Undervaluing Teacher Perception in Assessment

Peter Reynolds, author of The Dot, ish, and many others; recently released his animated short entitled The Testing Camera. Described as a “whimsical poke at high-stakes, standardized testing,” The Testing Camera, paints an all-true reality of education today.

Teaching to the test, students measured by the test, teachers evaluated by the scores their students receive on the test; with this constant focus in today’s education systems, is it any surprise that: teachers have began to question their own professional perceptions? Undervalue their day to day interactions with students? Rely solely on the test score to dictate curriculum, label and track students, and justify their own strengths as an educator?

Most recently, during a writing workshop training, a teacher expressed the joy and affirmation the framework, specifically small group instruction, has provided her in terms of formative assessment. Identifying a student need; providing examples, practice, and opportunities for improvement; targeting a specific writing skill the student is on the cusp of mastering; and continuous checks to follow-up on goals are not done through standardized testing. Instead; this type of formative assessment/observation allows the teacher to differentiate in the moment, make professional decisions based on individual students, and demonstrate the power of good teaching. Hearing this reflection simultaneously made me happy and sad. I was thrilled that this teacher regained her professional voice, but was saddened that it was lost in the first place.

This post is not intended to debate the necessity of standardized testing; instead, it is to draw attention to this culture and provide an alternative view highlighting the value in and the ease of formative assessment can in our contemporary classrooms.

Jim Knight refers to formative assessment as a GPS to “gauge how well students understand what is being taught.” As part of the Big 4 to Improve Instruction, developing and using formative assessment effectively provides insight into gaps in content planning and/or pedagogy thus allowing teachers to target learning. The formative assessment GPS allows teachers to see what direction students are heading (are they way off course, or close to the goal), which pedagogical practices were effective with which students, and a map for navigational purposes to determine teaching style (inquiry, modeling, example, etc.).

While it is clear the benefits to the learner that formative assessment provides, the ease of crafting and administering such “checks” in today’s technology-rich classrooms further add to these for both the learner and teacher. In a recent blog post by Jeff Zoul, entitled “Reimagining Learning,” Zoul reflects upon the paradigm shift in teaching and learning in a ubiquitous technology education environment. Citing Richard Culatta in his identification of challenges in education and the role in which technology can help to solve these, Zoul touches upon assessment, writing, “We can provide real-time feedback to students, an ‘LPS’ version of a GPS system in which we—and our students—know where every individual learner is currently at and where each needs to go next. We can tailor the pacing of instruction to the needs of each learner.” These two specific points align with the benefits I outline below.

Technology Assisted Formative Assessment Provides:

  1. Real-time glimpse into students’ understanding
  2. A space for all voices to be heard and recognized
  3. Opportunity for immediate feedback and differentiation of instruction
  4. Data narrating the students’ learning journey
  5. A transfer of ownership of learning back into the hands of the student

Savvy educators understand that technology tools are only as powerful as the content they are paired with, the student choice given in the unit, and the cognitive demand placed on the learner. With this in mind, I offer the following tools for exploration:

Technology Tools for Formative Assessment

forms-iconGoogle Forms

Google forms are adaptable and provide a plethora of question types to meet needs. An Exit Ticket is a common use of Google Forms. Student answers are automatically collected in Google Sheets and allow the viewer to see responses in a variety of ways. In essence, results can be cleared, and the same Form could be used each day. Paired with a script, such as Flubaroo or Form Mule, Google Forms can provide immediate results and feedback to students.

logoSocrative

Socrative is an interactive platform, where students answer questions in real-time and receive immediate feedback. Socrative is device friendly, accessible from tablets, laptops, and smartphones. It also reports individual students, as well as whole class reports which appeal to many educawtors.

imagesKahoot

Kahoot is a game-based response system where students are motivated to be on the top of the leader-board. To play along with the facilitator, a student may use any device with a web browser (no account is needed).Kahoot encourages the teacher to blend the learning experience by constructing a social, game-based assessment while folding the learning in between interactive questions.

imgresNearpod

Nearpod brings the interaction to the student’s screen. Interactive, engaging, and customizable in both creation and response, Nearpod provides monitoring of student’s progress. Control of when and who sees the questions provides a different alternative to Socrative. There is also a “draw” response option, perfect for those sketchnoters.

images-1TodaysMeet

Although not a new tool, TodaysMeet, is the prime backchannel for the classroom. Ease in setting up a room (virtual space), real-time capabilities, readability, and the option to save the transcript; TodaysMeet provides a voice to even the quietest student. Recently added features now allow moderation of content, private rooms, and longer lengths in room reservations.

imgres-1Poll Everywhere

A favorite with students, Poll Everywhere is an audience response platform that promotes interaction, ease, accessibility, and a visual of the responses. Poll Everywhere is another tool that has been around for years, but has recently added improvements to the site. Additions include: differentiation in visualizing the responses (wordcloud is one), embed a voting widget on your site, as a student, access a single webpage where the questioned are “pushed” to you. Answer questions via phone, twitter, or webpage. Poll Everywhere is a perfect tool for a bell ringer, diving into the material immediately or connecting to the previous day’s learning.

