3 Practical Formative Assessments

When you barely have time to suck down occasional gulps of air amid swells of paperwork, it’s understandable to lose some perspective.  Unfortunately, this is a condition many teachers face when it comes to approaching formative versus summative assessments.


 

Opportunity for impact?

But how important is it, really, to keep track of such minute details on student progress?  Well, Google defines formative as, “serving to form something, especially having a profound and lasting influence on a person’s development.”  Black and Wiliam found “that innovations which include strengthening the practice of formative assessment produce significant, and often substantial, learning gains.”  And we have discovered teacher-student relationships become elevated as students recognize just how invested teachers are in their daily progress–not just in what they produce at the end of units.

The nature of the beast

Formative assessments do not cast the intimidating shadow of their summative counterparts.  They are so authentically woven into the day, it can feel almost spontaneous as you uncover quiet learning moments, pinpointing students’ true understanding. Meanwhile, summatives are not only highly concrete and measurable, but they’re also accompanied by pressure for results–pressure that may come from administrators, parents, politicians, and even sometimes teachers themselves.

Educator’s catch 22

And so, we run into the classic teacher dilemma: on the one hand, we know part of the value of formative assessments lies their authentic, unassuming quality; on the other, it is precisely that quality that makes it easy for them to slip under the radar.   The key is to make a plan for a record-keeping strategy that works for you.  This sounds easy enough, but it does take a little trial and error as you find one or more methods that feel comfortable and easily accessible in the flow of your classroom.  Below are a few personal favorites, all of which have functioned well in various contexts.

3 Strategies

1. Confer App
Image retrieved from Conferapp.com
Image retrieved from Conferapp.com

This is the Mary Poppins carpet bag of education apps.  No matter how full I’d pack in anecdotal notes for each student, it stayed organized and easy to navigate.  It was also easy to share with parents during parent-teacher conferences.  Some details I appreciated include:

  • The option to sort notes in practical ways, including by student names, groups, and feedback.
  • A design in that’s conducive to appropriate feedback with fields like “strength,” “teaching point,” and “next step”–great to remind teachers to look for what’s going well along with what needs work.
  • The ability to apply one note to multiple students simultaneously–and the fact that it saves a previously-used note so you don’t have to type out the same phrase again.
  • The color coded flags to remind you who currently needs some extra support.

Note: At first, some students were unsure about my typing on my phone during our discussions–they worried I was texting, or otherwise distracted.  Be sure to introduce this method of note-taking to your whole class, telling them exactly how you are using your phone during your conferences.

2. Notecard Waterfalls

This one is a bit old-school, but I found it especially handy for reading groups.  I would write each student’s name on one notecard, sort them into their groups, and then tape them into a waterfall on half a piece of laminated cardstock per group.  (see photos below) I found this to be the perfect place to keep tallies for simplified running records and reading notes.  After a student would read aloud, I would say something like this:

“Ok, I’m writing that you are rocking your punctuation expression.  You paused appropriately at every comma and period!  I’m also writing that we’re working on paying attention to the endings of words, since you left off -ing and -s a couple times as you read.  Do you want me to add anything else for us to remember next time we work on reading together?”

This kind of feedback was quick and simple, but extremely effective as it kept us both on the same page.  Another bonus: when a card would fill up, I could easily throw it in the student’s file and pop in another one.

Waterfall booklet

3. Status of the Class
Image retrieved from Teacher Supply Store
Image retrieved from Teacher Supply Store

Status of the Class is the perfect tool to keep track of student-driven projects or independent work time.  Simply call out each student’s name, and then jot down their selected task on a class list.  This works well for long-term processes involving steps, stages, or centers with which the students are already familiar, such as the Writer’s Workshop, the scientific method, or math or literacy stations.  Some advantages include:

  • Stay informed of where you can coach students in their individual processes.
  • Teach students metacognition as you require them to give a brief statement explaining both the what and the why of their choice. (I would periodically model how that would sound right before taking Status of the Class to remind them how to explain their choice.  For example:  “I’m working on illustrating because I want to better visualize how to describe my characters,” or “I’m going to read to myself because I just got to a cliff-hanger in my book.”
  • Keep track of students who seem to be stuck in one place.
  • Maintain accountability for students who may get off-task during independent learning time.
  • If appropriate, give on-the-spot feedback as you help students learn to spend independent time wisely (ie, “I see you’ve chosen that 3 times in a row here.  How else could you spend your time to help you grow?”)

Tips: Use wet-erase marker to write on a laminated class list chart, such as the one pictured, and keep it posted in the room so students can also keep track of how they’ve been spending their time.  Make a key for your abbreviations on the bottom.

