Tag Archive | assessment

Marks or Learning?

Part of my teaching load this semester is Pre-AP English 9. This group of students is highly motivated, and I love teaching them. They are very good about completing their homework, they are outstanding when it comes to participating in class, and they are ultra respectful. They are also keenly interested in their grades. They are driven by attaining a numerical standard, for which I have no reference point. What constitutes an 83% versus an 81%?

Part of what got me thinking about this again was a few weeks ago when report cards were due. I have one student who has failed a few assignments and does homework about half the time. I was expecting a grade in the high 50s or low 60s. After I entered a few grades, I decided to check to see how everyone was “doing.” I was shocked to see a high 70. Based on the quality of work I’ve seen, this grade seems disproportionate to the skills the student has demonstrated. Another student, on the other hand, had about the same grade, yet has showed significantly more ability. Needless to say, I was puzzled and dismayed.

Another complexity that has me thinking about this is the issue of getting on the honour roll. For the most part, my English class students are pretty much all on the honour roll. They get their grades back, quickly do a an average and figure out if they attained the above 80% standard or not. I don’t know if I am completely able to justify what makes a student less than an 80%, especially when some of my students with lower grades work harder than the students with the highest grades.

To complicate the issue, I have been living in a strange vortex with my teaching load as well — I also teach Modified Science 9. My science crew are pleasantly happy when I return passing grades, but otherwise have no vested interest in the number that appears on their report card. They operate on a pass-fail mentality. As long as they have 50.0 or higher, they are doing great in their minds.

Both classes are leaving me with a bit of a dilemma. I am working to create valuable learning experiences, only to slap a number on it and shatter dreams if it isn’t the number they want. I have a few solutions for how to remedy this situation, because I’m feeling like a terrible teacher for not instilling a better sense of wonder and excitement about learning (rather than an obsession with numbers).

Firstly, I tried out outcome-based grading last year in math, and it worked fairly well for everyone involved. I was able to translate exactly what a number meant, and the students knew where they stood exactly. I am grappling with how to use this technique in English right now, since everything we do seems to be covering 302378039843238 different outcomes and indicators. Currently, I’m thinking that it might be best to design a series of general rubrics for each strand — reading, writing, representing, viewing, listening, and speaking. I am weary, however, because I don’t want to short-change my students by over-generalizing their work. I would be remiss to only score an essay based on one strand, writing.  Each writing piece also has so many intricacies. Would I, however, be able to score an essay on writing, representing, and reading, depending on the content of assignment? I haven’t worked out the fine details, but I’m considering this my Christmas project to iron out some key points of how to implement this assessment in an English classroom.

The second remedy I’ve been toying with is self-assessment. I had the blessing of taking two classes from Dean Shareski in university. For the second course I took with Dean, he implemented a self-assessment plan. He gave use lots of great assignments with a wide-variety of choice. I can honestly say that I worked my butt off for that class. I knew that I wanted to get a 90% in his class, so I worked hard to make sure I got it and deserved it. I know that self-assessment can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Some students will give themselves more than they deserve after slacking off and some students will give themselves less than they deserve after working really hard. I don’t know exactly what my self-assessment piece is going to look like, but I need to build one in to add a sense of ownership for my numbers-driven students.

I won’t ever be able to undo their love of numbers. I probably won’t ever be able to escape it, though I will try. What I can do, though, is tie a meaning to a number, rather than it being an arbitrary digit with no significant meaning beyond “I’m passing” or “I’m failing.”

Here’s where I’m at right now: once I get some outcome-based grading rubrics set up, my students could use them as a scale for formative and summative self-assesment. Their thoughts might sound like this: “I want to get a 5. Today, based on the rubric, I think I’m sitting at a 3. This is what I need to do to get from 3 to 5.” Of course, this won’t happen overnight, and it may not happen in a semester either, but I am going to try.