 

 

Thank you to Jeff Zoul, Mike Jaber, and Leslie Pralle Keehn for contributions to this post.  Appreciate you!

 

Digital Literacies: Multimedia Projects as Mentor Texts

Multimedia Projects provide students a different alternative to demonstrate their learning and understanding of a concept or theme. Traditionally, students demonstrated knowledge by taking a test or writing a paper. These unimodal demonstrations do not equip students with the necessary skills and understandings of their literary reality.

Currently, our students live in a time with multiple digital means of communication. From videos to blog posts, students consume most of their daily reading digitally. As educators, it is necessary to not only explore these multimodal literacies in the classroom; but also hone student skills needed to enable them to create and communicate their message in multiple forms.

As a literacy expert, I have found the need for Mentor Texts within my classroom. Everyone needs mentor texts to become better writers/communicators. Mentor texts are those pieces that we return to again and again. They provide a myriad of possibilities and are full of curriculum potential. Mentor texts are not pieces that are used once for specific demonstration, instead they can be approached by the reader from multiple angles.

I believe that mentor texts can also be in the digital form. Digital Mentor Texts are a collection of videos, infographics, blog posts, websites, etc. that provide students inspiration by asking the question, “I wonder if I can do that too?” When teaching digital modes of meaning, I like to refer to the work of the New London Group for consideration, and approach the Digital Mentor Text from the Linguistic, Audio, Spatial, Visual, and Gestural Design modes of meaning (image below). These Digital Mentor Texts are visited multiple times throughout the course, offering a new possibility for improvement when applied to a students’ own work. Whether it is storyline, camera angle, graphics, or music; requiring students to produce high-quality, multimedia products is possible with the inclusion of Digital Mentor Texts.

Screen Shot 2014-12-26 at 3.49.56 PM

When choosing a digital mentor text it is important to remember 5 things:

  1. You (the teacher) must love it!
  2. Show, not just tell.
  3. Contain multiple examples of awesomeness
  4. Students need to be able to connect to it
  5. Promotes out-of-the-box thinking

Any type of digital communication can be used as a Digital Mentor Text, the only qualifier is that it must contain richness in multiple forms. As a recommendation, start collecting Digital Mentor Texts to use in the future when you stumble across them. This way, students will be provided with inspiration in multiple modes, not just an example to copy!

A Platform for Student Voice: My Inspiring Idea presented at the Google Teacher Academy

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At the Google Teacher Academy, I was selected to share an “Inspiring Idea” with the group. It was with great honor that I shared my passion with the cohort; Utilizing Technology to Connect Students, Enabling Them to Share Their Voice with the World.  (Student names have been changed)

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I smiled at Mr. Noonan through the screen of our shared Google Hangout as he read the next question for debate. Our students, standing on opposite sides of the globe, nervously listened to him speak as they sheepishly smiled at one another. Noonan began, “Did Man invent God as a reason to exist? Sylvia,” he added, “you may go first.”

Sylvia, Noonan’s student from Sweden, moved a bit closer to the computer so her words and body language were evident to both classes. She greeted Michael, my student in Iowa who waved backed, poised to debate with Sylvia. Sylvia was a top student in Noonan’s class; a skilled speaker with great intellect. But, in Iowa, my student Michael was the student body president, a thespian, a leader in our school who possessed skill and knowledge to match that of Sylvia. Sylvia began, arguing that God was not real, citing multiple personal experiences, backing them up with the philosophical thinking of Sartre and Kierkegaard; she spoke with ease. And although I was impressed, I was excited for Michael to counter, I knew that my student had experience in debate, but also the confidence and charisma to engage an audience.

Sylvia recapped her points and Michael moved towards the screen. The class smiled knowing that they were going to witness a master student weave his experiences as a preacher’s son, with his vast theology knowledge to argue against Sylvia.

Michael opened his mouth to speak and out tumbled the word, “Sorry….. I guess I disagree.”

I shifted in my seat from the uncomfortableness of the moment. The word “Sorry” ringing through my head! This was not the Michael I knew. His struggle continued; his voice weakened. I clenched my fist, digging my nails into my palm, wanting to bail Michael out of an awkward moment, but knowing I shouldn’t. As his time came to an end, he once again apologized for his opinion and quickly sat down. The bell rang; we were all saved.

With advances in technology, our world is shrinking. And while we want our students to contribute to the sea of global communication that they are immersed in, that one example shined a light onto what was missing in my teaching. From that point forward, I made it my priority to equip all students with the skills necessary to communicate effectively through various modes while maintaining their own identity. Realizing that their truth and opinion is just as strong and “right” as another person’s truth. Growing up in Iowa helped shaped them into who they were today and they should be proud they experienced bonfires and fireflies, playing with cousins in a hayloft, or the humidity that made bugs stick to their legs in the summer.

