|Teaching and Learning Forum 2004 [ Proceedings Contents ]|
Lesley Newhouse-Maiden and Terry de Jong
Edith Cowan University
Learning to work collaboratively is an important component of successful middle schooling practice (Jackson & Davis, 2000). In their preparation to become middle years teachers, students completing the Postgraduate Diploma in Education (Middle Years) at Edith Cowan University (ECU) are required to engage in a range of collaborative group processes. An example of this is a small group-based project in the From Alienation to Engagement unit which necessitated students investigating and presenting their findings on the services offered to adolescents by youth-focussed agencies. As part of this project, students had to reflect upon their individual contribution to the group process. To help facilitate this, students were required to construct an assessment rubric and use this instrument to inform their reflections. This paper describes the rationale for and process used in constructing the rubric. It discusses four key themes of student learning identified from the students' reflection papers.
The task we set our students was to work in small teams to investigate a community agency that supported the needs of, and challenges faced by, young adolescents. Our students were required to "actively accomplish complex and significant tasks", while bringing to bear their "prior knowledge, recent learning, and relevant skills" (Stowell & McDaniel, 1997, p.142), and to present their findings to their peers. An additional challenge for members of the small groups was to evaluate the effectiveness of their individual contribution to the group.
Our challenge was to develop our students into effective middle school team members and to incorporate teamwork in their middle years pedagogy. In accord with good practice we facilitated a process which created an assessment rubric for each performance task (Jackson & Davis, 2000, p. 60), where a rubric:
... outlines a set of criteria, usually on a four-or six-point scale with performance descriptions that define a range of performance on an authentic assessment task … (Stowell & McDaniel, 1997, p. 142).Our reasoning was that students needed to develop their skills in rubric construction as future middle years teachers. We were guided by McTighe's (1996/1997) contention that "if we expect students to improve their performances on these new, more authentic measures, we need to engage in "performance-based" instruction on a regular basis" (p.7).
We also speculated that if we "crafted a rubric" with the help of students (Jackson & Davis, 2000), they might take more ownership for their performance and gain more "enduring understandings" of group processes as teachers if:
... at every point on the rubric's scale its creators must decide what specific evidence they should see of the understandings and skills the assessment is to incorporate" (p.60)This rubric was subsequently used as a means of students giving their peers feedback about their contribution to the group. Each student had to collate the feedback (about five per student) and then reflect upon his/her contribution in an individual paper that was submitted as part of the group project assignment.
In sum, there were two key intended outcomes associated with the inclusion of the assessment rubric in the From Alienation to Engagement unit:
When students have opportunities to examine their work in the light of known criteria and performance standards they begin to shift their orientation from "What did I get? To "Now I know what I need to do to improve.Summative outcomes are clearly important. The final grade carries weight. However, engaging students in an "action cycle" is a powerful way of encouraging a more equitable balance between "product" and "process". The rationale for collaboratively constructing the rubric was to ensure that students had a common understanding of the criteria and performance tasks so that the task of establishing group processes was made easier, and the teams' chances of meeting its goals (i.e. performance tasks) were maximised.
We encouraged the groups to decide which dimensions of their collaborative work they wished to assess and to list what counts as quality work for the dimensions chosen (Goodrich, 1996/1997). Each of the thirteen groups of students worked on a rubric to "include enough detail to guide students' efforts to succeed" (Jackson & Davis, 2000, p. 60) as an effective contributor to the group.
|PROJECT TITLE:||NAME:||OVERALL MARK: /10|
|The individual's ability to be a contributing member of the team is reflected in his/her:||Always
|Participation in the group||
|Conflict resolution and problem solving ability||
|Task commitment and accomplishment||
It was evident too that many students developed a positive attitude towards group work. Although there was no explicit reference to the rubric's role in this development, we believe that the rubric acted as an invaluable scaffolding strategy to not only engage students in identifying what they needed to do in order to achieve their goals, but also nurture the process towards enjoyment rather than chaos and unnecessary conflict. As one student pointed out:
As a result of this project our attitude towards group work has improved. Working collaboratively has proved to be an effective method for the individual to be aware of alternate points of view and to be exposed to ideas that otherwise would not have occurred to them
It was apparent that there was some disparity among the group regarding my sensitivity to the workings of the group. Some members identified that I had failed to display adaptability and flexibility in resolving issues, which is something I am cognisant of and is a personal goal for improvement. This accounts for the lower score in the Conflict Resolution and Problem-solving category.
Another student referred to her strategy of focusing on certain rubric criteria and ensuring that she undertook extra tasks to meet these criteria so that the group would function effectively:
The appraisal of the group reflected how I saw myself functioning in the group. I received high marks for my level of creativity, task commitment, and accomplishment. I felt vindicated because I took on extra tasks to bring the project together and to ensure maximum success for the group
Conflict cannot always be prevented, although in our groups case the level of conflict was very minimal, group members did not avoid it when it did occur. The resulting discussions were often the most instructive. This would have to be explained to adolescents before engaging in group work and the teacher would have to observe how the groups were operating to counsel them if any conflict which may arise is not used positively.
