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Learning to create and creating to learn

Samantha Tortora, PYP teacher, International School Basel, Switzerland

Lucilla Papa, PYP teacher, International School Basel, Switzerland

Gail Metcalf, PYP teacher, International School Basel, Switzerland

Discover the journey a team took to design summative assessments that create authentic projects which give the students an opportunity to continue learning as well as to show their understanding in a meaningful context.

As PYP teachers we often reflect on our practice:

  • Why do we assess?
  • What outcomes do we expect?
  • How is our teacher behaviour going to impact student learning?

Recent professional development led us to reflect on how students learn effectively. As a team, we began to recognize that our end of unit assessments were failing because all students could not access the task. We decided to make a change and the response we got from our students, colleagues and parents was so positive that it encouraged us to share our journey.

We started to challenge our end of unit assessments during an inquiry into how forces make things move. The original assessment task for the unit asked the students to draw a moving toy and label it with the forces used to make it move. There was no building, no exploring, no room for extension and limited accessibility for English as an additional language (EAL) or learning support (LS) students. Our classrooms have many able students who needed opportunities to extend their thinking as well as EAL and LS students who may have limited access a task that required a lot of reading and writing. This realization indicated that we had to make a change.

We wanted the students to have the opportunity to explore forces through a real life experience. Partnerships of students planned, trialed and problem solved to build a working marble run using their experience and understanding of forces. Students developed their learning about gravity, friction, momentum, angles of slopes, and push and pull while building their best marble run.

During the project we observed continued learning. We questioned: is it necessary to have a summative assessment or could each project be a continuous learning journey with formative assessment opportunities during each stage of the process? Students were using what they had learned and experienced in a practical and authentic way. We saw increased student and adult collaboration and communication as observations were shared. Student independence increased as everyone was able to access the project. The more able students extended their learning without adult interventions because the tasks were open ended. EAL and LS students had a variety of ways to communicate and explain their understanding. The students did not need as much attention from the adults because the ownership of learning had shifted to them. Increased independence and success led to increased confidence. The students valued each others’ work and they gave feedback to each other. We observed that the projects were a true reflection of the students’ independent thinking and learning.

As the students planned, created and reflected, the adults in the class had the opportunity to listen to the students. They asked questions and observed interactions between the students as they documented independence, perseverance, communication, thinking and commitment.

We increased communication between school and home with the use of an e-portfolio called Seesaw. This gave parents a window into the classroom and encouraged them to be involved and informed. They had relevant discussions with their child about their learning. When the parents were invited to share their child’s learning at the end of this unit, they already had an understanding of the thinking, mistakes made and the modifications undertaken. The parents were not just viewing a final outcome, they had an understanding of the process.

After the success of the marble run, we realized that we wanted to continue our development of creative projects for assessment and learning. Our aim is to create authentic projects which require our students to demonstrate their understandings in a meaningful context. These projects will be open-ended, with students starting from the same point but with opportunities to take them in different directions according to their interests and understandings. Students will make connections and use what they are learning throughout the unit. The projects will encourage students to carry on learning by making mistakes, trying again and having conversations with each other. Students will also benefit from the conversations at home. We realized that we had gone from summative assessments to creating continued learning experiences that often stretched beyond our classrooms.

We will continue to promote creativity and collaboration as a way to enhance student learning in our classrooms. Our learning community (students, teachers, and parents) supports and are inspired by these experiences.

Gail Metcalf, Samantha Tortora and Lucilla Papa are PYP teachers at the International School Basel in Switzerland. They have enjoyed working together for 2 years. They come from different backgrounds and experiences which enriches their learning as a team. They have presented at the IB Regional Conference in Barcelona in 2016 which inspired them to share and continue their learning journey. Your can follow them on Twitter: @GailMetcalf3, @stortora25, @LucillaPapa.

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