  They were surprised when I posed the next question to them.
To help them decide I provided a few parameters:
  • It had to be worth the equivalent of a traditional unit test grade.
  • The assessment had to be something that could be completed in one 55 minute class period.  If they wanted to do some of the work at home, that was their decision and not my requirement.
  • It had to be fair.  Everyone in the room had to have the capabilities to complete the assessment they selected.
  • I gave them a list of the essential questions we covered. Everyone had to prove they had learned the answer to every question.  They couldn't split up the work.

They set to brainstorming.  First they did it individually, then in small groups, and finally the groups made their proposals to the class a whole.  I let them discuss it and decide democratically.  This entire process took 1.5 class periods.  The next day they set to work, after completing their self-assigned homework and preparation.

The final products were varied, but impressive.
They used Prezi...

...and Google Drive...

...they made textbooks...
...and wrote and took their own tests.
None of them were perfect, but they all proved what they had learned.  They also felt like they'd had some choice and control over their learning.  As students left the class, several said they wanted to do this at the end of every unit.  I really think they worked much harder than they would have worked to prepare for any test.  And get this: as I walked around the room checking in and listening in on them as they worked, the most amazing things were happening. 
  • They were talking about the essential questions of our unit.  
  • They were helping each other understand history.  
  • They were clarifying each other's misunderstandings.
I learned a lot through this process, too.  Once I just get out of the way and let my students learn... well, that's when I'll really get to see how great they are.  I already thought they were incredible people, now I know I was underestimating them.


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