The decision to allow students to choose their own homework (variously called the ‘Unhomework’ and the ‘Takeaway homework’ approach) has a lot to commend it, and is discussed in detail in this earlier blogpost, but needs to be accompanied by an equally flexible approach to marking and assessment to reach its full potential.
This is because one of the inevitable challenges posed by the flexibility of the “choose your own homework” approach is that standardised mark schemes cannot be applied to what will likely be a clutch of widely different homework outcomes ranging from video projects and re-enactments to essays and flowcharts.
Here at the International School of Toulouse, we are therefore experimenting in the humanities department with a new approach which allows students to design their own mark schemes so that they can be measured against the qualities and criteria which they think will reward their efforts to best advantage, as shown in this great example from @MattPodbury stemming from our “Iceman Mystery” project:
The “Choose your own mark scheme” process follows directly after students have completed the “Choose your own homework” phase by settling upon the project outcome that they will produce to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding, and follows this format:
Task 1 – Students consider a range of assessment criteria
Each student is presented with a list of commendable traits that will help them achieve success in school and later life. These are a dozen one-word qualities based on the IB Learner Profile (Inquisitive, Thoughtful, Communicative, Knowledgeable, Risk-Taking, Principled, Caring, Open-Minded, Well -balanced, Reflective, Creative, Resilient). Working individually for a few minutes, each student produces their own one-sentence definition of each word. The teacher then leads a discussion and the class settles upon agreed definitions for them all (image below is a screenshot from the generic activity sheet):
Task 2 – Students choose the most appropriate three criteria for their projects
Each student is now asked to select just three of these qualities which they would like their “Choose your own homework” outcome to be measured against. Students who have opted to do something they have never tried before might select ‘Risk-taking’ as part of their criteria, for example, whereas someone else who plans to conduct some in-depth independent research might opt for ‘Inquisitive’ or ‘Knowledgeable’. For each of these, they need to explain in a sentence or two how they think their project will allow them to demonstrate these qualities.
Task 3 – Students produce their project, then self-assess it against their chosen criteria
In this final phase before handing the work in, each student marks their own work, giving a maximum of five points for each of the three learner profile attributes that they settled upon earlier. They hand in this mark sheet with their project. The teacher then judges whether the marking is fair, adjusts as necessary, and gives additional credit to students who assessed their own work particularly accurately.
Taking it further
Peer-assessment possibilities: Students could be arranged in groups of three. They pass their projects and the accompanying mark sheets clockwise to the next person along, then assess them. Then the projects are passed round once more and the process is repeated so that each project has now been marked by two people. Finally, the three students can moderate the marking after discussion.
Demand that students develop different skills with different projects: One possible drawback of the ‘choose your own mark scheme’ approach is that students might end up choosing to play safe by selecting the same three qualities every time they are given the opportunity. To avoid this, and to encourage students to develop a wider range of study skills, keep a record of their choices from previous exercises of this nature, and insist that each time they design a new mark scheme, they must change at least one of the learner profile attributes that they wish to be measured against.
Here is a generic worksheet which allows teachers to get started with the ‘choose your own mark scheme’ approach: