High Tech High - Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning


Assessment can be very tricky in Project-Based Learning (PBL). In traditional programs, projects are often assigned and assessed only at the end of a unit, with the end product representing 100 percent of the project grade. Team members may either divide points or receive the same grade. We have to ask ourselves, "Why do we assess only the final product?" and "Why do our assessments tend to be summative in PBL?"

Even as we emphasize good products, we know that students don't always know how to collaborate or solve problems. Indeed, one of the reasons for doing projects in the first place is to teach such skills. What is suggested below is a way to assess work habits and behaviors beginning from day number one of a project.

We suggest reducing the final product grade to fifty percent or less, with the remainder given to assessment of behaviors through observation, daily logs, and reflective thinking as evidenced in a journal. Here are some ideas for assessing behaviors during the course of the project.

  • Reflective thinking. See "54 Reflective Questions" (Appendix VIII.1).  These questions are excellent prompts for journal free writes. They are ideal for asking students to think inward, outward, forwards and backwards. One might use these two to three times a week early in the unit and then maybe once a week towards the end.
  • Time management. Evidence of good time management can come from student logs. Meeting a series of deadlines can be tracked on folder scoring guides. The daily log should be used whenever time is allocated to project work. Plenty of time should be allowed at the end of the period for students to record everything they have done for the day. This increases daily closure time from five minutes to fifteen or twenty minutes. Teachers must be aware of time constraints and always allow enough time for this vital element of behavior assessment.
  • Revision. A very important part of growth and maturity in work habits is the ability to self-assess and revise sub-quality work. Evidence of this vital skill might include a revised plan, the junking of plan A and switching to plan B, etc. Again, evidence should be in the student logs or journals.
  • Communication. Along with logs and journals, students could submit actual communiques, proposals, memos, and feedback notes as evidence. Giving and receiving constructive feedback is an important skill and should be assessed.
  • Resourcefulness. Evidence of students' ability to overcome unseen obstacles and solve problems can be drawn from the logs and journals. Students could be reminded daily to refer to the terms in the "Work Behaviors Guide" (Appendix VIII.2) as they make entries in their logs or journals.

Final assessment might use the "Behaviors Rubric" (Appendix VIII.3) or one similar to it. These types of rubrics or scoring guides are more effective when students write them. Final scoring requires that the teacher meets with the team and asks them to present evidence of behaviors performed and practiced.

The idea of recording work behaviors is counter-intuitive to students even though the message is these behaviors are important enough to be recognized and graded. And the pay-off is twofold. First, teachers can guarantee that projects will improve in quality if students begin to practice these work behaviors. And second, if students begin to discipline themselves with these newly acquired "habits of work," all aspects of their life and work will improve.

Below we present what a total assessment might look like for a full nine-week project: the making of a documentary for the "Taco Salad Film Festival." The idea here is to get away from giving the final product 100% of the grade but to assess other work related behaviors. This is a great way to manage projects. It does require much of your instructional time to be dedicated to talking to teams or individuals. Percentages per grade are suggested only. Besides the final product grade at 25 %, here is what else we are assessing:

Reflective Thinking (RT). Using prompts from the 54 Questions, ask the students to reflect on their thinking and their work habits in a journal. It is important to read these responses on a regular basis and give feedback. (25 %)

Daily Logs (DL). Students should record what work they performed on those days that are given over to project time. Use the Work Behaviors Guide to guide their language. These logs should be used as evidence when assessing what parts of the project really give ownership to which team members. (25 %)

Meeting Deadlines (MD).  All long-term projects should be broken into smaller components with a series of deadlines. (25 %)

Week #1

MD- Name of studio, product proposal.

RT- This is a good time for a forward-looking prompts, e.g.:
Have you done a similar kind of work in the past (earlier in the year or in a previous grade; in or out of school)? In what ways have you gotten better at this kind of work? In what ways do you think you need to improve?

DL- Assuming class time is allowed for working on projects, this should be the beginning of the team's writing about what each individual actually did. Always allow at least fifteen minutes at the end of class to allow for discussions and recording of logs.

Week #2

MD- Research goals met (has team found at least fifty images for film?)

RT- A good time for some outward looking prompts, for example:
What resources did you use while working on this piece?  Which ones were especially helpful? Which ones would you use again?

DL- Remind students that any work behaviors performed outside classroom should be entered in logs.

Week #3

MD- Script/storyboard due.

RT- A good time for some inward looking prompts, for example:
What does this piece reveal about you as a learner? What did you learn about yourself as you worked on this piece?

DL- same as above.

Week #4

MD- Review music chosen for film.

RT- This might be a good time for the following prompt: What did/do you find frustrating about your work and the process of working?

DL- same as above. 

Week #5

MD- First minute of film must be complete for review.

RT- It is never too late to talk about goals and goal setting. Now is a good time to ask about the following:
What were your goals in creating this piece of work?
Did your goals change as you worked on it?  Did you meet your goals?
What were your standards for this piece of work?  Have you met your standards?

DL- As we move closer to the final project, more and more class time is being spent on actually producing the film. Logs should be getting longer, more detailed.

Week #6

MD- All flash animations or oral interviews must be reviewed.

RT- This reflective prompt goes well with their logs and thoughts about work behaviors.
In what ways have you gotten better at your work habits?

DL- As students are recording their work behaviors, you may want them to be specific about certain habits. Now is a good time to ask about improving existing systems or revisions or self-evaluation.

Week #7

MD- No deadlines this week.

RT- This is a good time to target issues that the class may be struggling with. Review carefully the 54 Questions and see if you can find an appropriate prompt.

DL- Remind students to keep detailed notes on the work they are performing.

Week #8

MD- 95% of film must be complete for review.

RT- This is a good time to target issues that the class may be struggling with. Review carefully the 54 Questions ands see if you can find an appropriate prompt.

DL- Again, remind students to keep detailed notes on the work they are performing.

Week #9

MD- This is an easy one. Either the film is ready and screened at its appointed time for the film festival or it is not.

RT + DL- this is the final assessment. You will want to schedule a meeting with each team/studio and ask them to assess themselves on their work behaviors using the Scoring Guide for Work Behaviors (Appendix VII.3).