Assessment without standards

When teaching InfoTech classes in the past, I’ve unashamedly let students’ final grade be based on purely project work. Creating posters, programming robots, etc is a hands-on activity, despite the digital nature of the work.

I’ve also always had math classes to deal with simultaneously, so I’ve let my assessment improvement efforts focus on that. There, using something like SBG is obvious – your content standards are mathematical skills and concepts, and they easily break down into small tasks.  (If we taught more than computation that’d be more difficult, but that’s another topic.)

Now my only classes to assess are my new Digital Media Arts classes for grades 6 and 7. And I have almost no set-in-stone standards here from the Ministry of Education.  The documents on computing education at this level are over a decade old and basically have a paragraph of guidelines that you could interpret into almost anything you want to do on computers.  I’ve talked to some other digital media middle school teachers in the area who use the Fine Arts requirements for their classes.  And this makes good sense given their focus, which is primarily working with digital images and video.  Those are something I should take a closer look at yet.

But my class is living in a grey area between art and tech.  Our school already has a solid Fine Arts explorations program, and it also has an unusually high-tech Trades-type program.  (They call it STTEM – Science, Tech, Trades, Engineering, Math.  It incorporates some great engineering-style design problems, drafting, and some computer-based labs with 3D modelling and physics simulations.)

So I get to create something in-between, which is fantastic for a bunch of reasons.  But it also means that the criteria I assess my students on is conceptually a bit hazy.

Right now I have students primarily working in Scratch and giving them assignments that give them room to grow creatively as well as technically (by exploring new code “blocks”).  So I have two layers of outcomes in mind – technical skills / understandings, and creative ones.  But they’re pretty hazy – “figure out loops and conditionals”, “explore an artistic topic into new territory beyond the examples”, “put together a reasonably good digital narrative with some branching”, “make an automated drawing program do something unique and cool looking”.

I think this’ll just get rolled into the rubrics for individual projects.  But I suppose if I really wanted to, I could SBG-ify this whole deal and actually assess those ideas across assignments.  In this case, though, is the reason as compelling?  Students can already redo / revise individual assignments easily, so I don’t need SBG to enable flexibility in reassessing.  On the other hand if I had a clear line of “these are the skills I want you to build” to present to students, it might give them more focus.

Structuring the gradebook around skills could make sense. But I think it’ll have to wait until next year for me to have a clearer idea of what’s achievable within the timespan I have with these kids.

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