Monday, April 9, 2007

Project Time

We're approaching the time of the school year that I like best, or perhaps second best, after the first month of school. There are about seven weeks of classes left, and much of the focus in my classes will be giving the students time to complete their independent projects. The students can work either individually or in groups, and I ask them to choose a project that represents something they think they can do well and links to something that they truly care about. For the next three weeks I'll give over one day a week to work on their projects in class; for the three weeks after that it will be two days. During those class periods I meet with each of them in sequence and basically ask each of them the time-honored conference questions: What are you doing? How's it going? Is there anything I can do to help? It's a pretty open-ended framework, and I've been amazed over the last few years at what the students have been able to do. Given choice of form and topic, students have chosen to put on plays, produce documentary videos, write novels, put together mixed-media presentations (art and writing; music and photography; art, music, and writing) do powerpoint presentations, build surfboards, make jewelry, write family histories, profile their teams or their friends, write poetry, put together themed magazines: the works. There is a sampling of completed projects from the last few years at the bottom of the page on the link above.

Along with the project I ask the students to hand in a work log on which they have recorded their hours, and a reflection paper in which they try to articulate what sort of quality they have been trying to achieve and walk the reader through the process they used to achieve it. I'm looking forward to seeing what this year's students come up with.


Mr. B-G said...

Cool idea. How do you grade it? Do you have a rubric?

I imagine it might be difficult to articulate how different project types and mediums equate. How do you make it "fair" for all students? For example, it seems that building a surfboard and writing a novel require two different skill sets that would need their own individual evaluation criteria.

Bruce Schauble said...

We do have a rubric that we use pretty much all year with sophs. It is based on Richard Paul's Universal Intellectual Standards and includes clarity, specificity, accuracy, logic, relevance, significance, breadth, and depth.

That rubric works for at least some of the projects. Where it doesn't, I invite the students to design their own rubric which spells out the criteria on which they feel they should be judged. If necessary, I negotiate that with them.

In any case, they are asked in their reflection to talk about what they think they did well, and they have the option of arguing for a particular grade if they think they deserve it, as long as they can provide evidence.

Since I'm working with them pretty much every step along the way, there usually aren't a lot of surprises at the end, and a large majority of the grades are simply me signing off on what is clearly superior work. There are exceptions, but they're mostly when students have repeatedly put off until the last minute doing what they know they need to do, and then not having enough time to do it well.

- B