I’m lucky enough to live in a world where we have complete control over how we do our final assessments. We decide as a department what is best for our students, and assess them accordingly. For years we would give them an English exam that had an in-class essay as the largest component. They would be given a choice of questions a few days before the exam, and they were allowed to create an outline, with quotations and examples from their text, that they could use as a guide during the exam. It worked very well…until Google came along.
Google opened up a whole new world for all of us, and it changed the world of the English teacher considerably. Now, it is next to impossible to give our students a take home essay topic that they can’t find with a few clicks of a mouse. For years, I struggled with ways to overcome this. I want my students to think for themselves, but the temptation is too great for them to let someone in cyberspace do it for them. My colleagues and I spend countless hours talking about ways to circumvent sparksnotes, etc. and finally decided to have our students do a process-based final assessment that required students to make connections between their learning and real life. We also wanted the assessment to mirror the way students learned all year–working in collaborative groups and following a process for their learning and writing.
For this assessment, students are asked to reflect on all of the texts they have studied throughout the term to see what each taught them about human nature. The process begins with them working together to come up with possible thesis statements that could tie together two or three of the works. Once they get a focus, they work to collect evidence to support their thesis, from not only the texts, but also real life. Because they have to tie together several works and find outside links, it is far more difficult for them to rely on Google to do their thinking for them. Each step of the process must be followed and they have regular check-ins with the teacher to illustrate just where they are in the process. This is another great way to keep them honest and to ensure that they are thinking and working, not just throwing something together the night before.
In the end, forty percent of the student’s mark comes from the process. They will need to meet the various deadlines and show evidence of their work and revision. The best part of the process, for me, is the conference. This is held a few days before the final product is due. During this time the student needs to tell me what s/he needs to do in order to take the draft through to good copy. Students need to illustrate in this conference that they have learned from the feedback they received from me all year. For example, Johnny might tell me that he knows he has trouble with coherence, and so he needs to make sure he uses transitions to tie together his ideas. By the end of the year, students are well aware of their strengths and weaknesses. For this assessment, they are allowed to play to their strengths: if they are strong writers they will choose an essay. They can also choose to present their learning through creative writing, but must still show connections to the texts. Those who feel they present better than they write can choose that option as well. Usually, they make very wise choices, and are so proud to present their final products. I couldn’t be happier with the changes that I have made, and I feel that I now get to see a very authentic representation of my students’ learning.
If you would like to try something like this yourself, you can purchase my final assessment product. It has step-by-step instructions for teacher and student, a clear timeline and several graphic organizers and rubrics. There is also an editable version so you can adapt it suit your class. If you have any questions or comments about this process, I’d love to hear them!
Jackie, of Room 213 is a high school English teacher in Canada. You can follow her at Real Learning in Room 213.