Frame and Canvas for Student Designed Assessment

Self-directed change as performance of understanding

In every unit of inquiry there is potential for student-generated assessment. As learning is a response to deliberately designed experiences, learning is a change in the learner’s skills, knowledge, understanding as well as post-unit decisions or actions. Action as a result of learning can be owned and led by students. Teachers provide the frame for learning, but what’s on the canvas belongs to the student.

Contextual framework of a unit on Change and Relationships

The problem that prompted the interdisciplinary unit “Be the Change” was a set of behavioral habits of many members of a class. Many members of this (middle school) class for which the unit was designed had poor impulse control exhibited by behaviors like talking over each other because they did not practice wait time or did not subscribe to the classroom agreements for supporting own and others’ learning. As a result of these unproductive habits, learning was often interrupted in the class, and over the years the students had developed many conceptual gaps, which emerged in underachievement in a wide range of subjects.

Conceptual frame of the unit

The team of teachers approached the unit design with their own questions from the context in which they wanted to impact the students’ thinking, and these questions reflected how the students would learn in the unit. The teachers asked:

  • How might students learn through the concepts so that their own choices change their behavior?
  • How might students learn about how the brain and cognition command outwardly expressed behavior?
  • How might students apply their learning in authentic ways relevant to themselves?
  • What sort of summative task would sustain students-led action?

These questions became the teachers’ context for the overarching goals for student learning in the unit. The design considerations inherent in the teachers’ questions gave them the goal of helping students to learn that “Change in how a person feels, thinks and acts can change how they perceive, understand and form relationships.” This became the statement of understanding in the unit. Through the unit, students might attain the concept of change as it pertained to thinking and resultant behavior. Through the conceptual learning of concepts patterns and relationships, students might learn of the relationships between how their thinking affected how they perceived others and themselves. Through the content illustrating the concepts, students might learn specific ways by which cognition controlled behavior. Through the open-ended task of the unit, students might find ways to sustain a change in their behavior as a result of learning.

The teachers created a few guiding questions for the unit designed to guide the conceptual inquiry.

  • Factual question: How does the brain work that results in how people feel, think and act?
  • Conceptual questions: How do people learn? How do people change because of what they learn?
  • Debatable question: To what extent can we change ourselves and change our relationships?

Construct of the unit

Prior to beginning the unit, the teachers had facilitated essential agreements between teachers and the class. They had dialogued about the expectations of the school and asked the students to discuss with them the behaviors, which would allow the students to express the expectations in how they behaved. These agreements became the basis for classroom management protocols used in each class the students attended. The agreements were made the year prior to the unit itself; these agreements had been revisited in the year when the unit was conceived just before it was taught. The need for the inquiry stemmed from the persisting habits which hindered the students’ learning.

The teachers used the authentic context of the conflicts that resulted between students and other students, conflicts between students and teachers, as the basis for the unit of inquiry. This global context of Identities and relationships was real to the individuals who spent time learning together every day, and created a significant cognitive landscape for learning in the unit.

The content the teachers prepared consisted of knowledge about how people learn. How people learn was explored in depth through texts on how the brain learns and how habits form.

A menu of texts were prepared by the teachers, ranging from a popular science article on brain function and habits, a set of Youtube videos explaining aspects of how the brain learned, parts of the brain, how habits are formed, TED videos to provoke thinking and questioning by the students. Interacting with the materials, students began to form connections between the brain and how the brain learned, and how personal ways to learn become habits, for instance how patterns of thinking affect how people perceive tasks or challenges, which was a conclusion students arrived at as they exhausted their factual study. As students began to grow in their understanding of the connections between the brain and learning, students began to ask their own questions. A research frenzy ensued, driven by students’ curiosity about their own individual learning. Their questions stemmed from personal concerns, like “Will less sleep make me less smart?” and “Do video games really harm children?” and “Is personality permanent?”

The students’ own inquiries based on personally relevant learning questions were guided by the teachers toward the big idea of learning as a source of change, the main concept framing the unit. As students attained conceptual understanding by making connections between content and concepts, they arrived at their own conclusions about what people have to do to change as a result of what and how they learned. Students had authentic concerns for themselves and their learning, and these became the basis for the students’ design of their own tasks for the summative assessment of the unit.


