Measuring Up: 6 Focus Areas for Blended Curriculum Assessment

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It is true, not all curriculum is created equal. There are specific things I look for when reviewing a curriculum to make the best decisions for kids and teachers. So when my friends at We Are Teachers asked me to take a look at, Measuring Up, a blended curriculum for grades 2-8, I was eager to check it out and provide feedback.

This post is sponsored by We Are Teachers and Mastery Education. All opinions expressed are my own. (Meaning, if I don’t like something about a particular education product I will not write about it on my blog)

I immediately recognized many positives while reading through the sample curriculum:

  • Concepts connected by what students will learn; to what they may already know; to real-world examples.
  • Academic vocabulary in context.
  • Scaffolded learning with guided instruction and gradual release of responsibility.
  • Apply learning independently.

Along with the previous list, two things stuck out to me about Measuring Up that I appreciate as a professional. First, the instruction is done by the expert classroom teacher, not the computer; and second, the Measuring Up Live 2.0 version aligned with my view on student-learning and assessment which they have streamlined through the use of computer applications.

6 Focus Areas for Blended Curriculum Assessment:

  1. Practice – Whether it is a high-stakes test or a certification exam; assessment practices are shifting from paper and pencil to an online version for a variety of reason (costs, access, data disaggregation, etc.) When students have little to no practice or frame of reference to online testing, anxiety rises and results are impacted. Blended curriculum should contain both digital and analog assessment options, as well as multiple types of assessment students,  can take in both a low-stake and high-stakes environment.  
  2. Cognitive Demand – If students have limited interaction and touches on devices when it comes to testing, all of their cognitive energy is wasted on how to manipulate the computer instead of answering the questions. Cognitive energy is best used for thinking critically and demonstrating understanding. From drag and drop to typing extended answers, when students have little access to the types of computer assessments they will take in their schooling and life, cognitive demands are misplaced on basic computer skills.
  3. Adaptive – When evaluating curriculum, edtech options for assessment should include adaptive measures, meaning, the test is sensitive to the answers the student provides and modifications are made based on answers. This ensures that the just right measures are used to gauge what the student knows and what they are not understanding.
  4. Feedback – Feedback is another area I explore when looking at assessment provided by curriculum with blended components. Feedback could come in the form of immediate grading, but could also provide extensions and reinforcement. All of these provides students with an understanding of what they have mastered and what additional support they can access to continue refining their learning.
  5. Mastery and Goal Setting – Curriculum that provides assessment should be aligned to the standards and instruction. It should provide a clear picture as to which skills and standards the students have mastered, what they have left to master and provide a direction on how to move forward. Measuring up provides students and teachers this information, as well as a way for students to set their own learning goals.
  6. Informs Instruction – FInally, data collected is useless unless it is used to inform instruction. Along with providing formative and summative student information, an assessment done via technology streamlines the process of accessing, disaggregating, and changing instruction to best meet students’ needs.

Curriculum cycles are a part of every district I have worked with over the past 10 years. Making the most informed purchasing decisions helps educators in their instruction and assessment of students. While all companies and curriculum writers provide unique frameworks or specialty components, be sure that any curriculum claiming to be blended places value in the professional and contains a comprehensive assessment system, similar to that of Measuring Up,  with a focus on the 6 areas above.

7 Benefits of Audiobooks

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Is listening to an Audiobooks the same as reading a book? Is it cheating or lazy to listen to instead of actually reading it? Do audiobooks help to develop readers or hurt their development?

All of these questions were unearthed during a conversation I had with a fellow educator whose daughter was listening to books at home instead of reading them. The simple answer is YES, audiobooks are similar to reading and have benefits to the listener.

Some date the origins of audiobooks to that of oral storytelling and how stories were passed down through generations before a written language and the act of reading was mainstream for the common person. In education, I was surprised to see the amount of research done around this area and found most agree that similar skills are used and when you consider the goal of reading, listening to an audiobook does count as reading.

The goal of reading is not to decode words and be able to pronounce them but to comprehend and think critically about what you read.

