NTN has seen how engaging in PBL can provide a classroom context to shift the culture around assessment from management and compliance, to assessment for learning and growth. NTN refers to this kind of culture where “students and teachers look to assessment as a source of insight and help,” as a “Learning Culture” and we offer up several interrelated areas where engaging in authentic PBL creates opportunities to build such a culture:
Focus on enduring understandings and NTN Outcomes
A core tenant of NTN instructional design is to “begin with the end in mind.” When designing curriculum for their students, NTN teachers avoid the trap of superficially “covering the standards” by prioritizing “power standards” that appropriately focus the learning in their courses on knowledge and skills that will translate into future success and opportunities for students. By making sure that their backwards design in projects is grounded in critical disciplinary content teachers are able to create a viable curriculum while fine tuning their own understanding of the essential ideas in their area.
NTN schools are also committed to teaching and assessing students development in a broad set of outcomes over and above disciplinary content standards. The NTN Learning Outcomes represent a research based set of outcomes aimed at deeper learning and college and career readiness. Authentic development of these outcomes is, in many ways, the strongest “why” for PBL in the NTN model, and should factor in alongside disciplinary content in project and course design. For a deeper dive into the NTN Learning Outcomes and ways to scaffold each, click on the Learning Outcome Practice Card Set.
Elevation of Performance Assessments
Since our goal is to develop students complex thinking, disciplinary literacy, and deeper learning skills, we need assessments that give us accurate information about student performance in these areas. While traditional assessments like quizzes, exit tickets, and problem sets often find a place in a PBL classroom, our primary measure of student learning comes from authentic project products and tasks. PBL tends to culminate in “performance assessments” like proposals, reports, presentations, and other products where students demonstrate their learning through tangible artifacts that can be assessed against clear and explicit criteria using a rubric or similar tool.
As a support to teachers in designing strong performance assessments as a part of their PBL, NTN has developed and curated a set of Knowledge and Thinking Rubrics as a part of the NTN Learning Outcomes and Rubrics. These rubrics are backwards-mapped from disciplinary college readiness standards and serve as a resource for strong classroom-level rubric design as well as an external standard to which teachers and compare their students’ work. An ongoing focus on performance assessment products is the foundation of classroom conversations about growth and performance as well as school-level conversations about effective practice.
Authentic process and formative assessment
For assessment to be a tool for student learning, we know that it needs to be moved into the middle of the learning process rather than postponed until the end of instruction. The most effective assessments for learning are those that are “formative assessments” in that they are part of a process of making decisions about where a student is in their learning and where they need to go next. PBL makes formative assessment an almost inescapable aspect of day-to-day practice. While traditional classrooms may aspire to use assessment data to make instructional decisions, the responsive nature of PBL requires teachers adapt each day’s learning activities in response to formal and informal assessments of student progress. As students navigate need-to-knows and potential next steps related to those need to knows, they are engaged continual reflection and self-assessment which makes them an active participant in the formative assessment process.
Feedback and Revision
Providing feedback to students on their performance is critical to their growth and development, but in order for feedback to impact student learning it needs to be timely, meaningful, and actionable. In more traditional classes the majority of feedback students receive come in the form of grades and comments as summative feedback on assignments and tests. While this data gives students information about their performance, it is limited in how it can help motivate a student to take their learning to the next level. PBL helps making feedback more useful by learning in several interrelated ways. For starters, authentic performance products typically allow students a greater sense of pride and ownership - they care about what they are producing and whether or not it is good. Care is critical for students to want to pay attention to the feedback and even more critical to provide sufficient motivation to engage in the hard work of revision in response to that feedback. Just as PBL lets us move assessment into the middle of the learning process, it lets teachers situate feedback as part of students’ process of working through the project. Previously unread comments on a student essay take on new importance for the student when they are part of their feedback on a proposal, report, or other project artifact as part of a PBL unit.
Use the Assessment Practices Card Sets for useful examples and tips on assessment in the classroom.