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!

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