Developing and Assessing a Project Lisa Peterson
Last week, I found myself sitting in the lunchroom with a
first year teacher confronted by a mountain of projects that
she had no idea how to grade. Projects can seem overwhelming,
especially for new teachers. However, if you break your project
into manageable parts, you will find that the planning, teaching,
and assessment all fall into place.
The key to a successful project is to decide what you want
beforehand, figure out what the students need to do to be
successful, and tackle each component separately. For example,
if you want your students to perform a fictional newscast
from the Boston Tea Party, they will need to do historical
research, write a script, create costumes and props, and practice
performing. I find it works best to teach and grade each component
of a project separately. You can be sure that students have
the necessary information before they go on to create their
final product, and it cuts down on last-minute rushing. (It
also helps you: if the entire project isn't finished by the
end of the marking period, you can still include the grades
of some components.)
At the beginning of a project, I try to get the students excited
about the final product, whether it is a play, a presentation,
or an artistic display. (Seeing examples of past projects
is a great motivator, so remember to photograph, videotape,
or save samples for next year. If this is your first year,
you can create your own samples.) I also give the students
an overview of the different steps involved, so they have
some idea of what to expect.
As we enter each step of the project, I try to communicate
my expectations clearly. For key components, such as note-taking,
this may mean teaching a series of lessons on the topic and
giving the students several chances to practice. For other
components, such as creating props, I may simply help the
students brainstorm a list of ideas. I have a separate rubric
or grading checklist for each part of the project (although
I may combine two related parts), and I find it helpful to
share this grading sheet with students before they begin.
This way, they know what is expected, and they learn how to
monitor their own work.
Many projects require students to work in groups, and teachers
differ on whether it is better to assign group or individual
grades. I tend to assign group grades for some aspects of
a project and require students to complete other parts individually.
Even for group grades, I will occasionally lower or raise
an individual's grade if it is glaringly
apparent that he or she has done a different amount of work
than the rest of the group.
Depending on the importance of different components of the
project, I may assign them different weights. For example,
a student's notes might be worth
25% of the final grade, while his or her written paper might
be worth 50%. Here are the general components I include in
most projects and a few ideas you might consider in assessing
To me, notes are the most crucial part of any project because
students simply can't produce a good project without good
information. Before they can take notes, however, students
need sources of information. Depending on the needs of your
class and the amount of time you have, you might want to have
the sources available in class, take students to the library
to find appropriate sources, or have the students locate sources
on their own. All of these experiences are important, but
don't feel that every project needs a major library trip and
tons of sources, or you may get too bogged down to start.
Students can do very effective projects using only one or
two sources that you provide in class, and you will find it
easier to manage if you start small.
I tend to have students work in groups to take notes because
they can get more information in less time. In addition, they
need to work hard to make their notes understandable if they
are sharing them with others. I like to review their notes
a few times during the process and assign preliminary grades
with feedback about how to improve. Then I give them a chance
to add to their notes and raise their grades. This is usually
effective in getting students to go back and get more adequate
information and in getting students to start writing in their
Although different classes will need to work on different
skills, I tend to consider the following areas when evaluating
Is there enough information?
Are the notes in the student's own words? I make
a really big deal over this because if the notes are in
the student's own words, then
you don't have to worry about plagiarism in the final
Are the notes understandable? Sometimes students
write down information without knowing what it means.
If they understand their notes, it also cuts down on plagiarism.
Are the notes brief and concise? Avoiding complete
sentences saves time and helps avoid plagiarism.
Are there enough sources, and have the students documented
their sources correctly? Before you begin, decide
on the types and number of sources your students must
use. If your students will be creating a bibliography,
they should record the information as they are taking
notes. Here is a sample of a sheet
I created for recording information about sources.
I usually grade notes using a checklist. Sometimes I organize
the checklist by subtopics; during
a project on Native Americans, for example, I gave a certain
amount of credit for notes on required subtopics such as food,
clothing, and shelter. For other projects, students are researching
different subtopics, so I organize the checklist
by my criteria for the notes. However I organize my checklist,
I leave plenty of space for comments so I give feedback.
This is the heart of any project, and there are any number
of formats you and your students can choose. You are limited
only by time and your creativity. Here are some formats I've
used in my own classroom or seen other teachers use successfully:
Presentations using display boards or poster boards
"Museums" in which
students create and display models of scientific or historical
Student teachers, in which groups of students teach or
review concepts for the class
Plays and skits
Performances of poems and raps
Talk shows with different historical or literary characters
Newscasts or newspapers describing different events from
history or literature
Students assuming the character of a historical person
and telling his or her life story
The whole class can work in one format, or you can allow students
to choose their own format. I like the shared experience of
working in one format because you can focus on the specifics
of what makes a high-quality project. Towards the end of the
year, after we've explored different formats together, I like
to allow the students to choose their own. Whatever format
your class uses, it can be both interesting and valuable for
students to present to each other. Sometimes, I have each
group or student present to the whole class. However, I also
like to have small groups of students present to other small
groups, which saves time and reduces the pressure on the students.
Although students have the most fun with the creative part
of a project, they often need help to incorporate their academic
knowledge into a different format. It is important for students
to focus and plan their work before they start. For example,
you could ask them to list the details they must show in their
model of an Egyptian home, or to list the different historical
figures they must interview in their Boston Tea Party newscast.
Ideally, your grading criteria will help students focus and
plan their work. Click here to see my grading
checklist for the presentation and display segments of
a project that required students to create their own "artifact"
representing life in colonial times.
No matter what type of project your students have created,
it is important for them to be able to share their knowledge
in writing. The format of this writing will depend upon the
subject and the nature of the project itself. Many of the
projects in my social studies class culminated in a written
report, but others utilized poems, fictional diaries or autobiographies,
and other types of writing.
Whether your students are writing a script or a lab report,
you will want to create a rubric or checklist to let them
know what you expect. Click here for a
sample checklist for a written report. I always include
standard items, like information and grammar, but I give particular
weight to areas we have worked on in class. For example, if
we have worked on introductions and conclusions, I will include
them as separate items in my grading
criteria. I like to have students fill out the rubric
or checklist themselves or with a peer, giving both grades
and comments to their own work, before they hand in their
final drafts. Then if they see areas they need to improve,
they can do so.
For most projects, I require all students to do their own
written piece, and I assess them individually.