For a long time now, my teaching partner and I have been known as the "project team." At times parents want their students on our team in 6th grade or don't want them on our team, solely based on the fact that we give "a lot" of projects. Some parents view this as outside the traditional, not the way they did school and can't understand why their kids would be doing "so many" projects. Other parents don't see a use in traditional testing and want their students to learn and be assessed in such skills as group work, creativity, and long term planning. Obviously because we give so many projects, we tend to side with the second camp. However, over the years, we have made some changes to the way we are doing things.
For one thing, we want the projects to be demonstrations of students work not of parent work. Therefore, we have given students more and more time during class to work on these projects. I like to be able to go around and talk with the students about the projects and how they are doing.
In addition, we have begun breaking down due dates for students. We begin the year by sharing a project and having multiple due dates throughout the project. Here is a sample project. These include things like a name for the project, a list of materials, and a rough draft. Slowly throughout the year, we start giving less and less due dates, so that eventually with the final projects of the year, students are responsible for only one due date, the date of the final project. I like this as it models for students the idea of breaking a large project into smaller parts. Many students will still wait until the last minute but if we require them to show work then they can't keep doing that. The problem I'm having is that I am still the one having to ask for each of these pieces. Students often will forget to share things with me unless I seek them out. I'm wondering what else I can do to make them value these due dates better.
Another change that we have made is the way we use rubrics. Here is a sample rubric I've used We have always given students a rubric as we begin a project. Two years ago, we went to giving a rubric that had only one column on it, what we thought would be a perfect project. Our feeling was that students should be shooting for the best project. They shouldn't go through a rubric and decide what they could do and what they couldn't do. I really like this idea. For one, I only have to figure out what the "best" is for each descriptor. I also like to show the students that the "best" is what we expect. This year, we have decided to change the rubrics a little again. We no longer have only one rubric but have split the rubric into two, one for the product itself and one for the content. I had found in the best that students would often focus on the product and the content would be an afterthought. By changing to two rubrics I'm hoping students will see the value of the content (since that is a huge part of why we are doing the project.) One major problem at this point is that many students use an "out of sight, out of mind" theory in terms of the rubric. They see it when I introduce the project and listen to me as we go over it but then they don't look at it again. Even if I have them assess themselves they don 't take it really serious and don't use the rubric as a tool to help them make a good project. What can I do about this?
Anyhow, at this point I'm happy with the constant changes we have as we go about assigning, creating, and assessing projects. I think students get a lot out of projects and it helps them understand and demonstrate their understanding of content. I'm planning on continuing my use of them and plan on refining my projects as I go.