While I've been using Google docs for quite a while but this week I tried a new assignment with my students and happened (and how I wish I could say that I planned it) on a fabulous ah-ha. Formative assessments are terrific AND the goal should not only be for me to learn something about where the student stands in their learning, but also to give them feedback AND for them to learn something as they complete the assessment. Instead of creating the typical checklist in a wordprocessing format, I created a spreadsheet.
As students completed each task, they entered the required info or a yes/no to indicate where they were on the checklist. They could also enter data into the spreadsheet about the sources of information they were using for their work. That I anticipated and expected to happen. But I was thinking of the document in a more static way....I knew multiple people could edit on it at the same time in Google Docs but I had never actually thought about monitoring their progress as they did it. It was that dynamic quality that allowed me to give the feedback which then resulted in them learning more during the assessment. We didn't have to wait until the next lesson to remediate where they weren't "getting it" and I could draw in an expert "student" to help them get what they needed to know. Right then...on the spot.
Usually I walk around the lab and find that I get pulled into a protracted conversation with someone about doing a particular process...which is fine and OK...except that I don't accomplish what I really need to do which is to keep surveying the whole group and getting everyone moving along.
BUT I had this EUREKA moment when I saw that keeping the Google spreadsheet open gave me that gave me a unique bird's eye vantage point as they did their work and I could also ask questions and ask for clarfication. I was so overwhelmed, that I tried to capture as much of the experience as I could on a Jing screencast to share. I was stationary and staying to my purpose and not being sidetracked. I was still able to direct extra help to the people who needed it but I called on the expertise of my students to meet those needs instead of me!!! instead of cloning myself I figured a way to develop more capacity from students. I've long been a believer in this but I hadn't seen this method for deploying that student expertise before.
I made this on the fly and it is filled with the chatter of the students in the background but I think you'll be able to see what I mean.
I know it's sounds dorky but I was able to help students know exactly what to do and I knew exactly where they stood with getting their blogs up to speed on each of these elements.
I think I hadn't appreciated the dynamic nature of watching the information transform before my eyes. I could see where they were struggling to get something filled it and they were able to see what other students had done to get that part of the assignment finished. This is such a wonderful example of a formative assessment that is outside the box of what most people think of formatives....but it is part of my imagining how formatives can and should be used in the future to help students learn in a powerful, connected future-forward (I hate the term 21st century) way.
Sometimes you're good and find something. Lots of times, you're just lucky and have to be smart enough to see that you've stumbled on something wonderful. I'm lucky!!!! So how cool is that I figured out how to do a formative assessment AND tap into the student expertise of my kids....all just by using a tool that I've used a million times before just not in this way.
Have you discovered anything like this that could be purposed for formative assessments? I just know that there are many, many more possibilities just waiting to be discovered out there.
Sometimes I wonder why I put all the time I do into reading...books, articles, magazines and now blogs. Tonight in scanning through my Reader list, I found a good reason. Right smack dab in the middle of the unread posts was a brilliant shining jewel.... The Geology Word of the week. Who would have thought?????
Hardly something you'd think would a jewel to someone like me. But it was. Here's why. I thought I knew all about the layers of the earth. Goodness knows we colored them, or made syrofoam ball or clay models or foldables throughout the years. But I never really understood the difference until tonight. I thought the lithosphere was the crust....boy I guess I've had that wrong. You look at the diagram and see what you think....
This post had a sentence that illuminated the difference between the all the different ways that scientists classify the inside of the earth. It has never made sense to me ( or to my students why they call pieces of it different things). You see how the tell you it's one thing and then lump it into another category without telling why it gets put into two different categories.
I have looked and looked for the why, but never found any explanation that I could understand or found anything in any middle school textbook that I've seen.
Tonight the post at Goerneys explained it. One gets labeled because it looks at the inside of the earth for it's physical properties (the lithosphere) and the other gets labeled by it's chemical properties (the crust). I'm not a total moron and just that one piece of help gives me enough insight that I think I get it.
Now when you take all that into consideration, I get why the parts that are brittle (my new way of describing it again thanks to Evelyn at Georneys) are under one label because they act the same way. That makes a lot of sense to me. And the crust and the mantle are different (and have a different set of labels) because you know them by their rocks. The lighter ones on top and the more dense ones underneath.
