Empowering and Guiding Students to Take Charge of Assessment – Synergy 8 Example

For many, many years, at school “marking periods,” I have written narrative comments regarding eighth-grade student progress. Typically, these comments have been summative and brief in nature. They generally covered work habits, class-participation trends, and performances on quizzes and tests. When I completed such a comment, I recorded my progress report in a school database, where it was reviewed and proofed by a grade-level administrator. Then, after about a week, the comments were sent – now emailed – home to parents.

When we (Jill Gough and Bo Adams) inaugurated Synergy 8 in 2010-11, we decided to use this non-departmentalized, non-graded, community-issues, problem-solving course to run some “pracademic” experiments in a number of areas, including assessment and student-progress reporting. Now, instead of an adult (teacher) writing a static comment to another adult (parent), the Synergy 8 students utilize moderated journaling to prepare their self-assessment reports. The student learners take primary responsibility for preparing their reflections about their own learning and growth. The student learners initiate the communication of this self-generated progress report to their parents, their teacher-facilitators, their grade chairs, and their director of studies. Before the published draft is sent, student learners peer review other team member’s reports, and they engage in a series of iterative prototypes, enhancements, and revisions.

The student learners “live” at various stages of maturity regarding their capacity to self-assess and initiate their own progress-report discussion with adults. BUT…they are practicing this incredibly vital, life-long skill of evaluating their own learning, performance, skill development, and growth. They are precipitating virtual, student-led conferences when they send their reports to the adults who serves as guides and coaches. Unlike the database-housed comments of the past, these student-based comments stir responses from their parents and the adults at school to whom they write. During the course, we see growth and progress in EVERY student’s capacity to engage in such self-assessment and progress reporting, and we believe this is a critical skill to develop at this middle-school age.

Obviously, because of the relatively private nature of such progress reporting, I cannot publish one of the student samples here. However, I am pasting below what now goes in the school database, so that you can see additional context about this student-centered way of reporting progress, learning, and growth.

From Midterm Marking Period (Friday, October 14, 2011):

Since we last wrote to you, the Synergy 8 Team has been hard at work, engaged in the KP Challenge. At the same time, we have been focused on communications, presentation, and design. Additionally, our team members have collected almost 300 community observations on a tool called Posterous. At this midterm, we will be transitioning from the KP Challenge alpha project to projects conceptualized and organized by the Synergy 8 student learners – projects that will be born from the Posterous observation journals. Expect more project news and updates as those projects get underway.

At the first-interim marking period, Mr. Adams and Ms. Gough concluded their comment this way:

“As we dig deeper into our projects and learning rubrics, you can expect more information coming to you. Much of the assessment will be relative to the “essential learnings” expressed on the course logo – the Synergy 8 Light Bulb and Gears (http://scr.bi/Synergy8-ELs). At the midterm, you can expect more self-assessment from YOUR CHILD, and Ms. Gough and Mr. Adams will provide more feedback from their seats, as well.”

Working intensely and introspectively for the past two weeks, our Synergy 8 members have been preparing a “bright-spot” reflection regarding each person’s deepest learning. YOUR CHILD will be presenting that evidence-based, essential-learning story to you soon. You can view a short movie (http://vimeo.com/30541014, password: provided only to parents and school personnel due to new school policy) to see an overview of our approach, and you can access the originating rubric (http://scr.bi/EL-rubric) from which the stories emerged. As you receive an email summary from YOUR CHILD, Mr. Adams and Ms. Gough will respond to that communication so that all of us – student-learner, teacher-facilitator, and parents – can engage in a discussion about YOUR CHILD’s learning and growth.

_____________________________

From 1st Interim Marking Period (Friday, September 14, 2011):

When Ms. Gough and Mr. Adams conceptualized Synergy 8, we envisioned an interdisciplinary, problem-based course rooted in student-directed inquiry. Now that the course is underway, we increasingly desire to share responsibility from teacher to student, so that the eighth graders can practice being even more involved in their own learning – similar to the powerful, self-directed learning that children engage in before and after formal, traditional schooling. Synergy 8 possesses many elements of experimental design, and progress reporting in a non-graded course is one such element. Ms. Gough and Mr. Adams expect Synergy 8 students to take a more active role in the assessment and evaluation of their own learning and growth. Therefore, you can expect your child to send you more information about Synergy 8 and his/her experience thus far. At this marking period, you should have already received a progress report via email.

As we dig deeper into our projects and learning rubrics, you can expect more information coming to you. Much of the assessment will be relative to the “essential learnings” expressed on the course logo – the Synergy 8 Light Bulb and Gears (http://scr.bi/Synergy8-ELs). At the midterm, you can expect more self-assessment from YOUR CHILD, and Ms. Gough and Mr. Adams will provide more feedback from their seats, as well.

[Cross-posted at It’s About Learning]

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