With this goal in mind, I offer 7 Benefits of Audiobooks:

  1. Independence – A student’s oral vocabulary far outreaches their reading abilities. When one accesses an audiobook, it promotes independence. It also is a great way to differentiate content in the classroom! 
  2. Access to Information – Audiobooks, and listening to text, provides access to those students who wouldn’t be able to read the text independently. When teachers deny students access to information based on their reading level they are promoting a division of inequity. There are many reasons why students struggle to read, but just because they can not decode specific words on a page does not mean that they also struggle to think and understand. Reading level does not equal intelligence, but limiting access to information because of it harms students.  
  3. Broadens one’s world, locales, accents, dialects, cultures – Stories have the ability to transport readers to different places, experience different cultures, and identify with others who are similar. Developing empathy and awareness can be achieved through audiobooks, with the bonus of hearing different accents and dialects.
  4. Linguistically Rich – Promotes Storytelling – Audiobooks promote storytelling. Students listen to a linguistically rich text and are inspired to talk about their book by connecting it to their own experiences or other things they have read or viewed. The more stories one collects, the more language they acquire to share their own voice.
  5. Increases: Motivation, Background Info. Content Knowledge, Vocabulary – Listening to audiobooks has been shown to increase motivation in reading which is an essential element for struggling adolescent readers. Research also shows audiobooks help to increase background information and content knowledge and is especially beneficial to our EL (English Learners) students.
  6. Models Good Reading – Audiobooks, similar to read aloud, models good reading to students. Hearing an expert reader adds experience to all growing readers.
  7. Improves: Critical Listening Skills, Reading Accuracy, Fluency – Audiobooks not only promote critical listening skills, an essential life skill but also help student reading accuracy and fluency. Fluency is so much more than reading fast. Audiobooks allow students to not only see words pronounced correctly but hear and notice pronunciation, rate, speed, pausing, stress, and intonation.

Better Listeners LEARN More!

There are many places to access audiobooks:

Check your local and school library.

Open Culture

Storynory

Learn Out Loud

Epic!  

Project Gutenberg

Making the Best Technology Purchasing Decisions

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In our next collaborative post, Steven Anderson (@web20classroom) and I discuss how schools and districts can make the best technology purchasing decisions.

Recently I was talking to a Tech Director colleague that was in the middle of a purchasing battle with a principal. The principal had been approached by a well-known technology vendor wanting to sell the school some hardware and software to help students in literacy and math. The vendor was long on promises but short on delivery. The problem was the principal was blinded by the promises of high achievement and didn’t consider how that one purchase would put a serious strain on the district technology department.

Balancing a district budget is an annual job that has many administrators prioritizing monies to meet the needs of students and staff, as well as the upkeep and daily operations of the grounds and facilities. The increase of technology use in learning has added an element to the budget which has seen a steady increase over the years. In a 2017 report from Learning Counsel results found districts spent $16.2 billion on hardware, networks and major system software. And these numbers will only continue to rise.

With this understanding, many district administrators and technology coaches have found a need to vet the limitless purchasing options out there and make decisions that look past the flash of products to ones that will truly impact student learning.

Questions to Consider Before Making A Technology Purchase

How Are Student Privacy and Data Protected? Many of the Edtech products available today require some elements of Personally Identifiable Information (PII). This could be anything from their name and grade all the way to their entire student demographic and academic profile. Educators and Administrators have a responsibility to understand how that data used by the products are consumed and ultimately protected. Reading terms of service is a start but asking questions like how much PII is actually needed for the software to run or how is the data stored or is it encrypted in transit and rest are some of the most basic questions to have solid answers to before allowing any company access to data sources. Check to see if the vendor has signed the Student Data Privacy Pledge. Most importantly, have a solid understanding of how the data is stored and used before signing on the dotted line.

What compatibility and interoperability are available? A common mistake we see made frequently come from local school administrators making a purchase without making sure it works in the current system. Odds are if you are making a major technology purchase you already have a network and systems in place. Therefore, it is important to ask about what devices the software works on or how does the hardware work in your current server environment? You don’t want to have to make additional purchases after the fact or find out that what was purchased won’t work at all because there is a compatibility problem.

Where did the research come from? Many Edtech products, especially those used to increase student-achievement, will boast that they are backed by research. But, you have to look at this with a critical eye. Where did the research come from? Was it funded by the vendor? Was it the vendor themselves? If products are truly “backed by research” the vendor should be able to provide or you should be able to provide independent research to back their claims.

