Merely the word “assessment” can inspire a wave of dread in students and, if we’re being honest, educators. Students picture “TEST” written in block letters at the top of a long worksheet with too many words and tiny font. Teachers picture the hours of grading and data entry required to log student success. But frameworks like Understanding by Design (UbD) and Project-Based Learning (PBL) have been instrumental in shifting assessments away from the singular form of route-based information regurgitation. Formative assessments now come in all shapes and colors, ranging from verbal “exit tickets” to drawing pictures to “temperature checks” with thumbs up, down, or somewhere in the middle. In this post, I will discuss some of the primary formative assessments we selected in Game On! that ensured student understanding and supported necessary learning for the summative assessment. 

Feedback is a crucial element of PBL, both given and received. It is integral to creating critical problem solvers, flexible to adapting their projects to meet the genuine issues that arise when dealing with “real-world” content. It also teaches students how to reflect upon their own work and kindly provide feedback for their classmates. Anyone who has worked in an office setting knows that being able to give and receive praise and criticism is profoundly necessary. Thus, when setting out to build a game unit grounded in PBL, we consistently returned to feedback forums as a foundation for assessing student understanding and actual game development. 

Formative assessments need to occur from the get-go, and our project hook (the unboxing video; see Game On! Part 2) was a perfect place to begin. Students practiced giving feedback on pre-existing YouTube videos from children their age. We started by watching an unboxing video as a group and asking for volunteers to provide feedback based on categories. Was the video engaging? Did it teach us how to play the game? Was it clear and concise? Allowing students to practice giving feedback with content created by an outside source gave room for growth and mistakes without hurt feelings. Students practiced sharing detailed positive feedback (moving away from “I like it!” and “I think it’s good!) and constructive negative feedback that was sensitive and helpful. With this practice and demonstration under their belts, the fourth graders headed off to create their own unboxing videos. 

Giving feedback to a stranger who can’t hear you is one thing. Giving feedback to a classmate sitting next to you is quite another. We matched groups of students and asked them to watch each others’ videos. To assist students with their feedback, we provided them with a sheet of “tag” sentence starters (pictured to the right). We then circulated the classroom observing how students provided feedback to each other. We noted whether students were thoughtful, detailed, and helpful in their responses. This assessment assisted us in noting who needed more guidance with feedback and would require extra support with more in-depth feedback sessions to come. 

In addition to asking students to provide feedback, it felt important to note how they received it. Thus, we asked students to complete a written worksheet noting valuable feedback they received, what they felt proud of, and how they anticipated using this information in creating their own game. We utilized this assessment to check whether students could reflect upon and apply feedback to their work. These simple, formative assessments of a class discussion, feedback workshop, and written reflection proved integral to setting up students for success in their project creation. 

The more comfortable students felt giving and receiving feedback, the more successful they were in creating their game. Students developed their initial game prototype in small groups and received feedback from classmates, their “client” (the teacher they were creating the game for), professional gamers, and teachers. Throughout these feedback sessions, we gradually removed sentence starters and began to incorporate rubrics. 

Rubrics are highly beneficial tools for educators and students throughout assessment practices. They provide students with clear expectations for an end product and allow them to gauge their work along the way. The fourth-graders received rubrics with categories similar to the ones we’d used with the unboxing videos on day one. They ranked their own games on engagement/fun factor, educational value, effectiveness/design, and idea/creativity on a scale of one to five. Then, they ranked each other’s games in a feedback forum. To keep morale high and prevent students from “grading” each other (as they do love to do), we decided to use a rating system of one to give “trees” (our school mascot). It was hugely helpful to compare how students scored their own games to how their evaluators rated them. This practice allowed us to assess how well they understood the rubric requirements and where they needed additional assistance or feedback. For example, if a group ranked their math game five out of five “trees” on “educational value,” but their game failed to teach anything mathematical, we knew to step in to push them towards a more educational vision. 

In our final gameplay session, we placed every game on a different table, and groups rotated, playing them and providing written feedback. Groups wrote down something they enjoyed, an area the game makers could expand on in the future, and an overall opinion of each game. As we had scaffolded feedback sessions throughout the unit, we felt confident that students would be able to share helpful and kind feedback to each other. Finally, we asked students to assess their own game individually. This assessment did not only touch on the final product but also the process. We asked students to reflect on how feedback played a role in their final creation, how their game had changed from initial prototype to final product, and what they might do differently if they had the chance. Additionally, we asked them to give a final “tree scale” ranking of their game based on the previously stated categories. This reflection acted as an element of our summative assessment: reviewing the game based on the same criteria we, as teachers, would be grading it. 

Formative assessments serve as a pathway toward a summative assessment with crucial checkpoints. We developed feedback-based assessments to create thoughtful, flexible, and reflective game makers. Critically, these sessions began with verbal discussions and rubric grading and ended with written feedback. Scaffolding is crucial to ensure feedback always remains kind and helpful. Feedback is a tricky thing to master – even for adults. So why not start that process in the safe and mistake-riddled classroom space? 

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