Schulsport by Maximilian Schonherr. CC via Wikimedia Commons

Student-designed assessment tasks

The teachers designed an open-ended assessment. Students were asked to formulate a plan of change. In the plan, students had to:

  • demonstrate knowledge and understanding of learning as a source of change (unit concept) using what they understood about patterns (unit concept) of learning they had learned through the source materials
  • identify a context for their intended change based on how their current behavior affected their relationships (unit concept) in a specific situation
  • explain how their plan addressed a change that would improve the relationship in their context, and justify how the changes in their behavior were supported by what they had learned in the unit
  • articulate a plan to monitor their own behavior in the context they described, and what success of changing would look like and how it would affect the relationships in their context.

This open-ended assessment task allowed students to:

  • Use knowledge and conceptual understanding
  • Find personal significance for their action plan
  • Structure a process by which their learning in the unit transferred to a real-life situation
  • Structure into their implementation process personal ways to monitor and self-assess

The power of the personally significant, student-generated questions drove the learning in the unit. The potential for each student to discover his or her own empowerment served to propel the students forward in the unit, especially since this unit assessment was not awarded any grade. In the larger scheme of things, the unit was designed around advisory time, which was not graded.

The students remained engaged, and continued to remain engaged in enacting their personal change as a performance of understanding.

Sustainable learning resulting from a performance of understanding

The potential for transformational learning is evident in this unit. A student in this class devised a simple way for him to keep track of his behavioral goal, which was “to decrease the number of times I spoke without taking my turn and increase the number of times I raised my hand to volunteer.” His approach was to use an index card to tally the number of times he spoke out of turn without waiting, and to tally the number of times he raised his hand to volunteer and wait to be called. Every week, he monitored his tallies on the index card, and rewarded himself if he met the goal of decreasing impulsivity and increasing impulse control.

Units that intend for students to perform conceptual understanding require a complex set of design considerations, which allow students to deepen both how they learn and what they understand in the units of learning. The deliberate ways by which teachers can design the rehearsal of thinking skills into a unit of work lead to opportunities by which students are able to draw upon their understanding of concepts and skills to solve unfamiliar problems in assessments requiring the performance of understanding.

Photo credits

Cover Photo বাংলা: বাংলার By Md Raihan rana – Own work CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Schulsport By Maximilian Schönherr – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

A Research Focus in a Final Exam

Focusing on Research:

As a trained librarian, my primary focus is often research. I brought that perspective into my most recent challenge: teaching Individuals and Societies Year 3. Since November, I’ve been teaching two sections of the course, and I’ve learned more than I could ever put into words. The most recent success, though, was the final exam.

A few months ago, I participated in an MYP Chat about Assessment that expressed several questions about the Criterion B in I/S and how different teachers assess it. There were more questions than opinions, more uncertainty about this unfamiliar Criterion than ideas about it. With that in mind, I wanted to share my own recent success with an assessment about this Criterion.

When I gave the mid-term exam in December, I hadn’t been teaching long. My lack of familiarity with writing long exams for eighth graders led me to adapt a previously used exam, full of reading and writing tasks. While it covered the content of the course, it used only three of the four criteria, leaving out Criterion B completely, and focusing almost entirely on Criteria A and C. I noticed that many of the students became frustrated with this model, possibly because all of them are English as a Second Language learners. With almost 50 students, about half of them in Language Acquisition, I wasn’t certain that this was an accurate test of their abilities. They put in the effort, but the results weren’t favorable. I was determined to make an exam that tested the skills that we had covered, and one that would suit their language skills better.

The class focused on Migration and Human Rights in the spring, with an emphasis on interview skills, political cartoons/visual literacy, and research. During the human rights unit, students wrote their first academic research paper, presenting different arguments about a human rights topic of their choice. Many students chose women’s rights, or LGBT rights, or a historical look at the atomic bomb. It was a long process, focusing on several elements of the research cycle: writing a research question, citing, taking notes on sources, using library resources, and outlining their work. If I could do it again, I would also have focused more on evaluating sources, but we took time to focus on paraphrasing and plagiarism instead.

