Toward a Clearer Picture of Assessment: One Teacher’s Formative Approach by David Peter Noskin (2013)

David Peter Noskin’s article “Assessment: One Teacher’s Formative Approach” (2013) provides a wonderful English-based example of a unit with a formative assessment focus. Noskin used Hawthorne’s text to discuss big questions and accomplish curriculum outcomes. Within the unit, assessment was “formative and frequent with timely feedback” and students were evaluated at the end of the unit after they were given ample practice time (Noskin, 2013, p. 73). Noskin talks about the importance of letting students know the purpose of the learning but he created the rubrics on his own, something I think his students would have benefited from. However, I loved that the initial pre-assessment of a journal response was the basis of the final essay. Students engaged in journal responses, short essay responses and grammar lessons that focused on student areas of need, like inserting textual evidence, until their final essay was created. Activities built off each other and students received ample feedback instead of just receiving an essay topic and being told to do their best.

One thing I really took to heart is the idea that “the text is not the unit” (Noskin, 2013, p. 72). I think as English teachers we often forget this but we need to consider why we are studying a text and how it relates to the curriculum outcomes and our big questions. I also like Noskin’s honesty when he says he now realizes “that using an activity because it is fun ought not to be my sole or even main criterion: it must foremost align with one of my learning objectives. Then, I can determine how to make it fun and engaging” (2013, p. 74). In the age of Pinterest, this is something all teachers need to be cautious of.

For more information: Noskin, D. P. (2013). Toward a clearer picture of assessment: One teacher’s formative approach. English Journal, 103(1), 72.

Creating Coherent Formative and Summative Assessment Practices

Lorrie A. Shepard’s article “Creating Coherent Formative and Summative Assessment Practices” outlines formative assessment practices that are more effective than exams. When students are faced with exams, or one time to shine, they are more worried “about what will be on the test rather than thinking about learning” (Shepard, 2006, p. 41). Grades, which are extrinsic rewards, “can reduce intrinsic motivation” (Shepard, 2006, p. 42). Thus, we need to create a learning culture instead of a grading culture, where students guide instruction and make connections to their interests and prior knowledge (Shepard, 2006, p. 41). Shepard suggests that teachers use pre-assessment, such as KWL charts, provide feedback that relates to the outcomes, allow students to self-assess, and plan with the end goal in mind (2006, p. 42-4). Furthermore, students need time to make changes based on feedback and apply knowledge to new skills and understandings (transfer knowledge) (Shepard, 2006, p. 44).

Shepard (2006) suggested that “replacement assignments and replacement tests or throwing out test scores when learning is verified in later assignments,” allows students to be evaluated fairly (p. 44). I never thought of this but really like the idea; everyone deserves a second chance and some students will take longer to complete an outcome but the goal is simply to complete the outcome, not necessarily all at the same time.

One thing that I have heard often but think is easier said than done, is creating “formative and summative assignments” that are “conceptually aligned” (Shepard, 2006, p. 43). Furthermore, I wonder how much time proper, fair and accurate assessment and evaluation takes. I think it would be best for me to start small and try to implement two proven researched assessment/evaluation practices at a time. I also have to accept that I will get better with practice and time but may need administrative and collegial support at the start.

For more information: Shepard, L. A. (2006). Creating coherent formative and summative assessment practices. Orbit, 36(2), 41.

Teaching English: Portfolio Evaluation by STEPHEN A. BERNHARDT (1992)

Although this article is older, I found it worth the read since I want to use portfolios to assess and evaluate my students in the future. However, the word assessment is often used to mean evaluation. In the article Bernhardt (1992) states “that it is unreliable to base [evaluation] on a single sample of student writing” (p. 333). Thus, it is also unfair to evaluate students on “a single sit-down test” (Bernhardt, 1992, p. 333). This is especially true in English classes, where the very nature of the discipline is reliant on the writing process and conferencing. Bernhardt suggests that utilizing portfolio assessment allows students to reflect what they can do for a variety of texts, audiences and purposes (1992, p. 334). Students can show their writing process and get the choice/freedom to control what goes into their portfolio. They also get to spend the needed time on each piece of work and portfolios will mean more to parents than a single exam (Bernhardt, 1992, p. 334).

