Sunday, August 19, 2012

Working out the Worksheet

With two weeks until school is back in session and in preparing for my presentation on Edmodo for the upcoming TeachMeetNJ unconference, I've been reflecting on past practices and thinking about how I structure the educational process in my class. Prior to the digital revolution, I used worksheets as the hub for lessons and content. I can hear the gasps of horror right now, but let me explain....

When students are not allowed to write in school issued books, having a place to write information and react to the text is vital, and being able to keep the number of worksheets to a minimum helps students as well. The worksheet was a way to organize the lesson structure and give students a location to put information. When teaching 9th graders, there is often an issue with organization. The worksheets provided guidance and structure for the content. Over the 14 years I have taught, I designed worksheets using Word and was diligent in use of space and the layout efficiently using 1 piece of paper 2-sided. Take a peek at what I created for our study of Romeo & Juliet and a group work review for Cask of Amontillado. Some of the Word formatting unfortunately does not translate well into Gdocs, but the gist of the layout and content is there.

One criticism of worksheets is that they are used for busy work.  While my students are busy working, the worksheet is not mindless and time wasting. My students are busy working, not doing busywork. There is a difference. Another criticism or misconception is that the worksheet promotes students sitting at their desks, heads bent, pencils scribbling... no interaction with others. The worksheets I have designed over the years have portability in mind: rather than lug textbooks and overflowing binders around the class, students carried one piece of paper to various locations for group work and stations.

Now that the digital revolution is in full swing, I am trying to devise means for moving to a paperless and digital classroom while facing the following challenges:

  1. Availability of technology: there is a reason why I'm focused on BYOD with this blog; I do not teach in a 1:1 district. While the tech department is wonderful, I can't always get into the computer lab or sign out the laptop cart.  Practical & free BYOD resources are a must.
  2. Changing technology: Web 2.0 tools are constantly changing; new technology is always popping up and disappearing. I love new tools, but the technology needs to be organized and centralized: students can't have 20 log-ins. And how many of these tools can be used with BYOD? Having students' resources scattered all over the web is akin to the exploding  3-ring binder loaded with all materials from multiple classes: it doesn't work. 
  3. Turning in through technology:  Being at home or in the lab, turning in assignments is easy when the technology is at one's fingertips. Students turn in assignments via Edmodo at home or in the lab, but in the classroom, I need a BYOD method that allows students to access, create, answer, and turn in to the teacher. Socrative is excellent for multple choice and short answer, but for other types of assessments and activities, the technology is still evolving. Any ideas? Delivery is easy, but assessment via BYOD is more problematic.
  4. Avoid reinventing the wheel and having a seamless transition: I have a massive library of resources that I've created that need to evolve for use in the digital cloud.  As evident in the Word docs above that were transferred to Google, the formatting isn't exact. How can resources be adapted to BYOD?

So here is my game plan for this year: generally, avoid paper and turn the students' devices into digital notebooks.

  1. Worksheets are uploaded to Edmodo for students to access, complete, and turn in. I won't have to worry about file types and formatting with Edmodo. This will be fine for in class use when we can get in the lab or use the cart, but for BYOD, I'll need a different strategy. I'm still working on that...
  2. Adapt previously created resources/worksheets for use in mobile apps such as Socrative, Evernote, Springpad, and GDocs, GForms, etc. I anticipate lots of copy/pasting. 
  3. Students take quizzes/tests on Edmodo and Socrative. Again, more copy/pasting from paper-based tests to the quiz generators.
  4. For BYOD word processing, students should be able to use the Google Docs/ Drive app on their devices. The files can then be accessed later on computers and with the integration with Edmodo, students can turn in the files on Edmodo. For BYOD in the classroom, the focus will be on smaller and more frequent writing assignments (paragraphs, journals, etc) that can later be collated and revised into larger documents on the computers.
  5. For active reading, I can deliver poetry and short stories via Google docs and have students use tools to mark up the text. We could have a class copy of annotated text that all students collaborated on. 
  6. Using Edshelf and scouring twitter posts, find more apps to use in class. Additionally, students will be assigned to find an app that can be used in school and write a review. By putting students to work, I should be able to find even more resources than the ones listed here.
    • Google Drive
    • Edmodo
    • Youtube
    • Skype
    • Kindle reader
    • Quizlet
    • Socrative
    • Evernote or Sprinpad
    • Document camera/scanner 
    • Skitch or other photo editor

While I'll be using Edmodo as my hub for digital learning, I still need to "grease the wheels" for BYOD.
This is all a work in progress, and as always, I welcome any ideas, thoughts, comments on how to make the BYOD integration work.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Very excited for viewing the Edmodocon presentations today. Additional information on Edmodocon here too.

