From the tightly policed hush of the library on a balmy afternoon, Year 8A erupted with applause and gasps. Year 8 students are not known for their applause or gasps on the best of days, and on the worst of days I am fielding clandestine whispering during a silent reading period. This lesson, they had made a discovery – one of their own had been published in a national children’s newspaper, The Junior Age.
It had taken ten weeks to get here. Ten weeks ago, we were prowling through stacks of recent newspapers for news that caught our eye. Between getting lost in the crumple of a spread newspaper the size of bedsheets, scanning the latest Bollywood masala, or musing about the fraught state of the Mumbai Metro, we found out just how journalists write news – using the pyramid structure to frontload information for audiences who come to the newspaper for low‐fluff news. We did this so we could write for newspapers. For the next ten weeks, we were drafting, reviewing and re‐drafting articles about news that grabbed our attention – news that was recent and relevant and most importantly, news that excited our students.
An assessment like this, or a project‐based assessment, is a key feature of Middle Years English. We used lines of inquiry, or tiny, specific questions to solve a real‐world problem ‘How do journalists get published?’
Project‐based assessments like these offer several benefits for Middle School students. From a neurological perspective, authentic assessments are particularly critical for them as the brain is undergoing crucial changes during this period. One study published in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem‐based Learning in 2022 examined the effects of project‐based assessments on Middle School students’ learning. The researchers found that performance‐based assessments that required students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in real‐world scenarios were more effective than traditional assessments in promoting students’ procedural thinking and understanding. Furthermore, researchers found that students ‘perceived development of their cognitive abilities and personal competencies.’ I spoke with my own Year 8 students to see what they thought about this research.
‘Knowing this article was targeted for kids,’ Rayan (name changed) reported, ‘I had to skip the fancy language modern‐day authors use, I had to think of it like it was an article a friend my age or younger would read so I had to adapt my language while keeping a serious and composed style of writing.’
Project‐based assessments also work to develop executive functioning skills such as planning, decision‐making and problem‐solving. Authentic assessments, like writing for publications, can help to promote the development of these skills by providing opportunities to practise them in a safe and supportive environment and reduce stress for students. ‘You do not get stressed as you would with a timed test, and I believe you can express yourself more without pressure,’ Rayan explained, ‘Especially with a journalism task, it would have been difficult to write a good, rich and detailed article in 50 minutes. I had to do extensive research that wouldn’t have been possible without having the flexibility of time.’
The tenets of authentic learning also rely on multiple cycles of feedback, as detailed in Alexis Shea’s Guide to Project‐Based Learning from Teaching Times, a UK‐based repository of professional development research and articles. According to this guide, feedback should come from multiple stakeholders: adults and experts, other pupils who are carrying out the same project, and feedback from the students themselves. ‘I believe getting an audience and feedback really helps the writer. When people clapped after I read my introduction, I felt confident about my work and kept working on the task. Overall, positive or not, feedback is always good to receive.’ It was not just Rayan I saw with his nose to the pages. Students in my class were far more eager to jump into drafting after conferencing with me or a peer and making a plan of action for their draft after receiving the feedback.
We are in a unique context at TBS. As curriculum designers, we are tasked with balancing the pressures of high‐stakes, external exams with the rigour of skills our students will need no matter their path. In a woolly time, rife with self‐doubt, Middle Years students need opportunities to succeed in the world they are learning to inhabit. Therefore, I posit the need to infuse authentic assessment throughout our programme as we lift collaboration, learning how to define research, and failing forward. We celebrate those in our adolescent community with raucous applause. And some gasps, for the drama.
- Hava, Videgor E. ‘Effects of Innovative Project‐Based Learning Model on Students’ Knowledge Acquisition, Cognitive Abilities, and Personal Competences.’
- Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem‐based Learning, vol. 16, no. 1, 2022, p. 17. Eric Ed, https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1373016
- Shea, Alexis ‘How to give effective feedback in PBL.’
- Creative Teaching and Learning, vol. 6, no.2, 2016, pp. 56‐63
- Teaching Times, https://www.teachingtimes.com/effective-feedback-pbl/