Thursday, January 29, 2015

How Subjectivity Creeps into Assessment

The last few weeks of our fall 2014 semester, I was stumped while grading. I jotted down very short comments on the students' papers and entered numbers onto my grade book before handing the papers back. Part of me didn't know if this was the right way to go about assessing students. In the middle of it all, I stopped, looked at some other teachers, and wondered how they complete their grades. Before I could continue, I had to examine none other than myself. Why look at the sticks in others' eyes before the log in my own, right? (That line is out of context, but the importance of self-examination before placing blame is crucial in many aspects.)

Q1: What assessments do I use?

It was then, ashamedly, that I went back to finish my grading and didn't think of this topic again. Until now...upon reading chapter two of Assessment 3.0.

To illustrate what I picked up from this part, I strongly recommend you with a group of colleagues review a student's assignment. Individually look at the teacher's guidelines and come up with a grade you think the student should receive. Then group back together and discuss how you all decided on the grades you would give the student. (If you don't get my drift, take time to honestly consider the difficulties or actually follow through with this. I, as a member of the #TTOG Facebook group, would love to hear how the discussion ended up going.)
"Arguments in favor of grades lose buoyancy when the previous examples are seriously contemplated. If the teacher's opinion plays even the slightest role in assessment, the process becomes alarmingly punitive" (Barnes, 28, emphasis mine).
Barnes gives a couple phenomenal examples that should hit home for any educator wanting to truly know where the students are in their progress and what the next steps should be in moving forward.

Remember Q1 that I asked myself weeks ago (see above)? The next questions flooding my mind now are:

Q2: How much influence do my feelings and opinions have in creating and carrying out my assessments?

Q3: Would other teachers agree with me on my grading scale, rubrics, and standards?

Q4: How can I solve these conundrums with modern methods that provide authentic feedback?

I need to expose these uncertainties. Why? This is a road worth traveling. In evaluating this part of education, revamping the road will lead to greater and more beautiful destinations for the students. And it will definitely make all the difference.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Some Traditions, Like Assessment, Need Revisited

I strongly believe that most of the success I have had in teaching #EFL in China has come from first questioning traditional methods, management, and ways of communication. Next I would learn about their origin and from there successfully move past them and complete plans of action. It also helps that my students agree since it is the 21st century (or "The Internet Age," as one said), and they think ways of learning should be altered. Assessment 2.0 is no different, no matter where in the world Carmen Sandiego is.
When there is a huge, ongoing problem, one has to wonder what the deeper issue is. In the first page of Assessment 3.0, Mark Barnes touches on what I think is the root reason why Assessment 2.0 is still happening.
For more than a decade as a classroom teacher, I placed number and letter grades on my students' papers and projects...Why did I treat my students' hard work with such disregard? The answer is simple, if sad. I didn't know any better; that's the way I'd always done it, and I wasn't aware of another way. Students had to be graded, and this occurred with points, percentages, and letters.
We as teachers sometimes don't know any better. And even worse, we haven't taken the next step to critically think and question it. This questioning is not that of an angry child drilling his father of why things should happen the way they do. It would be more of 1) examine the method being used, 2) research to learn more about it, and lastly 3) tweak it however necessary or do a 180 with it. Whatever the course, a step has to be taken.

Barnes then moves on to how these numbers and percentages are compiled to make up a GPA. And the GPA could very well be the fruit in the garden that should not be eaten while the SAT is seemingly as deadly. Why? I'm a prime example. In high school, I received As, Bs, and the occasional C. How? I'll admit; by conforming and getting by. Come SAT time, my score ended up a 1040/1600. Believe me, I was quite surprised when Indiana Wesleyan University called to tell me I had been accepted.

Neither score, I believe, displayed what I was capable of (I still don't know that either, ha). Speaking of the SAT, in Sir Ken Robinson's The Element, he explains how the creator of the test only a few years after inventing it changed his mind and didn't think universities such as Harvard should be administering it anymore. There are certainly some historical events within education that every teacher should know but for some reason they go unmentioned.

This was just the tip of the iceberg, folks. By the looks of it, the chapters in Assessment 3.0 aren't long, but I can tell you already there's going to be vital information we all need to know in order to move forward. In fact, chapter 1 already is making me contemplate changes I could try to make next semester to #ChangeTheWorld in my classes.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"I don't give big tests."

On January 15th, Mark Barnes wrote an article on teachers and "What if" they said NO to testing. Reading this reminded me what I've told our elementary administration a few times this semester.

