Saturday, May 14, 2011

What's sauce for the goose is (not) sauce for the gander: giving students a choice

I had an interview last week.  One of the questions was about assessment.  As most people who read my blog will know I am passionate about giving students a choice in the way they show their understanding in their summative assessments.  I was asked the question:  Do you think students should always have a choice?  My answer was Yes.

Yesterday I was using Fotobabble with students in Grade 1.  This is the first week of a new unit and we wanted to find out what the students already knew about plants.  We had 3 questions:  what do plants need, why do living things need plants and how can we look after plants in our local or global environment?  I was recording the students talking about this and at the same time in class students had a paper with these 3 questions on.  Some of the students wrote an answer on the paper, some of the students drew pictures.  These 3 ways, speaking, writing and drawing, have now given us a good pre-assessment of what the students already know - now we can start to plan how to take their understanding further.

Students acquire information in many ways - a good assessment should use many ways for students to demonstrate their understanding too.  Not all students think and behave alike.  In an international school students may be able to think about a concept very well in their own language, but be unable to express it in English - but there are many other ways to express their ideas.  Not all students are good speakers, writers or drawers.  Different assessments, different experiences, tap into the different strengths of the students.

When we give students a choice we are giving them the message that we don't expect just one "right" answer.  Of course if we are assessing just for factual recall, then perhaps it is not necessary to give a choice, but in a PYP school we are assessing for understanding and that involves the ability to use knowledge and apply it in different ways.

If we don't give students a choice, if we have a "one size fits all" approach to assessment, then how can we claim to be child-centred.  If we believe in multiple intelligences then giving students a choice is the only way that really makes sense.  Giving students a choice leads to motivated students who have ownership of what they are doing.  Encouraging their interests will lead to deeper learning.

Here are some examples of summative assessments I have worked on with students recently where they were give a choice:

  • In a unit about energy, students were asked to design an energy efficient house.  Some students chose to do this on the computer using SketchUp, some chose to make a model out of cardboard and various other materials.
  • In a unit about story telling, some students chose to make an eBook using StoryBird, others chose to make an animation using ZimmerTwins.
  • In a unit about exploration, students will be working in groups to create a presentation of their choice about an area they want to go and visit.  I'm excited to see what they will choose (listening to the discussions so far some students have talked about Prezi, others about SpicyNodes, others about VoiceThread).
  • In a unit about poetry, some students took their own photos, wrote their own music, added a poem and presented it in Animoto as a movie, other students made collages or other artwork which they photographed and added into VoiceThread and then recorded themselves reading their poems.
  • Grade 5 students currently working on the PYP Exhibition have a whole variety of different tools they are working on to explain their understanding of democracy and decision making.
Photo Credit:  Canada Geese (North Wales) by Christian Roberts AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

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