Friday, March 18, 2016

Assess Like...a British Reality TV Show?

I’ve recently been obsessed with The Great British Bake-Off. First, I’m a tiny bit of an anglophile—an English major with several years experience of teaching 12th grade Brit lit. Which led to taking our small children (ages 8 and 10) on a family trip to England, spending time in London (here they mostly played with cousins while we did the sight-seeing), a in the Lake District (Wordsworth for me, Beatrix Potter for them), near Hadrian’s Wall (several Rosemary Sutcliffe novels), in the Dales (James Herriot country). Returning from that trip, we instituted Sunday afternoon tea, a tradition which my daughters, now married, continue in their own families.

The differences between a British reality TV show where the contestants are eliminated week by week and an American one are…well, a study in comparative culture we find amusing.

But that’s not why I’m writing about it here in my teaching blog. It’s because one of the big things my inner teacher-nerd keeps noticing is what I can learn from the show’s assessment methods: several assessments (a scrapbook, not a snapshot), valid tasks, and articulated criteria. (It’s almost like Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood have read Understanding by Design….) 
  1. Several assessments: No one gets cut because of one bad bake. Each round consists of 3 different challenges. First there is a signature bake where bakers get the brief ahead of time so they can prepare, and they are expected to demonstrate creativity. Then there’s a technical bake where bakers don’t get to prepare—they’re given a sketchy recipe and need to demonstrate knowledge and skills like making a sponge or rising dough. These are judged blind. Finally, there’s the show-stopper: another one they can prepare for, and it has to be amazing, a party centerpiece. 
  2. Valid tasks: They’re looking for Britain’s best home baker, so they aren’t asked to take multiple choice tests or to submit recipes, but to actually bake. Stuff happens along the way—a heat wave on chocolate day, a jelly that doesn’t set—and they have to deal with it as best they can. That’s life.
  3. Articulated criteria: Mary and Paul don’t have a 5-point rubric they fill out, but as experienced bakers, they can articulate ahead of time things like, “What we’ll be looking for here is a really good bake, original flavors, and a professional finish.” 

Now I’m not saying that I want to vote a student out of the baking tent every week, but what if I thought of assessing every unit this way:
  1. What are at least 3 different ways students could show their mastery of content, skills, and understandings?
  2. To what extent can I design those assessments to be tasks and products that are valid, life-like, demonstrating transferability?
  3. To what extent do I clearly articulate criteria, so students know exactly what they have to do, and can even judge their own product?
How are your assessments like The Great British Bake-Off?

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