Of course, it would be unfair to my students to walk into class tomorrow with a brand new grading system. I want to get it right, so I will likely begin to develop different assessment resources for myself (and find a bunch too) to begin testing them on student work to help iron out the kinks. I can’t say what my teaching load will be next semester, but if I can figure out how to make the jump from math to ELA, I think I just might be able to make it work for any subject.

How have you implemented Outcome-Based grading in your classroom (or SBG if you’re from the states)? Any tricks of the trade? What do you do to alleviate the pressure students put on themselves for a grade?


So How Did I Do? My ECMP Self-Evaluation

One of the hardest things I’ve been asked to do all semester is self-evaluate. For my Technology in the Classroom class, we were given the freedom entirely self-evaluate ourselves. Initially, this seemed like a pretty sweet deal. What could be better, right? Wrong.

If you’ve never visited my blog before, I’ll give you a quick heads up — I’ve been doing a lot of rethinking this semester. I haven’t really come to terms with grading and evaluating. I’m all for assessment. I love assessment, but numerically evaluating someone’s work just doesn’t quite sit right with me. This is compacted by self-evaluation. We’ve all been there — the stress of marking one’s self. You know how it goes… the students who put in a ton of work are really tough on themselves, while the students who put in the bare minimum give themselves outstanding marks.

I suppose part of my anxiety of this whole thing is that I know what grade I want. That’s the part of me that is so marks-driven. The other part of me worked to my advantage though too. That part of me saw an opportunity to learn, and, free from rubrics/grades/scary stuff, I learned for the sake of learning. I can honestly say that if I was being graded on my blog, it wouldn’t be half of what it is today. Why? I’m not entirely sure, but I guess it has a lot to do with me doing this for me, not for anyone else.

My mission today: honestly and fairly grade the last four months of my progress.

I’ve been sort of keeping track of my learning from this class on an excel spreadsheet, just to keep myself on track. Dean gave us a list of assignments that we needed to complete this semester. Each assignment is to be weighted no less than15%. How we distribute the marks after that is up to us. To make the math simpler, I gave myself a mark out of whatever percentage I had each category weighted at. He also asked that we justify each mark. Since I’ve become a reflecting maniac, that’s no problem at all.

Assignment: Weekly Blog

Grade: 29 / 30

Justification: Our blog was intended to hold weekly updates with reflections about our class, as well as its presenters. Over the last four months, my blog has grown into a regularly updated (usually a couple of times per week) blog. It has stuff not just from this class, but from other classes, as well as anything education that pops into my head. It’s become a platform for me to think about ideas, gain insight from others, and network. I’ve used to do reflect for the sake of learning (not just because a class told me to), publish projects, write a mini-blog series about WestCAST, post my philosophy of education, and so much more. I do regret not commenting on my classmates blogs nearly as much as I would’ve liked to. However, I did develop the confidence to start commenting on other blogs of the professionals I look up to. It also opened the door for me to have conversations via twitter with many teachers world-wide.

Assignment: Teach Us Something

Grade: 14 / 15

Justification: This was interesting. I decided to present about the flipped classroom unit that I was working on for this class, as well as my Math Ed (then Moral Ed for the assessment). I really wanted to talk about the website Sophia, but part of that meant explaining a flipped classroom. I figured that to really talk about a flipped classroom, I needed to flip my presentation. I couldn’t exactly do that, since I wasn’t able to get the Sophia Tutorial (as recorded on Jing) done in time for the class before. Instead, explained what a flipped classroom was, showed the tutorial video, then talked about how I was using Sophia for my flipped classroom. Aside from how chaotic it was to use Jing to record a tutorial about Sophia in order to talk about flipped classrooms within a 10-minute time frame, I thought it went fairly well. I did find it kind of bizarre to be presenting to a class, but have no indication of whether or not they are listening, engaged, or even in the room. It was certainly more nerve-wracking than I thought it might be. I did have some technical difficulties while using Elluminate at the beginning, but once things got going, I powered through. Overall, I’m really proud of my Teach Us Something presentation.

Assignment: Virtual Internship

Grade: 9 / 15

Justification: I have to say, I really dropped the ball on this one. I was in contact with one of my mentors and ended up being involved in her classroom for their celebration of the 100th day of school. It was very cool. Being a secondary math major, seeing how math looks in a grade 1/2 classroom was eye-opening. I couldn’t get over how capable the students were! They were so inquisitive. I did plan on doing lesson with her class again, but the end of the semester caught up with me and I wasn’t able to. Being one to keep my promises, once my semester calms down, I would like to reconnect and teach a lesson! No reason for learning to stop just because I’m not paying tuition! While that mentorship went well, I can’t say the same for the other. Between me not understanding time zones, getting overwhelmed with homework, and procrastinating, I only skyped with my other mentor once. She taught philosophy in a private high school. While it sounds like a fantastic class, it really wasn’t my cup of tea. I had all the good intentions of the world of getting involved, but I wasn’t as motivated to do so as I thought I would be. I’m really disappointed with myself for this one. I know I’m not that type of person, but I seriously dropped the ball.

Assignment: Create Your Own Assignment

Grade: 24 / 25

Justification: This assignment that I “created” flowed really nicely from my Teach Us Something assignment, my Math Ed project, and my Moral Ed project. I decided that if I’m really going to dig deep into something, I may as well dig as deep as I possibly can. I decided to completely flip the polynomials unit in the Math 9 Curriculum. How I justify putting that project in this course is that I know I put in the effort for more than three courses worth of work (if that makes sense). I specifically justify it in that I used technology for everything for this project. I learned how to use Sophia. I learned how to make a good screencast/tutorial. I learned how to reach out to my twitter network (and build a bigger twitter network) to aid my research. I primarily used blogs for my research (I didn’t use on theoretical, scholarly journal article, since I wanted my research to be grounded in field-tested, real-life classrooms). I used my blog as a platform for publishing my project, reflecting, and networking with other teachers. Lastly, and most frustratingly, I learned how to negotiate Movie Maker when it doesn’t want to cooperate. I spent nearly 14 hours trying unsuccessfully to get it publish my video reflection for the Moral Ed portion of this assignment, so I tried to play it on full-screen mode with a screen recorder. Eleven different software programs later, and still no luck. Magically, it began working again, so my project saved. I then learned how to compress a wmv file down to a mp4 file, then adjust the compression settings to keep it under 500 MB. Needless to say, I feel pretty tech-savvy right now. All in all, I am beyond happy with how this project turned out. It really pushed me to re-establish my beliefs, it’s changed the way I feel about education, and it’s changed the way I want to teach. Because I didn’t have a grade looming over my head with this project, I had the freedom to take it as far as I could, and I certainly did. This project will forever evolve and it will never be complete, which is the beauty of publishing it on a blog. All I can say is, “Stay tuned, folks!”

Assignment: Final “Exam”

Grade: 14 / 15

Justification: Little did I know, but I was learning about my learning while I created my video reflection. It went a lot more smooth than my Moral Ed video did, but it was still a learning experience. I am not a short-winded person (my word count right now is at 1390… oops), so summarizing an entire semester of learning in 5 – 7 minutes was like pulling teeth! I had so much to say and so little time to say it. I can honestly say that I did stay within the time requirements. That in and of itself was a victory. I decided to combine video, audio, and visuals to enhance my reflection. I spoke somewhat candidly to the camera for part of my reflection, but for other parts, I recorded myself in Audacity to make a kind of a podcast that I added visuals to (screenshots and photos from flickr). For ambiance, and to make it seem more professional, I went on a hunt for some soothing music for the background. I initially searched through FreePlayMusic, but I couldn’t quite find what I was looking for. I tweeted out my conundrum and got a few responses of different websites. That’s where I found “6-26-11,” as song by “Easy Listening Section” on Sound Cloud. I messaged him, and he was quite flattered to receive the message asking for his music. It was so cool to get in contact with a complete stranger all for this project. I am so in awe of what I’ve learned to do. Never would I have guessed that I would experience that. My only regret is that it wasn’t done the night before. I finished editing it and publishing it only a few hours before class, so many of my classmates didn’t have a chance to watch it prior to class.

Overall, I have been pushed, challenged, and amazed throughout this entire course. I don’t know what I would do without Google Reader, my Twitter feed, or my blog. It’s really helped to change the way I look at education.

FINAL TOTAL: 90 / 100

How do you think I’ve done? Leave some comments for me — I’m always up for some input.

Counting on Accountability

At WestCAST, I had the opportunity to see Dr. Eugene Kowch (@ekowch) speak on the topic “You Got a Job Yet?” While the presentation wasn’t specifically on teacher accountability–rather it was about the national job market for teachers and how to best maximize the opportunities of getting hired–he made an interesting point. He said that teacher accountability should involve “mutual assessment of teaching practices with respect to outcomes.” That stood out to me big time.

I’m not a fountain of knowledge about teacher evaluation by any means, but from what I’ve learned and can see, the system the the US has isn’t working. In Canada, there seems to be less of a push for teacher evaluations. This is good, but perhaps we need to forge a new path that ensures that all teachers are pushing for excellence all the time.

We’ve all see him or her: the teacher that is just putting in time for the last five years or the teacher who pulls a binder off the shelf and teaches the same course the same way every year for twenty years, regardless of which faces they have in front of them. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes these teachers are on to something, but by-and-large, I beg to differ.

The majority of teachers aren’t like this, but the ones who are coasting and not putting in an effort to teach young people maybe need a push to get back into what they used to love to do, which is making a difference.

Dr. Kowch’s “mutual assessment” sounds like a pretty good deal for this. Just as teachers assess students, should students, the community, and coworkers have the opportunity to assess teachers. Note that I chose the term assess, just as Dr. Kowch did. I do not think that teachers should be evaluated (i.e. graded, put in a hierarchy, etc.), but I do think that getting feedback on strengths and weaknesses is valuable.

In my internship, I had all of my students fill out an assessment form regarding my teaching practices, and it was so valuable. Not every form was particularly helpful (although there were many that were), but as whole, I got a great feel for how the students felt I was doing. It held me accountable, and I am grateful for that.

Feedback is good. We love to give feedback, so why wouldn’t we want some in return?

Memorable Versus Memorizable

At the WestCAST Conference last month, I had the opportunity to attend the presentation by Michele Jacobson. This presentation was fantastic for a two reasons: (1) she had lots of great stuff to talk to us about, and (2) she opened up her presentation by telling us that we should be tweeting and on our phones while she was presenting.

First: the awesome stuff she told us about. Michele talked a lot about student showcasing. How do I see this working in my classroom, based on what I learned from Michele? Well, it starts off with something Michele called a “Great Task,” which is a well designed task for students that is memorable, not memorizable. Those last three words stuck with me. This means that the task is active and participatory, requires communication, and provides assessment as, of, and for learning. With this task, students would also need to engage in active peer review based off of a well-laid out, clear, concise rubric. This ensures student accountability, but also provides exposure to other thinking.

The peer review (notice that I didn’t call it peer-evaluation) is the best part for me. I’m a big believer in learning through teaching others. In my personal life, I’ve  been competing as a baton twirler for over 17 years. I started taking coaching courses and assisting with coaching about five years ago. I didn’t really understand the technique fully until I started helping and teaching young twirlers the basics. Since the basics build up to harder tricks and skills, having a solid understanding of the basics is imperative. I have to say, my understanding of the mechanics of twirling and learning how to coach has greatly improved my ability to practice and self-coach during that practice. This would be the same in a classroom — learning how to identify strengths and weaknesses within someone else’s work will ultimately help students to understand the material better, and enable them to better critique their own work. That will most certainly lead to better learning and deeper understanding. How marvelous!

