I've been doing some research lately on assessment: its purpose, its effectiveness, the role it plays in the learning process. As I worked on my masters degree, I soon realized we never had tests per se, but weekly papers and projects to complete. I was constantly amazed at how much I was learning...and with no testing? How could that be? But interestingly enough, I never made that connection with my students! At least not until this year...

My classes this year are an interesting bunch. From day one, I assumed the role of Lead Learner in my classroom. This year has been one of exploration and experimentation punctuated with implementing two pilots: Google Apps for Education and 1:1 iPad deployment. So the ground was fertile for additional exploration of transformational learning opportunities. 

Students this year really seem to relish challenge, look forward to projects (the iPad enabled students to create some pretty professional looking content), and really any type of activities that fell outside the norm. In contrast, test prep was non-existent. Even with testing being done online, the mundane routine of wrapping up a unit study with a test didn't yield the kind of results I was looking for. They really didn't know any more information after a test than they knew prior to testing. Yet I had students counting down the days until we begin our 20% project. (More about that in a series of upcoming posts.)

As we've progressed through this school year, I've come to observe that mere tests were 
passé to the majority of my students. Most wouldn't prepare and were satisfied with "good enough" grades. But more importantly, I didn't see these end-of-unit tests impacting the learning process. So...in lieu of these, I have begun to design assessments that require students to dig into the content and literally leverage it for the creation of something new. What I noticed was, they began to make connections that had been missed in the initial exposure to the content. Not only did learning continue THROUGH the assessment phase, it actually went deeper. It was much more meaningful and higher quality work was elicited when their work had an audience; therefore, I implemented peer evaluations of their work using the rubric I used to evaluate their work. I believe evaluating peer work is helping students to develop a deeper understanding of what's needed to "up their game" when it comes to content creation. Another element I added was a Reflection piece to the assessment phase. Reflection appears to be key to improvement! Taking time to reflect on their work, highlight what they did well, and contemplate what could have been better, seems to be a necessary component to improving work.

When I remarked to a student that no one was really preparing for tests and they seemed to be a waste of time, that student replied, "Oh, you're just now figuring that out?" Out of the mouths of babes...

Here are some examples of a recent Podcast Project we completed at the end of our Texas Revolution unit:

  • Battle of Goliad (Oct 9, 1835)
  • The Grass Fight
  • The Consultation
  • The Battle of the Alamo
  • The Goliad Massacre
  • As we completed the fall campaign of the Texas Army, students wrote an expository essay about the events we had just studied. Click here to see an example of an essay on student wrote.

    My Assessment on Assessment:
    1. Design assessments that are authentic, engaging, and require students to dive deep into the content-they may even be fun!
    2. Always provide a rubric so there are clear and compelling standards for expectations. For peer assessment, the rubric may need to be tweaked a little to represent information students, rather than the teacher, may be qualified to assess.
    3. Integrate an additional skill you would like your students to develop and identify that within the rubric and project instructions. This provides opportunities for engagement and equips them with 21st century skills that can be used in other content areas.
    4. Make sure that at the core of the assessment, content is the focus.
    5. Don't forget reflection time! Have students reflect on what was easy, what was hard, and where could they have improved. It's so easy to skip this phase, especially when time is tight. But I believe, when routinely adding this component to the assessment phase, you will begin to develop a "Reflective Mindset" in students that fosters improvement.

    We are about to embark on a 20% Project. We'll see if exposure to this new form of assessment has developed some skills that will translate into success in this project. Stay tuned; I will begin a series of posts on our 20% Project and its progress.

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    I read an article in Edudemic about the 5 Critical Mistakes Schools Make With iPads and How to Correct Them. I also attending a session at TCEA with Carl Hooker on the 10 Things Not To Do With iPad Deployment. Getting educated on others' mistakes I felt would be instrumental in eliminating at least a few unnecessary mistakes. As a result
    I am finally understanding why Apple touts the iPad as a single-user device. Don't get me wrong; I do think it's possible to implement a class set of these devices, but there are definitely some key tips and tricks that need to be considered for effective deployment.

    1. Lables: Create labels to place on the devices that list each student assigned to each device with their respective class period. This is helpful for quick reference when an issue occurs as well as for distributing/collecting the devices each period.

    2. Security: Implement a study of the importance of maintaining personal account security. It is imperative the students remember to log out of any accounts they use during class in an effort to keep their content secure and minimize the likelihood of someone posting content in their name. While we haven't had huge issues with this, there have been some incidences that exposed this problem that could be place students in very vulnerable positions. This is also a component I now want to include in our digital citizenship unit.

    3. Create & Delete: Once content is created on the devices, it needs to be moved to the cloud and deleted. Case in point...we use the Adobe Reader app a lot for notes as well as other activities, then screenshot the content to add to our Interactive Notebooks created in Evernote. Once this content is created in Adobe Reader, and the screenshot is taken, that content needs to be deleted. If not, what's to keep the next student from using this content for themselves? So, we have now added that additional step to our workflow.

    4. Protect: When using shared apps such as Pages for content creation, it's important for students to understand they are responsible for protecting ALL content created in that app, not just theirs, but their "device mates" as well. Sharing these devices really provides an opportunity for them to experience the understanding of the importance of the "do unto others" concept.

    5. Honesty: These devices have actually minimized cheating because of "time-stamping" and "revision history" especially when using our Google Apps accounts. Providing students with opportunities to understand the "ins and outs" of digital footprints may go a long way in developing their understanding of its importance.

    6. SWAT Team: Select a team of volunteers that distribute/collect devices every class period. The team for the last period of the day is especially important; I have microfiber clothes that are used to wipe each of the screens, then all devices are plugged into the cart. We don't plug them in during the day; they are only returned to the cart. 

    One last tip I have found particularly useful doesn't solely apply to a class set of iPads, but I thought I would share anyways:

    7. Video Viewing: If you are doing any screencasting and your district blocks YouTube, I have found the best solution is to upload the videos to Google Drive. Using the Google Drive app, students can view the videos without needing Adobe Flash.

    These devices are transforming my classroom. Students are learning to work more independently. We have been completing some "Station Work" that allowed them to proceed at their own pace through the content. I had one student yesterday remark that she wished she could work on it at home, but she didn't have an iPad to use...oh well, not a bad problem to have!
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