Assessment as a Collective Activity

We often think of assessment as applying to only a singular child.  What that child knows at that brief snapshot in time.  However, our knowledge is not insular, we are a collective species that relies on the group to help us learn.  The collective (which brings up negative images of the Borg and communist Russia) is, I would argue, the most important part of a learning environment.  We learn more from the group than we could ever do on our own, and the sum of our knowledge is far greater than the individual parts.

Collective Assessment Activity

With that in mind, I decided to try a summative assessment that required the group to work together and use each others specific (and different) knowledge and perspectives to arrive at an insight or a conclusion that is bigger than the sum of its own parts.  Here is how I tried it, in groups of 4;

1) Each student gets a different colored pencil

2) Around the group there are 4 stations, and at each station there is a single piece of paper with a different question written on each

3) Each person will have 3 minutes at each station, and will rotate through the 4  stations 3 times each (they will get 9 minutes on each station)

4) At each station, students will answer the question in any way they wish (drawing, graphic organizer, text, poem, etc)

5) When they go to the next station, students are encouraged to add onto the answer of the previous person, continuing their style in answering the question, or trying a different style (disagreeing with the answer is also encouraged) making sure that all the new ideas you put down are not repeated from a previous person

6) At the end, we (as a group) will assess each piece of paper as a single answer

7) Reflect on what the process of working collaboratively (yet individually and silently) felt like

There are many different angles we could look at this assessment from.  I could assess the group understanding, since we spent the whole unit working collaboratively there must be some sense of a collective understanding.  How well did this group understand the concepts as a whole?  How much of their understanding was shared?  How much of individual interpretation did they bring to the concepts we studied?  This could also be an assessment on myself, and makes me look hard at how I presented and introduced ideas in the class.  Where were the gaps?  How could I have filled those gaps?  What part of our study was unclear, and in need of focus?

You will notice that built into the assessment is an exit door, a way for me to still assess each individual student (hence the different colored pencils).  I am looking at their individual contributions to each questions, but it could go beyond content area, and I can also look at how they used the previous information to build on their own knowledge.  Did they adapt to the thinking of the group, or did they take the answer in an individual direction?  Were they influenced by what was written before them?  Did they think critically about what they know?

Student Work

Student Observations from our De-Brief

- It made my rethink what I think about it

- It helped me to see pictures and words together

- Some of us aren't good at drawing, so to have a good drawer make an answer with us gave it more detail than I could do by myself

- I didn't know how I would have answer the question by myself, but when I read somebody elses ideas, it gave me more ideas

- The answer is not clear now and I feel confused

The last point is very interesting.  Most of the students agreed that the answer to the question is now cloudy.  The process of collectively coming to an understanding of the question has left everybody with a more complex view of the answer.  Coming to grips with the fact that not everything is knowable is a difficult concept to understand for adults, let alone for children.  The question; what is civilization? is a worthwhile question to examine, but an impossible question to answer.  Your answer is based on your perspective/perception, what you know, where you are from, how you express yourself, etc, etc, etc.