For a few years, I’ve become borderline obsessed with improving the assessment component of my eighth grade American studies class. I probably should have been obsessed much earlier … then I wouldn’t be obsessed now … or would I? I wasn’t content with the feedback and grade calculation that was happening, so my push originally started with me asking the question “How do I figure out what grade to give my students?” It didn’t take me long to realize that I was asking the wrong question. We teach to help student learn and grow, not to get good grades. I really should’ve been asking the question “How do I know that my students are learning the content, skills, and processes they need to be successful as young historians, overall students, and members of our society?” And, “How do my students know what the content, skills, and processes they should be learning – and why?” After a lot of research, reading, and discussion, I moved from grades and letters and points to targets, and I feel the changes been beneficial for my students in me (I will write about that conversion later.) However, I was looking for a structure that can frame all of the learning in and out of class to make sure it is meaningful, relevant, and transparent – so that students understand not only what our learning goals are, but also why we are trying to achieve these goals.
I have always consulted a slew of resources to help guide my curriculum – the National History Standards, Wisconsin Academic Standards, the recently developed C3 Framework, Thinking Like a Historian, Common Core Standards that support History/Social Studies, and the Framework for 21st Century Learning, to name a few. While all of these sources offer great insight into the most valuable goals for student learning in the social studies, they are overwhelming for a single curriculum, and nearly oppressive for an adolescent student. In addition, some of the habits we are trying to develop involve the basic processes needed to succeed as a student – organization, responsibility, timeliness – that don’t appear on the more content and skill based standards lists. I was still searching for an elusive framework …
During our recent marathon department meeting (also known as NCSS 2016 in Washington D.C.), Michael Matera and I chatted at length about assessment and brainstormed some ideas for a new framework, one that provides students with a structure for all of the learning targets they try to hit and allows them to understand the big picture of being a social studies student. We combined foundational elements of some of our favorite resources to create a social-studies-assessment-profile. It’s amazing what can be done when colleagues travel together!
This profile will serve as the anchor for all of the learning targets in our curricula. The historical content standards can be revised to fit economics, civic, geography, and sociology, so the assessment profile is very adaptable to different disciplines within the social studies. Is it a perfect system? I’m not sure, but I do think it provides an excellent conceptual body for students to understand what we want them to do with historical content, the skills we want them to utilize in making sense of the past, and the habits they should develop to be successful in and out of an educational setting. By displaying it online and in our classroom and referencing it when posing objectives, students can see the big picture of learning in social studies. Look for additional discussions about the assessment profile in the future as we integrate it into three consecutive classes in our middle school. I feel it will improve the overall learning and assessment in my class – and maybe yours as well!
“Thinking Like a Historian” courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society. Created by Dr. Nikki Mandell, UW-Whitewater and Dr. Bobbie Malone. For a great overview of the program, please check out Nikki Mandell’s article from the OAH Magazine of History in April 2008.