Thursday, 29 May 2014

"Project-based Learning" meets "Performance-based Assessment"

The trend toward project-based learning stems from our desire to provide learning opportunities with real-world applications that are engaging, cross-curricular, student-centered and meaningful. Project-based learning encourages creativity and innovation, and accommodates a variety of learning styles and strengths. Because of its open-ended, collaborative nature, there are challenges associated with the assessment of student learning within the context of project-based learning.

From the AAC Key Visual
As always, when we plan for assessment in Alberta classrooms we begin with outcomes from Alberta Programs of Study. Typical projects in a PBL classroom likely address a large number of outcomes from a variety of subject areas. When we begin to plan a project, we identify specific learning goals connected to those outcomes and plan ahead for the ways in which we will assess student learning. Project-based learning requires performance-based assessment: giving student the opportunity to demonstrate what they know and can do through their work on a variety of tasks.

After we're clear on our learning goals, we identify the criteria we will use to assess out students, and then consider how we'll help them build an understanding of what success will look like for those criteria. Because the scope of a project is often quite broad, it's appropriate to plan a variety of performance assessments along the way, to allow us to gather evidence of learning for a more manageable number of outcomes and learning goals.

We gather that evidence through recorded observations of students as they work on the project and conversations with students about their learning, as well as by considering their finished products and performances. Being clear about our specific learning goals and how we will assess them at the beginning of the project helps us focus on those key goals. This in turn makes it more likely that students will successfully meet those goals. We provide students with many opportunities to reflect on their learning during and after the project, and encourage them to set next steps and goals for further learning.

Performance-based assessments in the Alberta Assessment Consortium collection are smaller in scope than most projects in a PBL classroom, but can provide a useful model for assessing students in this environment. The teacher materials for every task include a chart outlining the curricular outcomes being addressed by the task, linked to criteria for assessment. The criteria addressed by a task are manageable in number, and are made explicit for students in the task itself. The very same criteria appear again on the rubric used to assess student learning. Take a look at some of these tasks, and consider how a similar model might help you support and assess student learning within a project-based learning context.

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