Over the past few years, there has been a focus toward student-centered classrooms and increased student engagement. Arts’ classrooms typically exemplify these focuses. That’s part of the reason why arts integration has picked up such “STEAM” (pardon the pun!).
Integrating the arts with other contents is frequently used as a strategy for increasing student engagement. A key component to authentic arts integration is the equitable assessment of both content standards (arts and non-arts). It is through this assessment that teachers can collect data to track their students’ growth and attainment toward mastery of the standards.
TRADITIONALLY CREATING ASSESSMENTS
Most often, assessments are created by teachers. The teacher determines the task, criteria, and what they will measure. This assessment may be in the form of a rubric, checklist, or other evaluation tool. For example, when using a rubric, the teacher:
- Defines the categories in the first column.
- Assigns point values or mastery levels across the top row.
- Creates the various components to define the level of mastery within each category.
WHOSE WORK IS IT ANYWAY?
But, why do we, as teachers, do this in isolation? I don’t know about you, but even if I go over the rubric in detail with my students when we are beginning a project, they don’t always hear every point or pay attention to the details within each box. Regardless of what I tell them, there will still be questions about what components need to be included within the project. There is no true ownership of their work. This got me thinking…how can I empower my students while increasing their pride and connection to the standards and components that I will be assessing?
TURNING THE TABLES
The solution that I came up with was going to turn the tables. Why am I telling them what I want? How can I make assessments more student-centered? The answer was simple, albeit potentially scary for many teachers! In fact, I had a few colleagues ask me if I lost my mind!
I decided to have my students assist me in creating my assessments. Yes – you heard me right! The benefits were seen and felt immediately.
- Students were more connected to the content.
- Students were more invested in their success.
- For the first time, there were no questions of what I was looking for or what they needed to do!
BREAKING DOWN ASSESSMENTS
There are three types of assessments.
WHAT CAN THIS LOOK LIKE?
This idea of student-centered assessments can take any form. Personally, I have found great success when I have my students help me create their summative assessment and I then use that action or activity as a formative assessment. Here’s what I mean…
- I introduce a project and guide my students through the various components along the way.
- On the first day of instruction, I give my students a date that they will be expected to present or perform their projects.
- Two or three days before the presentation/performance date, I begin class by having everyone sit in front of my whiteboard. I serve as the facilitator and guide them in creating a list of the various components contained within the project. For the students, this serves as a review of what they should be including within their project. For the teacher, this serves as a way to measure if they understand the material (formative assessment).
- After class, I take their list and turn it into a checklist or rubric depending on what I am looking for. I may even ask them what evaluation tool would be best to measure the components that they have listed. If I give them a voice in selecting the appropriate evaluation tool, I frequently give them some options to choose from.
- The next day, I give each student a copy of the assessment. We then complete peer assessments and self-reflections using the rubric. This also gives us the opportunity to test it out before the final presentations/performances.
- The students use their self and peer assessments to reflect, revise and refine their work.
By the time we get to the presentations or performances, my students are confident in their work! There are rarely any questions about expectations. There are a lot fewer questions about the grade they earn. And, gone are the “I didn’t know I needed that” statements.
If you’re still a little unsure about trying this out, just take a deep breath. I am in no way “turning over the keys to my kingdom” shall we say. Through my guidance, my students’ have found their voice and increased the ownership of their learning.
And I’m not going to lie; most often the student-centered assessment mirrors exactly what I would have created in isolation. Remember, I’m guiding them through the process of creating it and I definitely help them along the way. And sometimes, they come up with things that I had never thought of and I make a point to give them credit for that!
I empower you to relinquish some of your teacher “power” and hand it over to your students. I think they will amaze you and the results will be a win-win all around!
Shawna E. Longo is the General Music (Music Technology) teacher at Hopatcong Middle School, Hopatcong, NJ. She also serves as the Arts Integration & STEAM Specialist for TMI Education; Fellow, Writer, & Coach for Education Closet; and Ambassador for MusicFirst. She is a clinician and consultant for music education, arts integration, and STEAM. She is also a recipient of the 2018 NJMEA Master Music Teacher Award and 2016 Governor’s Educator of the Year for Hopatcong Middle School. She can be reached at [email protected].