What Is The True Cost For The Hardware or Software? Don’t get burned by additional costs related to licenses and fees. When you are making a major technology purchase what does the license include? Is a yearly cost? With software especially, as lots of questions about the total cost. Often you will have to pay for updates or upgrades. You don’t want to spend a large chunk of your budget on some software for every student only to find out that if you want the next version you’ll have to pay more for it. Do your homework and crunch the numbers to find out the true cost of ownership.

How Will You Be Supported? Support is often one of those things you don’t think about until you need it. It should, however, be towards the top your list to understand before making any technology purchase. Do you have to pay for support? If you do, how much do you get? Are you limited to the number of support cases you can open? Who can call for help? When is support available? Is just a certain number of hours a day or is is it 24/7/365? Is the support local or is it outsourced? Understand the support structure before you are stuck needing it.

What Training and Professional Development Opportunities Are Available? If you are spending a large portion of your budget on a new piece of hardware or software, especially if it is being used in the classroom by students or teachers, there should be a conversation before you sign about training and professional development. How will everyone be trained? Will it come at a cost or is it included? What about training new users 6 months down the road? Will the vendor provide it or will the district be responsible? How about opportunities for ongoing professional development? Coaching?. Ultimately you are looking for more than just a hardware/software provider, you are looking for a partner that can be with you for the long haul.

Making The Best Technology Purchasing Decisions-Web20Classroom

 

Checklist For Technology Purchasing   

  1. Purpose: Does the purchase align with the mission and goals of the district? Does it support attainment of the discipline standards, ISTE Standards, and learning targets? Powerful EdTech purchases are ones that can span grade-levels and content areas for maximum student and teacher use.
  2. Student-Centered: Besides options to leverage the differentiated classroom, inclusive classroom, and accessibility options; student-centered focuses on choice, ease of use, fun, and supports learning.
  3. Cost: Often times the price tag is a heavily weighted component in purchasing, but don’t forget to factor in: Licensing one-time, or yearly, per student or per school/district, updates included or added costs, replacement fees, cross-platforms/devices, renewal processes, and contracts.  
  4. Data Privacy and Security: Always understand how student data is used and stored when making any purchase. How will you get data in the product? What is the minimum amount of student data needed for the product to be used effectively? Is it encrypted when it’s stored? Educators and administrators have a duty and obligation to keep student data private and secure. Learn more about FERPA, COPA, CIPA, PPRA here.
  5. Logistics/Management: Minimal Effort To Get Things Going and Keep Them Going. Will this technology purchase work in our current learning environment? Whether devices, infrastructure, or sign-in, logistics and management are essential to get right. Nothing squashes EdTech in the classroom more quickly than when something doesn’t work, access is complicated, or multiple steps must occur before it is roll-out or available to staff and students.
  6. Support: You Should Be Supported. Along with management and logistics as a necessary component of technology purchasing success, an understanding of the support offered is essential to classroom use. Knowing how to access support, who provides the support, and what that support looks like is information that needs to be gathered in the beginning stages.
  7. Professional Learning: Continuous Learning. Professional Learning can come in many forms, from onsite training to monthly webinars, knowing how teachers will learn about the possibilities available with a new purchase and how this will be done helps to encourage use and exploration. Are there additional resources available to use? Is there a community of users to connect with?
  8. References: Check Your References. Ask for and check references from those educators and districts already using the product or service. While this may not be a top priority for every purchase, connecting with and hearing from districts currently using the product or service may provide an understanding or experienced success and frustrations.

Need more help making the best technology purchasing decisions? We’ve created a deeper checklist you can use, copy and modify to meet your needs. Download it here.

 

 

Assessment Types Explained for Educators

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Assessment in Education, in the early years, typically took the form of oral evaluation. Tests were subjective, often performed at the front of the classroom, and largely teacher directed; posing questions to the student around typical areas of mastery needed to pass to the next grade level. From there, assessing students took its traditional form (students at their desk and a paper/pencil test) in the late 1890s following the institution of letter grades (A, B, C, etc.) to replace the teacher’s subjective measure of a student’s ability.

The first standardized test in education was the Stone Arithmetic Test (the Early 1900s) and the SATs made its way onto the education landscape in the 1930s as a way to check a student’s readiness for college.

Current trends in education have seen an increase in testing and making data-driven decisions, but in the era of TLA (another Three Letter Acronym), the volume of assessments educators and districts can/have to use often leads to confusion. The following is a list of assessment terms that are commonly found in education and my simple definition and use of them.

