This post is part of a serialized collection of chapters composing my recently completed Master’s of Education degree at the University of Victoria. You can access the other chapters on this site here, and access a pdf of the completed paper on the University of Victoria library space here.
As students and participants in this type of unit plan are being asked to formulate personal and collective goals for study, it is important that assignment criteria and feedback are similarly placed in their hands. In attempting to instil a classroom community with an authentic critical praxis of inquiry and expression, educators must bear in mind Osberg and Biesta’s (2008) advice that “if educators wish to encourage the emergence of meaning in the classroom, then the meanings that emerge in classrooms cannot and should not be pre- determined before the ‘event’ of their emergence” (p. 314). By enlisting students in the creation of rubrics to guide various assignments, classroom expectations and aims are owned by the students to whose academic work they will be applied, and, as the tool shapes the task, oriented toward creating more autonomy and consensus-building ability within the group.
There is a tension, if not an outright contradiction, between this approach and the reality of government prescribed outcomes, as pure constructivist emergence encounters the societally- endorsed skills and topics embedded in government curricula. The resolution of this tension requires a move toward the creation of personal connections between students and the government-prescribed outcomes, with teachers transparent in their role as conduits and guides in revealing a unique encounter between each student (and cohort) and their schooling. By giving government curricula over to the students, and having individuals and classes generate criteria based on both existing and emergent outcomes, expectations can be determined around the best use of each assignment in a unit. A daily ‘pop quiz,’ developed by Gardner Campbell, stresses the daily engagement that cannot help but generate content and reflection in the unit assignments (see Figure 2: Philosophy Pop Quiz). While the quiz’s subjective self-assessment makes it unsuitable for generating marks, it remains a reflective and motivational means of directing student attention and energy toward authentic inquiries into the curriculum. By regularly beginning class meetings with the quiz, students engage with prescribed outcomes and readings, as well as their own emergent inquiries and understanding of these topics. Their respective score on the quiz highlights the value of habitual engagement with course materials, and personal learning.
To develop a useful and flexible rubric for the types of assignments outlined here, teachers can facilitate discussion to generate criteria divided into three areas:
- Unit Content: What are the prescribed outcomes to be learned, represented, demonstrated?
- Personal Inquiry: How is the learning of personal value or interest? Are there connections to prior learning or ongoing inquiries?
Aesthetic Presentation: How ought the learning object at hand be created? Is there a potential form that might best suit the assignment’s content?
The process surrounding feedback is generated by having students share and engage in dialogue around various documents of learning, whether introductory posts, plans for summative pieces or presentations, or those summative experiences themselves. At each stage, students are asked to highlight areas of success and possibilities for future growth, and as a habitual process of commenting on, questioning, and discussing peers’ work emerges, so too does an organic feedback loop arise between classmates, propelling inquiries further.
During summative efforts, these comments and feedback can become points of reflection and self-assessment; however, for introductory or in-progress documents of learning, such comments and questions can optimally contribute to the improvement of student work in real time. Having come to agreement about assignment criteria and expectations for a particular document of learning, classmates can be assigned a small group of peers with whom they can share commentary and feedback. The focus of these comments and questions is to raise – through dialogue – opportunities for the original author to improve their level of achievement relative to the agreed-upon assignment criteria.
For example, an introductory assignment in a biographical study of a historic figure may ask that students briefly introduce the person’s life and historical period, as well as any initial questions they hope the study may resolve. In this model, a rubric can be developed with student input to target content areas, personal inquiry, and aesthetic expectations. By grouping students into ‘comment groups,’ the class can move forward with feedback by recognizing areas where peers have failed to meet, met, or exceeded various assignment expectations, and engage in dialogue – asking questions, drawing connections, and furthering discussion – via face-to-face or blogged commentary such that the post’s author might (through that dialogue with their peers) progress toward better meeting the assignment criteria.
Through this process of regular, community-generated feedback, students work toward a proficiency to engage in constructive dialogue oriented toward heightened and critical self- discovery and expression. Working together to build their own – as well as their peers’ – understanding, collective narratives of learning are generated.
This unit framework places high importance on a process-oriented, personalized learning that presents a challenge when looking to assess student learning relative to government-mandated curriculum, and grading standards. However, such institutional ‘reports’ can be framed as regular opportunities to assess progress in developing an individual critical praxis corresponding to a given curriculum, rather than the demonstration or retention of a given set of skills or facts. As such, the unit framework resists the tradition that compels us to assign each piece of academic work a numerical grade, and emphasizes more holistic achievement indicators, according to student-generated rubric criteria: not yet meeting, meeting, fully meeting, or exceeding expectations.
As daily engagement and participation create documents of learning, and lead to summative assessments that can become points of reflection and further goal setting, teacher and student are gathering data which can be used in the furthering of educational ends – those which are handed down from institutional documents and government curricula, as well as that which is generated within the learning community itself.