Tuesday, June 3, 2014

PBL Works for Testing Too!

It's springtime and, as any parent of an Israeli high-schooler will tell you, it's Bagrut season. The dreaded matriculation exams have begun, but in truth they occupy high schoolers' thoughts throughout the entire school  year. Starting in September, the teachers start dangling the carrot over the kids' heads with almost every activity, every test and in every unit of every subject. My fifth child is now in the middle of her 11th grade exams. I've actually heard teachers remind her that "you won't finish your Bagruiot if you don't……" since she was in 5th grade!

The unfortunate thing is that, as these kids study intensely for their matriculation exams, they very rarely retain any of the material for more than a few weeks beyond the test. I recently sat at a Shabbat table with my kids, now mostly in their 20s, as they struggled to remember even the basic elements of some of the history and Tanach that they had blissfully "passed" (with reasonable scores) a few years previously.

Beyond giving "The Grade", how else can educators use evaluation tools to assess student learning? One of the benefits of project based learning, discussed in previous blogs, is that it provides opportunities for alternative assessment techniques, many of which place the students in the role of self-assessment. Edutopia writes that, in the same way that Project-Based Learning models promote "directors and managers of their learning process, guided and mentored by a skilled teacher," project-based evaluations drive students to develop the skills that they will need in the future as they enter a knowledge-based technological society.
JETS has embraced this strategy.  Yeshivat Kadima's Contemporary Jewish Issues students have repeatedly noted that they appreciate PBL evaluation methodology and feel that they learn and gain more than when they are evaluated by traditional testing formats.

To sum up a year in which the students studied Jewish history in the light of Contemporary Jewish Issues, Smadar Goldstein, the instructor, assigned the students to summarize the final units of the course, Lopsided Prisoner Trades, Jewish Military Ethics and What Makes Israel a Jewish State? 
The students were given their choice of how they wanted to present their summary. Options included writing an additional stanza for the poem במה אברך ובמה מבורך  which relates to returning captives, writing a blog post that reflected on soldier Aharon Karov who joined a battle in Gaza the day after his wedding and the motivation of Israeli soldiers, or creating a Google presentation that showed varying approaches to a prisoner trade, an example of what makes a Jewish State and an example from a "meeting" with a combat soldier and how it affects Jewish identity or feelings about Israel.
In addition to the final assignment, other PBL evaluation tools that Smadar has used throughout the course include
·         Oral projects (debates,  oral presentations)
·         Products (making games, posters and brochures)
·         Multimedia (creating PPT presentations, audiocasts and videos)
·         Writing (letter-writing to historical characters)
·         Collaborative projects
·         Analyses of decisions made by Jewish leaders throughout history
Yeshivat Kadima student final project
Yeshivat Kadima student final project
Yeshivat Kadima student final project
Yeshivat Kadima student final project
Smadar notes that it's important to be flexible when creating PBL assessments. Sometimes she gives the students clear rubrics which will be used to evaluate the assignment while at other times she gives herself the option to use her own estimation of the students' progress.
"Until now I never realized how relevant Jewish history was." Yeshivat Kadima student, final evaluation, 2014
"I enjoyed learning this way especially because I could always work on it and I felt I was pulling knowledge and references from everywhere. I also felt like I was developing informed opinions of my own. I was given material and I was able to draw on outside and inside knowledge and form MY ideas and opinions, which I think is important for us at this age." Yeshivat Kadima student, final evaluation,  2014
"I absolutely would recommend this program to another student because I think that this class doesn't only teach fascinating information, but it also teaches the students how to become a different type of learner, and this is a skill used for life." Yeshivat Kadima student, final evaluation,  2014

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