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Spring 2018 | Volume 20 | Number 3
Table of Contents-Spring Issue

Merging C3 and ELA: Assessments and Student Choice

By Saadia Hammad, ELA/Humanities Teacher, International Schools Group-Dhahran Elementary/Middle School, Saudia Arabia

Last trimester, I became convinced that it was time to change the way I taught Eighth Grade Humanities. I knew it from the world-weary faces of my students, their long list of demotivation in school, and my incessant use of the carrot and stick method. Students completed innumerable assignments (formative, summative - I had everything)! I put in so many grades into my gradebook that it became an unbeatable race to keep up with the students’ work.

When the trimester was over, it was finally time to stop talking to the students and listen to them…It was hard, but I tried to do this for our Social Studies unit ‘Conflict within Nations’. I geared the whole unit to fulfill certain key goals:

  1. To give as much creative freedom as possible so the end project reflects student interests;
  2. To take away the stress of learning and grade as little as possible i.e. two formatives and one summative;
  3. To let students decide how they wanted to ‘see and explain’ the project so it fit with their end product. The summative assignment included a ‘Perspective’ (person/profession/interest that reflects them): a ‘Claim’ about the conflict; ‘Reasons’ for the claim and then ‘Evidence’ from the conflict that supported their claim. In the end, they had to produce an end product that linked to their perspective and claim.

To identify hobbies, self-perceived strengths and academic interests all students filled out Learner Preference cards. I used those cards to make groups of four or five of mixed academic abilities in each section. I used John McCarthy’s blogOpening Paths: Creating Solutions to Empower Learners’ for making the Learner Preference Cards.

The second step was brainstorming what the term ‘Conflict within Nations’ meant to them. The third step was to list the internal conflicts (past and present) that they wanted to explore. Third, we did a table group research activity of answering ‘Who, When, Where, Why, Resolved or Ongoing’ for each of the identified conflicts of interest. I listed all the conflicts that students thought of on chart paper. This allowed students of diverse backgrounds to explore some unknown groups. Lastly, they got to vote on the conflicts they wanted to explore the most through a Google Form. They had access to the researched conflicts and both Humanities sections (obviously) had a different list. The six most popular conflicts within each class were chosen as the conflicts we would explore within six groups of four students.

To make sure I was not favoring one group over another, we drew conflict names from a box in the class. Each group could exchange their conflict with another group only if all the members of both groups agreed. This did cause some displeasure but because it was impartial, it was accepted in good grace!

To start off the studying, I wrote an IDM (Inquiry Design Model) to model the formative tasks that I would like the students to complete as a group on their conflict. I chose a conflict that they had not listed to set them up for the work that I would be expecting for their conflicts. After completion of the IDM we launched as a group into the designated conflict areas. For the formative tasks students gave presentations at the end. Now, it was time for their summative tasks. I encouraged and yes, pushed students to pursue their interests in art, baking, cooking, making models, writing, anything actually.

I also modeled a summative project by presenting a Sample Summative Assessment: ‘Conflict in Darfur’ by writing a claim, giving evidence and making an end product, food (I owned up to the students that I did get outside help). I did a class presentation with tasting for both sections. It was great to see that several students graded me down in the rubric for creativity as I did not make the product myself!

They had about six class periods dedicated to their summative individual tasks. I gave them a Template for the Summative Assessment that they had to turn in with their end product. After the six classes I connected their historical fiction writing on their conflict to their Social Studies class, where they were taking the ‘perspective’ of a person involved in the conflict. It would make the research richer, in-depth and full of passion for the students. They had an additional six class periods to work on their historical fiction alongside their Social Studies.

As I look at the video of the end summative projects, I am awed at the students’ imagination, ingenuity, creativity, determination and perseverance. They took unknown conflicts from all over the world and became participants within it. They shared the dreams, lives, professions and interests of their person with all of us.

On reflection, I see the strengths and weaknesses of this project. The greatest strength of this unit in Social Studies and Historical Fiction writing is that it woke the students up to do more than they usually do. Yes, I did have some ‘Powtoons’ but only about three-four from 50 projects. Students cooked, baked, made 3D models, labelled maps, made a guillotine, animations, pencil sketches, oil paintings, board games etc. Second, I had a check in template with the students about 10 days before the projects were due. I was able to meet all students who needed help and keep on track with them. Third, as there was ample class time allocated to project work and writing, there were no complaints of not enough time. Students used of this time for peer editing of their writing, breaking down the rubric.

I also shared a Flash Draft for Historical fiction based on the conflict in Darfur with students as well as, tips on how to edit with the Teachers College Rubric for Narrative Writing. Lastly, I think sharing an IDM, sample summative and flash draft helped students understand the expectations and level of work expected from them.

In retrospect, this unit had several weaknesses. First, the linkages and difference between Claim, Reason and Evidence need to be hammered out in the next unit. Second, at least two checks (separate ones for writing and social studies) would be helpful for the students. It would give the procrastinaters more focus, allowing them to work on one project at a time. Some students had time management and prioritization issues when working on both social studies and language arts. These checks would become formative tasks.

Third, the ‘perspective’ of the sample summative assessment I presented needed to be more closely aligned to the end product. My perspective was of a doctor (a childhood dream), but my end product (food) reflected my role as a wife not as a doctor. Finally, I plan to group students in similar interest teams (including academic interests) for the forthcoming Social Studies unit on ‘Human Rights’. Maybe an element of competition would help!