Now for the second part of why Michele was awesome: she encouraged us to tweet. Gone were the days of trying to hide a phone under the table and sneakily tweet or text without looking down. She asked us to tweet. It was awesome. We were able to be in the presentation, listening to her make fantastic points, and still hold a group discussion, courtesy of the #WestCAST2012 hash tag. We also tweeted @dmichelej (Michele Jacobson), which helped keep things organized too. What was an awesome outcome of this? Michele tweeted us back after she finished speaking! The conversation continued far beyond the presentation. How marvelous!

I’m thinking that this could be really beneficial in a classroom. We were having a group discussion, but it was totally quiet. I know there are a lot of hurdles (like how do I tell if they are engaged versus playing Angry Birds), but it is certainly something to ponder.

With tweeting during her presentation, Michele instilled exactly what she was presenting about — we were actively engaged and her presentation was memorable, not memorizable.

Am I Really A Motivated Learner?

I hope so. I really do. I want to learn for the sake of learning. I find learning, no matter what the topic, enjoyable. I’ve really come to love university in the last few weeks for this reason. I’ve tried to let go of my innate need to impress others, and I’ve let myself enjoy learning for the sake of learning, becoming a better teacher, and developing into a more well-rounded individual.

Or so I thought. Today, I sat in class, and while it was interesting for the most part, I watched my watch like it was going to do a trick or something. It seemed like every five minutes, I was ready for class to be over. I wasn’t engaged, when I know I could have been and I know I should have been. I wasn’t preoccupied with anything either–it’s not like I had a big exam coming up or some big piece of news in my life. I just wasn’t all there.

Normally, I would let one day go, and chalk it up to needing sleep, but I can’t. Why? As soon as I got home, I checked my email from one of my courses. We handed in a reflection last week, and I was expecting an email back with my prof’s assessment and evaluation. I must commend this prof, because he takes the time to read through our reflections, ask questions, make comments, give further advice, and give us feedback on each thing we do. He writes back at least half as much as we write to him, which is phenomenal. I so very much appreciate all his efforts, and his comments are so thought provoking. However, what did I do as soon as I opened the attachment? I scrolled all the way to the bottom of the document, past all the comments,  and checked my grade. As I was waiting for my assignment to download, I thought to myself, “Read the comments. The grade isn’t the important thing.” Did I listen? No.

Right now, I’m at a loss. I know that I am capable of being motivated my learning. I know that I can do it. I feel fantastic when I do it. So, why can’t I do it all the time? I want my students to feel that same empowerment that I do. How can I set up an environment for my students where grades “don’t matter.”

This leaves me with more questions than ever. If I were to give a student a grade in a course, what does it mean? I have a lot of classes that I got 90s in, and I can’t for the life of me remember half of the material. I’m thinking about grading. I’m sure another post about what each grade “means” is in the works. I’m just letting this all steep in my head for a while.

In the mean time, I’m going to go and be motivated by doing my math homework.


Flipping Out: Flipping A Classroom, But Where Does That Leave Assessment?

To be honest, right now, I’m procrastinating. I have a project that seems to be looming over me like a giant cloud. However, this cloud isn’t storming. It’s actually quite pleasant, but it is nonetheless looming. Let me explain. If you’ve read my blog in the last little while, you’ll notice that I’m crushing on flipped classrooms. So much so, in fact, that I am devoting my entire personal project to it in my EMTH class. This project has taken on a life of its own though (thus the looming cloud thing). I’m not entirely sure where to begin, but I wanted to hash out my thoughts just to try to find out where my head is at.

