Let’s think about assessment as an analog clock. You know the hour hand is moving forward but it does so very slowly. The minute had moves a little more quickly, but not nearly as much compared to the second hand. A watch with only a second hand would not be very useful. You need all three mechanisms to tell the time. Similarly, you must have three major assessment types during PBL.
- The hour hand represents summative assessments. Summative assessments indicate whether students have demonstrated skills and knowledge from the project’s learning objectives.
- The minute hand represents formative assessments. Formative assessments are monitoring tools between the pre and post (summative) assessments.
- The second hand represents checks for understanding. Checks for understanding are formal and informal techniques to gauge students’ understandings in real-time.
Assessments can be embedded quite seamlessly throughout PBL. Thoughtful and intentional assessment methods will help you measure students’ understanding and plan instruction accordingly. Edutopia has an entire web page of articles and resources on assessing PBL. BIE also has a resource list to help teachers enhance their skill in assessment during PBL. It will be well worth your time to visit these sites and learn more about PBL and assessment.
Summative Assessments Show What Students Know
“Summative assessments are used to evaluate student learning, skill acquisition, and academic achievement at the conclusion of a defined instructional period—typically at the end of a project” (EdGlossary). Summative assessments are generally evaluative, rather than diagnostic. In PBL, summative assessment usually takes the form of students’ final products and/or presentations. Criteria for which students will be evaluated should be established and reviewed at the beginning of a PBL unit. Be sure rubrics and scoring sheets align with the unit’s objectives. Rubrics let students know what an ideal assignment looks like and “summarize” expected performance at the beginning, providing students a trajectory. As students head down that path, formative assessments and checks for understanding will keep students moving in the right direction.
FORmative Assessments FOR Learning
"Formative assessment refers to a wide variety of methods that teachers use to conduct in-process evaluations of student comprehension, learning needs, and academic progress during a lesson, unit, or course. In other words, formative assessments are FOR learning"(EdGlossary). Much like PBL, formative assessment is a process. Formative assessments provide feedback and adjust ongoing teaching and learning. Students should have opportunities to improve and refine their work before they share it with others. Like any journey, there will be twists and bends during PBL. Formative assessments help students get back on track as they pursue their learning goals.
Tips for Integrating Formative Assessments in PBL
Rubrics are not just for summative assessments. Sometimes formative assessments should include explicit criteria via rubrics. I created a formative assessment that uses a rubric to evaluate students’ ability to construct online search queries (keywords). I recommend giving students the rubric before completing the activity. This way they know the expectations and can produce quality work. Have students use criteria from rubrics to assess examples and non-examples of learning tasks. Rubrics are a valuable tool for self-assessment. Rubrics list success criteria and provide descriptions of the various levels of performance so students can monitor and evaluate their own progress.
Checklists are a great formative assessment tool that communicate goals and can provide appropriate levels of scaffolding. I created a checklist for students to use when researching PBL topics. The targeted learning objective was for students to use four different types of information (textual, visual, media, digital) to answer their research questions. Give checklists to students at the beginning of instructional activities to guide them toward success. My sample checklist includes a comment section for students to self-assess and for the teacher to record observational data. I added a scoring guide to the checklist which communicates the different levels of achievement. This motivates students to strive toward proficiency.
Personal correspondence is a type of formative assessment that gives students opportunities to communicate learning with individuals outside the classroom. Students can correspond with people via pen and paper or digitally through a blog or social media. I created a personal correspondence assessment for students to reflect on steering questions they created. Students state the questions, their strengths in writing them, what was challenging, and how they will use what they learned in the future. Personal correspondence creates a safe haven by encouraging students to articulate problems and express feelings with a trusted audience (i.e. friend, family member). Even though a personal correspondence is open ended in nature, it is a good idea to provide criteria for a quality response.
Another great formative assessment strategy is combining evaluation criteria with a student-generated product. For instance, students can use criteria to evaluate a topic or skill by writing a response, making a visual representation, or giving a short presentation. If you only ask students to check off that they have completed specific tasks, they probably will not be as thoughtful as you would like. I created an evaluation assessment where students write a constructed response to evaluate the credibility of a website. Students’ responses should include details from the evaluation criteria along with evidence from the website and their own rationale. Students can then visit websites evaluated by their classmates and decide if their constructed responses effectively assess the site’s credibility.
Checks for Understanding (Quick But Powerful)
Checks for understanding are forms of assessments that can happen anytime and anywhere during PBL. Often, these assessments take just a few minutes. Some people call these, alternative formative assessment strategies (Edutopia). They are especially effective when students are given tactical feedback, followed by time to practice the skill or explore the concept in more depth. Students’ results are not the focus here. Rather, most important is the feedback that students receive from their teacher and peers and how they use that information to improve learning. A fundamental element of most checks for understanding is observation. You might even want to keep an observation form handy for each student. These can be printed on paper or take digital form using Google Docs or Sheets. Observations enable teachers to know who is struggling with concepts so corrective feedback can be provided.
Try using some of the alternate forms of assessment to check students’ understanding and prepare instruction for their specific needs. Discover even more ways to check students’ understanding at TeachThought.
A response from students to questions posed at the beginning of class. Entry slips usually take less than five minutes and tell the teacher and the students if they understand the material.
Index cards, whiteboards, or other items are simultaneously held up by all students in class to indicate their response to a question. Students can respond online using programs like Padlet.
Students ask questions of one another about topics, issues, or readings. The questions initiate a conversation that continues with a series of responses and additional questions.
A short, focused discussion between teacher and student. Conferences can occur with individual students or with teams. You might want to use a conference form to track students’ progress.
Have students summarize or paraphrase important concepts. This can be done textually, visually, orally, and digitally. Summarizing reveals students’ understanding of major ideas.
Present students with an analogy prompt: “the concept being covered is like ___ because ___.” Have students explain their reasoning. They can also make visual analogies. Try Google Drawings!
One Question Quiz
Ask a single focused question with a specific goal that can be answered within a minute or two. Students can respond on paper or online using programs like Answer Garden.
Pose questions or sentence starters. For example, "How did today's lesson relate to the driving question?" If students can elaborate, you know they have tied tasks to the project.
At the end of the lesson, students write 3 things they learned; 2 things they want to know more about; and 1 question they still have. Try using Google Forms to collect feedback.