"Why do we always say that we can't assess these big important things? We can assess anything. We say we can't because we live in a dysfunctional world that has linked assessment to small, measurable amounts."

- Grant Wiggins, 2007



Inside the traditional classroom

Wiggins and McTighe have advised us to “use the classroom as a courtroom and prove students guilty of understanding….” This view towards assessment becomes even more profound when we consider the community the “courtroom.” The “judges” are not just the teacher, but others outside the classroom who become involved in the work.Boy at stone fort

Assessment becomes public. Parents and community are invited in to the process of articulating what is excellent and worthwhile work. The feedback students receive is grounded in reality. “Wow—I didn’t know kids could do that!” Grown-ups get a better view of students and their potential.

Ron Berger (2003) believes students do excellent work when the task is worthwhile for the community. “Not every project or assignment can have life importance, but when students know that their finished work will be displayed, presented, appreciated and judged—whether by the whole class, other classes, families or the community---work takes on a different meaning (p. 100).”

When students perform internships and participate in service, they learn responsibility through the work that they do. They do better because real people are counting on them; it matters whether their work gets done or not. Applause at a town meeting or a comment from a neighbor at the grocery store will matter much more than an “A” in a grade book. Did I do a good job? Did it result in anything important? Did it work? Did it help anyone? Is it useful?

Teachers often express their desire to foster a personal connection to the places where they live. Learning the history, the ecology, the story of a place brings students into closer contact with how the world works. Many teachers believe that taking care of a place can further this personal connection. In assessing or providing feedback on a students’ emerging “sense of place” —a teacher might consider criteria such as this:

    • expresses personal feelings about place,
    • makes connections to ways that another (writer, poet, artist) has expressed feelings about a place,
    • actively seeks ways to protect place,
    • shares new learning and is able to discuss with community partners
    • offers multiple interpretations of how people over time have interacted with this place.
Students making a map together