I worked with the Language Acquisition teacher, who was doing a similar unit, and we encouraged students to use the same topic (though rarely the same resources) in both classes to increase their comprehension and skills. This was extremely successful; the work that I received from the Language B students had more depth and critical thought than I had previously seen. With covering the material in more than one class, especially in a class that met twice as often as mine, they were able to dig deeper into the information and the concepts.

The final exam needed to be engaging, and needed to assess the different parts of the research process that we had covered. I didn’t want to rely completely on reading and writing, both for my students and for myself. I wanted to provide opportunities for them to utilize the skills they had practiced in class, using all four criteria. Plus, since the entire class never covered one topic, it couldn’t be based on content alone. We worked on inquiry projects throughout the semester, and while certain topics overlapped, there was never anything that we covered in depth as a class.

Here’s what I came up with:

The entire exam centered on protest. I chose the topic because it was an option for their human rights paper, which meant that many of them did preliminary research on it. The information I used was available equally to them all. Many of them knew about the Hong Kong protests because of our location, and our own country has had some recent turmoil that impacted their daily lives.

I created a packet of information about the topic for them to use throughout their exam. The information packet included two perspectives, a pro and con side to protest. I adapted the text from Issues and Controversies, a debate database that we subscribe to, using the ideas without the complex vocabulary and excess text. The teacher I worked with read it over as well, to ensure that there was nothing too challenging. There were descriptions of four protests: Women’s Suffrage, Vietnam Protests, Occupy Wall Street, and the Umbrella Revolution. The packet also included historical images and political cartoons about those same protests. I included the full list of Year 3 Criteria as well. The information packet was separate from the student answer sheet for ease.

The first part was comprehension from the text, marked on Criterion A: Knowledge and Understanding. There were six questions asking about what they read in the text. This is common in many tests, I find, and I asked them to add their own ideas throughout for comprehension.

The second part involved Research Questions, marked on Criterion B: Investigating. It followed a similar format to what we had done in class. They drafted a few research questions, then evaluated their best one with an explanation. They were also tasked with figuring out what criterion matched what they were doing, and how they could succeed, to allow the criteria to be part of their process.

The third part was a paraphrasing exercise, marked on Criterion A: Knowledge and Understanding. They chose two paragraphs (very short paragraphs) from the pro and con side to paraphrase in their own words. I marked this on Criterion A because paraphrasing, to me, means understanding and explaining in a new way, to demonstrate your awareness by adding different information to someone else’s ideas. This was similar to exercises done in both English and Humanities classes.

The fourth part was an analysis of political cartoons. They had to choose one of the political cartoons to describe and analyze using their knowledge and the information from the text. There were short answer questions about the cartoon that they had to answer with specific details, graded with Criterion C: Communication. I marked their other political cartoon assignment with communication, so I wanted to keep it consistent.

The fifth part was arguments and critical thinking. They were asked to create an outline that took information from the text and photos to plan out three arguments for an essay. This was graded with Criterion D: Critical Thinking.

The sixth and final part was a research reflection, graded with Criterion B: Investigating. They reflected on the process of research with guidance from the questions, for the entire semester. Every assignment I gave required research, so they looked at different assignments and how they compared to one another.

As I gave the exam, and then graded the exam, I was quite happy with the results. There were some questions the students didn’t expect, especially with the outline. The style didn’t quite match what I had given them in class, even if it was a similar concept. The questions for the political cartoons gave them some trouble as well, again, because they weren’t expecting the style of the question. Overall, though, most students were able to successfully answer the questions and demonstrate their skills.

Upon reflection, though, there are a few things that I would change.

  1. The exam was almost too long, leaving some students just short of finishing. I would streamline some of the questions and make sure that the majority of students could finish on time, perhaps by clarifying the instructions.
  1. The political cartoon questions were too similar to one another, which created confusion. The task they did in class was annotating the cartoon, and I would go back to that. The instructions also needed to be clarified for more understanding.
  1. I would have liked to add a planning or interview piece in some way. Since they were working on protest, what other sources could they try? What would they look for? Or, if they had the opportunity, what interview questions would they ask? That would add a richer research feel and be able to assess both Criterion B and Criterion C.
  1. I gave too many choices. With the four different protests, there was too much information for them to sift through. Even though that was partially my intention, given the amount of information one has to sift through in every Google search, the time frame was too short for so many options.

