Pack your headphones for these final exams.


The last time you listened to a podcast, did you think, “Hmmm… making one of these might make for a good final exam?”

If not, then this post is just for you!

For months, 10th grade English students from Norwalk High School (Connecticut) listened to Seriala podcast that tells one true story over the course of a season. Teacher Alexa Schlechter thought that traditional assessment (sitting down, test, essay) could not quite capture what the students learned from listening to the podcasts.

So she had them create podcasts for their final exam. Why not?

For assessment, instead of focusing on the content within the Serial podcast, Schlechter gave her students the opportunity to demonstrate what they learned from engaging with the medium itself.  How do people work together to create a podcast? How do you tell a story through this medium? And how can this be attached to critical thinking and other school standards?

The students drew from themes in To Kill a Mockingbird (which they read earlier in the year) to create their own podcasts. They worked in groups and were allowed to be as creative as they wanted, as Schlechter broke down the project and skills needed for her students along the way. Everyday, each student had to write a paragraph assessing their group’s performance. The students then presented the podcasts during the finals period.

Up to this point I’ve talked about project-based learning as a means to an end; a way to foster learning that could perhaps be assessed at a later time.  I haven’t talked about project-based learning being used as the actual end – as the assessment of learning in the classroom. Yet what we see in this example is that, through careful design and guidance, PBL can be used to assess what our students know.  It can be used to show the critical thinking necessary to make connections between different themes, ideas, and skills.

Should we look at this example and think harder about assessment as a whole? Can PBL be used to assess work on a larger scale? Perhaps the most important factor in the Norwalk High School project was that the students had to journal daily and essentially assess themselves along the way. Putting in measures such as these can help more complex manners of assessment succeed despite challenges that may emerge.

Image: “Modified Podcast Logo with My Headphones Photoshopped On” by Colleen AF Venable used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.