Students learn from assessments that inform and improve their performance -- what Grant Wiggins calls "educative assessments." Yet often a bibliography is designed to be an "audit," an assessment at the end of teaching and learning. A typical documentation standard reads something like this one from California:

What does "understand" mean and how can we assess it?

If we want to assess a knowledge of format...

...then we should give students an editing test.

What are students doing? For the teacher: Students use the MLA or APA Handbook to edit five citations that represent what you have been teaching.  Alternatively a student is given a handout of citation models that you have created and is asked to peer edit another student's bibliography.

What big ideas should students understand? To the student: Formatting should be accurate and consistent so that the next researcher can easily locate your sources. Documentation styles look different because they reflect the needs and priorities of different disciplines. For example, in APA style the date of publication is placed immediately after the author's name because currency is an indicator of quality in science, technology, mathematics and engineering.


If we want to assess the range of resources used...

...then we should ask students to analyze their sources in categories and justify the result.

What are students doing? For the teacher: As students create a working bibliography, they can tally by format (Web site, book, journal articles, etc.). If they are using NoodleBib, their sources are categorized (by medium, citation type, and date) under questions about the source list. After examining these statistics, students must determine if they need to do additional research or write an explanation of why only certain types of sources are useful for this topic. The student's information need will determine what, if anything, is missing.

What big ideas should students understand? To the student: By using a range or resources you can be sure that you have investigated a topic from a variety of perspectives and with sufficient depth. Certain kinds of information may only exist in a particular type of source. For example, it is unlikely that a breaking news event will be discussed in a journal or book because of their position on a publishing timeline. For example, If you realize that types of sources (e.g., books and journal articles) are missing from your bibliography on a current political event, you should ask yourself "Why?" Daily newspapers and news blogs report events immediately but are less likely to include background on a crisis or they may treat long-term chronic conditions superficially. When you realize you have information for who, what, where and when but not why, your will need to consider locating other types of resources like books and journal articles to understand the context of a current news event.


If we want to assess an understanding of the purpose of a bibliography...

...then we should expect students to use other bibliographies as a starting point for their research and to reflect on their process.

What are students doing? For the teacher: Students can be given a bibliography created by a students from a previous year on this topic. They should be asked to find, use and evaluate the sources with the knowledge that their bibliography will, in turn, be used by next year's students. Then they look for additional sources to fill in gaps or update their topic. Ask students to respond to these prompt: "What advice can you give the next student about these resources?" and "What tips can you give students about locating new material for this source list?" Their writing should reveal their understand about how bibliographies function in research. If students are working in teams, their collaborative working bibliography should contain citations for resources that were consulted (not just those used). The student responsible for extracting information from a source should annotate the citation to reflect the strengths and weaknesses of the source and sign it. All students should write a description of the contribution of each team member to the bibliography weighing the usefulness of entries, and describe the process of compiling a collaborative "Works Consulted" bibliography for the next year's team.

What big ideas should students understand? To the student: A bibliography is not a form to complete just for me. Rather, a bibliography acknowledges your debt to others and offers help to the next "generation" of researchers. By structuring the way you collect, organize and update information sources, a bibliography supports your thinking process and the development of your personal perspective. In being an ethical researcher who documents the work of others, you are becoming part of the academic community, contributing to the creative commons and to future intellectual work in this field.


If we want to assess the ability to evaluate the authority and credibility of sources...

...then we should ask students to write critical annotations for each citation.

What are students doing? For the teacher: After the student has completed the final draft (not the polished paper), ask student to annotate their sources in response to these questions:

What big ideas should students understand? To the student: Critical annotations help the researcher focus on the precise value of a source. One author may have actually witnessed an event or a foundation may do research in this field. As you distance yourself from your almost-finished work by focusing once again on your sources, you may have new insights or make connections that your previously missed which might lead to a revision of a particular idea in your work. Welcome these ideas and changes - they can enrich your final work because they often represent high-level thinking like analysis, evaluation, and synthesis.


If we want students to understand how work can improve...

...then we should give students ongoing feedback on a working bibliography.

What are students doing? For the teacher: Students should be expected to respond to your interim feedback by adding or modifying citations, asking questions, and even disagreeing with your suggestions.

What big ideas should students understand? For the student: The process of applying my feedback demonstrates to both of us that you understand it. Sometimes my comments may be cryptic; you should ask questions when you don't understand them. Since you are becoming expert in your topic, you may have knowledge that I don't and, therefore, might disagree with what I suggest. Please respond by explaining your thinking, so that I know that you have considered my suggestion.