Overall, I was content with the exam, and proud of the work that my students accomplished. I’m grateful for the opportunity to try something new, learn from it, and share from it. Hopefully, my experience will lead others to interesting reflections.

Article by Kelsey Hedrick
Image by: Kelsey Hedrick

Trialling an ‘e-Assessment’ and What We Learned

The MYP eAssessment is a logical next step for our school. We shifted to a conceptual curriculum three years ago, realizing that learning through a spiraling conceptual curriculum would allow our students to transfer knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes more easily across a range of open-ended problems to solve. The eAssessment requires this sort of transfer and allows the knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes to manifest in its process toward successful completion.

Last December, half of our Year 4s piloted an eAssessment that we constructed in-house. We had viewed a video from the IB introducing the MYP eAssessments and observed how the platform might behave, how our students needed to behave, and thought about what it might take to successfully complete this innovative type of assessment. Then, we designed an approximation of an eAssessment, which would simulate the platform and require the sorts of behaviors needed for successful completion.

Observing the experience and obtaining feedback from students rounded out the pilot. Here is what we learned.

The eAssessment Platform

In considering the design of the platform for the assessment, we investigated a wiki, an HTML standalone site, or a Google Site. The wiki was crossed off immediately because it is linear to the user; the items inside it are added one after another, and a lot of scrolling would have to happen to move back and forth between stimulus materials and problems.

The Google Site would have been more preferable since it can be designed in frames; a frame could hold stimulus material, and we could add a window wherein students could write responses. In a Google-subscribed school, students can find their responses in a Google Doc if the Google Site is designed with a Google Form, and these are easily accessed through their Gmail accounts. The issues with the Google Site were that there were several steps to take to access each document and that it required an internet connection. First, when responses are written on the form, an extra click on Google Docs had to happen before the student could see what they had produced. The form responses and the site with the stimulus materials were also on different tabs, preventing real-time visual reference of both elements by the student. Second, the internet connection is not a facility in the MYP eAssessment since all stimulus materials are already in the platform; this was something we did not need to provide in the structure of the eAssessment.

The HTML site, although the best option, required the teacher designing the eAssessment to spend hours coding. At the time of our pilot, this was prohibitive.

So we designed a simple platform for the eAssessment using static, hyperlinked slides and Word documents. The slides held the instructions, embedded stimulus materials, and the open-ended problem. All materials were uploaded into the desktops in a single folder which included a folder for saving work. Students could then write responses on a Word document and save it directly into the eAssessment folder.

Stimulus materials and the student's responses could be simultaneously visible on screen.

Stimulus materials and the student’s responses could be simultaneously visible on screen.

It was important for students to be able to see stimulus materials and problem in the slides and their work in progress simultaneously, so we used 21″ iMacs for the eAssessment. The students could place the exam materials and their response document side by side on the large screen. We also froze the internet connection for the machines used as connectivity was not important. With individual headphones connected to each iMac, students could access material and record responses on an eAssessment that was as close we could get to the platform we had observed in the IB eAssessment introduction video.

Approaches to Learning

ATL skills students have internalized are key in any performance assessment, including an eAssessment. In a paper-based assessment, at least four categories of ATL skills are drawn from as the student progresses through their problem solving.

In an electronic format, students need to recognize the need for and use a wide range of ATL skills from the skills categories, including thinking critically about previously unseen stimulus materials, thinking creatively to form solutions to the open-ended problem; research skills from citing a video versus citing a print text from the materials to keeping organized notes on what they are learning from the materials to reference as they responded; self-management skills were in high demand during the two hour assessment, as students had to keep organized and manage time and tasks, as well as manage their affect, for instance, through practicing focus and concentration and avoiding distraction.

Students' range of ATL skills were essential to the tasks.

Students’ range of ATL skills were essential to the tasks.

Observations and Feedback

Most students were comfortable with the electronic platform. Most students concurred with a student’s opinion that “I’m used to typing and do that faster than writing with a pen.” (Only one student found “typing a challenge. I didn’t type a lot in my previous school, so I felt slow with my typing skills.”) Accessing information was “easier with the video and visuals,” and “the extracts were easy to read.” All students reported having their own headphone set was “good for focusing, I didn’t have to pay attention to anything else.”

