So, you have carefully planned projects that require learners to exercise a range of thinking skills. You have identified specific skills to emphasize and have conducted explicit teaching on those skills. The big question is then, how do you and your learners know if they have achieved the goal of improving their thinking?
The website, The Thinking Classroom*, recommends several strategies for effective assessment of learners’ thinking:
Assessing Products of Thinking
- Explain to learners what kinds of thinking you expect from them.
- Frequently discuss and give examples of what good thinking looks like in different projects and subject areas.
- Ask learners to contribute to the criteria and assessment standards you will use in assessing their thinking.
- Give learners input into the kind of assessment that would be most appropriate for different projects and units of study.
- Give learners teaching and practice with assessing themselves with the tools you will use.
- Assess thinking processes as well as products of thinking.
- Give learners a lot of feedback on their thinking and provide them with opportunities to give feedback to each other.
The most obvious way to assess learners’ thinking is through analyzing the products they create. Certainly the whole purpose of teaching thinking is to help learners produce high-quality work. The most common product of thinking in schools, conventional, was writing, such as an essay or research report. In project-based learning, however, learners can show what they’ve learned in a variety of ways, many of which incorporate ICT. Assessing the thinking of learners through these products is a complex task. In most cases, rubrics are more useful for assessing higher-order thinking in projects than other conventional assessment methods.
An effective rubric not only evaluates the quality of a product, it also serves as a guide for doing high-quality work on the product. For this reason, the more specific the language of a rubric, the more direction the learner has for successfully completing a project.
Examples of Rubrics that do not Address Thinking Skills
In a project about saving the Earth, Grade 4 and 5 learners create a brochure to show their families what they can do at home to protect the environment. The following section of the rubric used to assess the brochure clearly attempts to make thinking a priority, but the language is so vague that it is of little use to the learners or the teacher.
Rubric Describing Thinking Skills Vaguely
|Information about the environment
||Shows an in-depth understanding of the environment
||Shows good understanding of the environment
||Shows some understanding of the environment
||Shows little or no understanding of the environment
For example, the term “in-depth understanding” could mean almost anything to anyone. Learners and parents could likely think the work shows this kind of understanding no matter what it looked like. When teachers develop rubrics before beginning a project, it helps them identify the specific skills and strategies to teach during the project.
Since “in-depth understanding” is always a goal of content learning, it’s worth the time to think about what that phrase really means and to figure out how it can be described usefully in a rubric.
Showing in-depth understanding could include:
- How is an in-depth understanding different from just a good understanding? What would that kind of understanding look like?
- What kinds of thinking skills will lead a learner to in-depth understanding? How would those thinking skills be performed?
- Addressing multiple points of view on the subject
- Showing how different aspects of the subject interact with each other
- Interpreting facts from an ethical perspective
- Using accurate and thorough information
- Considering less well-known, but important, information as well as accepted fact
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