Assessments need to be worthwhile and they need to have a purpose. While some students are naturally grade-driven, a number of students simply don’t give their best effort if the only person who will see their work is the teacher.

And frankly, can you blame them?

In life, our jobs always have an audience. As teachers, that audience is our students, parents and administrators. If you work in business, it’s your customers. In a restaurant it’s the diners. And on and on. We preform, every day, for some group or another. I can count on one hand the number of times, outside of my own school work, that I’ve had to present something to an audience of one, only for their approval. So why should we expect our kids to do it day in, and day out? Using a critical audience to create real life, performance situations is one of the best ways to create authentic assessment and increase student engagement.

Now picture the audience… dressed like clowns?

So how does this work? First of all, recognize that a school abounds with potential audiences. There are other classes, staff, your principal, parents, and of course your class itself. The trick is designing assessments and grading to take advantage of the audience. Here are a couple suggestions on how to use audience as assessment.

Give up control of grading. Take the grading out of your hands and let the audience decide. This might be scary for you and your students, but it gives whatever task you’ve assigned a legitimate and meaningful purpose. I wouldn’t recommend making the whole grade based on audience reaction, but its certainly valid to argue that part of it can be. I also always reserve the right to overrule the audience. Here are two examples:

1. Have your class teach the subject matter and grade them on how well their “students” learn. For example, you might tell a class that they have to create a poster of a simile to explain the three branches of government to a lower grade. The audience (the lower grade), would review a poster, and fill out a few questions to check for understanding. You would then grade your students based on how well their audience responded.

This is an excellent summative assessment. Expect your students achieve a much great understanding of your content, because no one learns as much as the teacher (as you well know)! I recommend showing your students in advance whatever questions the audience will have to answer.

2. Make your presentations competitive and give the highest grade to the winners. Think The Apprentice Shark Tank. Students competing to give the best presentation, make the most compelling argument, etc, etc.

This works on so many levels. Students will prepare their presentations to win over and audience, instead of impress the teacher. Creativity and risk-tasking will flourish. By giving the presenters and presentees clear criteria for judging the presentations, you ensure that the presentations stay academically rigorous, while providing an avenue for peer feedback.

Here’s my feedback, pull harder!

If you do this, don’t force your class to sit through the same presentation over and over. Have groups only present to half the class, and then vote for the two winners who can compete head to head. The groups selected as winners earn the higher grade.

“That’s not fair!” you and some students may say, “What if ALL the groups do a really good job?” First of all, that’s a great problem to have! And secondly, that’s real life. At some point, on a job or scholarship application, your students will probably give their best and get turned down. That’s OK. This author himself recently applied for a fellowship that he didn’t get. I even tried my best! But that’s life, and that’s OK.

That said, there is nothing preventing you from giving losing groups a high grade, just not the highest.

One excellent aspect of using the audience to grade is that it provides students with an authentic avenue for feedback. If their poster fails to teach the first time, they can make changes as necessary (just like we improve our lesson plans after every lesson!). If their presentation fails to impress, the students scoring them can provide respectful feedback about what to improve.

Display work publicly. I typically post exemplarly student work, but once in a while I simply announce that ALL the work, the good, the bad, and the ugly, will be displayed. This demonstrably improves the quality of student work, since the entire school will be seeing it. Again, use discretion and common sense. Each student has their own unique set of circumstances, and if it would be mean or embarrassing to post student work, then I would advise against it.

I’ve only recently started experimenting with this, and I’m certain the two ideas above are just the tip of the iceberg. Have you ever used an audience as assessment? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!



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