Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Making assessment meaningful

After spending two hours a day this week watching seventh graders fill in bubbles on our state's standardized test, I am finding myself thinking about assessment. Specifically, I am thinking about the many ways the iPad has enriched and strengthened our daily assessment practices -- and the value I see in authentic, embedded, process-rich assessment that informs and improves instruction. Technology like the iPad offers incredible ways to gather meaningful data that shows student thinking and creates a rich and detailed picture of learning. It can also make assessment more efficient, save teachers time, and open opportunities for more responsive teaching.

The iPad makes new assessment practices possible. First, just being able to hear a student explain his or her thinking is a transformative event. For example, when a student uses one of the many draw-and-record apps (such as Explain Everything, ScreenChomp, ReplayNote, or Educreations) to work through a math problem, the teacher can gather information not just from the written steps, but also from the student's verbal explanation of their process. This results in a richer picture of what the student is thinking, and it's easy for the teacher to hear any misconceptions or missteps in the problem solving process. These recordings can also be replayed to the student for reflection, and the student can hear where he or she was successful, or where improvement or rethinking is needed. Logistically, the easiest way we have found to collect and share these recordings is through e-mail or Edmodo. Edmodo allows the recordings to be shared with the whole class or with just the teacher.

As I explained in an earlier post, the camera also adds a new layer to the assessment process. Students can use photo or video to capture any classroom event or project that demonstrates learning. For example, students can capture snapshots throughout a science experiment or inquiry project, and then create a reflection video or podcast (using iMovie, SonicPics, or a similar app) describing their thinking process. Students can take photos of the covers of books they have read as a visual record of their growth as a reader; browsing through the photo library reveals what types of books students are selecting and where they might need growth. What an incredible way to document a student's learning journey, rather than just relying on the finished product. Multimedia assessment artifacts provide a powerful window into a student's mind and enable responsive, individualized teaching.

Using tools such as Google Forms allows for an additional method of embedded, just-in-time assessment. Quick quizzes, surveys, and exit tickets can be easily accessed by each student, and the results come to the teacher in a spreadsheet, one row for each student response. Using conditional formatting or sorting allows the teacher to quickly identify incorrect answers and work with small groups for additional instruction as needed. The spreadsheets also provide an easy-to-access record over time. My outstanding colleague at National Teachers Academy, Jennie Magiera, has really perfected this technique and writes about it quite a bit on her blog. We love Google Forms because they make it quick and easy to take the pulse of an entire class at once. Rather than shuffling through 30 individual pieces of paper, all the responses appear in one, easy to scan grid of information. When the assessment process is simple, meaningful, and closely linked to the day's instruction, it is more likely that a teacher will be able to gather frequent information about student learning -- thus enabling better teaching.

Other web 2.0 tools can help teachers gather critical assessment data. We use Kidblog and Edmodo extensively for many types of communication. Students use Kidblog to write about their independent reading and share books with one another. By accessing a student's blog and also the Control Panel for comments, we can see a student's entries and comments all in one place and easily assess his or her participation and writing in our online community. Similarly, in Edmodo it is easy to view the activity of one particular student. If you have ever given a grade for participation or class discussion, there is great value in being able to see the quality and quantity of student online discussion at a glance. We explicitly teach students how to ask good questions, provide constructive commentary, and engage meaningfully in a discussion about ideas, but without a tool like Edmodo, evidence of learning in these areas can be hard to gather. While I don't advocate replacing all classroom discussion with online tools -- far from it -- adding a tool like Edmodo can provide a new avenue for students to participate, and also an effective way to document that participation.

It is important to note that we are using the iPad to add to our arsenal of assessment tools, not to completely replace traditional assessments. We still need our students to write well-crafted essays -- but now, we can hear them talk about their writing process and the thinking behind the product. (Of course, the iPad has changed the finished product too! Writing can now be published beautifully and shared globally.) Getting the answer right and producing quality work still matters. But in the teacher-student relationship, being able to reveal multiple aspects of student learning -- process, product, and everything in between -- makes it more possible for a teacher to know and support 30 unique learners. There may not always be time every day to confer individually with each child about his or her thinking, but the iPad provides myriad ways to capture those thoughts and make thinking visible to the teacher. Rich, meaningful assessment is a key component of effective, responsive instruction. With the iPad, we are finding more ways than ever to make it a reality.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Poetry Publishing on the iPads

We’re in the heart of our unit on poetry. My students have learned several strategies that poets use including repetition, onomatopoeia, alliteration, visual imagery and line breaks. This week a few students wanted to draft their poems on the iPad. We had not tried this before, so I decided to let my students “have a go.”

As I watched my students carefully, I tried to think about how this experience was different than writing or publishing on paper. I noticed two big things right away.

First, the concept of line breaks and how to use them effectively was evident when writing on the iPad. Planning line breaks and reworking them to fit in a handwritten poem is labor intensive for the average first grade student. When writing on the iPad, line breaks become easy to fix, move and manipulate. This results in line breaks that make an impact for both the reader and writer.