Types of Assessment

Type Who Purpose Examples
Formative Assessment – formal and informal assessment to monitor and provide feedback on student understanding of targeted learning goals. Formative assessment is frequent and ongoing; it is not typically graded. Whole Class Formative assessment is used to inform teacher instruction and by students to set goals and next steps. Exit Slips, Games, Pretest,3-2-1
Summative Assessment –   culminating assessment used to evaluate student learning, skill acquisition, and achievement. It typically occurs at the end of a unit, lesson, semester, or year. It is commonly considered “high-stakes” testing and is graded. Whole Class Demonstration of understanding by the student. Project, Portfolio, Test, Paper
Screener –  a valid, reliable, evidence-based assessment used to indicate or predict student proficiency or identify those at-risk. Screeners are brief, identify the “who”, and are given a few times a year. Whole Class or Targeted Group Identification of students at-risk and who need additional support. AIMSweb, DIBELS, FAST, EasyCBM, iReady, STAR
Diagnostica tool used to provide insights into a student’s specific strengths and weaknesses. The data collected provides the teacher with specific skills to target when designing individualized instruction. Diagnostic Assessments identify the “what” for the student. Individual Student After a student has been identified via a screener, a diagnostic assessment is used to determine specific areas of focus. Error analysis of literacy progress monitoring data, Phonics Inventory, Reading Miscue Analysis
Progress Monitoring a tool used to assess student’s academic performance and rate of growth on individualized or targeted instruction. Individual Student To ensure the response to instruction is helping students grow in a targeted area. Based on specific intervention or instruction. The diagnostic tool can be used if there are multiple forms available.
Norm-Referenced Assessment – compares student’s performance to the “average student” score. The “average student” score is constructed statistically selected group of test takers, typically of the same age or grade level, who have already taken the exam Whole Class, Whole Grade Level Designed to rank test takers on a bell curve. Used to determine how students in a particular school or district are ranking to others who take the same test. Standardized tests. California Achievement Test, Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Stanford Achievement Test, and TerraNova.
Criterion-Referenced Assessment –  measures student performance against a fixed set of standards or criteria that are predetermined as to what a student should be able to do at a certain stage in education. The score is determined by the number of questions correct. Whole Class Can be both high-stakes (used to make decisions about students, teachers, schools, etc.) or low-stakes (used for student achievement, adjusting instruction, etc.) Multiple choices, true/false. Short answer or a combination. Can be teacher designed.
Benchmark Assessment – Fixed assessments (also called interim assessments) to measure a students progress against a grade-level or learning goal. Often given in-between formative and summative assessments. Whole Class or Individual Student Used to communicate to educators, students, and parents which skills are important to master and student’s progress (so far) towards those learning goals. Fountas and Pinnell, Reading A to Z Benchmark Passages
Other Assessment Terms You May Encounter
CFAs (Common Formative Assessments) Assessment that is collaboratively created and agreed upon by a group or grade-level team to measure students attainment of the learning goals.
Alternate Assessment Assessments for students with severe cognitive disabilities. Tests have less depth and breadth than the general assessment. (Small number of kids on IEPs that are unable to take the general test)
Alternative Assessment Also called authentic assessment or performance assessment. Alternative assessment is in contrast to the traditional standardized test and focuses on individuals progress, multiple ways to demonstrate understanding)
Authentic Assessment Replicates real-world challenges that experts or professionals in the field encounter. Used to not only demonstrate mastery of learning goals or standards but also critical thinking skills and problem-solving. (Students construct, respond, or produce to demonstrate understanding)
Synoptic Assessment Combines multiple concepts, units, or topics in which a single assessment requires students to make connections between the learning. A holistic approach to assessment and the interconnectedness of learning.
Quantitative Data Data collected that can be measured and written down in numbers.
Qualitative Data Data collected that is more subjective and speaks to the expertise of the teacher to provide their opinion based on trends and past experiences.

 

The ability to choose the right assessment that meets the needs of students and teachers is essential. Most often, confusion does not occur between the differences between formative and summative assessments. Through my own work with districts and educators across the nation, I have found a need to clarify the definition and purpose between a Screener, Diagnostic Tool, and Progress Monitoring. These three assessment types are essential when digging deep into student needs and help to inform instruction.

