We’ve all been there...sitting in front a pile of projects that we have no desire to grade. Why? Because you’ll have the projects that didn’t follow the rubric, the projects that did the bare minimum, and the projects that got it all wrong. Of course you have the ones that are consistently beautiful and meticulous, and you strategically place those in the front so you can mark them off the list and feel accomplished, or you sprinkle them between all the others to give you something to look forward to.
I spent a lot of time reflecting on why I was getting crummy project submissions when I spent so much time and effort in creating the perfect “prompt”, the detailed directions, the fair but challenging rubric, the differentiated approaches to the projects, and the “creative” choice boards. After thinking that the problem was in my teaching and vowing to teach the heck out of some literary elements on the next unit (but still ending up with the same project results), it finally dawned on me. It was never about my teaching. It was about the projects that I was assigning and that are so widely accepted as assessments in our community.
The projects in which I speak are too surface-level. They demonstrate that a student can recall basic facts of the story or that they can provide basic explanations of a literary device. (For example-write a letter from one character to the another-no higher-level creation going on here...they must apply basic level character analysis skills.) They also fail to promote any deep connection to the reading that creates life-long readers (or quality projects).
Now, BEFORE YOU X out of the page mad at me and move on, let me say that I DO think you can find some value in this type of project-you know, the movie posters, letters from the character, the movie trailers-and you can find my blog on that here. There is a time and a place for these types of projects but assessing students’ understanding of the text, the literary elements and their relationship to the story, and the students’ connections to the story are not it.
So, if we don’t use our beloved choice boards to assess, then what do we use? Well, for my classroom, it’s simple. To assess students’ understanding of the text, I use formal assessments and through interactive discussions with the students (a blog on this coming soon). To assess the literary term understanding, (and more importantly, their understanding of their operation and connection to the text) I assess using writing prompts (and BONUS! This addresses CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9 -grades 6-8-).
To assess and promote student connection to the text, I use Passion Projects. Passion Projects can take on different forms as any internet search of the term would show you. I have adapted the project to fit the needs of my own classroom. Each of my units revolve around a global issue (check out some novels we use here) and at the end of each, we do SOMETHING to take action to help that global issue. At the end of some, we create a website to educate the public, at the end of others, we collect goods or supplies needed and donate those. Sometimes, we write letters to our state representatives or welcome letters to refugees in our communities. We have even written and presented legislation to change laws students find unjust. At any rate, we do SOMETHING to take action. This project is the year-culminating project that allows students to complete their own research, decide on the action they want to take, and the ability to make a move to promote forward motion for our world. In short, these projects inspire students to make a change for the better in their world all because of the connections they made in their reading.
You can find the Passion Project here.
In the end, students connect to their reading and ultimately act to make a difference in their world, and that is truly all I can ask for as a teacher!
Grab the student planning sheet here.
Check out this awesome success story here.