In my last post, I talked about how to structure project based learning in the high school English classroom. Since teaching is a second career for me, I am very passionate about good PBL in our high school classrooms. It shows the students the why behind what they are learning. In turn, it also leads to higher engagement and true growth.
If you would like a FREE 2-point argumentative writing rubric, click here!
Today, I want to talk about skills-based assessments that go along with project based learning in the high school English classroom.
It’s been a solid 25 years, but I still to this day remember getting a 99% on my Romeo and Juliet test in 9th grade. The reason I got a point taken off? When asked “How did Juliet kill herself?” I wrote: She stabbed herself with a sword.
My English teacher crossed out sword and wrote dagger.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED her! I even emailed her a few years ago and told her that she was a big part of me shifting careers and becoming an English teacher. So, I am in no way “throwing shade” here.
However, it still annoys me that I knew that play inside and out, but I still got marked down for a technicality. I know little details matter, but in general, what purpose does asking recall questions after spending several weeks (maybe even a couple of months) reading something serve? Did I understand the big picture thematic issues at the heart of the play? Did I understand the importance of the character actions?
I like to think I did, but who knows? Because those were not the things on the test.
I’m teaching skills, not books. The text is the tool I am using to teach the skill.
This honestly stuck with me as I began my teacher career.
Others in my department were intrigued when I said I didn’t give book tests. I was interested in seeing how their skills had improved. How could I assess that properly by giving book tests that either asked basic recall questions or asked them to do the exact same skill I had taught them with the exact same text I had showed them (so again, basic recall)?
Instead, I largely started having them write their essays over the text we have focused on with 2-point rubrics, giving skills based assessments over texts that they had never seen in class (some I even wrote myself), and focusing more on PBL projects as well.
What happened next?
The results were fantastic!
My students’ reading analysis skills vastly improved as did their writing!
On their state test, their growth percentages went up on average at least 60% from the previous year.
The more I shifted my curriculum towards project based learning, I also found that they were largely not doing whole class novels anyway. So, again, I had to utilize skills-based assessments for checkpoints over cold-read passages. I would take the standards we were focusing on and break them down to as many parts as a I could to create 2-point rubrics. You can check out this blog post on some examples of how I did this here.
Skills-based assessments can be great even if you are still engaged in traditional whole-class novel teaching in your classroom. However, it you are looking to shift more into project based learning with your high school English classes, this next part is definitely for you!
Other ways I grade students while engaging in project based learning
Personal observations- I observe students as they are working with others and hear back from group leaders on who pulling their weight and who is not. I liken this to any performance reviews you have with any job. If students are actively participating, learning, and trying their best then they get full marks for professionalism. If, by all accounts, a student is not engaging I first allow the group space to address the issue and then intervene as needed.
Individual reflections- Students turn in periodic reflections on how the project is going on their end. Current strengths/struggles/questions/etc. This acts as a quick check-in grade and also helps me (the facilitator) to act as a guide in an area they may need extra assistance in.
Skills-Based assessments- In class we are still working on other things such as literary/film analysis, rhetorical analysis, etc. Students are given periodic assessments based off of those skills. Sometimes it’s a quick constructed response or multiple choice assessment and others it’s a formal essay. Either way, it’s an additional grade to add to the district’s demands on top of their product creation.
If you want to see some real growth in your students, I highly suggest giving skills-based assessments a try! Even if you are doing a whole-class text, you can still make the assessments skills-based, like this Romeo and Juliet skills-based assessment. If you would like a FREE 2-point argumentative writing rubric, click here!