Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The product or the mark?

Over the weekend I tweeted “A great exam makes a teacher proud while a good project makes a student proud” and received some unpleasant responses.  Knowing this would take more than 140 characters, I wanted to elaborate on what I meant.
I am not denying that some students are proud when they receive a great mark on an exam, but I believe these students represent the minority of the group.  When I look around my classroom, I have posters, Parachutes, Enlargements, graphs, and other math projects which have all been created by students.   After looking through mine, and my colleagues’ classrooms, I have yet to find a unit exam posted on the wall.
Remembering back in my own schooling, I recall creating gumball machines, paper mache figures, and even a sundial I gave to my mother for Christmas, but yet I vaguely remember the 90+% mark I received on my  math 30 diploma.  Going through my scrapbook, I don’t have a single test or quiz among all the projects I kept.  Also, for most of these projects I don’t even have a clue as to the mark I received on them.
What does this mean?
I believe that most students are more proud of the product they create than the mark they receive on something the teacher created.  Last year, I had students wanting to show their parents their creations BEFORE I had even assessed it!   Has a student ever asked to show their parents their exam before you give them their mark?  
School should be giving each and every student a chance to feel success and accomplishment.  For some, I do believe this can be in the form of an exam, but for most this will require a different form of assessment.  Open-ended projects move beyond traditional assessments and, if made properly, require students to communicate their thinking in a deeper manner. 
I am not saying that high marks on exams should be discredited, or don’t represent that learning has taken place, but just suggesting that open-ended projects will allow for success for other students in the class.  Remember, differentiation should start with instruction but continue onto assessment.


  1. What does it say about conventional paper and pencil tests if they rarely if ever make our childhood scrapbooks?

    Deep down we know their limitations. Deep down we know they just aren't as meaningful as the real learning that is gleamed from doing a project that is in a context and for a purpose.


  2. Well great points Dave my friend. For me this relates back to the FOR learning and OF Learning conversations I have had.

    The project is a learn while doing assessment in which the student learns as they progress through the task. This student generated assessment gives the students a greater sense of control of how they will show mastery of the outcomes. The student knows when they have created a project that masters the outcome and they get to show you in their own way so their emotional tie to their learning is more profound and intrinsic. In a sense they built the assessment that you will mark so they own it.

    Our exams on the other hand were slaved over by us and we have the emotional attachment to the assessment piece. The student is just showing us what level of mastery that they have on an exam. They have no emotional stake because the document itself is ours not theirs. They are proud of their knowledge but the means of proving it was ours so the ownership is also ours.

    You are right in saying that we may need to develop different assessment tasks if we want student ownership of the assessments themselves and not just the knowledge and skills they have gained. With this being said I am happy when my students do well on exams because I know that my pedagogy was effective in helping them master the outcomes. I am not mad that this means more to me than to them but instead I look to how I can translate the data the exam provides to better outline a students outcome strengths and how we can correct their weaknesses.

    Great post Dave and Thanks

    Sean L.