Toward a More Individualized Assessment Program

I am halfway through my first full cycle of Individual Feedback Sessions with my juniors where they come with their assigned written work completed, and I read it with them providing my feedback and evaluation in person. I have really loved it – the conversations about student work are so useful. My students are leaving with a much clearer picture of how they can improve their work, as well as what they should be celebrating in their work. I feel like I am connecting with each student more directly.

In the classroom, we have embarked on Ignite style presentation projects for the foreign policy unit. Students choose a topic in the history of American foreign policy, research it, and create a presentation where there are 20 slides timed to advance automatically after 15 seconds. I always build in class time to work on the project, so a good portion of the next two weeks will be spent with students working independently in class. This year, I decided to spread the presentations out so that there will be no more than three per day, which will allow us to follow up each presentation with a discussion rather than just moving on to the next one. Since the assignment due for the second round of feedback sessions is a rehearsal/rough draft of the presentation, I have the opportunity to spread out the projects.

Another component that I have been weaving into our course is blogging. I have assigned two blog posts so far, and we have been involved in a blogging exchange with a US history class at a school in New Jersey. As I looked through the blogs tonight, I realized that there are a number of students who did not publish a second post. The thing about blogging is that at some level, it really should be driven by the desire to reflect and share. The last thing I want is for the blog posts to be just another thing to do and check off the list. At the same time, I want students to have the experience of reflection, sharing, and engaging with others through comments and responses. In each of my two classes, the day that the students spent reading and commenting on the blogs from the other school, they were spontaneously inspired to look up and take Implicit Association Tests due to the posts that they were reading. They were motivated, curious, and thoughtfully engaged, even in the last class of the day.

In pulling these threads together – individual feedback sessions, individual project work, and blogging, I started to wonder why I need to assign due dates and topics for the blog posts. They should be able to post whenever they are motivated by an idea, the way that I do. Students should be able to pursue a topic they learn about in someone else’s blog. With the feedback sessions, I have already dispensed with the idea that assignments should be due on the same date for everyone. Individual project work allows students some autonomy over their class time. I want to have students write at least six blog posts, so that they really get a good feel for it, but why do I care when they do it? My pie in the sky dream is that blogging will become a habit more than an assignment. I know that will not be the case for all of my students. But – what if loosening my control over the content and dates of the posts does inspire a few students to become avid bloggers and a few more to actually enjoy writing the posts and engaging in conversation about their ideas? I would take it as a win.