In my own classroom, I hope to get students to blog their work under each outcome (in student/parent friendly ‘I Can Statements’). Students would then write a letter to their teacher at the end of the year that outlines one piece of work from each outcome to be evaluated, but all of their work would be included. They would receive feedback on all work and teachers, students and parents could all have a say about what work should be evaluated. Students could monitor their growth between school years and have the chance to revisit their work. I would also have “author’s chair” be a weekly routine in my class, where students can help each other, conference their work and showcase their talents. The one downside I see would be making a rubric for each of the outcomes, especially when students may use various indicators for each outcome. Therefore, making the rubrics with the students for each outcome at the start of the year would be important so that students could guide their work from there.

I think portfolios in English are practical and if they foster technology, they better prepare students for the future.

For more information: Bernhardt, S. A. (1992). Teaching English: Portfolio evaluation. The Clearing House, 65(6), 333-334.

Stability and Change in High School Grades by Thomas R. Guskey (2011)

I was interested in looking at current grading practices and came across the article “Stability and Change in High School Grades” by Thomas R. Guskey (2011). The study looks at the inconsistency and subjectivity associated with grades. Guskey notes that “what one teacher considers in determining students’ grades may differ greatly from the criteria used by other teachers… even in schools where established grading policies offer guidelines for assigning grades” (2011, p. 85). This can be detrimental to Grade 11 and 12 students who are competing for scholarships and admission into post-secondary institutions. Initial marks also impact what classes Grades 9 and 10 students choose to enroll in. Guskey (2011) notes that initial grades have an impact “on students’ attitudes, behaviors, and motivation” and can also lead to student drop-outs (p. 85-6). The study looked at over 1000 high school students and considered gender, socio-economic background, native language, and ability. Across the board, “these first grades set the stage for all that is to come,” and placed students in categories that are almost impossible to alter because of student and teacher perceptions (Guskey, 2011, p. 86). Females also received higher marks than boys and similarly, students in higher socio-economic classes received higher marks than those students from less privileged backgrounds (Guskey, 2011, p. 91). In the end, the study showed that we can “predict high school students’ final course grades based on evidence gather during the second week of the academic term” and based on their gender, ability, financial circumstance, etc. (Guskey, 2011, p. 95). Therefore, grades are a hindrance to the learning process, rather than a benefit since they can inaccurately be allotted and define students in rigid categories.

This study makes me wonder why girls often receive higher marks than boys? Furthermore, why do students get stuck in a grade category? Is it because of teacher practices or student motivation or both? What can we do to close the achievement gap? Why do students in different economic and cultural groups get placed in different grade categories? When should we mark students first? What method can be used to replace grading students? How can we create a consistent grading system that provides all students an equal opportunity, regardless of where they live?

I do not think there are any easy answers. But on the bright side, Guskey notes that when feedback is given with grades, students’ “grades on subsequent assessments significantly improved” (2011, p. 86). Some other interesting ideas to get students beyond their initial grade category was to ignore “low quiz scores,” allow for re-dos, consider marks “from a previous marking period,” or weight course material differently (2011, p. 87-8). These are just some of the ways that initial grades can be overcome. In the end, I think we need to stop pretending that a single grade can tell us what students are capable of and we need to practice other ways to monitor and report progress.

For further information: Guskey, T. R. (2011). Stability and change in high school grades. NASSP Bulletin, 95(2), 85-98. doi:10.1177/0192636511409924

Strategies for Working with ELL Writers

Today I will be writing about Christina Ortmeier-Hooper’s The ELL Writer: Moving Beyond Basics in the Secondary Classroom. I was drawn to chapter seven, “Specific Teaching Strategies for Working with ELL Writers,” because of my inclusive education background and philosophy. In our diverse classrooms an inclusive approach to writing makes sense for the entire class; inclusive strategies are simply good teaching strategies that can benefit all students. Furthermore, inclusive assignments are not adapted for each individual student but are constructed with all students in mind. It is not realistic for educators to “create separate assignments for their ELL writers” (Ortmeier-Hooper, 2013, p. 115). Ortmeier-Hooper notes that ELL writers need more guided instruction and revision time but “these are crucial learning objectives for all students, not just ELLs” (2013, p. 115). All students need to understand that writing is a social conversation where audience, genre, purpose, writers and time period all matter (Ortmeier-Hooper, 2013, p. 116). By creating these inclusive assignments and lessons, all students will have a voice in the classroom and be part of the community of learners.