The challenges expressed in the student interviews highlighted the ATL skills that students need to have internalized to use during this independent performance in a controlled environment. One student had difficulty following instructions in written format without teacher support. Two students found it challenging to keep track of their time and tasks independently.

It was clear to us how important an articulated focus on approaches to learning presented so that in Year 5 our students might easily evaluate the need for approaches to use and easily perform the skills necessary to persist through a problem-solving situation. In this trial, our essential understanding was that ATL skills needed to be internalized so that students could just get to the heart of problem-solving in their culminating assessment.

Examples of travel writing

These are some examples of the types of travel writing from our menu.

Personal Essays:
Where the Roads Diverged by Catherine Watson
Why We Travel by Pico Iyer

Restaurant Reviews:
Restaurant Reviews by Gourmet Traveller

Hotel Reviews:
A Killer Vacation by James Parker
Delano Hotel in Miami by Oyster Reviews

Social Commentary:
An Unkindness of Ravensby Imagine That
Small Streets
by Imagine That
Why Travel Doesn’t Fix Everything
by Legalnomads

Destination Essay
Uruguay is a Land of Contrasts by Brian Kevin

Read the examples of your chosen text type and cross-reference against the task specific clarifications of each text type.

Your assignment is to spend some time during the Chinese New Year break to experience local or overseas travel, take notes, and draft your chosen text type.
You can experience the following without having to spend a lot of money:

  • Go to a restaurant and eat there
  • Recall a hotel you stayed in recently
  • Recall a trip (you can even use our Weeks without walls – Dali and Luang Prabang)

Whatever content you choose, it may be used to develop an effective written piece that shows global interactions, audience imperative and intertextuality. It must also give a sense of place and time.
Criteria and task specific clarifications are on Managebac under the task “Travel Writing Long Piece.”

Here is the link to the Rubric. Here is the link to the Task Specific Clarifications.

Let your Year of the Horse begin with positivity and energy!

Final Assessment for 2011-2012

Final exam Study Guide: Language A English
MYP Year 3

 A. Content
Elements of Literature:
Character (static, dynamic, flat, round)

  1. Merchant of Venice (concepts): form, function, choices, quality
  2. Poetry (concepts): form, function, choices, quality
  3. I Am the Cheese (concepts): perspective, power, identity
  4. Rice without Rain (concepts): perspective, power, social identity, change and causation
  5. Evaluating evidence for claims made

 B. Organization

  1. Outlining and graphic organizers
  2. Organizing an essay around a thesis statement, topic sentences, and evidence for claims
  3. Introduction, body, conclusion

C.  Language Use and Style

For language, you will need to:

  • Know how to write clear, fluent sentences in an essay. Revise and edit the best way you know how.
  • Know how to explain author’s choices. Many of the quiz questions have recently been asking you about the author’s choices, why they chose to say something in a particular way or their commentary on issues presented in the literature. Be able to explain these choices.

Oral Task for Unit Assessment

inquiry in MYP, Language A

Thanks for the work you have done on the relationships between choice and quality. I will post the work in a future blogpost along with our joint reflection.

This is the oral task we will be performing next Monday and Tuesday.

Your task is to present a 7-10 minute presentation on the specific statement “How I learned (a choice you made) changed the (quality) of (assessment task in any subject this year).”

You may use any subject to illustrate this relationship between choice and quality. You will need to use visual artifacts including drafts of the same work, criteria, and rubrics to illustrate your points. The key to this task is your explanation of the process you used as you made a choice or choices toward a specific quality in the task you picked.

This oral task will be evaluated using Criteria A Content,  B Organization, and C Style and Language Mechanics. 

First Semester Exam Guide

The first semester exam will ask you to demonstrate skills in three Criteria: Content, Organization and Language Use and Style.


1. Using text features and knowledge about author’s choices to build an essay around an idea
2. Using examples from text to support ideas
3. How to Cite using MLA
4. Organizing an essay around a thesis statement and topic sentences
5. Writing a Deductive introduction
6. Writing an Inductive conclusion
7.  Using transitions, conjunctions, etc for fluent writing
8. Knowledge and application of Literary elements: character, motivation, conflict, setting, theme, plot, resolution/denouement

The exam is two full hours in the afternoon on Tuesday, December 13th. YOU MUST USE BLUE OR BLACK INK PEN.