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2019


Our school's professional development focus for this year is on assessment. As we have been talking about what good assessment looks like I have been thinking about my own life and what assessment looked like as well. This week:

  • There was a focus on looking at the data analytics when using the LMS Canvas.
  • There was a focus on the value of formative assessment for both students and teachers.
  • There was a focus on "Purposeful Work" that supports our Graduate Profile.
I think it is fair to say that assessment can be relevant for teacher feedback in a myriad of ways. A well-written multiple choice test can give a teacher an immediate snapshot of the learning happening in their classroom. This week I shared with our teachers that I believe we are in a period of time that assessing is easier than ever before. Due to technology, we can now know before our students even leave the door for the day what they learned from the day's lesson. Creating quick digital assessments not only lets teachers know how to prepare the course for the next day but with a little training it can also let students know what they need to focus on for the next day as well. I hear a lot of pushback about differentiating and personalization on social media but quite honestly research shows that the use of formative assessments can truly have a transformable impact for students. Teachers have been doing the "show me a thumb up/thumb down- did you get this?" assessment for a long time. With the technology available many classrooms have today, digital formative assessments are both easy to create and accomplish for your students. I'm a big proponent of knowing if your students are grasping the concepts along the way instead of learning they didn't when they take a summative assessment at the end of a unit.
But today we see a big push towards relevant learning or what we now call "purposeful work" at CCS. This can look like many things. For instance, community-based projects, project-based learning/problem-based learning, authentic learning are all things that make students engaged in the learning process. The fear for many educators is that they don't know for sure if their students are truly learning the concepts expected of them. While rubrics and inquiry-based learning feels purposeful, many of our teachers can't help but think "But I know they are going to be tested at the end of the year. What if learning gains aren't achieved with this type of assessment?" 
I personally feel that's where the beauty of digital formative assessment can play a game-changing role. You have objectives you are trying to reach. You also are guiding your students through the process of purposeful work. Knowing daily what they have gained in this process and who you need to have chats with during the process can be attained through this type of assessing. 
I turn 50 next month and I am at that place where I don't remember a lot of the details of my k12 education. I remember people, shocking events, or big happy things but the process of learning...not so much. I will always remember one thing that has stuck with me for all these years that was relevant to my life at that time. I was in a dual-enrollment English class and was asked to write a persuasive open letter to anyone of my choice. There was a newsletter that went out to parents that had really rubbed me the wrong way so my open letter was to our school principal. I saw it as an assignment but my teacher chose to highlight in class because it impacted everyone in the class and because he felt it was well written. That letter changed how I saw myself as a writer. I knew if I felt passionate about something I had the ability to write it in a way that could have a positive impact. 
Relevant learning has the ability to inspire learners for their future. After a rollercoaster ride of various careers, I sit here today being someone that blogs about education on a regular basis. Not only do I share helpful tips about tech integration but I try to focus on the "why." I feel certain that moment back in 12th grade at Hixson High School has a lot to do with it. I was empowered by that moment. I remember being mortified when I realized the teacher was actually reading my letter. You see, I was a fairly quiet student so when he was done, no one could guess who had written it. The letter led to a great classroom discussion and gave me the feeling of educational respect from my peers that I had not experienced before. I was definitely not the smartest student in that class but on that topic, I was the most passionate. Relevant learning has the ability to stick with us, to mold us, and to empower us for something later on. 
So I guess I am writing this post to ask you to not give up on teaching differently. It doesn't mean you can't still assess your students in ways that feel more beneficial to you as a teacher- use formative assessment to know if students "get it" but look for ways that they can also "take it."
Food for thought: Do you remember the details of any multiple choice test you ever took? 

I recently saw an inspirational quote at my gym that read "To be different, you have to think differently". That rung true for me on many levels. And it is especially true when I think about how I run my classroom. Over the past 14 years I have made vast changes to both my classroom space and management style. But those changes were not the result of a NYE resolution. The changes that I made and maintained started with my own thinking. If I changed rules in my class, but didn't change my thinking about how the new strategies worked and how I would maintain them, ultimately they would be doomed to repeat. I had to change my thought process first or I would inevitably end up on the same road as before.

As technology continues flooding into our classrooms I wonder how it will maintain in the future. If teachers do not change their thinking about technology and its role in the classroom then will it really last? I think we all know the answer to that. It is for this very reason that the role of a Tech Integration Coach could not be more important. Real change takes time. If we do not give the teachers support on how to best use all this technology as well as what is useful vs. useless. Otherwise most classrooms will look like time has stood still over the past 100 years and any 1:1 initiatives will leave a lot of schools with very expensive paper weights. And that will not make us "Future Ready".

My hope is that school boards and administrators across the country start to realize that you cannot squeeze any more time into a day. That is set and non-negotiable, but what we can do is help our staff and students to be more efficient with our time. Teachers can leverage technology to help free up time spent at the copier, time spent grading smaller assessments and give students faster and more effective feedback. We can utilize LMS and even digital snow days to help learning continue even outside of the school building and day. Then administrators no longer have to weigh student safety with how many built in snow days we have left.

However this all starts in the mind of each teacher, They need to ask themselves some serious and simple questions. What does learning look like in a classroom today? What did learning look like when they were in school? How are the needs of today's students different or perhaps the same as when they were students? The reality is that we are all products of our environment and teachers rely on their personal histories to help define success in their professional careers, but their compass may be outdated...for example what if Google Maps used maps from 1950? Yes it would get us in the general direction, but it would not take into account the shopping malls, highways and tolls that have popped up over the last 69 years. We need to adjust with the times. We can still maintain the structural integrity of our classrooms, but we need to be aware of how the student population has changed. We need to help support our teachers and invest in technology that makes sense and is user friendly. We need to invest in the future of our students and our communities! I'll leave you with a great quote from a book called "Thinking Skills for the Digital Generation". This quote sums up the healthy fear we all have, but it requires a change in thinking on our parts. Are you up for the challenge?

 

“We, as educators, are concerned about the way that media are shaping students’ worldview. We are also aware that technology is altering how we learn and think. But, at the same time, we are excited about the enormous potential for technology

to aid human thinking.”

 

 

 

Athreya, Balu H., and Chrystalla Mouza. “Thinking Skills for the Digital Generation: the Development of Thinking and Learning in the Age of Information.” Thinking Skills for the Digital Generation: the Development of Thinking and Learning in the Age of Information, Springer, 2017, pp. 16–16.

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