Panel Discussion as Assessment

Panel discussion or forums for summative assessments create healthy competition-like tension, encourage collaboration and are easily scaffolded for ELL students or differently abled students.  Panel assessments are easy to assign, the ‘correcting’ is accomplished on the spot and they engage students in collaborative work. In an inquiry unit, student generated questions become the final assessment questions. Here’s how it’s done! (The directions assume the students have been working on an inquiry or project based unit of instruction in which they have already been working in cooperative groups.)

  1. The teacher selects a number of questions about the topic from student generated questions or teacher constructed questions. Usually they will be a combination of both. The answers to the questions should be open ended. Whether subjective or objective, the student s must support their answers with evidence.
  2. The questions are given to the collaborative groups in advance. In an advanced class, this may not be necessary, but for other classes, this step is essential. I usually assign 10 to 12 questions.
  3. Students receive two grades; one for their teamwork and one for their answers to the questions. The weight given to each grade is up to the practitioner, but I have usually weight the team grade as 25% and the individual grade as 75%.
  4. The team grading begins at this step. Students work in collaborative groups to prepare their answers. Preparation involves research, referring to real events, finding evidence for opinions and practicing responses and coaching teammates. I’ve watched my students take copious notes during preparation, practice responses with their peers and urge their less serious classmates to take the work more seriously. For ELL students and differently-abled students, this collaborative approach and coaching is especially useful. The team grade is based on how well students cooperate and assist each other in this step.
  5. On the day of the panel discussion, I usually invite guests – again, I am trying to make this assessment a healthy high-stakes event. Parents, other teachers or even other classes can be included. The team is called to the front of the room. I usually have them sit at a long rectangular table. Each student is asked two questions from the ten possible questions. They do not know which question they will be asked. I then score the answer using a rubric. It is also possible to ask a neutral guest to give input on the quality of answers OR have the students fill out a score sheet on the performance of their classmates. While I value the input of the observers, I always stress that I am the one giving the grade.

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