This year, as has been the case other times, I won’t know exactly everything about how students are going to be assessed in one of my courses. There are multiple reasons for this:
(1) On the first day of class, students will help decide how their notebooks will be assessed based on on activity where we examine several scientists notebooks and try to reach some consensus about what the purpose of notebooks are and what should be included in one. From this, I will draft a rubric for which students will have to self-assess by pointing me to various points of their notebook that show evidence for standards and criteria that are set. While I have ideas that will contribute that will almost certainly make it the rubric, there are certain criteria that are bound to emerge to be particular to this class. Students will assess their notebooks three times during the semester. I’ll use these rubrics, in addition to examining their notebooks for completeness, in order to provide “grades” for this part of the course.
(2) Students are also accountable to the people and knowledge that is developed and made public within our class–including investigations carried out by other student research groups, various models of physical phenomena as they develop–including the ones that are proposed and later discarded, evidence we collect, arguments we construct, and foothold ideas we establish along the way. Of course, a lot of this will be very closely aligned with canonical scientific understandings; but they will also be embedded in our specific classroom discourse, the particular investigations we carryout, and the arguments we construct. I know that we will make contact with ideas such as “light travels in straight lines”, “light goes out in all directions”, and rules about how light interacts at various surfaces, but I’m not just assessing them on whether or not just “know” and “understand” these rules. I am assessing them on their ability to make claims, to explain and construct arguments, and to do so in ways that are accountable not only to this knowledge, but to the ways in which our class has come to know and understand them and to talk about them. While there are specific criteria explained to the students for what it means to be accountable to knowledge and the communities that generate them, the conceptual substance of the knowledge for which they will be held emerges within the curriculum rather being imposed at the start.
(3) Participation is a part of the grade for this course, but not in an attendance sort of way. They are assessed on their participation in the community–as a participant who contributes to the development of knowledge and the activities which serve to generate it. In the class, students work both as part of a “research group” and “writing group” to which they are accountable for making contributions both as developers and critics. Students also play a role in sharing work from their research groups to the whole class. As with the notebooks, students have to self-assess and submit to me evidence of their contributions to the knowledge community. Of course, students are not expected to participate the very same way. The self-assessment rubric allows students to participate differently, but it still must be significant and substantive. One of the biggest part of the self-assessment is them telling where they could improve their participation. Once again, there are specific criteria I share with students and ask them to provide evidence, but what exactly it looks like to be a contributing member within a community varies from person to person and from class to class, just as it does from community to community within science.
It sounds like there is a lot of ambiguity. I think there is and there isn’t. So I have decided this. The goal I have for myself, during and after this semester, is to work on better articulating each part of the course such that I might be able to create more specific learning standards. The nature of the course makes some of this difficult, but I think it will still worth it in the long run.