Not everyone is good at expressing what they know through a timed test. Everybody knows that, but most classes still rely on tests. I designed these assessments for my 11th grade US History II classes, both honors and standard level. The results were mostly quite good, especially the oral history assignments. I did have students complete an open-notes pop quiz (they were warned in advance, but did not know the exact date) to hold them accountable for their notes and classwork.
Positives: Students had a choice, and some students absolutely threw themselves into their work. One student in my honors class brought in a diary twice as long as the minimum requirement with detailed descriptions of her character’s family and personal life, in addition to the required historical elements. Another very shy boy in the standard-level class brought in an excellent oral history paper based on an interview with a Korean War veteran he worked with. A few students interviewed their grandparents, several watched “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” although by far the diary was the most popular option.
Negatives: As I began teaching halfway through the year with these students, this was the first non-traditional assessment I did with them. A handful of students did not complete the assignment and had various excuses, many of which did not hold water. I had cautioned students that the film paper was not actually the “easiest” assignment but many students chose that, thinking it would be easy. Two students said they could not find any of the films or any other suitable ones, and another said that the film was too boring to watch all the way through. One student copied a synopsis of the film from Wikipedia. These were exceptions, but I wish I had done more to support them so they could have completed the assignment as planned.
The Assignment: I am including the text of the assignment sheet I gave to students. Feel free to modify this and use it for your own classes. I am also including the text of a “tips” sheet that gives extra guidance and suggestions, as well as a template of the film paper.