Excellent student work that demonstrates mastery is a lot harder to come by than it may seem or maybe not.
Too often, we work hard to develop projects that allow students to show creativity while showing a particular skill or set of skills to apply content knowledge and fail in the construction of what that looks like.
Sometimes it's too easy or doesn't actually require too much thought.
Sometimes it's too hard and students are lost
Finding the "just-right" project for students to really shine is the ultimate goal.
Although there may be no one magic bullet for generating this assignment for all students, here are some tips for developing great projects that will both foster student engagement and interest and help them to show what they know.
After you write an assignment, always do it before you ask the kids to do it or at least a modified version. This way you can really see where they might stumble or meet challenges and you'll have a sample to show them before you start.
Make sure objectives are clear, in a way they can understand. Consider having this labeled on the sheet prominently at the top of the page.
Provide guidelines but not prescriptive steps that don't allow for student interpretation or creativity
Distribute the assignment sheet with success criteria prior to when you go over it - then make sure to go over the assignment in class with the students leaving time for student questions. It helps to have students annotate the assignment to ask questions. Also, ask them to write down in their own words what they are being asked to do and share that out to a partner and some to the class.
If possible have students go over the standards addressed (or skills) to make sure they know why they are doing this assignment. That should be clear. How does it apply to their learning and why does it matter? What will it help them do?
If students have done the assignment in the past provide student exemplars, but make sure adjustments have been made so they can't copy what they see.
Always ask students to reflect at the end of an assignment about their process and learning. This is especially important if they worked in a group. This allows you to differentiate what individual students contributed and what they know and can do now. Never grade a product the same for all students; there are no assurances that every child learned or can demonstrate what the product shows. The reflection helps. Perhaps try an oral presentation to go with it as well.
Provide time in class where possible to do work on the assignment independently or with the group. This way you can meet with students while they work and provide feedback as needed along the way.
Always have some element or elements of the project that allows for student choice. Whether it is in how they do the assignment, the kind of product or the content. Be flexible. Allow for negotiations. Even if you put at the bottom, create your own assignment that meets these same standards as an option.
Make sure all projects offer differentiation opportunities for the strengths of every child. Every student should have the opportunity to experience success, so know your students and offer suggestions for helping them show what they know in a way that is conducive to their learning while still pushing them a little out of their comfort zones.
Students love doing hands-on projects that ask them to think creatively, so encourage it. That doesn't mean you have to use technology, but it should be an option. Remember, that technology alone doesn't improve learning; it must be used for a particular and transparent purpose. Also, pretty doesn't mean solid student learning. Often students over-compensate for lack of knowing by dressing up their work in fancy clothes.
How do you ensure mastery learning on student projects? Please share your tip
*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in March of 2015