What are some of your favorite methods for practical formative assessments?

Featured Image: Elli Pálma via Flickr Creative Commons

5 Teacher Resources for 21st Century Learning

Whether you’re implementing a BYOD classroom, teaching students to develop PLN’s, or planning a Twitter debate in your class, these 5 tools may help you with some unexpected logistics.


The Importance of Keeping Up

Anyone involved with teaching today is familiar the swift and exponential nature of changes in 21st century education.  This is true to the extent that even if you graduated with your teaching degree within the past few years, your pedagogical training probably did not leave you fully prepared.  We hope that the following 5 resources will be valuable to you as you adapt to modern learning strategies.

#1: Citing Social Media
via TeachBytes
via TeachBytes

We recently published a post designed as a student guide to social media citation.  However, this may prove helpful for you, too, as you guide your students not only toward broader digital literacy, but toward continuing the responsibility of adequately giving credit.

#2: Google Drive Hacks

If you are not already using Google Drive in your classroom, add it to your must-try-asap list!  From elementary school on up, it enables effective digital collaboration.  As an added bonus, it cuts down messy stacks of papers!  Below, we’ve listed a few of our favorite time and sanity-saving tips to maximize your Google Drive usage in the classroom:

  • Teach students to use the “Comments” tool for peer editing and revising.  That way, students can have actual conversations about the feedback they give one another without actually altering others’ work!
  • Self-grading function: If you are currently using or are interested in using Google Forms to quiz students (for free!), make sure you look up how to make it self-grading!  (Check out one tutorial here!)
  • Revision history: Make sure that both you and your students are familiar with this tool in the “File” menu just in case one student accidentally alters or deletes another’s work.
  • Take Advantage of its share-ability: Long-gone are the days of needing to upload each student’s PowerPoint to a flash drive (see our article on Powerpoint alternatives), or even asking them to individually email you their digital project.  Instead, have students create all projects that are compatible with Google Drive in one class Google account that you can easily access and manage.
  • Use Google Spreadsheets for a multi-purpose class roster: Keeping track of missing permission slips, student project groups, or anecdotal notes is a cinch with Google Spreadsheets.  Google Drive’s app makes this especially appealing as you can whip out your phone or tablet to view your notes as you walk through the class!
#3: Digital Classroom Management Tips:

Establishing quality classroom management strategies is a critical skill for every educator.  However, such techniques can quickly get complicated when BYOD is introduced–how do you manage a variety of phones, tablets, and laptops when such devices can already be distracting?  Jennifer Carey, a director of educational technology, shared her top 5 tips for digital classroom management in an Edudemic article, from setting clear expectations, to recognizing that it’s OK to put the technology away at times!

#4: PLP’s Twitter Handbook:

Instrumental for me in discovering the professional usefulness of Twitter was a handbook released by the Powerful Learning Practice Blog. It includes very specific details on how to get started, definitions, and practical uses! Especially if you’re still unaware of Twitter’s usefulness in the classroom, this resource is an absolute must! (We reference it and more in our Twitter’s classroom potential post).

#5: Fluency Poster by Delia Jenkins:

In the 21st century, students need to be less familiar with memorizing specific facts and more familiar with how to manage it all.  Author & educator Eric Jensen states it well in the following image:

via Larry Ferlazzo
via Larry Ferlazzo

One way we can cultivate this shift is to foster digital fluency in our students and ourselves.  One excellent resource as you consider your approach to is Delia Jenkins’ Fluency Poster “Cheat Sheet,” available in PDF format.  Watch for our post on digital fluency coming soon!

Photo Credit:

Sources:

When & How to Cite Social Media: A Student Guide

Sure, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media may be a great place for exchanging selfies and cat videos, but what about when you come across legitimate information in social media that backs up your research?


Over the course of the past couple decades, we have moved from card catalogs, to library computer searches, to articles published online, and now on to social media!  It can feel overwhelming to keep up with the most modern methods of research, especially when it comes to the various APA or MLA citation formats.  Hopefully, this post will be a useful resource for you as you decide when and how to cite social media finds!

How

The TeachByte graphic below is an excellent general guide for both MLA and APA citations.  However, as anyone who has done any research knows, certain instances can get more complicated than general guidelines.  For instance, what if you want to cite an expert who sent you a personal communication, and it’s not publicly visible for audiences to click on?  Or how do you know how to cite in-text vs. your bibliography reference list?  The official APA blog answers these questions and more in greater detail using examples from their post in October!

via TeachBytes
via TeachBytes

When

As with all research, you will want to make sure there is plenty of variety among your sources.  Just because it is now acceptable to cite social media does not mean it should consume most of your bibliography.  Additionally, because of the unique nature of social media Tweets, posts, and videos in that they can go viral even if they are inaccurate, you will want to be particularly careful when considering whether to use one.  The information literacy website, EasyBib, provides an excellent Infographic to help you in that decision-making process.