I am geeking out over the new upgrades to the Edmodo platform: enhanced organization with folders & groups, reaction button (similar to FB's "like"), gradebook upgrade... the keynote speech by Nic Borg has me fired up! The Beta version will be available for all Edmodocon attendees "soon" (we can switch back and forth between the old and new platform versions).  I am itching to try this out-- actually in more than one way: I got poison ivy weeding one of my overgrown flowerbeds this past week. Not too bad, just up one forearm, but gosh darn does it itch!!!!

Here are links to what others are posting about Edmodo & Edmodocon 2012:

I've blogged before about using Edmodo to go paperless and I'll be presenting at TeachMeetNJ in August on the techniques and strategies that I use.  I'll be sharing my presentation notes later. Just let me simply state: I LOVE EDMODO!

More to come...

Friday, August 3, 2012

MC Assessment = Meta Cognitive Assessment

To be a progressive teacher, you find and do what works. Period.

The students should be stakeholders in their education and have accountability, responsibility, and be actively engaged in and out of the classroom. Period.

I apply the theories and philosophies of Bloom, Bandura, Vygotsky, Maslow, Gardner, and many many many others. I'm a proponent of critical thinking, cooperative learning, metacognition, blended learning, flipped learning... see a pattern? I'm a proponent of learning. Period.

Progressive teachers cannot get away from testing in the current educational climate, but at least we can make it engaging for the students in the class. The trick is in the design of the test. Despite criticism, a traditional well-written multiple choice assessment can be a valid assessment tool (I'm bracing for rebuttals).  The techniques outlined below can be used for formative and summative assessments. And, this works for any subject, not just Language Arts.

Teacher Generated Multiple Choice Assessments

Some givens for my MC assessments in 9th grade English:

  1. All test/quizzes are open resources (notebook & text).
  2. Students only get about 30-45 seconds per question. I purposely make time an issue. They might get lucky not studying, but in order to complete the assessment in time, they need to be organized and have worksheets et al complete.
  3. Students are assessed on a range of skills: comprehension, application, identification, etc.

How MC assessments are administered:

  1. MC assessments vary in length, time to administer, and formative/summative purpose. 
  2. On paper in class
    • using scantron forms (really old school), but good back up when servers go down
    • photocopies
  3. On computer in library/computer lab
  4. On computer at home 
  5. On student personal device

For assessments administered on the computer, I use the following platforms:

  1. Edmodo's quiz feature
  2. Socrative

How students are organized:
  1. Alone
  2. In partners-- one stipulation for working with a partner: students cannot communicate audibly, no sounds allowed. They can communicate textually. 
  3. In groups-- the Socrative space race is great for this! 

As far as the questions themselves are concerned, I never write nit-picky questions: What was the color of so-so's shirt in Chapter 2? What is that type of question really assessing? To write valid MC questions and answers, constantly ask, What is the point or goal of this question? What is being assessed?

Here's some sample questions from a paper test on Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey that assess students on comprehension and application. We live in a shore community, so many of my students are familiar with nautical themes.

In my transition to going paperless, I don't have to reinvent the wheel and throw out my paper copies; it just requires some time to copy/paste questions from tests written as Word docs to the online format.

I like Edmodo best for traditional administering of tests. The gradebook feature and automatic scoring save me time and all tests are time-stamped and teachers can set a limit on how long to take the test. Scored tests also include a pie chart for each question letting me know which questions students struggled on. As a reflective teacher, this is very helpful.  And once the test is created in Edmodo, it is saved in your Edmodo cloud and can be assigned to other classes/groups and edited as needed. As of now, Edmodo tests cannot be taken through the app. I hope this changes soon! Edmodo tests are best administered on computers; I vary on whether a test is administered in class or to be done at home/in study hall.