"I don't give big tests. I only give them after every unit."

the grades I posted include all but the "Final Test"
I still cringe when I remind them and other teachers about this because I would like to move beyond giving paper tests completely. I believe PBL, mobile learning tools, and other strategies of the like would allow my students to go beyond the standardized expectations. Why do I believe this? Because I've seen and read about those who have done it. Unsurprisingly, my students without this knowledge agree. (Side note: I was chosen to read a pre-publication of Barnes' Assessment 3.0, which will come out in February. If you haven't ordered it, you should.)

On our quarterly report cards we have four slots encompassing the ELLs in their Daily Average, Speaking and Listening, Reading and Writing, and lastly...Test Score (see above). An educator from America (as I claim to be though I intend to someday look into my Scottish ancestry), would probably wonder what in the world a school would be wanting parents to do with that. It's not even a unit test score. It's for the Midterm Test and the Final Test. Interestingly enough, our local education bureau said to do away with them as of last year because some parents called and complained about the work load and stress the students were experiencing. Sadly, the tests are back again this year. Sometimes they may just have a different name though it's the same paper test. The students know it too.

In respect to culture, Chinese parents find tests and scores ├╝ber-important, I understand that. But my fifth graders don't agree. Irony? I think not while I also believe my students are just like some in the US who want to learn what is relevant for their futures and use modern tools to do so. Therefore, I'm not surprised when a student will do something else simultaneously in class while learning. As of reading The Element recently, I've also started encouraging my students to go deeper with their interests.

Now what I've written here should be understood as not grumbling about my school or the Chinese education system. The point is this. I've been told there is Power in One who stands up for what is right. This is usually not the case for teachers at our school, but the test score column is thankfully one area where the administration has not forced me to change. I know I have full support from many while there is a small group of teachers who look down on me. I'm not entirely fond of that, but at least I believe what I am doing is right in guiding my students as they become more #futureready.

Monday, January 19, 2015

4 out of 5 Stars to The Element by Sir Ken Robinson

After watching his 2006 Ted talk on how schools kill creativity, Sir Ken Robinson has had my attention in many ways. 

His processing and combination of data and experiences touched with more than a hint of inspiration will lead one to think there are ways to use our natural gifts in ways we love and want to for the world to be a better place. The downfall of the book comes in its lack of application. With a lack of knowing how to apply what is passed on comes quite an assortment of unanswered questions. And when questions are left unanswered, the search for one's element can be difficult. 

Being a teacher, I also found Robinson's take on education on point. This book has challenged me to let my students learn and create more outside of the Chinese education system box. Why should I take a pencil away from a "fidgety" boy when he could become the greatest artist of his time (and learn EFL at the same time)? 

P.S.- Taking notes while reading a book, even if it's an e-book, is truly one of many awesome hacks for reading.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Proposing a BYOD Club for a Chinese Elementary

The Thursday before Christmas, I handed a proposal to the principal of our private Chinese school. I walked into her office after hours of discussion with her, the Foreign Teacher Head, other colleagues, and (of course!) students. The proposal was for a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Club at our elementary.

While hashing out kinks at different levels in the school, I was satisfied at the progress and openness that staff from the top down as well as the students gave me throughout the process. A couple administrators informed me of questions and statements that top leaders would have. My colleagues suggested ideas along with "excuses" our leaders would have for this not to work. Students always give me what I enjoy hearing--a piece of their mind, and I mean that in a good way. The students are the ones who suggested the devices we should use and the grades that should be allowed to apply for the club. They will continue to lead the way. That is...if the top leaders approve the proposal. The elementary principal will present it at an administration meeting sometime this week or next. She sounds very confident and optimistic about it.
The team of staff who know of the plan have all asked me: What do you plan to teach the students?

Technology tools (aka websites and apps, aka #edtech) that teachers and students could utilize to collaborate, learn, and create with in subjects such as Chinese, Math, English, and any others the co-teacher and I consider worthwhile. Administrators would also be guided in methods they could use to brand the school and give it a public presence while telling its own story all at the same time. But before any of that, digital citizenship would be the prime goal for teachers and students alike. The TED talk I watched today (see below) emphasizes the importance of everyone knowing what they are getting into.

What do you think?

For those of you who have a BYOD program or are contemplating creating one, what ideas do you have from personal experience? What is something you would pass on that you didn't know beforehand or are currently learning?