Resources to Explore:

My Collection of Edtech Tools for Assessment

List of Screeners

List of Diagnostic Tools

Progress Monitoring List

Authentic Assessment

Is Anything Truly Original?

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For decades, perhaps even earlier as some claim origins dating back to Aristotle’s Poetics, writers, and literary critics have uncovered a finite amount of story plots in fiction. Even the great Kurt Vonnegut argued this theory of story “shapes” in his College thesis that was rejected for its simplistic nature that there were indeed a set of shapes that all writing could be categorized by citing such favorites as Cinderella as a spin-off of the Bible.

What it boils down to is this… there are seven original story plots, Overcoming the Monster, The Quest, Rebirth, etc., and that every piece of fiction is actually a spin-off of the original. Beyond those first 7, no piece of fictional writing is truly original. So should new writing be published? Should new stories be shared?

This year marks my 19th in Education. Shorter than some, longer than others. Most of my years have been as a high school English teacher (thus, the connection to the aforementioned example) and for the past few years as a regional support consultant in the state in the areas of literacy, technology, and school improvement; but I digress.

Because of this, I am going to take some liberties… much of education parallels the 7 original story plots. Things are repackaged, renamed, shined up, fine-tuned, and sent back into the education community as “New” or “Innovative”. In fact, I would venture many seasoned teachers out there would agree with me and have seen the circular nature of programs and instructional strategies recycled and the educational wheel spinning and spitting them back out again when their number is called. Very few things that we as Educators use or do in our classrooms are Original.

I will repeat, you, and I for that matter, are not as original as we think we are.

We are spinoffs from the educators before us. And what we do, say, and use in our classrooms are mostly variations of what has been done before.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, but one that is mostly true, teachers have been doing variations of what you and I have done long before it was an idea in our heads. We are not the first… (fill in the blank…)

Take, for instance, a recent experience I had at Flipgrid Live. The first Day consisted of an Edcamp and a social gathering of Educators at Flipgrid HQ.

Day 2 was much the same. A Student Voice Conference with keynotes and breakout sessions and a sharing of personal stories and ideas to spark change. This was followed by a grand reveal of new updates, modifications, acquisitions, celebrations, photos, videos, singing, and on and on and on all focused on empowering student voice and connected classrooms. To many educators, these events are not considered as completely original or new. Even the new releases, ideas, and social media sharing celebrated variations that educators have been using for decades.

This brings me to my second point, or liberty I am going to take,,, Change, passion, meaningful learning does not take place vicariously. I attended this event as a learner, not a presenter, and while many know my story, the majority at this event did not. I have always been a Student Voice Advocate and Connected Educator. I have connected classrooms around the globe, traveled with kids internationally based off of those connections, connected teachers to resources and communities (in fact, many of you reading this could probably attest to the way I have helped connect you) but I am not the first one to do this. Many educators before me have been working towards similar verbs, connecting, student voice, the difference is this… social media and the desire to one-up each other often times brings out the negativity in people, and flipping through my Twitter feed I found these tweets and educators I respect trying to one-up the celebrations taking place at FlipgridLive.

When I became a connected educator and shared my story I met a wonderful educator named Sean Nash. We were prepping for a conference (Bacon Wrapped Lessons) and getting to know the other educators on the team (I was known as the student voice cheerleader). Sharing my classroom stories about amplification and connection was met with support and enthusiasm from the group. I felt proud and I had passion. Come to find out, Nash had been doing this for years- connecting his kids, traveling internationally, amplifying their voice; but not once did he squash my voice or diminish my experience. My story was not interrupted or replaced by his.

Educators, students, humans need to share their story. It may not be an original, but a spin-off, just as many argue what fiction is, but passion and change do not happen through vicarious circumstances. We are all working towards similar verbs, and as hard as it was for me not to interject my stories and past experiences as a connected educator and student voice cheerleader at the Flipgrid Live event I knew it was essential for their story to be told, the excitement be shared, and I, as a seasoned educator stood next to, not in front of, these educators and helped to lift them up just as so many have done for me. I was not there to interrupt, disvalue, or one-up them on social media that I have been doing it for years… every story should be told,,, whether it is one of the originals or a spin-off, each story adds value to our profession and supports the same passions or calls to actions that many of us support.