One student emphasised the importance of adolescents being scaffolded by the teacher as they learn these important group process skills in a learning community.
In schools, group work constitutes an important unit of activity but one whose support needs are only recently becoming understood (Blair, 1998). As a result, a significant amount of community building and scaffolding will be needed to ensure the success of students working in groups
Some students highlighted the importance of adapting the process they had recently encountered and making adolescents aware of the dual purposes involved in effectively working in groups. For example, Ruth and Emma made these respective comments.
I feel this means we must gradually introduce group work and teach students specific social skills to work in teams. The conditions and method of group work must be clear so it is equitable (individual accountability), purposeful (there is a reason why the task is being done in groups and this is clear to students) and is a positive experience (students learn to cooperate rather than compete).
While I have a good sense of how others viewed myself, I don't think that Adolescents would have. It would ... give them a focus of one particular skill to work on, and their peers could give feedback on their improvement in this, rather than all the skills we assessed in our project. Perhaps reflection after each session would be more appropriate than at the end of the project, this would also help to keep them on task.
Some students made the link of learning to work in groups with the demands of the workplace. For example, Oliver made reference to this: "The value of group social skills required in the workplace ... and the opportunity to learn from others and also to teach others, which will generally increase their knowledge"
There was some acknowledgement too that working in groups can be fun, and that for adolescents, group work holds good potential:
...the fun generated from learning with other people is a pleasant change from the sometimes lonely grind of working solo on an assignment. I believe adolescents would enjoy this departure from traditional individual work just as much as we did.
... the two members I gave marks to "always" outstanding creativity also marked me "always". Whereas the least creative members, by my estimation were more critical. I would have expected more criticism from the more creative members … I offered creative suggestions and invited opinion from everyone on how they felt about the suggestion. Perhaps this could have been seen as indecisive and perhaps not creative. I think that non-visual creative input to group product and process is less tangible and members may view creativity differently.
Some students raised the issue of validity. For example, Simone felt compelled to express her concern about the validity (and subsequent fairness) of her assessment of one of the group:
... to mark member E highly on 'Task Commitment and Accomplishment' because she attended every meeting, yet not reflected on the rubric is that whilst she was at meetings, her attention was focused elsewhere. (She also) contributed a number of creative ideas (scoring highly on the rubric for this category) however her timing was such that they could never be implemented and seemed to destabilise the existing status quo.
Although the quality of the rubric was considered by most students to be high, it was apparent to many that it was not the panacea of all assessment.
In evaluating our 'assessment for learning' strategy, how did we "measure up"? (Herman, 1997). There have been some heartening extracts from students' reflection papers on what Wiggins and McTighe (1998) conceptualised as "enduring understandings" which are those things that anchor a unit of study. Jackson and Davis (2000) took the concept further by asserting that "these are the things we want students to remember after they have forgotten the details" (p.54). David appears to have reflected this sentiment when he said,
Throughout the year each person in this course has been taught how to work effectively in groups. This has contributed to the success of completed group assignments such as this one and provides an important insight into how group work should be handled in the middle school classroom, that is students must be taught how to work in groups.
It was also our aim to "mirror best practice". We decided before the unit commenced that one of us would be responsible for evaluating the assignment, and one of us would act as a moderator. We consider this to be have been a sound strategy, especially as it enhanced "technical accuracy" (Herman, 1997, p.200). Specifically, it enabled one lecturer to: orchestrate, monitor, and feedback to students on the progressive construction of our collaborative rubric; engage in the full kaleidoscope of team processes from a variety of group member perspectives; and collate their peers' evaluation of their performance and poster. It is apparent to us that this strategy improved the quality of the process as a whole.
As teacher educators we had been prepared to position ourselves as master learners who valued improving the quality of teamwork, and had faith in our own, and our students' ability to construct, refine, and use the rubric effectively as reflective practitioners. Most importantly, for us the process had served to build our community of learners "to prepare students to embrace what Peter Ellyard (1998) terms the 21st century learning culture, and capitalise on opportunities it provides" (Leggett, Lichtenberg, Newhouse-Maiden & Harvey, 2001, p.1).
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|Authors: Dr. Lesley Newhouse-Maiden and Dr. Terry de Jong
School of Education, Edith Cowan University, Perth Western Australia|
Tel: 6304 5485 Fax: 6304 5850 Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Please cite as: Newhouse-Maiden, L. and de Jong T. (2004). Assessment for learning: Some insights from collaboratively constructing a rubric with post graduate education students. In Seeking Educational Excellence. Proceedings of the 13th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 9-10 February 2004. Perth: Murdoch University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2004/newhouse-maiden.html