A framework to assess teenage learners’ performance via project work

Projects are often listed among alternative tools for assessment, especially when talking about teenagers. The reason for this seems to be clear, as project work is potentially motivating, stimulating and challenging, allowing learners to show what they can do. Besides, it generates a lot of data, and is therefore a rich tool to gather evidence of learners’ production and of learning.

However, assigning a grade to projects is not that easy, and being fair to all learners when translating the data gathered into a grade may be challenging. One of the reasons for this difficulty is the fact that projects involve both individual and group work. When we assess tasks that involve meaningful interactions among peers, “it inevitably involves confounding factors that might compromise its construct validity – that is, its ability to measure what it is intended to measure” (Jang, 2014: 127).

Thinking about using projects as an assessment tool means deciding how it is going to be done. Some questions to be asked in this process include:

· What kind of assessment is going to be favoured?

o Formative, summative, or a combination of both?

o Formal, informal, or a combination of both?

· Is it necessary to generate traditional grading?

· What are parents’ expectations and beliefs in terms of assessments?

· What is the influence of the teaching context?

· Is it possible to incorporate projects into the assessment system of the school/ language institute where I teach?

Ways of approaching the assessment of projects

As we can see, assessing projects can be a complex matter and, as such, it can be dealt with in different ways. Maybe the least complicated way of approaching projects as an assessment tool is to opt for formative assessment, because no formal grade is given to the project. Thus, teachers give general feedback to learners and parents, and use the data generated to inform further work done in class.

Another alternative is to use projects to encourage collaborative assessment, where the responsibility of selecting assessment criteria is shared between teacher and learners. Harris & Bell (1996) highlight that “the collaborative method of assessment easily enables groups goals to include process”. This, however, depends on the group’s dynamic and the relationship between teacher and learners. When dealing with teenagers, collaborative assessment is potentially engaging, as learners feel more empowered and part of the process.