Project Work, Stage 4: Reflection and Evaluation
If you’ve stuck with me through this four-part series on project work (here are parts One, Two, and Three) and how I’m trying to step up my game, thanks! Here’s our final part: Reflection and Evaluation, and this part of the project work had some interesting twists and turns.
I set the original due date of my students’ terrorism projects as Monday, November 27, and indeed, almost all students’ projects were ready to be submitted by then. Or at least, the students thought their projects were ready.
These projects were created using a variety of digital tools -- the most popular was probably Prezi, but we did have some MySimpleShow projects and a ThingLink or two. I didn’t want to have each group stand up in front of the class and present their project, but on the other hand, I didn’t want their work to disappear into a vacuum (as a side note, one of the things project-based learning is about is creating authentic products for a real audience. I will fully admit that this “real audience” thing is something I struggle with all the time). With that in mind, I asked students to put a link to their project into a shared Google Doc, and then asked them to sign up to comment on at least two other projects from the class.
When I tried this with my first class, the execution didn’t quite live up to the idea, mainly because having 30+ collaborators on one GDoc simultaneously wasn’t pretty. The doc got incredibly bogged down in terms of response time, and students got a bit frustrated. It was a good lesson in keeping your cool when the technology doesn’t live up to your expectations. The fix for the second class was to have them comment on others’ projects with their partner, instead of each person doing it individually, thus cutting in half the number of collaborators on the document. It worked like a charm.
Once everyone had put a link to their project in the doc and signed up for two classmates’ projects, their task was threefold: 1) look carefully at each of the projects they signed up for, making specific comments that are rooted in the project rubric, 2) ask at least one question of each project they commented on, and 3) respond to the questions their classmates asked about their project.
I was pretty pleased with how this peer commenting process worked out; for the most part, the comments were thoughtful and specific, and having to answer questions about their project really made some students sit back and think. I would definitely use this process again in the future.
On the next day of class, I wanted students to spend time reflecting on and evaluating their own work. I created a simple doc with the rubric criteria and asked students to write down how their project addressed each of these criteria. At the bottom of the doc, I encouraged them to write some narrative for me about how the project went -- how they felt about working with their partner, what they learned about the topic, what they thought of the process, etc.
However, before I turned them loose on this reflection and evaluation task, I thought it might be wise to give them some kind of measuring stick. I wanted them to see an example of something that I thought was a strong project, so they would have a firmer grasp on what the expectation was. Because I haven’t taught this class before, I don’t have any real student exemplars to show at the beginning of a project (and I go back and forth on whether I even like that practice anyway). But, even though it was late in the game to be showing them an example, I figured it was better late than never. The example I pulled to show each class was from the other class and had the creators’ names removed, to minimize any awkwardness.
I will never forget this moment: in my first class, I showed the example project (it was a Prezi), walked students through the content briefly, and then said, “This project is pretty strong - it would probably earn at least a B.” And you could just hear the air whoosh out of some students’ lungs. They were flabbergasted. I honestly wasn’t expecting this reaction, but they were shocked that the project I had shown them would potentially only earn a B.
So this was the perfect opportunity to revisit my grading philosophy, which is that meeting expectations is sufficient to earn a B, while you must go deeper with your knowledge or skills to earn an A. After reminding them of this, we looked back at the rubric for the project, and I said, “I think, based on a first look, that this project probably addresses all of these criteria, but do you think it goes way above and beyond them? I’m not sure if it does.” And that’s when something clicked for several students in the room. They saw the connection between the rubric (which was based on the standards) and the work that had been produced.
Now, I was thrilled that students had made this connection, but that wasn’t enough. I wanted them to capitalize on it. So I told them all that they could have the rest of the entire week to spruce up their projects in any way they saw fit. I’m pretty sure at least one group completely scrapped theirs and started over after this little exercise, and that was just fine with me. If it yields more learning, it’s worth giving students another week.
The next day, we moved on to our next unit, so students didn’t have more in-class time to revise their projects, but several groups took advantage of the extra time to adjust what they’d done. I haven’t yet evaluated their projects, so it remains to be seen how well they utilized that extra time, but I maintain that it is certainly true that more learning happened as a result of this two days of peer feedback, check-in with the teacher, and self-reflection.
Now the trick will be how to carry this learning forward into the next project…
How do you ask students to reflect and evaluate? What are your favorite strategies?