Teaching at university can be tricky, mostly due to the emphasis on summative assessment.
Since starting this position in 2010 I have been attempting to infuse the unit I coordinate with greater amounts of project-based learning. However, in a context where students have little time or incentive to engage with classwork that isn’t formally assessed, it has been hard to reward things like student project work.
After three semesters of teaching English Curriculum Studies 1 I decided that a radically new assignment was in order.
Students used to do:
- Assignment 1 – Personal teaching philosophy statement and resource analysis
- Assignment 2 – Report on video lessons and learner needs observed
- Assignment 3 – Junior secondary English lesson plans
All of these assessment pieces were completed individually – no collaboration was required and no public audience was utilised.
From this semester onward, students now do:
- Assignment 1 – Personal teaching philosophy statement and resource analysis (same as before)
- Assignment 2 – Junior secondary English lesson plans (now completed in small groups of 2 or 3)
- Assignment 3 – A range of CHALLENGE TASKS published in a portfolio <– SCHMICK NEW TASK!
The New Task:
Many of the key ideas about inquiry-based and cooperative learning that I am working with can be found in a book extract provided by Edutopia: Teaching for Meaningful Learning by Brigid Barron & Linda Darling-Hammond.
Here is a brief extract – some words about project-based learning:
“Project-based learning involves completing complex tasks that typically result in a realistic product, event, or presentation to an audience. Thomas (2000) identifies five key components of effective project-based learning. It is: central to the curriculum, organized around driving questions that lead students to encounter central concepts or principles, focused on a constructive investigation that involves inquiry and knowledge building, student-driven (students are responsible for designing and managing their work), and authentic, focusing on problems that occur in the real world and that people care about.” (Barron & Darling-Hammond, 2008, p. 3; my emphasis)
What I’ve done in my new task is to create a poetry ‘project’ as one of 10 ‘challenges’ that students need to complete.
After trialling a poetry project last semester, I know that students see value in, and engage with this kind of learning. But, at the end of the day, students felt let down because the work they put into their projects didn’t ‘count’ towards their final grade.
Once I started messing around with a new assignment that gave them credit for their project work, it was too hard not to design a whole suite of ‘challenges’ that they could choose to take up! So, that’s what I’ve done – students decide what grade they want to get, and complete the number of challenges needed to obtain it.
‘Challenge-based learning‘ as a term has not gained as much traction as ‘project-based learning’, but I think there is something to be said for the difference in terminology. In my teaching context, students are completing a ‘project’, but there is a minimum standard they have to reach to be able to ‘pass’ the assessment. Also, there is less focus on a ‘driving question’ than a PBL task would have – more of an emphasis on the products needing to be made. Hence my use of the term ‘challenge’ in the overall task.
OK, the easiest way to show you the assignment is to share copies of my assignment sheets:
A matrix of challenge tasks is provided for students to choose from in assignment 3.
Students will receive a grade for Assignment 3 based on the number of challenges completed:
- 4 CHALLENGES COMPLETED = PASS
- 6 CHALLENGES COMPLETED = CREDIT
- 8 CHALLENGES COMPLETED = DISTINCTION
- 10 CHALLENGES COMPLETED = HIGH DISTINCTION!
Note the peer assessment component of this task. This is something I am especially proud of, for a number of reasons! Not only am I hoping that this will result in a more sustainable marking practice for me (I will be checking/validating the peer marking, but no re-doing it), but it is also a strategy for getting the students to learn how to share their work and act as ‘critical friends’. I also think that having anopther preservice teacher assess your work in this context can be seen as providing an ‘authentic audience’ for student work.
The student portfolios for this task are due next Friday, so I’ve yet to see how this new assessment plays out in real life.
One idea I have bubbling away about the teaching methods chosen is that ‘project-based’ learning can perhaps be broken down further as being either ‘inquiry-driven’ or ‘challenge-driven’ (and maybe even a third category, ‘play-driven’). But that’s a hierarchy that I’m still thinking through…
There is a lot going on here, I realise. But I’d seriously LOVE to hear feedback from my critical friends, including any students that end up reading this post :)
If you have any questions to ask, shoot them at me too! Obviously I’m quite proud of what I’ve constructed here, but in a few weeks it will be time to reflect again on how to improve for semester 2, so as they say…bring it!