EasyBib Infographic
EasyBib

Remember…

…It’s all about giving each individual the credit they deserve for their efforts and ideas!  When in doubt, discuss your concerns with your teacher or professor!

Photo Sources:

Pete Simon (featured image)

TeachBytes

EasyBib

Source:

Chelsea, L. (2013, Oct. 13). How to Cite Social Media in APA Style. [Web blog post]. Retrieved from: http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2013/10/how-to-cite-social-media-in-apa-style.html

Common Core Standards: Parent & Teacher Resources

With its recent implementation in 45 states, the Common Core has garnered praise and criticism alike.  This article offers a few resources to help dispel some of those worries for both parents and teachers.


 

Resources for Parents

In our experience, worries from parents about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are often due to misinformation from the media.  For example, when my own students’ parents would come to me with CCSS concerns, they were consistently shocked when I told them that the CCSS currently only covers math and English Language Arts.  This is because many articles had led them to believe that the CCSS were requiring sex education (for Kindergarten, no less!) or sweeping Social Studies alterations.  If you, too, have concerned parents at your school, here are some resources to which you can direct them to help clear things up! (Update: Be sure to also check out our newest article, “My Common Core Story, & Why You Should Share Yours, Too“).

→ “CONVERSATION: A THREE-MINUTE VIDEO ON COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS

 

CCSS logo→ MYTHS & FACT SHEET ABOUT THE CCSS

 

talking-to-teacher-467x267[1]→ ARTICLE: “TALKING TO PARENTS ABOUT THE COMMON CORE
→ FACT VS. FICTION BY STATE:

Of the states that are using the Common Core Standards, about half adopted them verbatim; most of the rest adopted them with modifications.  Click on the infographic below for a clickable map of state fact sheets.

Resources for Teachers

The concerns for teachers tend to be more related to implementation.  Experienced teachers are familiar with the constant ebb and flow of new programs and curricula, and the expectation to repeatedly scratch old material and start over.  While it can certainly be frustrating to tackle yet another new curriculum, there’s great news when it comes to the CCSS: for the first time, teachers across the country are in the same boat!  As such, we can now share resources with one another in heretofore unheard-of quantity and quality.  We believe that this is one of many ways in which the CCSS will increase the quality of national teaching practices.  Check out some of these resources below that are designed for this purpose!

LEARNZILLION:


Teacher Boaz Munro described his experiences as a new teacher in this article, sharing his realization that “All of the lessons I planned started with…a modeling of the skill I was trying to teach—and yet I was not watching enough people model the skills I was trying to learn.”  LearnZillion is a resource that allows you to watch how experienced teachers model and explain CCSS-aligned concepts.  Some features include marking your favorite videos to help you keep track, and a sharing code so that you can easily assign students to watch the videos!

KHAN ACADEMY:


Khan Academy is similar to LearnZillion in that you can set up a class account to invite students, as well as lesson videos in both English Language Arts & Math!  However, it also includes a setup that allows students to practice the skills after watching the videos within the lesson set, complete with hints that model the skills again!  This in turn allows you to monitor student progress!  This resource is filled with visual data!

BETTERLESSON:

BetterLesson is unique in that you actually choose lessons from real master teachers.  These are lessons designed more for you as the teacher than for students, and can be very informative as you work to develop lesson plans in math and language arts.

Related Reading:

10 Tips for 21st Century Teachers

Photo Credit: InThePotter’sHands (featured image)

 

Chemical vs. Physical Changes: Let’s Get it Straight!

Breathing, cooking, exercising, and more: we are surrounded by changes every day! But how do we keep straight which are physical and which are chemical?


Physical Changes

Physical changes involve chemicals getting rearranged in a new way, but without getting destroyed or irreversibly combined. The molecular structure of the original substance(s) is the the same after the change, which means it is still the same substance. A common example is of water freezing; the liquid water becomes a solid, but it is still water. Ripping paper is another example because while it may be in pieces, it’s still paper. Signs of a physical change include:

  • Expected color change
  • Change in size or shape
  • Change in state of matter
  • Reversible
  • No new substance formed!