Socrative is my choice for BYOD-esque assessments in class. Students without devices can be paired with those who do have them. I can also create group assessments and have the student with the device be the group leader. I have never laughed so hard watching my students take part in a group Space Race for Act II of Romeo & Juliet. They were so animated and engaged. I wish had video! Socrative quizzes are also very useful because they can be shared with other teachers.  Check out this collaborative effort & add your own Socrative quizzes!

All this above seems pretty standard as far as MC assessments go. Nothing out of the ordinary for testing.

But how about this... 

Multiple Choice Peer Assessment

This is very similar in design to the Peer Assessment for Writing & Projects. They key again is structure and design. This can be applied to any subject.

Note on rubrics:
I use 2 different rubrics for facilitating the peer evaluation.  The Yes-Partial-No checklist is point by point assessing whether the student completed specific aspects proficiently. Students receive 2 points for every Yes, 1 point for each Partial, and 0 points for each No. The OSU rubric is for overall effort, presentation, etc.

  • O= Oustanding, the student exceeded expectations for the assignment 100%/A
  • S= Satisfactory, the student met expectations and performed proficiently approximately 90%  A-/B+
  • U= Unsatisfactory, the student did not meet expectations approximately 75% C/D
Notice for the OSU rubric there are no in-betweens & no coddling. Student work falls into one of the 3 categories. When students reply, "but shouldn't I get an S+, it was really good!," I rebut with, "Maybe, but it is still just a S. It either is outstanding or it isn't. Figure out what you need to do to make it outstanding next time."  I'm trying to combat all of my students asking me, "What do I need to do to get an A?" and settling for "good enough."  I refuse to give them the answer for how to get an A. Obviously, do what I told them to do, but I want more. I want them thinking BEYOND the requirements. Stop settling for "good enough" and excel! THINK! Don't just be a robot following commands.

One of our first novel studies of the year is Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsong. This comes at the end of our narrative short story unit in the first marking period and transitions into our 2nd marking period unit on Steinbeck and the American Dream which includes reading Of Mice & MenThe Pearl, and the short story "Chrysanthemums." In the narrative unit, all procedures and skills for the year are introduced: peer assessment, group work, active reading, narrative terms, analysis, etc. Dragonsong is read primarily out of class and students engage in cooperative critical thinking activities in class. We look at literary criticism, how to manage digesting large amounts of information, and how we think in general. In addition to taking a teacher generated test, my students use their critical thinking skills for the Multiple Choice Peer Assessment.

The Game Plan:
  1. Students can work in groups, pairs, or individually.
  2. To generate a test, students are supplied with a template for creating the questions that specifies number and types of questions. I adjust the template as needed, varying the types and number of questions. Students may type or hand write their questions and answers.
  3. Students create a separate answer key for their test.
  4. Students trade tests and take it.
  5. While taking the test, the Test-Takers evaluate how well the test was written, completing an evaluation checklist (point by point with Yes-Partial-No) and OSU (Outstanding, Satisfactory, Unsatisfactory) rubric for the Test-Generators that assesses the validity, complexity, and over all quality of the test. 
  6. Test-Takers return the test to the Test-Generators and get assessed on right-wrong answers. 
  7. Test-Generators review the Test-Takers' evaluation, conference, sign off on the evaluation scores, AND complete the checklist on the evaluation.
  8.  Students write a journal entry reflecting on the entire process (which is turned in for credit) and we then have a class discussion debrief.

Whew! For one MC assessment, students now have... let me count....  5 scores and used critical thinking and metacogitive skills. The whole process takes about 2-3 in-class periods. So, this is more time consuming than traditional testing, but the trade off is the depth of critical thinking and metacognition that takes place.

Call all this what you will.  Is it flipped? Is it blended? Is is social learning?  Does it align with Common Core Standards? Is it authentic?

Whatever it is, it works. Period.