Assessment History

Assessing Colonialism: Part I, the Process

Last Spring I piloted an assessment of  student understanding of the “new” Imperialism in regular level World History classes with eleventh graders.  Students created google slides centered on photos of imperialism.  Students interpreted the photos and analyzed causation, with three slides–before, during, and after–for each photo.  I modified a History Alive! World Connections lesson, and students used History Alive! materials to gather information and practice cause and effect reasoning.  The directions were also on slides:

This assignment format offered several advantages.  Students, working within groups, had choice over the area that they investigated (Africa; East, Southeast, or South Asia; or, Latin America) and selected their own photographs.  Additionally, using google slides allowed me to comment on student work while it was in process.  Of course this is time consuming, since I reviewed eight to nine presentations per class.  Enforcing a file naming protocol, so I I could easily find them in Drive, and creating a palette of comments to copy and paste were both time savers.  At its best this feedback was just-in-time for students to revise and improve their slides.  Thus the process of creating the slides was an embedded formative assessment, a process which can dramatically improve student products.

Using formative assessments and scaffolding student work allows teachers to guide students through more complex and rigorous tasks.  This point is important for faculty discussions over redos and revisions: they don’t make school easier if the tasks required become more challenging.  And, this task was challenging for a lot of students.
Like any good assessment, answers can not be googled.  Students need to understand what imperialism is in order to complete the assignment.  Students who had not learned anything from the textbook or small group discussions of the material were unable to digest the information that they found online. I simply rejected copied and pasted text, recording an Incomplete (50%) for a grade as a place holder if students had done the underlying book work or a zero if they had not.  Similarly, I did not grade incomplete work; I simply indicated what was missing before applying the rubric.  Limiting text to twenty-five words per slide forces students to break down and isolate key ideas.  Students also needed to grapple with causation in order to do before and after slides. This year I will more clearly direct students to consider causes and effects in the practice assignment from the text.  I don’t think I can emphasize too much to students that they will need to analyze, not just transcribe information.

Insisting that students properly cite the photos added a lot of student and teacher work to this assessment. I remain committed to this as an important part of historical practice.  Historians know from where their evidence comes.  I don’t blame the students, given how many uncited images they see every week in teacher-generated presentations.  What I will do this year is emphasize from the beginning that students are well served by looking for images on websites with appropriate, cited photographs, including wikipedia. Catching the uncited photos was time consuming.  Two of the top three comments on my palette last year related to photo citation. I added the suggested websites slide to the directions mid-project last year, and I will be curious to see how emphasizing this from the beginning helps.

My hope is that the aforementioned adjustments will allow a valuable assessment to be less onerous for students and teacher.  My goal for the coming trimester is to have a performance assessment for each of the Standards (see page two here) in the trimester.  Doing this means that the assessments must be manageable in addition to authentic.

By Eric Beckman

I am a veteran high school history teacher interested in decolonizing history curricula, anti-racist pedagogy, and e-learning.

3 replies on “Assessing Colonialism: Part I, the Process”

Kudos, Eric!

All 10th graders, both regular and honors, are required to cite all photos in their major problem solution presentation. Our assignment has some important similarities; we should talk more so you can reference these similarities as you introduce your project. Do you instruct them to use APA citation formatting? Do you require a Works Cited slide?

Love the emphasis on analysis rather than memorizing the definition of imperialism! You will be happy to learn that today in English we had 10 graders engaged in a simulation of the 1932 German elections.

Thanks, Kim! Great to hear that I can have some relevant experiences, and fewer excuses. They are only citing the photos, the rest should draw on classwork to that point. I’d love to hear more about the election simulation.

Let me know what you think!

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