21 July 2010

the final assessment project

We did a short video as our final project for assessment. I've learned a lot and the following is what I wrote to accompany my video (it's at the bottom of the page).


Last semester, while working on our classroom wiki, I used this rubric. I also gave this sheet as instructions. That was pretty much it. I didn’t assess to learn, I only assessed for learning at the end of the project. I knew this was not the best thing to do. I knew it was not correct practice, but I was not really sure what else to do or what to change.


After taking the module on Assessment, I have put a significant amount of thought into what I am doing in my classes, particularly on my wiki project. I realized I was not assessing students formatively and giving feedback in a manner, which would be productive for them. I was only doing a summative assessment and students had no chance to adequately prepare for this final assessment.

Students will now begin with the same sheet for instructions and they will be given instructions on a wiki: what it is, how we plan to use it, how to edit, and the purpose of editing. The instruction sheet is now posted to my website and is easily viewable by students at any time as a reference page. They will also be taught about the use of delicious.com (a bookmark sharing site) and will learn how to appropriately share their research sources with the instructor through Delicious, the bookmarking/networking website.

After their initial wiki page is set up (and weekly thereafter), students will use a formative assessment rubric to self-assess each week. They will also be required to blog about their research for the week. We will use the “discussion tab” within the wiki to accomplish this simple formative assessment. Students should write reflectively about their topic and the process of research. I will use this rubric to assess their reflections. In addition to self-assessment, I will do a weekly formative assessment using a similar rubric to the one the students are using. We will conference together so students can get weekly feedback on their writing and research.

Finally, after students have had an opportunity to correct the weekly conference issues, a summative assessment of their overall page will be done using this rubric.

My realization in this class has been something I teach in my own classes: “You cannot eat the elephant all in one bite.” This mantra certainly applies to assessment. It is unfair to expect students to be able to be successful on any assessment if they have not be getting little bits of assessment (with feedback) all along the way. I cannot expect students to be successful in their learning, nor expect them to even take responsibility, if I have not been giving them the tools for that success.

15 July 2010

Assessment, Session 5

The next to last session of the final module in Semester number 2. Then only one more semester!

The time has really flown by and my thoughts on my education have certainly changed over the last year, even over the last few months, the direction of my educational plans has changed. This is due in large part to the infinite wisdom of our legislators. Their actions have driven me to make some decisions I had previously thought undecideable. They decided that the National Board Certification for Teachers isn't important enough to fund. Meaning, they ceased funding the scholarship for the application process ($2500) and they suspended the yearly stipend for at least the next two years. Because of this, I have reconsidered my decision to sit for the National Board process. I know, that sounds like I was only doing it for the money, but that's not the case! I am reconsidering because of the timing of the process. The intent was for me to do it next year. SNU awards 6 hours of Master's level credit for mentoring during the application of National Boards. This would be the last six hours I would need for my degree in Curriculum and Instruction. However, since our legislators cut our funding, I would be doing the National Board process over the next six months, a full year early. If I apply this year, I would be eligible for reimbursement of the application fee and would be eligible for the stipend, if certified.

But, because I wouldn't be going through the mentoring process I would have to find six other graduate level hours to substitute for the mentoring hours, as mentioned earlier. The timing is the problem. If one wants to get into a doctoral program, one must have a Master's degree (usually) in hand. Because of stuff at @mishelleyb's place of employment, the time for her to do her doctoral program has arrived. This just so happens to coincide with me finishing my Master's. We got the bright idea to do a program together and found one that suits both of our needs, which begins in the Fall of 2011. Before I can be accepted into a program, I must have the degree conferred for my Master's. This means, I would be doing Nat'l Boards, while being a part of the lives of two fantastic teenage children, while taking 6 graduate hours online, while finishing the MACI program modules, while teaching full-time, and finally, while teaching some adjunct hours in SNU's bridge program (which I committed to before the Nat'l Board stuff came up). Can you see my dilemma?

Anyway, I'm supposed to be reflecting on class. Last night was a night for group project presentations. We worked on a selected response assessment (a pretest) for 8th grade mathematics vocabulary. We chose selected response simply because we were the "experts" on this subject. It was the chapter we had researched and done extra study on. It also lent itself well to our preferred use of technology, the Clickers! We chose clickers because they are able to give quick feedback to students. Questions in the assessment would be tagged with the particular concept and could give students (and teachers) a quick view of which concepts/words students needed more help on. Teachers can even print out a spreadsheet with the answers, notes, and concepts listed so students would have a visual representation of which areas they need extra study.

