Sunday, November 13, 2016

Assessing Curricular Competencies

Recently, a colleague asked if I had any thoughts on the following problems
  • We are looking at the curricular competencies for Social Studies and trying to find ways to assess them – i.e. significance, perspective, ethical judgement.
  • We find we are comfortable assessing essays based on content and structure – aka the old learning outcomes. However, we are trying to wrap our heads around assessing these new competencies. How are you (the student) able to show your understanding of significance, cause and effect etc… on some sort of scale or rubric. We can’t seem to find anything from the ministry. 
  • Our understanding of our new direction (once the government can figure out their new course codes!!!) is a shift in assessment to a more skill based focus. Thus looking at our students’ ability to articulate their skills (again these curricular competencies on the left hand side of the curriculum document).
Good questions!

In my mind, the competencies should be taught/earned in a variety of ways — stand-alone concepts or approaches for interpreting evidence, but also as a holistic set of lenses for critical thinking and putting content into a “operable-based” context (and not just a historical or geographic narrative.”

Assessing competencies should also be about developing skills with each of them, but also looking at the students’ overall approach to problems based on their use of all of them. I dislike the idea of a rubric or checklists or marking items for competencies, for they should not the actual focus of evaluation, but part of the process that leads students to broader conclusions. Assessing them, therefore is something done along the way — mostly about the formative.

Here are a few ideas:
  1. Regularly present sources or evidence to students that require interpretation — on the screen, on a worksheet, or laminated card. Primary sources like quotes, images, maps, reports, etc. Secondary sources like paintings, news items, passages from articles and books, etc. Work through each of the relevant competencies and call on students to offer opinions with explanations. This is a good 5-minute to start a class and orient them to the topic. Also a good way to help make connections between current events and the themes of your course.
  2. Place the same (or similar) sources on tests with generic prompts (i.e. broad questions about why the source is important) . It will be obvious when students employ competency-based thinking — their responses will be robust, critical, and probably accurate whereas those that don’t will produce repetitive, hollow responses. At this point you can use a five-point rubric or whatever to confirm or challenge the notion that they “get it."
  3. Include the competencies as a note-taking template for research or notes on a theme (e.g. inclusion in Canada, Canada’s role in WWI and WWII), problem (e.g. how many immigrants should Canada receive?, Canada’s response to Climate Change)) or event (Seven Years War, Confederation)
  4. Require students to build six research questions for all major projects that address the competencies. This helps direct them towards a much more meaningful project. Students include a sheet that includes either a response to the questions or lists the evidence they have used to respond to the question. This can be their self-evaluation portion of the project and is a great tool for doing a check-in, having discussions with them during the project, and also afterward for feedback. For example it is easier to tell a student that they tanked the project by asking them what they actually did to answer their own research questions. Have them turn in their draft research questions mid-way through the project as a way to make sure they are actually doing it — this helps prevent those projects that are just random information slapped together the night before. It also takes the emphasis off or “pretty projects” and put the focus on critical thinking.
  5. Use the competencies as an essay structure. Introduction outlines the topic and puts out an argument (which addresses significance and any ethical dimensions), student pick three pieces of primary evidence to support their claim (one per paragraph), for each one they examine patterns at play (preferably ones that support their argument), what led to what, at least two perspectives on the evidence, and in their conclusion discuss any action that should come from the evidence (ethical dimensions) and reaffirm the significance in light of the evidence. Mark on essay reflects how effective they are at working with competencies.
  6. Set the class in six groups up to work on a problem (e.g. turn any historical event or geographic phenomenon into an essential question). Write this up and place it in the middle of a bulletin board. Supply some basic sources (e.g. some primary and secondary), and have each group take on a competency and fill a chart paper with their findings. For the cause and consequence group, they may want to use smaller paper and build outwards like a web. They primary evidence group might want to choose 3 sources (not necessarily the one you provide) to reproduce and put up, plus interpretations. Could even be done with a rotation through stations so that each group can try out a different competency. If you need to mark this have them write a paragraph after on what they learned, etc.
Disclaimer: have tried 1 and 2 many times. I have tried 3 and 4 a few times. I just made up 5 and 6.

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