Expeditionary Assessment: PBL Lessons from Ron Berger

Expeditionary Learning (EL) is a network of show what you know schools highlighted in our new paper, Deeper Learning For Every Student Every Day. Chief Academic Officer, Ron Berger, is a thoughtful advocate for better assessment.

To understand the culture of revision at EL schools, watch Berger’s famous Austin’s butterfly video where, through a series of revisions, a first grader produced a high quality picture.

In addition to supporting EL schools, Berger and his team have been producing open resource Common Core literacy curriculum that is now widely used by New York schools in grades 3-8.  “It is an attempt to introduce a wider group of teachers toward some of our pedagogical and philosophical values–including issues like compassion, character and social justice in curriculum; promoting student voice, creativity and contribution—in this case within a regular school culture, rather than in our EL network schools,” said Berger.
Student leadership in assessment is clear in EL videos:

A key insight from interviewing Berger was the idea of continuous assessment in a project-based environment. Many teachers consider the final product to be a sufficient form of assessment, but Berger says, “If the teacher isn’t assessing all along the way then the final product will not typically show the high quality of success.” He explains, “You don’t want to undermine the quality of the final product by taking away the scaffolding, but you want a sense of individual student levels of understanding throughout that flow.”  Ron suggests building in smaller assessments, in some cases on demand assessments, at multiple times before the final project, “Don’t wait; check along the way.”

Unlike New Tech Network which uses a project-based school management platform, EL Schools share an educational model, strategies and resources but not a common online platform for learning and assessment. Berger said, “Many of the schools that are most aligned to Standards-based grading have begun using JumpRope,” a Standards-based grade book.

Key, according to Berger, is transferring ownership to students, “the most important shift is what happens at the student level.” He likes to see students taking the lead with project tracking tools.
EL schools are particularly good at big competency-base gateways, like student-led conferences and year-end Passages projects. Other competency-based schools focus more on unit-based assessments.

Ron’s new book–Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming Schools Through Student-Engaged Assessment–comes out in a few weeks, check it out!

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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1 Comment

Jenny short

Is anyone ever in UK and available to speak at conferences? Very interested in Ron Berger work . I am on the Exec of the professional Association AAIA ( the Association for Improvement and Achievement through Assessment )

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