I get a lot of emails from teachers asking how to evaluate project-based learning activities and what to put in the gradebook. So, I will show you how you can assess project-based learning with rubrics in the classroom. We’ll also focus on how to use them to evaluate the process of the activity and not just the final product.
I also have a FREE project-based learning planning guide for you.
1. Your evaluation system needs to evaluate each individual child.
Your evaluation system needs to allow you to evaluate the individual student even though they will collaborate during the project and may even work with a group or partner the entire time.
You don’t want to give one grade to an entire group. That’s not how project-based learning works.
2. Evaluation should be kid-friendly and transparent
Your students should understand what’s expected of them before they begin. It needs to be very easy for them to understand how they will be evaluated. In addition, your evaluation system should be accessible. For example, if you’re using a rubric or something similar, students should have access to it throughout the project.
3. Evaluation must be open-ended to allow for a variety of products
You want your students to come up with different ideas, and in order to do that, you have to leave the evaluation open-ended. You can’t evaluate students based on completing a poster, website, or specific end product. If you do, that’s the only product they can create, defeating the purpose of having a choice and voice within project-based learning.
4. The evaluation should assess the entire process, not just the end result
Many teachers are concerned that if students work on a project for three weeks, they will have just one grade to put in the gradebook. But that’s not the case. Your evaluation system needs to evaluate the entire process.
So, I’m going to share the rubric system I use, which is very popular for evaluating project-based learning. I’ll also share how to use the rubric to assess the entire process instead of just the result.
How to evaluate project-based learning with rubrics
For our example, I’m going to use a specific rubric I use for an ELA project based on character traits and the book Wonder.
I like to use a 1-4 scale, but you can use whatever scale you normally use in rubrics. In this case, the four means exceeding the standard, three means meeting, two means approaching, and one means falling far below. To me, a one in a rubric means there is no attempt to complete the work.
This example is a condensed rubric. Some of my rubrics have four or five categories, but this project uses a shorter one.
Research & Information Gathering
In-depth inquiry is a big part of project-based learning, so I have a section on the rubric for research and information gathering. Within this project, students learn about character traits through in-depth inquiry. So, this is where I’m grading them for that specific work.
Although they are discussing and reading within small groups, each student is graded for the notes they take. A lot of students will go above and beyond by researching at home or just doing extra research they need to understand the topic. So, that’s what I include in the four as exceeding.
Planning & Critical Thinking
The next section on the rubric is planning and critical thinking, which is a big part of project-based learning. Instead of grading students on each step they did within the project since many will do each step differently, we grade them on the planning and critical thinking skills they used within the project.
The students make decisions and choices each step of the way. Those choices have to be logical and based on their research for them to score high on this section of the rubric.
For this project, students were tasked with making an interactive display that we put together as an entire class display to teach students about the book and character traits. So they were not given directions on what an interactive display should look like. As a result, all projects are different in the results, leaving it very open-ended.
For students to get a four, they have to create something innovative. They need to create something different from what other students come up with, that’s very hands-on. It also needs to show and highlight the character trait and even very well.
Students have an interesting display for a three, but not anything innovative. We always want to push students toward the innovative side.
Let’s talk about the gradebook
Many teachers ask me if they should give a grade for each section of a project-based learning rubric in the gradebook. And my answer is always the same—you need to put what works best for you, your students, and your school in the gradebook.
If your school wants a grade for ELA every week and they have set that, then that’s something you’re going to have to use the rubric to create a grade every week. For example, you can input two separate grades for this rubric section if it takes two weeks to research.
Maybe the first week, you have a student putting in minimal effort, and they get a one or a two. Then the next week, they picked up and did a little better, learned some strategies, and they get a three. So that can be two different grades you put in the gradebook.
However, if your school is more relaxed about it, I suggest having a score for each section of the rubric.
I like to look at each student overall to look at where they ended up. If they started slow and needed a little help, especially if it’s their first PBL, I’m more likely to grade toward the end of the research where they ended up.
So again, how you handle your gradebook for project-based learning will be individual to what works best for you personally. I know we like to hear exactly what to do, but that’s not always the case. Our schools and classrooms work so differently.
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I recommend using a rubric similar to the one I showed above. If you have other skills you want students to work on, such as written skills, they can also be included in the rubric. In fact, this is my only rubric that doesn’t have a writing skill built-in because I had a big focus on the character trait piece.
If you want students to do a presentation, you can include an oral presentation on the rubric. You can include anything you want your students to do from start to finish in a separate piece of the rubric.
If you have started project-based learning or are looking into it and need a way to plan it, stay organized, and ensure you include the essential parts of PBL, check out my FREE planning guide here. It’s a great tool that thousands of teachers have downloaded to help plan project-based learning in their classrooms.
If you want more support, including step-by-step instructions, check out the Implement Project-Based Learning From Start to Finish course. It’s a professional development course worth eight credit hours. The course is entirely online and self-paced; you get specific feedback from me and access to a private Facebook group.
I hope this has helped you learn how to evaluate project-based learning using rubrics. Remember that the way you put this in your gradebook is what works best for you when converting rubric work. Since you have several different categories for the project, you’ll have several different grades, which is awesome!