If you've looked at some of the teacher materials for differentiation, many of them provide assessment menus with interesting and creative ways for students to demonstrate what they know or can do. However, when time comes to score these varied products, it can be a nightmare and a real deterrent to providing differentiated options for student assessments. This is even more true for teachers in a standards-based or proficiency-based school in which all assessments have to tie to the specific learning targets.
The challenge I have set myself is to provide the students with at least two options for major summative assessments, both of which can be scored using the same learning targets and the same rubric. In both the examples I will provide, the model I used for differentiating is not based on ability, skill, or readiness. Rather, it was based on learning style preferences.
I taught an extended Bill of Rights unit, in which students learned the rights in each amendment and applied the concepts to a variety of court cases, and also watched a short (cheesy) movie called Future Fright (available online at http://www.viddler.com/explore/askgriff/videos/20/), which depicts an America without the Bill of Rights. For their summative assessment, I needed a scored writing sample and needed to know what they understood about the practical application of the Bill of Rights in American life. I offered two assessments. One was a persuasive essay in which the students argued a Supreme Court case, either for the plaintiff or defense. This assignment appealed to the students who were more linear/analytical thinkers. The other option was to write a short imaginative piece of dystopian fiction about an America without the Bill of Rights, which required at least three specific rights to be violated. This assignment appealed to the more global/creative thinkers and is one of very few opportunities for creative writing in my integrated Humanities class with its extreme time pressure to cover vast amounts of material. Both assessments were scored for content knowledge and for the writing traits I chose to assess this time (Ideas/Content and Organization).
I am designing my Civil War unit today, our semester work day. In the past, the culminating project has been a collaborative group novel set around one specific aspect of the Civil War (4 - 6 students per group), based on the model of Paul Fleischman's Bull Run. This year, I want to accommodate those students who 1) really, really hate group projects or 2) really, really hate creative writing. So I will offer an alternative assessment, a multimedia digital movie project in which a student researches and presents learning about one specific aspect of the Civil War. Both projects will be scored on content knowledge, research, and writing targets, using the same rubric.
Because my students have figured out that my classroom is a place where differentiated assessments are welcome, students are beginning to take me up on the option of "make a proposal and get my approval" more than ever before. Because I am clear on the learning targets, I have a way to evaluate their proposals. For the Bill of Rights assessment, two students opted to write a series of newspaper articles written as if the Bill of Rights had been repealed. Two others opted to create a graphic novel portraying their dystopian fiction. They were awesome! And they were scored with the same rubric.
Maybe this is all a big no-brainer, but for me it has been a big aha! If I start with the learning targets I will assess, it gives me the structure I need to provide differentiated assessments that are authentic measures of student skills. This is very different from simple creating a menu of fun, interesting, creative products for students. Maybe next time I teach these units, I will be able to expand the options.
If anyone is interested in seeing these assignment handouts, I'm happy to share. Comment to this post or e-mail me at Ilana_Rembelinsky@beaverton.k12.or.us and let me know what you want me to send.