Show What You Know

In the latest school Pulse blog, we take a look at the MCDS Middle Schoolers' sketchbook projects as an alternative to traditional class assessments. Faculty members Alyson Greenfield, Terri Pasqualin, and Lindsy Seidel presented at the Annual Conference for Middle Level Education in Philadelphia on their Humanities Sketchbooks in sessions entitled, Show What You Know: A Creative Cross-Curricular Approach to Assessment.


The sketchbooks serve as an outlet that promotes thinking outside the box in English and Social Studies. Students use reflection, analysis, and creativity when creating their sketches based on the assigned readings.

The project was initially based on visualizing what the students read in Ms. Pasqualin and Ms. Seidel’s English classes through drawings with textual support, but then extended as a cross subject collaboration with English and Social Studies. The sketchbook was then implemented into the curriculum as a vehicle to increase the development of visual-spatial awareness in the Middle School Students.

The sketchbook grading rubric is based on the skills assessed in a traditional test. The emphasis is not on artistic ability, but rather on intention, symbolism, and craftsmanship.

Each student has to work to their own highest level of performance. The teachers know their individual students’ artistic and literary abilities.

One Social Studies student, who normally created exceptional work, was disappointed with his B on a sketchbook assignment, when Ms. Greenfield told him she knew he completed it in five minutes. Other students would have gotten an A on the assignment he turned in, but it wasn’t his best work as an individual.

The students that do have a creative talent, however, get a chance to show their abilities.

“Those students that are creative and artistic get the time to shine in a class that is normally just English and Social Studies,” said Greenfield. The students can either draw out their sketchbooks, or use photos from the internet to show what they have learned with literary or historical context.

Another benefit of the sketchbook assignment is the collaborative work amongst students. The sketchbook is an in-class assignment only, so the students work in close proximity to each other, allowing them to aid each other and learn from one another.

With the start of the sketchbooks, challenges began to arise for both the students and the teachers, according to Ms. Seidel. The creative aspect of the assignment pushed the students out of their comfort zones, but also forced them to rekindle some learning habits from as far back as kindergarten, such as cutting and pasting.

For the teachers, it was easy to forget that the 7th graders lack some of the executive functioning skills to benefit with time management. What might have taken two class periods took some students the entire week.

Sketchbooks tie in a number of learning qualities to benefit all students and push them to achieve their full creative and academic ability. Rather than having the students write a paragraph about their reading, they must show a deeper understanding with drawings, quotes, and literary context.

Learning outside of the box and being pushed out of a student’s comfort zone are important aspects of educating the whole child. To learn more about the Middle School curriculum and our Mission at Miami Country Day School, visit miamicountryday.org.
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