Tiered assignments are part of my teaching philosophy. I was taught to tier assignments with colors. For instance, if you wanted students to write a five paragraph essay (curriculum outcome) this would be tier 2. Tier 1 could ask for more paragraphs, advanced sentence structures, a drawing, or anything to make the task more challenging. Tier 3 students could work on writing concrete topic and conclusion sentences. Students would be placed in tiers based on teacher observations and pre-assessments. This means that students would change tiers depending on their strengths and weaknesses. Tiers foster an inclusive classroom because everyone learns the same thing but gets assignments tailored to their needs. The teacher does not make an individual assignment for each student but makes three levels because this is more practical. Ortmeier-Hooper suggest doing “entering,” “bridging,” and “advancing” categories. The students receive the same instruction but the writing activities are in three different levels – ranging from what you know about to what you need to research – to challenge all students. When implementing tiered assignments, I believe it is important to consider how students will improve and raise tiers. A great way to foster improvement is “The Sequenced and Linked Writing Assignments,” which ask students to pick a topic they like and write three to five different pieces that build off each other. They will have more ownership and mastery about their topic/writing and by changing the purpose, genre and audience students can see how these things alter their tone and writing style.

I never thought of creating high-context writing prompts. Often when I think of open-ended writing prompts I think of low-context writing prompts like “What did you do this weekend?” I forget that all students may not think to include a purpose or consider their audience when they write. Ortmeier-Hooper suggests making sure that genre, audience, writer and subject purpose are accounted for in our prompts. This allows for more structure and guidance for our ELL students and can help all students start writing. It also highlights rhetoric and gives all learners a chance to work with this outcome. If students are never given a purpose or audience and then we teach them in the next lesson that writing is a conversation and these things matter, it is not parallel. If their writing is always set up as a conversation I think this will be an easier transition to student work shopping and sharing. As Karen has taught us, we need readers to be writers.

I believe that inclusive practice, tiered assignments and more explicit instruction is not only practical for teachers but beneficial for all learners. With our diverse classrooms, we need to find a way to meet all of the needs but not make 30 individual assignments and lessons for each class. Many of Ortmeier-Hooper’s ideas foster an inclusive, practical environment that allows all students to grow. I hope to incorporate many of her ideas into my future classroom.

Current Research Class Discussion

Wonder
– Lillian Katz’s quote “when a teacher tries to teach something to the entire class at the same time, chances are, one-third of the kids already know it; one-third will get it and the remaining third won’t.  So, two-thirds of the children are wasting their time” really stuck out for me. I personally enjoy small group teaching a lot more and love stations and group work. This is hard to do but worth it. I think this quote speaks to the need of pre-assessment and smaller class sizes.
– How do you motivate students to get work in on time? How do you motivate students to care/try? How do we get students to do their homework without a penalty?
Sign Me Up!
– Student choice
– more formative assessment
– students deciding percentage of tasks for year or weight of each section
– behavior separate from grades (not something I would have wanted before but starting to see that these are two separate things. As long as both are accounted for I am fine with them being separated).
– student/teacher make criteria together
Still Unsure
– I understand not taking away late marks in theory but I find it hard to believe that students are motivated to hand things in. How do teachers motivate them? Is this fair to the learners who hand it in on time but get less time to work on it? Does this impact job performance/expectations down the road?
What I Need
– I would like to learn more about inquiry-based learning. Also more about planning with the end in mind. I feel like I have a decent understanding of pre-assessment, rubrics and test/assignment making. However, I am still wondering what success looks at each grade.

“Many teachers …

Quote

Many teachers teach every child the same material in the same way, and measure each child’s performance by the same standards… Thus, teachers embrace the value of treating each child as a unique individual while instructing children as if they were virtually identical” (Mehlinger, 1995).

Do Schools Kill Creativity

Do Schools Kill Creativity

A wonderful Ted Talk by Sir Ken Robinson. “Mistakes are the worst thing you can make and the result is we are educating people out of their creative capacities… we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it, or rather, we get educated out of it.” – Robinson

I think marks (grades, letters, percentages) are a culprit of killing creativity. We need to find a way to make students see learning as an intrinsic reward and mistakes need to be part of that learning.

I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate Spoken Word

I love this video for three reasons. 1. I am not against exams but I do believe that we need to make sure we allow students to show their knowledge in many ways. A test result is not the sole measure of intelligence (especially if students are graded on the curve). 2. Spoken poetry is a great English-related activity to do with students. 3. Spoken poetry is a great way to get students involved in social justice issues or to explore their interests.

We need to find ways to engage students and engagement is not found on a piece of paper, whether that paper has an ‘A’ or a ‘B’ or an ‘F.’ Learning is more than an exam, it is lifelong!