Chemical Changes

Chemical changes, or reactions, involve chemicals getting rearranged in irreversible ways. We bring in the term “reaction” when dealing with chemical changes because the chemicals involved actually react with one another to form a new substance (that’s why we call the parts in a chemical reaction the reactants). The ways chemicals can react are many: two substances can combine to create a totally new one (Direct Combination), a substance can permanently break apart, separating into different substances (Decomposition), or maybe a substance combusts as it reacts to oxygen (Combustion) (see more types of reactions here). Whatever the reaction, it’s important to recognize that one or more new substances are formed! Burning wood is a common example of a chemical reaction because as the wood reacts with oxygen after it has been ignited, it creates smoke and ashes. Signs of a chemical reaction include:

  • Unexpected color change
  • Change in temperature as energy is released or absorbed
  • Gas created
  • Irreversible
  • New substance formed!

Confusing Cases

In many cases, it may seem a simple task to distinguish between the two, but it gets more complex when we’re dealing with changes that seem irreversible when they’re not. For example, we may look at a glass of Kool-Aid and think to ourselves, “I made Kool-Aid. It was water and a packet, but now it’s dissolved together to make new drink, so it’s a new substance.” However, if you think back to the list of signs of a physical change, you’ll realize that not only was there an expected color change (the water didn’t turn purple when you added red Kool-Aid!), but that it is reversible–the water could evaporate in the form of gas, leaving red Kool-Aid residue behind! The water is still water, and the Kool-Aid is still Kool-Aid, and since no new substances were formed, it is a physical change!

Another example of confusion is in cooking eggs–after all, isn’t it still an egg before and after tossing it in pan? However, on a molecular level, the egg has changed completely as the proteins have bonded in new ways, making it a new substance. Additionally, because of the change, it is not possible for the egg to ever become raw again, and since a new substance was formed, it is a chemical change!

For some practice using the different lists of signs for each type of change, and to view several other examples in action, check out this Prezi below!

Photo credit: Faris Algosaibi

Other Sources:

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Teacher Resources: Ever Heard of Reddit?

Where can you find a community of all different types of teachers who can post all kinds of resources? Ever heard of Reddit? Science, Math, English, College, Adult Ed, Art, and an almost unlimited supply of teachers can be found in this Internet community, and we’ve got a few suggestions of our own…


Reddit, directly from Wikipedia’s definition, “is a social news and entertainment website where registered users submit content in the form of links or text posts.” What does this mean for teachers? It means you now have a one-stop hub for all teaching resources you could need, not to mention worldwide feedback! Another great use for the resources on Reddit is to involve your students. There are a number of educational pages that students could use to reach out to others. See our lists below!

Don’t have an account? One of the best features about Reddit is that it takes just seconds to register an account. In the age of sharing personal information, it’s relieving to see a website ask for only what you want your username to be and what you want your password to be. Registering with an email is optional.

Don’t want to register? Fine! You can browse the site all you want, and unless you want to comment, nothing will be restricted if you simply want to “lurk.”

Now that you’ve joined the community, it’s important to understand that Reddit is divided into subreddits, which are communities of people that fulfill a particular niche. So you’re a teacher, hmm? Allow us to suggest a few subreddits to get you started:

  • /r/education: “The goal of r/Education is to provide a community in which educational stakeholders can participate in meaningful, reflective, and thought-provoking discourse about educational policy, research, technology, and politics.”
  • /r/AskAcademia: “This subreddit is for discussing academic life, and for asking questions directed towards people involved in academia, (both science and humanities).”
  • /r/highereducation: “A place to discuss and share articles related to higher education.”
  • /r/matheducation: “Anything math related that is useful for education, teachers, or students, with emphasis on usefulness for teachers, such as good internet resources, or ideas for how to teach a concept.”
  • /r/ScienceTeachers: “A place for science educators to collaborate on and contribute tips, ideas, labs, and curricula. We seek to encourage the sharing of interesting studies, experiments, videos and articles that will interest students of all ages and promote science and critical thinking in their lives.”
  • /r/teachingresources: “A place to share all your most amazing and useful resources. If we use this well, it could become a very efficient and effective way to enrich many classrooms with everyone else’s resources.”

And more:

And tons more–literally anything you could think of!

Now, get out there and contribute to the education of the masses!

*Obligatory NSFW warning, warning*: Reddit can sometimes have less-than-savory content. Most of the time, this is marked by NSFW, which stands for “Not Safe For Work.” That means you shouldn’t open that link or comments while at work, or you could violate the rules your employer likely has in place regarding Internet usage. You might also see NSFL, which stands for “Not Safe For Life,” meaning gore. If you still want to experience Reddit without these tags, take a look at the Reddit Enhancement Suite. It’s a completely free, open source browser extension that allows you filter out NSFW tags.

 

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Featured Image: Kyle Garrity