When it comes to assessment, traditional pen-and-paper tests are pretty much as far from authentic as you can get: one student, performing in a singular modality, with the teacher as the only viewer. Projects can be more authentic, but until there is an audience outside of the classroom, it can be hard to get students to believe that the work that they’re doing is truly meaningful.
One of my goals for Comm Tech is to make the tasks that students are required to complete more authentic by providing them with a real audience for their work.
This quote is attributed to Rushton Hurley, an inspiring GAFE Summit keynote speaker who speaks often about project-based learning:
Giving students an authentic audience for their work means allowing them to share their work with the wider world. And Communications Technology, with its focus on the tools to create rich and meaningful media works, is the perfect environment to do just that.
As part of our second unit, we were focusing on photography: we learned some of the principles of photo composition, and we learned how to use digital SLR cameras in manual exposure mode to fully control the look of the photos we took. Rather than giving students a really prescriptive task for their summative assignment, we decided to make use of an existing opportunity – the monthly Toronto Star photography contest – to make our work a bit more authentic.
The theme for December’s contest was “Tis the season”, and everyone was encouraged to submit a photo that represents that idea for them. We piggybacked on that, and while the teacher in me couldn’t resist adding a few extra requirements — that students shoot in manual exposure mode and that they include a short write up about the technical and compositional choices that they made — students were psyched to complete the task. I couldn’t believe the quality of work that was being submitted. Rushton Hurley’s quote had never been so clear to me: the authenticity of the task truly motivated students to make sure that their work was as good as it could be. When we debriefed and discussed our photos in a class roundtable discussion, students were articulate about their photos, and most of them described spending an inordinate amount of time setting up their perfect shot.
That was what really struck me most: they weren’t upset about the time spent, or the number of attempts they had to make to capture the perfect shot. They worked tirelessly because they were invested in the task, and it didn’t seem to matter how much effort they had to put into it or how many times their shot failed, as long as they ended up with something they were proud of.
What a way to end off the term!
To really cap off the assignment and make it even more authentic, I was thrilled to share with the students that three members of our class had had their photos selected to be included in one of three daily photographs featured on the Star Touch app:
Believe me when I tell you that was among my proudest teacher moments ever! Although the students have yet to find out if they’ve won a prize (which would be the cherry on top!), they can be very proud of the recognition they’ve already been given. Authentic assessments, for the win!
Thanks to Mira, Casey & Lexie and their parents for giving me permission to share their work here.