Before Winter Break, the kids began the study of Greek mythology. Not only is it a massive undertaking, it is also a complicated one. The gods have tangled family trees, and the myths are often inconsistent from one source to another. This year, rather than deluging the kids with copious amounts of information, I was inspired to approach the unit from another angle. Why not divide the material among small groups and let them teach their classmates? With that in mind, I split the grade into 20 small groups, charging each with developing the 'criminal profile' of their assigned mythical character. For those of you familiar with mythology, its cast of characters struggles to make ethically sound decisions. My feeling was that we could study those choices, learn about the gods, and explore the relevancy of stories that are thousands of years old.
Year after year, I have heard from students who have legitimate concerns when it comes to assessing group work. Usually the complaint is that one student has done most of the work while another student has done very little. Obviously, this is a problem because inherent in group work is a group assessment. So, if the final product is worthy of an 'A', how can I ensure that all members are getting a fair grade? There are a number of different methods that can be employed to address this issue. One way is through self-assessment and reflection. Group members assess themselves, each other, and then write a reflection of their contributions to the project. I was taught another one this summer during the project-based learning conference here at USM. Teachers from High Tech High in San Diego demonstrated how they hold individuals accountable within a group. I have decided to adopt their method.
Here's how it works. For the mythology project, each group is responsible for a number of deliverables. These are the various components that make the greater whole. In this case, groups need to complete a wanted poster, a criminal profile, and a screencast. Let's consider creating the wanted poster, which involves the requisite research, source comparison, and note taking. After students were given instruction, an example, and rubrics, they were required to create their own individual drafts of the poster. Those drafts were brought to class for peer and teacher feedback. The kids were given time to make revisions to their work, and the finished individual posters were submitted to me for grading. Once returned, the group is expected create one poster that reflects the best of each of the individual submissions. In this process, the students will receive two grades. The first will be for their individual poster, while the second will be for the group product. In this manner, members from the group will not be earning the same grades, but rather ones that reflect individual accountability. High Tech High teachers have found that this method holds students accountable to the group and tends to distribute responsibility more equitably. I believe that they may be on to something. Overall, the individual wanted poster submissions demonstrated thoughtfulness and care. Now, I am looking forward to seeing if the group effort follows suit.