Monthly Archives: December 2014

Tests, electronics, inquiry?

I thought about @bgrasley’s post and some of the comments on his post all the way to school and decided to write this one.

To test or not to test.  To me this is your choice, if you want to test go for it.  If you don’t want to then find suitable alternative ways to evaluate your students’ learning.  Yes we have to put grades/marks on our students’ report cards but is a test the only way we can do this or can we find rich meaningful ways that we can also do it?  Can we give them critical thinking tasks; ask them to analyse and synthesize information; find alternative strategies to solve problems; etc? I find the concept that we must give our students tests to prepare them for high school or university a very confusing one.

My students just finished their language and their history inquiry projects.  For history, 32 students out of 35 send me their work electronically – informational posters; letters; diary entries; vlogs; reports; videos, etc.  They were allowed to choose whatever format they wanted.

This week my daughter who is in grade 12 had to choose an article in the news and create a collage to depict certain concepts in it.  She found a program on the internet and used it to create a fantastic collage but to her dismay it would not print the way she wanted it to.  I suggested that she send it electronically to her teacher.  My daughter suggested that this was a no no.  She started to stress our about this collage and wanted to use her backup one,  which printed but was in no way as good as her original.  I pushed and told her to explain to the teacher what happened and if he wanted a hard copy then I would take it to Staples to get it printed off.  Thankfully, her teacher accepted the electronic copy.

My reason for sharing this story is because we have been talking quite a bit about doing students a disservice or not preparing them for high school by not giving them tests but what about the big move by elementary schools to use more electronics in the classroom.  Quite a few high schools I know do not allow electronics in the classroom so what about the disservice here?  Many elementary teachers are allowing students to use electronics to show their learning; they are doing inquiry in the classrooms; they are doing authentic tasks and using a wide variety of strategies for problem solving; there is a big focus on collaboration so are we preparing them for life in high schools where this type of teaching is not necessarily happening?  Already, this year, my students have wowed me with the learning that they are sharing; the types of things that they are interested in learning about; and the tools that they are using to share this learning.   Should we be returning to pen and paper tasks; all kids doing the same activity; the turn off electronics policy when you enter the door?  I’m not sure, but if this is the case then I am more than willing to do my students a disservice.  What about you?

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How do you capture your students’ learning?

Documenting my students learning.  This is a new thing for me.  I started documenting my students learning years ago but nowhere near the extent that I am doing this year.  I used to use a million sticky notes to jot down conversations and observations with my students and at the end of the day would spend some time sticking them in their folder.  I had a manila folder for each student and kept track of my anecdotal notes on them this way.  Did it work for me?  Yes, most of the time.  Unless I lost the sticky note or forgot to put it in.  This documentation helped me to develop observation and process marks for my students.  Over the last couple of years, I have grown to rely on this documentation even more.  At the beginning of the year, I share with my students and parents the different ways that I will be collecting evidence of their learning in my room.

“Evidence of student achievement for evaluation is collected over time from three different sources – observations, conversations, and student products. Using multiple sources of evidence increases the reliability and validity of the evaluation of student learning.”  Growing Success, pg 39.

For some of my students this evaluation style it is quite new, but (thank goodness) I have not received any negative feedback from either the students or the parents.  The information that I gather from my students this way is quite remarkable.  Students who struggled to put their thoughts on paper, can sometimes give me a somewhat clear oral explanation about what they are doing.  I had a group of teachers in my class last month and was pleasantly surprised to hear one of my struggling students using his patterning tiles to explain how he was able to decipher what the rule was and how he could extend his pattern using that same rule.  Talk about an opportunity.  If I had waited for his pen and pencil task I would have totally missed his sharing.  My good friend Aviva and my vice-principal Kristi have encouraged me take my documentation even further this year.  Last year I had moved to taking pictures along with my notes.  Aviva has encouraged me to let the students take the pictures and share them with me, as well as me recording their sharing during our conferences or small group collaborations. She has also suggested that the students can even record themselves.  How powerful would it be for the student to listen to their explanations at the beginning of the unit and then compare them at the end of that same unit, or even the end of the year?  Kristi, talks a lot about the process versus the product, and its relevance.  Why do we devalue the journey it took to reach the end?  Today, in my math inservice it once again came up that students can share their learning orally but struggle to write it clearly.  My questions were:  Do they have to write it down if they can say it orally?;  Why can’t they record their answer and then transfer it to the paper if that is the expectation?;  What about them making a sketch of their learning, taking a picture of it and then a short explanation to show that they get it?  Does math learning always have to be written down?  The new me says no, that is why if you come in my classroom I usually have my phone or my Ipad in my hand.

How do you capture your student’s learning?

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