I've been impressed with this class, simply because it has been the class which has made the most connection with me for my personal practice in the classroom. I have realized that I have been cheating my students and myself by not putting enough work into my assessments. Sometimes, especially when you other obligations, its easy to just put together a bunch of questions out of the textbook test-bank and throw a test at the kids. This does them a disservice. Other than assigning a grade, student get no real feedback on their learning. They have nothing other than a report card grade to show for their efforts. This is especially true if students have not gotten any buy-in into the class already. They have absolutely no motivation to further their learning. Particularly so if they are not being successful in the class. By the way, I'm constantly thinking about how this is going to play out in August when I begin teaching adults, as well. I suspect somethings will be the same, but I also think much will be different.

We also conferenced a little bit, since one of our chapters deals with this practice. I was simply an observer for this activity since I had an alternate assignment. I never cease to be amazed that folks depend so much on me for technology ideas/practice when it seems to me that these skills should simply come naturally to people. I've been struggling with this issue for quite a while and I'm still not sure how to take the "attention". I don't always have a great self-image so when people give me compliments or depend on me to accomplish something, I'm not always sure how to take that. I do know this: when I started teaching 3 years ago (holy cow!) I didn't really set out with any kind of goals in mind. I didn't think I'd go back to school, I didn't set out to be on the "cutting edge of technology" in my district. I didn't think I'd be teaching technology classes to the best teachers in the world. I did simply follow my passions. Science and technology. Those two things are what I am interested in and teaching them to others comes naturally.

Who knows the plans that are in store for you? I certainly didn't think I am where I thought I would be. In the words of the great Douglas Adams, "I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." Teaching is definitely one of my gifts. Although its hard sometimes to think of what I do as work (doubt you could tell by all of my complaining). I'm so thankful to be given many opportunities to simply share things about which I am passionate. If you have anything to do with those opportunities, Thank You!

11 July 2010

reflection on Session 4 of assessment

We talked this week about the balance between the two assessment types: formative vs. summative. I admit, when we started this program, I didn't really remember what the meanings of those two words were. In fact, I remember in our first class, way back in September of last year, one of the program participants used them in a sentence and I drew a blank. I remember having those words in my Secondary Science Methods class during my undergraduate work. (I'll warn you now, this may turn into a reflection on the Master's program as a whole, rather than a single class session.) It seems I have come a long way over the last few years. It seems that only yesterday I was busy tinting every window I could convince folks needed tint. In reality, it was just yesterday that I was looking at a bunch of different schools, trying to decide which one has the right doctoral program for me. (thinking very hard about this one, we'll see. We would look at starting in Fall 2011, yes, I said WE).

So where does the balance between summative and formative assessment lie? We even did an activity from our text, which had us look at a unit and see how much of each type we did. I always feel like I'm doing enough formative assessment, but in reality I'm not really sure I am. I don't have a specific design (yet) as to when to formatively assess, I just pepper in some "check for understanding" questions throughout the lecture. I won't soon be repeating (probably not ever) that pattern again. I'm learning through my Master's that I have to be purposeful in everything I do in the classroom. Don't get me wrong. I do think there is room for the teachable moments. However, I am finding that to have true success in my classroom I must be pushing my students in a direction that is more focused than what I have previously been doing. That shows in my AP test scores this year. I (obviously) didn't have as good of a plan as I did in previous years. I only had 2 out of 16 pass. I know that isn't entirely my "fault", but I know I didn't do as good of a job preparing students for the test this year.

It is certainly possible that means I didn't have enough formative assessment in my curriculum. What is an AP test, other than a huge summative assessment? Granted, it may be the hardest test many students ever take, but the ultimate responsibility lies with the person who knows the most about the subject, the teacher. That person is me. I am the adult in the classroom and I take full responsibility for the preparedness (or lack of it) of my students.

A Master's program, especially one in Curriculum and Instruction, certainly makes one examine oneself as a practitioner of instruction. I used to only associate the word practitioner with the medical profession. Now, I recognize that word certainly lends itself to vocation of teaching. In fact, the teacher, as a practitioner of instruction, is not unlike the medical practitioner. I don't mean to say students enter your classroom "sick", only ignorant. Many students come to my classroom with absolutely no knowledge of the subject of physics. Of course, this is ridiculous since Physics is the Study of the Entire Universe. They have been learning about their surroundings since the day they first entered the womb, but I digress. In the successful teacher's classroom (even in mine), students leave the classroom with a deeper grasp of the subject at hand. Hopefully, and maybe more importantly, they leave with a stronger interest in the subject, as well.

