Formative Assessment Thoughts Today

 Formative Assessments Available in the Curriculum I Am Required to Use?

Over the last few months I have been looking at how I can use the assessments developed in the online curriculum that I am required to use. Frustratingly most of the assessments ill-suit using the data to improve learning outcomes. Most of the quizzes and tests deliver a summarize evaluation with data that does not address decisions I should make about learning goals.

This is not to say the curriculum I am working with is bad. The content attempted shows exemplary value. Pedagogically the format leaves room for more engaging experiences yet still offers some level of interaction. The assessments that would better enable me to examine whether students grasp the exemplary content packaged in substandard formats provide little useable feedback. Data pulled from the daily quizzes, biweekly labs, and end of unit exams test student semantic skills rather than content understanding.

Another thing that seems out of place is the brick and mortar style of assessment and instruction in an environment where students move at their own pace. In a Traditional school the style of instruction and assessment could be used to develop interventions on a daily basis but in this situation data about student understanding of concepts can sometimes take a month to collect. Instead of providing student with immediate feedback or allowing me to spot discrepancies in content and understanding and fill the gap – the content plunges onwards and leaves students with gaps in their understanding.

What I would love is to have several months to take the current content and redesign the student user experience so that they are constantly assessed and when they miss some component of the knowledge – they have immediate feedback that loops them into further lessons on the deficit area. I try to do this on several levels by providing discussion forums for peer evaluation and by developing interactive live-labs.

The problem is that many of my student do not show up or have yet to participate in any of the live curriculum. In these cases I have no clues to their understanding except through the assessments already in the course. If I were able to invest some time into better formative assessments I think I could pick up these students. It would also refine the decisions for all students and hopefully derive improved outcomes on the summarize assessments.

Still working on it all – with high hopes too.

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Oops, I am an Artist!

I always wanted to pursue a career in art. As a seventh and eighth grade student I took more art classes when I had elective choices than anything else. My parents required that I take band and it was not until high school that I was able to pull together a decent enough argument to switch to choir, then jazz choir. Those classes led to drama, school radio, and a small – unread – underground newspaper. Looking at this transcript you might say – duh – artist!

All through this time I never felt I was very skillful in my pursuit of the arts. My manual dexterity has never been great – my sketches always look childish, my singing could inspire earplugs, and my performances – well – those were pretty good but I am pretty sure I would be waiting tables if I had run with that career. I still enjoy all these activities but do not think they are shining points in my secret repertoire. Then there is teaching.

Apparently I am pretty good at directing people – adults and kids- towards their strengths and helping them mitigate their challenges. When confronted with a person who wants or needs something I somehow hit my stride, my hand steadies, my voice stays in tune, and the people I am with accelerate their learning. Not that this is magical. Just like a sketch artist uses a thousand techniques to get a portrait just right, I employ educational theory, practice, and grunt work to the task of sharing a learning experience.

V. Van Gogh's Starry NightThe magic is in how this all comes together. I get in a zone. I feel like a composer, immersed in my work. The music hits and I am transported to a place where learning happens, each moment a precious gift of possibilities and each setback simply a coda where we get to hear the music again but different for having heard it the first time. Or perhaps this is what Van Gogh felt as he painted “Starry Night.” This painting, of all his work, holds the highest level of imagination for me. All that is part of teaching too.

If I were to distill the teacher as an artist to three categories I think I would list them as follows:

  1. An artist reflections their work and the work of others – a good teacher is always learning; from themselves and others.
  2. Artists explore their and other’s imaginations – a good teacher must be empathic enough to seek to understand their students’ needs and how they might supplement these needs.
  3. Artists create and allow others to create – a good teacher allows their students the independence to explore and learn on their own.

I am not sure this is an exhaustive list or even a complete thought at this moment. This post is by far the most meta I have put up on this blog so far. Forgive me if I have become too philosophical. I will return to your regularly scheduled posts soon.

Relationship, Relationship

Generating, as my high school cooperating teacher called it, “a kid friendly vibe” was my major concern going into student teaching. Having worked with emotionally disturbed students, deaf students, and other special needs groups – often small groups – I worried I might not have the skills to connect with a normal kid. Turns out I was wrong.

Whether I was wrong about my ability to connect or that there might exist a normal kid I am still not sure. Every student I come into contact with has such a rich palate of interests and motivations that I am considering, not for the first time, removing normal from my vocabulary. Not only am I reconsidering normalcy as a non-starter for student evaluation, I am realizing my quirky humor and interest in their lives resonates with the kids.

Relationship, relationship, relationship.

This mantra has been repeated to me over and over. I am not sure what the big deal is? It seems so easy to develop a positive relationship with students. Now there are the few students who I have yet to reach in my current placement. Using the pictorial attendance sheet I marked kids I knew something non-academic about with different colors of pen. The pictures without marker are fairly few but I now know who to talk to over the next week, or run into during track practice, or catch at the library.

Meeting the kids in their comfort zone, their place, makes a difference. This is one of the reasons I use social networks. With my classroom blog, youtube channel, facebook page (not profile), and other social media outlets I think I can show the kids I can live where

they live. Just like connecting with a student over a game of basketball or comparing books read, this is one more way I can build – err – relationship.

Because I’m Brown…

This morning I had my first taste of a student using racism to deflect personal responsibility. The exact phrase said was, “Just because I’m brown…” My first reaction was shock, possibly the intention.¬†Through a conversation I learned that the student was trying to reshuffle responsibility for not following directions. During this conversation I made it very apparent that if they were dealing with racism or perceptions of racism they could speak with me, the counselor, or the regular teacher. Towards the end I explained how in any interactions there may be unintentional racist or oppresive behaviors and that I need to know if I was doing something along those lines. After ascertaining that nothing discriminatory had occured – intentionally or unintentionally – we went back into the classroom but the conversation has stuck with me.

I am frustrated that a student pulled the racial card.

I am feeling hurt.

I am inspired.

When a student does something like this I worry about how they are degrading themselves, their culture, the classroom, and the community. Do they truly believe this? If students discriminate against one another, or degrade themselves or others they might be surprised with how I respond. This will not be a lightly or dismissively handled subject. I will react strongly. And we will have several conversations. Hopefully we can work together as learners and scholars to understand and value tolerance. Secondly I hope they will – regardless of their opinion – understand how deeply I care about them.

This is a little hot for me still so I will probably revisit racism in the classroom again in the future.