Bye-bye April

April was extremely busy for me. On top of my normal work, I marked 212 World Literature essays for the IBO, an educational but exhausting undertaking. I also put the finishing touches on my book manuscript, Good Habits, Good Students, which is now in the hands of the designers and typesetters. My Grade 6 students created ‘heart maps’ (another great idea from Nancie Atwell), picked one item, and wrote ‘heart stories’ which I am still working to post online. Then they turned their heart stories into speeches. In Grade 9, students worked mostly outside of class to complete a biography of some acquaintance or family member who is at least 60 years old. In class, we studied To Kill a Mockingbird. When we finished, they wrote comparison-contrast essays based on Harper Lee’s novel and Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, which they had read independently. My Grade 11s have been working on developing topics and doing practice essays preparing for their own World Lit papers (our three WL texts for Assignment 1 are Oedipus, The Odyssey, and Agamemnon). My Grade 12s worked on practice exams and are as I write sitting their IB examinations. Meanwhile, the tempo in the Garden Project picked up as warm weather arrived and seeds began jumping out of the ground. And did I mention that I have a family? Ah yes, the easy life of a teacher . . . .

MYP: Love the Personal Project, hate the way it’s assessed

Frustrated by the infernal assessment process for Personal Projects in the IB’s Middle Years Programme, I have hastily hammered out a proposal for change. I haven’t time at the moment to polish this, so treat it as a rough draft and let me know (email contact link is at left, under “Directory”, or post a comment). Here goes:

MYP Personal Project: A Proposal for Reform
by Eric T. MacKnight

I love the Personal Project. I hate the way it’s assessed.

The MYP’s Personal Project is an excellent activity insofar as it

•gives students the opportunity to pursue a topic of personal interest that is not otherwise covered in the curriculum;
•gives them a chance to use skills they have learned in school, and develop new skills; and
•gives them experience working independently.

Some of the work done for the Personal Project is truly remarkable, and even life-changing for students who discover a topic for which they have a genuine personal enthusiasm, or—at the top end—even passion.

Unfortunately, the assessment process is complicated, confusing to the point of incoherence, and ultimately counterproductive, since it shifts emphasis away from the actual project undertaken and focuses instead on evaluating a written report according to highly technical criteria (which, worse still, are often ambiguous or even contradictory).

Here is an outline of my proposal for revising the Personal Project’s assessment scheme and reviving its original intent.

What the students must do
•The project itself
•A written report of about 1000 words in which the student analyses and reflects on his or her project.
•A public display in the school. Students present and explain their projects to parents, teachers, and other students.

Marks & Descriptors
4 Very good or excellent
3 Good
2 Satisfactory
1 Unsatisfactory
0 Nothing submitted

Narrative Evaluation
•Written by supervisor
•Moderated internally
•Addressed to student
•Includes comments on

1. Choice of topic
Is the choice appropriate? Neither too broad, nor too narrow; neither too ambitious, nor trivial. Does the topic relate to a genuine personal interest? Etc.
2. Process
Organisation, time management, use of materials, choice of procedures, methods of research, documentation, etc.
3. Product
Is the final product of high quality?
4. Analysis and Reflection
Has the student thought deeply about the project, the difficulties encountered, his or her response to difficulties? What has the student learned from this experience? How has the student changed as a result of this learning? Etc.

Using this approach, students would write a report roughly one-quarter the length of the current report, and would focus solely on analysis and reflection, thus shifting the emphasis from writing a report back to the original project.

The supervisor would monitor during the course of the project the student’s choice and definition of the project; the student’s time organization, use of supporting materials, methods of research, etc.; and the quality of the final product. The supervisor would read the student’s analysis and reflection. Taking everything into account, the supervisor would then assign a mark between 0 and 4 on the scale given above.

Note that the descriptor for a ‘4’ deliberately combines ‘very good’ and excellent’ to avoid invidious distinctions that inevitably result in some students being given lower marks for comparable work.

Simplifying the marking scale also avoids byzantine calculations of marks in eight categories that more or less overlap and are open to varying interpretations, inviting prolonged debates over arcane questions in the attempt to reach consensus on whether the student should receive a ‘3’ or a ‘4’ for Criterion B.

The supervisor’s narrative evaluation, addressed to the student, would focus on the choice of topic; the process followed; the quality of the final product; and the quality of the student’s written analysis and reflection.

This narrative evaluation would be attached to the student’s written report and moderated internally. In a very small school, the MYP Coordinator might moderate all the evaluations, but in most schools this moderation would be done by colleagues working in teams. The aim of this moderation would be to produce the best possible narrative evaluations and a broad consensus for the judgments made by supervisors.

Once marks are awarded and evaluations delivered, the projects would be publicly displayed. Each school will handle this in its own way. The essential is that students have a chance to share their project with a large number of peers, teachers, and parents, and receive public recognition for their efforts.

Schools could be invited by the MYP to submit the best Project from each Grade 10 class—or perhaps more than one for larger schools—for international recognition.

If you think this plan would be a worthwhile improvement, I’d love to hear from you.

UPDATE, September 2012: I have closed comments on this post as a) I am not currently teaching in an MYP school, and b) as Liam points out, the PP has changed since I first wrote about it.

Welcome to the new site

I have maintained a .Mac web site for several years now, but decided recently to divide my projects among several sites to make things easier for readers. I was also inspired by Jon Udell to re-imagine my homepage as a blog.

Laughing Squid is hosting, WordPress is responsible for the blog software, and I’m learning how to manage it all. I expect to update every couple of weeks or so, and encourage you to subscribe via RSS so you don’t have to remember to check the site regularly. (If you haven’t started using RSS yet, I highly recommend it.)

If you have a question or comment, drop me an email!