Where does this leave us with assessment? More importantly, where does it leave ME with assessment? It leaves me in a place in which I must work harder at my job. I means I have to change the way I teach my class and insure that students get enough formative assessment (with feedback) so that when the summative assessment comes along they will be prepared to be successful at the task. I heard today from a colleague that his students used to have to take qualifying exams just to be able to take the summative test. Hmmm. Intersesting idea. Yes? I'd love to hear your thoughts on it!

06 July 2010

Reflections on #ISTE10 and assessment

Last week, along with about 17,999 other educators, I had the pleasure of spending time in Denver, CO dwelling on one of my favorite topics: technology in education. It really was great to get together in one place with people who are of the same mindset as me: using technology in the classroom can make a great teacher even better. I'm pretty sure every teacher there recognizes that technology is not the answer the myriad of woes that has befallen what was once the greatest education system in the world. Many technology advocates are more than just that, they are advocates (as I'm sure many other teachers are) for genuine improvement in education. Most want education reform to start with them. I certainly know I do.

technologySo, where does assessment fit into this change or at least into the idea? There are so many tools in technology that goes hand-in-hand for authentic assessment. In class we read an article by Thomas Guskey ("How Classroom Assessments Improve Student Learning," (2003), Educational Leadership, 60, (5)). If you have access to ERIC, I highly recommend the article. The take-away items from this article are extend instruction with assessment, give timely feedback after assessments, give some corrective training (kids need to un-learn what they learned wrong), allow students a chance to show their knowledge through a second-chance test. Teachers need to get back to the basic reasons for assessment and the rest (high-stakes testing) will take care of itself. GoogleApps for Education offers (free of charge) a particular tool that is invaluable in aiding a teacher with the previously-mentioned items.

First, engage students with the method of assessment. In my (very) informal research, most students would rather take a test online than take a paper test. Students react positively (usually) to technology. It would be very easy to allow students to take a paper test if needed. I guess my point here is that we do a couple of things by giving tests online, save paper, (and therefore money), use resources we already have (computers that aren't being constantly used), and allow student to interact with their education in way in which they are already familiar: through technology.

Second, give students timely feedback. If a teacher is using GoogleApps for Education, they are able to have tests graded on the day they are given. They can also give students a printed copy of the test with the correct answers. This can stimulate discussion (if students are so inclined) to find out why they missed a question. I think this could be a way to save class time for its intended use: instruction. This is an area in which I am sorely lacking. Feedback. So the reason I'm writing this is to tell myself that's what I should be doing.

feedbackThird, give feedback to teachers on what students have (or have not) learned. Again, I admit I am deficient in this area. I usually don't go much further than looking at the class average on a test. But when GoogleApps has a handy-dandy tool to see the percentage of correct and incorrect answers on a test, even in a neat pie chart, why NOT use it?!? Maybe it would be useful to allow students to see this information, too. They might benefit or see some kind of pattern that teacher miss? I don't know, but is seems silly not to use a tool this useful, especially when Google provides the service for free. As educators, we don't even have to use our own server space. Brilliant!

Lastly, second chances. Oh dear, this may be the hardest of all. I know in principal this is the right thing to do. The logic if the concept is...well, logical! I suppose I need to rethink my entire view of learning, or at least of assessment. Isn't the goal of assessment to determine if students learned something? And if so, what? Well, that means I need to re-teach after a test and then give the opportunity to show they learned it the second time around. What's that? You don't think life is full of second chances? Well then you don't know that I found my love of teaching after being in the military (twice) and working as a window tinter for many years before going back to school at 35 years of age. 2nd chances, indeed! More like 4th chances! Anyway, don't even get me started. I guarantee you there are teachers reading this who had to take a "second chance" on their subject-area test. If not, you guys are a heck of a lot smarter than I am. I didn't have to retake any subject-area tests, but the first class I ever failed in college? You guessed it! Physics, circa 1989!

So, I've certainly got a long way to go when it comes to performing authentic assessment in my classes. However, I guess that's the great thing about teaching, you always have a new group of students to work with next year! If you are anything like me, next year is always going to be the best year!