Eveyln writes her blog to de-stress in the midst of her quest to get her PhD and I read in my quest to know more. That's why I read all the time. No matter how much I know about something (and I really know only a thimble full about geology), there's always someone out there who is passionate about what they do and they freely share with those of us that want to learn more. I'm taking from Eveyln tonight and hopefully sometimes other people can take from where I have an abundance to share. Pretty good reason to be doing all that reading.
Oh yeah...what was the word you ask????
Cool word, huh? What geology word of the week has made your week lately? Yeah, that's what I thought.
I'm very fortunate to live in a place where my US Congressman actually responds to my emails. If you haven't met Dennis Moore, you should. I think he's one of the people that actually lives out what I think a Congressman should be like. Well, I wrote to him to complain about the Blueprint and to tell him why it is a disaster as a guide for educational policies. I pretty much got back a stock answer full of history (that is useful to know actually) and why he thinks the reforms are good.
OK....I see now that we disagree.
But here's what I think is interesting. Representative Moore thinks that repeated testing of kids is a good thing. And I think he believes that because he thinks all kids in the US deserve a good education. I guess this is where things pretty much stand for most people....they think that it's no big deal.
I guess I understand why. To most folks, testing is a one time thing. They don't see how one two hour test can be so controlling. That seems to be where teachers like me haven't fully been able to establish the cause/effect of high stakes testing.
I'm going to sit down today and try and break this apart. Don't really think I can do it all today but I'm getting started on my list.
As I think about my school year, it is very quickly apparent that the most effective tool I use in knowing more about student learning is formative assessments. You know the things I do within a lesson or series of lessons to better understand who knows what, who doesn't know something and to take a general reading of where I need to go next with my instruction. The summer is a great time to think about how to boost up my existing lesson plans and units...I look back at my plan book, reading any notes I left for myself about things to avoid or things to do more of.
Formative assessments are crucial to doing a better job. Why? First. The information I get is immediate and it matches exactly what I need to know. I may only ask a question or two, but those are so specifically tailored to what I'm teaching that I can easily gauge where I am in student learning what I need them to know. Sometimes I gather this by self-reports (a thumbs up or thumbs down) kind of thing, or maybe a problem or two they have to work on a half sheet of paper and hand to me as they walk out the door, or maybe it's a class discussion where I call on people.
The amazing thing is that when students realize how you're going to use the information they give you about their learning....they stop hiding what they don't know. They put it right out there so you can see. I think that's because they trust you, at that point, to help them. Now isn't that an amazing and profound thing to take in....just for a moment....if they trust you, they will be honest about their learning. My kids realize if they don't get it and they tell me....I will re-teach or do another problem or explain it another way until they get it. I think when you get to this point with your kids you know you've found the "zone"---the place where learning really amps up because everyone is on the same page and you're a team.
Second reason formatives are so powerful. They not only help teachers, but they help kids. It used to be when I went to school I didn't really know much about how I was doing until the learning was over. Formatives turns that experience on its head. Formatives gives students information. It gives them power. It gives them a means by which they can ask more specific questions...have you ever been frustrated with a student who says they don't get "anything". Poor souls...they are so lost that they don't even know how to ask a good question. Formatives changes that. If you are specific in what your formative is targeting, students will know very quickly what they know and what they don't know. Then they can ask you questions that are specific to where they need help.
Third reason. When parent ask for feedback about how their student is doing. I can answer specifically...I can point to exactly what they need to learn and where they struggled. The amazing part of this is that many students can actually answer the question as well as I can. Something powerful begins to happen when the student has as much understanding of their learning as their teacher and parent. Most kids take more ownership and pride.....actually develop authentic self-esteem about their intellect and parents know to trust them more.
I've been engaged in a big discussion recently about assessments...mostly high stakes assessments. Everyone...politicians, businessmen, superintendents, etc etc etc....believes that these once a year tests are the ticket to understanding what needs to be taught more and how to improve student learning. I believe they are "barking up the wrong tree". Formatives are the powerful change agent for a teacher and a student. These data are immediate, they are specific, they help leverage time into more productive lessons and instructional strategies.
The thing about formatives is that they are very specific to a teacher, a set of students and a curriculum. They can't, and most definitely shouldn't, be generalize to fit large groups of students. Heck, when I do these in my school I even tweak what I ask from hour to hour to reflect the differences between class composition.
My summer will be involved in thinking more and more about how to utilize formatives to greater advantage next year. It will help me build the trust bridge between my students and me and improve student learning even more.
My dear friend Bill Ferriter is writing about another one of my hot topics!!! Go Bill. His wondering is about how we will change our profession into lifelong learners. I have to say that this is a topic that is very close to my heart...probably because I really believe in the whole idea of lifelong learner and how it keeps me young and curious....