Through a connection on Twitter, I had met John Noonan, a philosophy teacher at an IB school in Sweden, which was comprised with mostly diplomat’s children from around the world. In Iowa, I had a homogeneous makeup of white, middle-class, Christian students who had connected with students around the state and nation but not globally.

We designed a unit around Albert Camus’ The Stranger. Co-teaching, John would focus on existentialism and other philosophies and I would apply the different lenses to the literature and poetry we were reading. Google hangouts and Google docs allowed for the real-time collaboration necessary to not only increase student understanding on a difficult concepts, but the shared document between the two classes served as a backchannel during the lectures; allowing us to view student thinking,misconceptions or questions, and to provide a common place for collective learning. When the planned hangouts were completed, the students urged us to continue the collaboration.

Noonan and I paired the students for a collaborative debate/presentation, using digital means to cross the global divide and broaden knowledge. Students once again turned to GAFE because of the collaborative nature, creative possibilities and ease that were needed to connect and communicate. What we didn’t expect to happen was the out-of-class friendships that were built. Our students started using google chat and hangouts to work on their projects, and also build relationships with their new classmates. They soon realized that they had more in common than different and what started as an off-the-cuff remark of “We want to go to Sweden to meet our friends” turned into a reality. In September the students approached the school board for approval for their international trip. We were immediately approved and began raising money, acquiring passports, and determining schedules and lodging.  In the fall we were in Iowa reading Hamlet,,, later that spring we were standing in Hamlet’s castle.

Just because something is difficult to measure on standardized tests does not mean that it is not important to teach. Communication is changing as rapidly as technology, and because of this, we need students to be able to communicate effectively, advocate for themselves and others and realize the importance of maintaining their identity. Although this connection was a springboard for an international learning experience; connecting, collaborating and creating beyond the four walls of the school building increases engagement, is easily replicated, and can provide a platform for students to share their voice!

Google Teacher Academy: A Reflection Through Tweets Day 1

For the past 2 days I have had the privilege to learn from 50+ top educators from around the United States and Canada.  The Google Teacher Academy, this time in Austin, Texas; provided the opportunity, space, and framework for the selected cohort and lead learners to blend a student-first mindset, with a passion for edtech, topped with unwavering ambition to make a difference in education! While I will break down the specifics in future blog posts, Day 1 Focused on creating a culture of community, by building relationships with a group of educators who have mainly been only connected virtually. The following is a collection of tweets I gathered to highlight the experience.

As the day ended, we left exhausted and inspired by our design thinking, modeled after NoTosh (Mad Respect for Ewan McIntosh and Tom Barrett) and ready to continue the conversation well into the night.
Quoting my good friend Kenneth Durham, “It’s all about Relationships!” and Day 1 proved to be a beautiful start to beginning of life-long friends!

For You, My Friend

It is with both excitement and a heavy heart in which I pack for Austin, Texas to attend the Google Teacher Academy next week. And while my #GTAATX cohort is filled with talented educators, uniquely adding their own passions to the mosaic; I can’t help but think of the one influence in my life that will never get the chance to celebrate this experience with me, Jack Moore.

 

Fifteen years ago, I started my teaching career in a small school in central Iowa, BCLUW.  As I struggled through the first couple years, as most new teachers do, I found my love for the students, families, and staff members grow. I knew I was where I belonged.

I never considered myself a tech savvy teacher, but a shared vision ignited by the district’s technology director (Jack Moore), would forever change my career path. And for this, I am grateful. As I started year six in my career, BCLUW became the fifth school in Iowa to provide laptops to students. A 1:1 environment, enhancing the educational ecosystem, providing rich opportunities for collaboration and creativity; and as an educator, reflecting, refining and evolving to maximize ubiquitous technology.

The leadership in the district, the culture to support risk-taking, and the educators I have met along the way have all defined my journey. And while each person has played a special role in defining the educator I am today; Jack Moore is in need of special gratitude. Unfortunately, his untimely death this summer doesn’t afford me opportunity to thank him in person (but I know his soul is smiling down). So it is with all of you that I share this letter to Jack!

Jack:
Well friend, can you believe it? This week I will be in the Google Offices in Austin, learning, growing, and sharing all things Google and Education! I wanted to take a moment to personally thank you for helping me achieve this goal of becoming a Certified Google Teacher. 
Sharing a new tool, ordering equipment to support my student projects, unblocking hate sites to recognize fallacies in hate rhetoric, to filming the song exchange with our friends in Sweden; I thank you. 
Never one to criticize, demand, or find fault in my ideas that failed; I thank you.
Celebrating the small victories as well as the large ones; I thank you.
Encouraging me to follow my dreams, to never quit learning, and to embrace the potential I possessed inside to influence young people; I thank you.
And finally, when time came for my career to take a different path, it was your words “Shaelynn, sometimes we need to leave good to do something great,” that provided the reassurance that I was making the correct choice. For that, I thank you!
Thank you, dear friend, I will never forget the impact you have had on my life, as well as the lives of all who knew you! 
iSad,
~Shaelynn