Second, kids were more likely to revise their drafts when working on the iPad. Similar to what I observed with line breaks, it was easy for kids to manipulate the text and change the layout without having to erase, rewrite and reorganize. Many times I saw my students write a few lines then share their work with a think partner. When the think partner would provide feedback, kids were more willing to use the feedback to enhance their poem because insertion or revision was a quick fix on the iPad. In previous writing attempts, I had not seen my students work so flexibly or be as open to feedback.

There were additional benefits to writing on the iPad including the ease of organization and diverse options for sharing. Not all students desired to draft on the iPad and that is perfectly fine by me. I want to provide my students many options for thinking, writing and sharing their work. I hope to create an environment where kids move seamlessly between tools, modalities and resources.

It seems as though the students who drafted on the iPad were inspired by this experience–many wrote multiple poems and 4 or 5 are creating an ePub anthologies. I’ll try to provide an update next week on Poetry Friday.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Active Literacy With the iPad: Part 1

iBooks and ePUBs

When I’m teaching reading, I’m teaching students how to be active readers.  That means that they need to engage with what they are reading.  They need to think, talk, and write.  They need to leave tracks of their thinking.   Students do this by writing post-it’s and annotating the text they are reading.  (Depending on they type of text.)

When I first began exploring the iPad I was thrilled to learn that iBooks allows students to write notes and highlight things.  Now they could have virtual post-it’s!  What was even more exciting to me was that they could e-mail me these comments to me.  Here’s an example of what one of these comment pages might look like.
As you can see, the comments come up but not the text that the student is referring to.  This can be fixed if the student highlights the sentence or phrase that inspired that thought.  This is what I plan on teaching my students next.  I think that it will be very powerful for them to articulate specific words or phrases that have triggered their thinking.

I find this format really revealing and easy to look at as well as assess.  I have enough rag tag stacks of paper and this document is a quick assessment glance at the thinking my student did during the day’s lesson.  I also think that when these comments are listed out like this it makes it easy to look for patterns in thinking.

In the example above I see the student is demonstrating an emotional connection with the text, they are questioning, and they are linking to their background knowledge.  The comment about Pandora reveals  that the student is probably connecting to their background knowledge of the mythological person Pandora and when the article refers to Pandora as a place he is attempting to reconcile this information.  This would be my opening point in a conference about the text.

So what’s the catch?
Well, the catch is that this only works with iBooks that you purchase…which I have no money for, and ePUBs.  The good news is that there is a way to turn any internet article into an ePUB for students to use.  Thanks to Bruce “Awesomeness” Ahlborn for this tip.  dotEPUB is a site that will do this dirty work for you. All you have to do is install their bookmarklet on your computer or iPad and a few simple clicks will send the article to your device.

Bam!  Presto!  Any internet article becomes a tool for practicing active literacy.

Management Issues 

I would suggest that you, the teacher, use dotePUB on your computer and then drop it into ibooks to sync to the devices.  You can install this on student iPads easily so that they can do it themselves.  However, itunes will sync all of the student articles off the devices and back on to all the other devices.  Which means that you now get every single article that each student Epubbed.  (Is that a verb?  If not you heard it here first!)  It's not a huge issue but a minor headache that you can avoid.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Happy Digital Learning Day!  Sometimes when we integrate technology in our class we come up with unexpected results.  One of the "side effect learning" phenomenon that has taken place in my class is the development of student photography skills.  Being an amateur photographer and artist myself, I am happy to indulge and even instruct.

Here is our first collaborative art piece that will be put up for auction at a school fundraiser tomorrow.  All of these pictures were taken in our classroom, with the exception of two.  All of them were taken and edited by students with their iPads!  I am very, very proud of their work.  In fact I'm gong to have a hard time parting with this.

Happy Digital Learning Day!

As we celebrate our 1st Digital Learning Day in my classroom, I take a moment to reflect on how significantly technology has changed how I teach and how my students learn. Device preference aside, I am so grateful for all that my children have access to. Never before has information and literacy been so available to the young learner. My students float through the day studying images, watching short video clips and building new knowledge for themselves and their peers. What has been most exciting is how technology has empowered my students! They are sharing their thinking daily with each other and the world. Previously, my students had a small audience and shared their ideas through writing or drawing. Now, they are blogging, making movies, working in Google Docs and podcasting! The technology we have access to personalizes learning and allows students to develop deep comprehension behaviors regardless of their ability to decode text. My six and seven year-olds have a new level of agency as they see themselves as active contributors and information providers for all.

A snapshot into our learning…
Last week my class followed the Caldecott Award announcement. We were thrilled to learn that a classroom favorite, A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka, won! My students wanted to celebrate this accomplishment. I decided this would be a great time to introduce book trailers.
I shared several exemplary trailers with my students. Then my class created a chart detailing the attributes of a terrific book trailer. We connected with children’s author and illustrator, Katie Davis on Twitter and learned even more by studying her trailer, Little Chicken’s Big Day. Finally, my students used iMovie to create their first book trailer.

When I look at the trailers my students created, I see kids who know how to discuss literature. I observe competent technology users. I see people who know that their thinking matters and they are ready to share it with the world.

Are these first attempts at making a book trailer perfect? No, of course not. We still have lots to learn. But are their first attempts at making a book trailer powerful? Absolutely. And I’m satisfied with that for right now.

Watch the book trailer here!

Happy Digital Learning Day!