Teachers often ask me about ways to evaluate the projects their children work on—to determine the contribution of a project to the children’s growth, learning, and development. Below are some questions you and your assistants could ask yourselves as a beginning approach to evaluating your project work. The questions are based on discussions I’ve had with teachers about many of their experiences.
Did most of the children become deeply interested in the topic?
It is unlikely that all the children in a class would be equally interested in a topic. But it is a good idea to select a topic that many of the children in the group are likely to become deeply involved in. Experience indicates, by the way, that a topic might work well in one class one year, but not in the class two years later! It depends on so many things.
Every once in a while a child will resist participation in the work involved in the project and will say, “I am not really interested in finding out more about the supermarket.” Then the teacher could say—in a friendly but matter-of-fact tone—“I understand that you are not very interested in that, and I hope the next project we do will be more interesting for you. But, in the meantime, please go over there and help Jordan and Leslie with what they are making.”
Did most of the children learn what you hoped they would about the topic?
It is a good idea to take some time before launching a project to make a list of what you hope the children will learn—not just about the topic itself but about how to use certain kinds of skills (for example, measuring things), how to work cooperatively with others, and so forth (see The Project Approach: Anticipating What Children Might Learn).
Did the children do most of the work?
On the basis of lots of experience with teachers of young children conducting projects, I found that one of the hardest things for them is to let the children do the work! There is always a great temptation to do the work for them. But children can learn so much—even if they are struggling with the work. Instead of solving a problem for them, let the children know that you are available if they decide they need your help. You can say, “I’ll be over there if you need help.” It is also important to teach children that it is ok to decline your offer of help by saying politely something like, “Thanks, but I don’t need help right now.”
Not long ago I was impressed by how much a teacher of a class of 3- and 4-year-olds taught the children when they were in the final phase of the project. The teacher and the children were working on preparing a display on the bulletin board. The teacher went to the group of children who had worked on a particular subtopic of the supermarket project, and she gave them about 10 photographs she had taken when they were “building” their part of the market in their classroom. She pointed to the bulletin board and said, “You know, we’ve only got room for four photos here. So pick out the four photos you think will help your moms and dads see how you made this.” At first, the children squabbled when one boy argued against one of the photos because he wasn’t in it. But the teacher again reminded them that the purpose of the pictures was to let someone who wasn’t there understand and appreciate how they made the item. What she did was provoke these young children to imagine how someone who wasn’t there could be helped to see what happened. This kind of “anticipatory reasoning skill” is a life skill, and its development can be launched very early in a real context, not a phony one. Never be phony with children!
You might want to try out these ideas to see if they help you in assessing what is being accomplished during a project and also in planning your next project. We look forward to getting your reactions and suggestions.