I’ve been looking for new ways every year to turn over a bit more control to the students, to help them use that control well, and to strike a balance between my responsibility to their safety (in their schoolwork and their future jobs) with my responsibility to their personal and collective self-determination.

One tiny change I made this year is to use more “portfolio-style” assessments.  If you work for the same institution I do, you know that “portfolio” can mean a bewildering variety of things… I’m using it here in the concrete sense used by artists and architects.  So far this semester, that looks like doing in-class exercises where students work on 3-5 examples of the same thing. For example, our first lab about circuits required students to hook up 3 circuits, using batteries, light bulbs, and switches, and draw what they had built.  On the second lab day, I asked them to build the same circuits again, based on their sketches, and add measurements of voltage, current, and resistance.  On the third day, they practised interpreting the results, using sentence prompts.

But the “assignment” wasn’t “hook up a circuit.”  The skills I was assessing were “Interpret ohmmeter result”, “Interpret voltmeter results”, “Document a circuit”, etc.  So I asked them to choose from among the circuits they had worked on, and let me know which one (or two) best showed their abilities.

I haven’t reviewed the submissions yet, but I’m anticipating that they’ll need feedback not only on the skill of interpreting a circuit but also on the skill of self-assessment.

In support of this, I’ve had students evaluate the data gathered by the entire class.  Part of my hope is that seeing each other’s work and noticing what makes it easier or harder to make sense of will help them better assess their own work.  What suggestions do you have for helping students get better at choosing which of their work best demonstrates their skills?