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Small N Designs

I am working with very small populations and must demonstrate evidence of academic progress. My population size can be between 4 and 10 students. Anyone have suggestions for how to reliably document academic growth? I teach science in an alternative learning environment in public schools. I am open to all sorts of ideas and suggestions. Let me know if you need clarification. Thank you!

Hi Elizabeth! There are many approaches to documenting student learning, from quantitative measures using pre-post tests to qualitative measures based on learning performances (Wiggins & McTighe, Understanding by Design). Is your alternative learning environment designed for differently-abled learners, behaviorally-challenged learners, or youth who don't do well in regular classrooms for a variety of reasons? What kind of learning experiences do you design or use--are they uniform lecture/lab type (in which case a written assessment or test is typical) or project based learning types (where a learning portfolio or performance will be more reflective of their growth)?

Hi Elisabeth. Yes, I am working with different abilities, behaviorally challenged, non English speakers, and students who may be two years older than their grade level. Absenteeism is an issue as well.

I try to diversify my lesson plans from PBL to online simulation, hands on lab and demos, a very small amount of traditional lecture, and group work to encourage discussion. I try to incorporate as much reflection on student learning as possible. However, the students burn out, give up, or flat out refuse to reflect.

I think I would be more interested in exploring the PBL approach. PBL is a district goal for instructional delivery. PBA is another district wide goal for teachers K-12 to incorporate. However, you may have more appropriate suggestions for the best ways to document learning gains via PBL that you feel are reliable, especially for this diverse population? Thanks!

Hi Elizabeth! You do have a challenging and interesting group of students to work with! I get it about "reflection burnout." The benefit of doing PBL is that students create artifacts and tools to accomplish their goals, and those can be be assessed using rubrics.Depending on their age you may want to try developing some of the rubrics with students. If you can build projects around issues or community-based projects that the students care about, they are likely to learn the science in service to their goals. For PBA, I'm a fan of science notebooks, so that their writing and reflection work is broken down by day and hour, making the process more organic as they work on a problem. Contextualization and connecting the learning to students' lives is a "doorway" into such work (see S. Tolbert, 2016). Varying the type of student work is also supported by research--drawing, cartooning, photography, expressionist art, diagrams, visual tools. I hope that gives you a start on your journey.