Relinquishing Control: Constructivism During Summative-Time

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In looking for ways to help students improve their ownership for learning, I made a 360 at assessment time and tried something very unique with my grade 12 Communications Technology students. I allowed them to design their own summative projects based on their own interests and what they felt were their best strengths. By grade 12, I’ve had them for 3 to 5 years, and those areas of strength really become apparent to me. But, I wanted students to recognize both their strengths and weaknesses in themselves in order to recognize what areas they need to work on if they decide to move forward in a media production career, as well as those areas they could capitalize on with their talents. I also wanted them to recognize strengths of others in the classroom, so they could draw on each other for help and support. Before, you think I’ve gone over the edge, consider that my University Masters thesis/project followed many of these very same guidelines. For the production part of my Masters of Media Production program at Ryerson I produced my own documentary, learning just as much about production techniques as I learned about my own skill strengths, weaknesses, and who and how to ask for support and help.

Students were asked to create their own project sheets, summarizing what they hoped to accomplish with their production. Many chose projects with unique authentic audiences, from a school Athletic Banquet video to an Alternative Christian song for a local church. Then they were asked to create their own marking schemes using rating scales and rubrics with very specific criteria. They were able to weight these categories based on their strengths and weaknesses. All forms of assessment were required to contain a project management component (designing own schedule in Google calendar), and a project planning stage (selecting and using various forms of pre-production paperwork). One student complained at first, not fully understanding the benefits to her, saying, “That’s so easy for you as the teacher. We do all the work creating the assessment for you”. She changed her tune when she realized it would have been so much easier for me to just hand them my own assessment sheet, requiring them all to complete the same project. Instead, I dug through several assessment sheets they could draw on for examples and reviewed each individual assessment to ensure that it fit each student by both allowing them to shine in their skill strengths and talents, but also not neglecting the necessaries of the project as well. During this process, students were able to review where the “holes” were in their learning and request additional tutorial help and assistance from others in the classroom. It was fascinating to see them work like this. Initially, some were very flustered and had difficulty calling on others for help with their individual project, while others forged teams and created different sub-projects around the same project. Three students in particular came together as a team and designed a video with one student doing the planning and shooting, another focusing on the editing and graphics, and still another in charge of a photo shoot, DVD design and promotional posters. What they have learned in teamwork is something they will take with them into the working world.

So, to summarize, here’s a generalized list of benefits students got out of designing their own summative and assessment. They were able to prove an understanding of audiences, work together as a team, negotiate, research people and resources to help fill in their own missing links of skill and knowledge, thoroughly understand and utilize project management, and demonstrate a true understanding of the assessment criteria and where they fit into it. Lastly, they were to turn a critical eye on themselves as learners and take ownership and action.

4 thoughts on “Relinquishing Control: Constructivism During Summative-Time”

  1. Wow. This looks like a great project. I really liked that you had them to generate their own evaluation scheme.

    I allowed my grade 9 computer technology students to pick their summative projects this semester as well. Their summative required them to demonstrate new learning in the course area of their choice, and then to describe what they learned.

    I emphasized to them that learning, and communicating what was learned, was more important than the final product. The result was that it freed a couple of the students to take on big projects (eg. creating a game in python) without the pressure of needing to demonstrate a finished product. In each case, the students quickly realized that coding a game was beyond their current skill set, but the project motivated them to expand their skills well beyond the topics covered in the classroom in a totally self-directed manner.

    Overall, I was pleased with how well the students were able to take responsibility for ther learning. I’m looking forward to refining and building on the summative for next year.

    1. I agree that it’s so important for kids to understand how they learn by taking an active role in the process and that the process is more important than the product. It’s great you’re starting this so early. I almost think I missed the boat by doing this with my 12s!

  2. I teach 7th grade Language Arts and one of the things I’ve discovered is that, at least in my grade level, students lack the metacognitive strategies that, as adults (and particularly educated adults), we have developed. This “self-talk” that we tend to employ is not something the average student uses – not because they think that “talking to themselves” is crazy, but because they have not discovered the benefits of analyzing one’s own thinking.

    This project you used, (the title was quite a mouthful!) is wonderful because it tends toward encouraging metacognition! My classroom this year will be equipped with iPads for every student and one of the tasks I have envisioned is a weekly video journal from each student talking about what they have learned. It is not as sophisticated as your project, but the post has given me some good ideas as well! Thanks.

    -Dr. Norwood

    1. The weekly video journal is a great idea. Archiving it so students can look back and see how they’ve grown and use it to benchmark goals might work to help increase “self-talk”. Love your idea and looking forward to reading an update from you in your blog once you try it out this year.

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