Also this fall I am teaching another grad school class on Teaching and Learning with Technology. My introductory unit is all about Lifelong Learning. I make the case for it by citing some pretty well known stats....only 7% of teachers who use technology use it effectively (ie seamlessly and appropriate for the learning target). Parker Palmer says it so well.....“good teaching is rather more than technique: 'good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher'. This is where we find the push to be better than we are today...when it comes from our identity and the integrity of finding out who we are as a teacher. That is the heart of the reflection process and that I learned during my National Board process almost 10 years ago. The folks in these grad school classes, for the most part, are very motivated, committed individuals...they are smart and have developed a good sense of their cohort community. I think they are really helpful to each other although they are mostly online, virtual classmates. Their discussion forums last summer were inspiring, so I'm excited to see what they do with this kind of challenge.
I am going to be bold in this class I'm teaching. I designed a learning activity where my grad students will have to join a virtual community. I picked Classroom 2.0 because it fits the wide range of content areas and age groups that are reflected in my class demographics...and because it offers something for the beginning to the experienced user. What is bold is that they must pick one aspect of the community to investigate each week and then use a reflection blog to record what they learned. Many may believe this is too much to do...many may believe I should be more directive...and I'm hoping that many will enjoy the freedom to define for themselves what it is they want to learn while....many will benefit from the requirement to reflectively blog. I'm not "grading" the blog so we'll see how many will do it....
For 6 weeks they'll investigate, try things out and write about it...then we'll post our individual conclusions and do an online discussion to try and generalize the experience beyond what each person found out by themselves.
I think if we gave teachers more learning experiences like this, we might begin to develop more independence. Yes, they'll hate that it's not more defined and prescriptive. But as we do more and more like this...places where we can't really fail or there isn't one single path to follow, we can develop a culture that embraces this kind of learning. How many PD experiences have you attended where this open-ended, long term learning is the target or objective? I can tell you I haven't been to many.
Great question Bill. I'll let you know how my 6 week experiment goes.
I've been setting up my baseline data collection point for my science class. I have selected a passage that should be very accessible for them (I used a Time for Kids article about earthquakes) and this will give me the ability to figure out where they are starting from, but lead into individual Excel sheets which will help me develop my formatives.
All this seems like so much to go through to get their writing skills amped up but I'm convinced that I have to be much more systematic than I've been in the past.
I also know that I'll be doing many more anchoring activities. After reading Stephanie Harvey all summer, I think I can begin to understand what to do. I have selected 4 or 5 pieces to serve as a touchpoint for all that I am hoping to teach them about writing in science. What Harvey recommends is to use chart paper to work your way through the skills I'm modeling and then to refer back to that chart paper. I would rather use my Smart Board...maybe combine it with some AirLiners so that I can pass around the tablets to generate a collaborative feel. I can save these charts as .pdfs and give them to students to add to their science notebooks. I will do the chart paper, too, because I think posters of what we were thinking are good visual cues.
The whole trick is going to be how to scaffold this with the right amount of support, ever so slightly decreasing and increasing their ability to work independently from my guidance.
Gosh...I have to say that this is hard. I don't have a clue about how to teach writing and the writing skills they have are so confined to language arts applications. At the age of my students, 11 or 12 years old, they are cognitively able to see that what they learned about reading a story, summarizing it and answering questions is the same skill as I am asking them to use in science. Somehow my language arts teachers don't see the value in using nonfiction texts like what they have to read in social studies or science...so we don't get to do much interdisciplinary reinforcement.
It will be an interesting year.
This has been a wonderful day. I'm building my Assessment class and thought I'd try and use interviews to spruce up the online content a bit. I wasn't sure how this would go...but I ventured out today. Took my computer to work along with my Snowflake microphone and started interviewing people.
I had thought about the questions I wanted to get answered before I talked with them...mostly wanted to hear their expertise on what works in terms of preassessment and formative assessments. This is something that we've been very busy working on district wide so I know tons of people have good stuff going on in their classrooms.
But as I listen to my colleagues describe what they do...I'm blown away. So effortlessly they chat about this amazing body of work they do in the name of making students into successful learners. I swear that policymakers need to hear testimonies of these teachers + the loads of other teachers who do the same thing....it's work and innovation that creates this incredible backdrop for students. I honestly think you'd have to try to fail with thoughtful practitioners like I spoke with today.