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Artifacts of Learning

Dee Dee Whitaker
Product Content Manager

August 2018


As teachers, we constantly evaluate and assess student learning. We use formal scoring, such as checking homework and grading tests and lab reports. Or more informally, we assess student progress through verbal checks when we ask or answer students’ questions. Scanning the room for a puzzled expression, a face lit by an aha moment, or a groan of complete confusion reveals much about where students are in terms of understanding.

These evaluation techniques give us a snapshot of student progress at a moment in time, but they don’t show us the big picture over an extended period. As much as we need instantaneous checks for understanding, we also need ways to measure progress as we move through a topic, unit, or even a full course.

Notebooks and portfolios are a repository of student artifacts

Many of us choose to use student science notebooks or portfolios to track student progress through a learning sequence or the entire course, which provides great opportunities for students to evaluate both their own and their peer’s learning. Notebooks and portfolios are a repository of student artifacts because they house evidence of student work.

Documenting student progress at a higher level

Moving toward three-dimensional learning and the Next Generation Science Standards* (NGSS) takes documenting student progress to an even higher level. The Achieve Lesson Screener advises, “Teachers deliberately seek out student artifacts that show direct, observable evidence of learning, building toward all three dimensions of the NGSS at a grade-appropriate level.”

Other than teacher-evaluated, written assignments, what can your students produce that is direct, observable evidence of learning?

Learning Activity Type Evidence
Labs • Video record of group presentation of results
• Written record of individual and who class data
• Video record of lab procedures and data
• Student produced flow chart of lab procedures
• Student produced flow chart of analysis procedures
• Peer and group reviews of analysis with every draft labeled: Peer reviewed by ________ and edited version # ___
Homework • Peer and class reviews of homework with questions labeled: Peer reviewed by ________ and corrected on ________
Projects and Presentations • Video presentations and posts to a class website. With each video, include blank space for students to "ask the expert" for additional information needed about the presentation.
• Projects presented in poster format and class gallery walks where students take pictures and jot down notes (easy to do with electronic notebooks)
Models • Pictures, sketchbooks with labels that show relationships, or procedural diagrams of model iterations
Research Projects • Peer and teacher reviews of project drafts labeled: Peer reviewed by ________, on ________ and edited draft # ________
Phenomenon • Written or recorded initial thoughts (date), learning activity # ___summary, revision of explanation (date), repeat, final explanation (date). This claim/evidence/reasoning with subsequent revisions as students gather more evidence.


These are only a few examples, but they may spark more ideas to tangibly and concretely document student progress across all three dimensions of learning. With a little creativity and ingenuity, the possibilities are endless.

*Next Generation Science Standards® is a registered trademark of Achieve. Neither Achieve nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards were involved in the production of, and do not endorse, these products.

DeeDee Whitaker

About the Author

Dee Dee Whitaker has been a science educator for more than 30 years. She holds a BS and MAT from UNC-Chapel Hill, is certified in science supervision, and National Board certified in adolescent-young adult chemistry education. Her teaching passions are chemistry with authentic student lab experiences and Earth/environmental science. She’s held a Kenan Fellowship and a NC Climate Fellowship. She’s read AP® Environmental Science exams, provided curriculum and assessment development for the NC Department of Public Instruction, and held an appointment with the NC Environmental Education Advisory Council.

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