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.


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