I suppose I should start at the beginning. I want to do this project because I know that there is a better way to deliver the math curriculum, rather than notes on a chalkboard. During my internship, I tried a variety of things — projects, iPad apps, labs, inquiry, etc., — to try to break the trend that math class is known for. However, it seems that all these things take one critical bit: time. Well, in a math classroom, it seems that time is a rare commodity. I’m sure that it is the same in many other subject areas too. This is where flipped classrooms really caught my eye — they are developed so that students take time at home to watch a short video and maybe answer a few questions. This will take no more than twenty minutes of focused effort. In class, students then come back to work on what typically would be their homework. These worksheets/assignments are all they have to do during the class time. This means many things to me: (1) a teacher can spend more time with individual students, both strong and weak; (2) students have access to the teacher when they have a question; (3) students spend more time (3:1 ratio) on putting their new skills to use over sitting through a lesson; and (4) a teacher gets better insight to the progression of his/her students because their is more contact available. Please note, there are WAY more benefits, but I don’t want to procrastinate that much tonight.

One of the tensions I’m toying with is how to avoid “direct instruction” within each video for my students. I’m going to be completely honest: I tried to make it “interactive” by asking questions and then predicting the answers of the students, but I felt like I was a on an episode “Blue’s Clue’s.” Yuck. How can I effectively incorporate inquiry into a flipped lesson? How can I create an authentic lab using a flipped classroom? What else can I do? The nature of a video is asynchronous instruction. I guess that is the benefit — students can watch it on their own time — and the downfall — they can only “watch” it.

Another tension that I’m dealing with is assessment. I’ve changed the way I want my future classrooms to work by flipping it upside down. I can’t justify giving a unit exam and two quizzes per chapter any more. This has been picking away at my brain long enough that I feel another personal project coming on. Good thing! I have a personal project for my Moral Ed class that is asking us to critique something within education. While it will get into the ethics and morals a bit more than I’ve done so far, I think that exploring alternative assessment, especially in a flipped classroom, is worth the time. How can I authentically and productively assess my student’s learning?

In my internship, I used ShowMe, an iPad app that enabled me to see what my students were writing as well as hear what they were saying (I asked them to talk me through a problem). This is definitely something I will continue to do. I also did exit slips, short sheets (kind of like mini-quizzes), and bell work. Naturally, I followed the heard and gave what Joe Bower would call standardized exams, along with (mostly) my own quizzes. This isn’t good enough for me any more. As a matter of fact, this isn’t good enough for my future students. So what can I do about it? Dan Meyer suggests that we assess skills, and not on a big unit test every three weeks. This is kind of like testing each indicator. The curriculum is written very nicely to have a collection indicators for each outcome. This could be a couple of questions specifically targeted to an indicator or two every few days to see how the students are progressing (this is starting to sound like assessment as, of, and for learning all at once, how lovely!), and retesting these skills a few days or a week later. With that model,test takes on a whole new tone: a test is no longer a stress-inducing horror hour designed to encourage memorization. It becomes a way of checking in on knowledge. Students are encouraged to genuinely understand and comprehend each topic.

Now, I’m not about to say that that is the right answer right now. I know that just as I can’t teach only one way, I also have to have a variety of assessment methods. What would it look like if my students collaborated with me on designing their assessment? Assuming that I was able to easily justify that each student was able to meet each indicator and outcome within the assessment or series of assessments, why not let my students help decide how they will best show what they know. After all, they know what they know best.

In the last few hours, I’ve been either brilliant or completely ridiculous. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to creating a learning contract as part of this assessment tension going on in my head. It seems like learning contracts and flipped classrooms are a match made in heaven. After I/we figure how to assess my students’ understanding, I think it would be safe to draw up a learning contract mutually with my students. This way, students can work through the videos at their own pace. For some students, one video per day is going to be plenty. For others, three or four would be no problem. I think I will need to set a parameter with a maximum 3 videos per night. Why? Firstly, so that a student doesn’t sit at home watching math videos all night to try to conquer a chapter in a day. Secondly, so that what the student is doing in class is from within 48 hours of them watching a video on it. It’s just more efficient that way.

How else could learning contracts and flipped classrooms be harmonious? Do you see any potential conflicts? I have lots to think about tonight. Now, back to the “real” work for me (although this post has been more productive than my last hour of designing math worksheets).