7th Grade English/History Teacher
Bakersfield City School District
A few weeks ago, a friend complained that his last teaching credential class was “hard to get through.”
“Which class?” I asked.
“Assessment,” he replied.
I shook my head, reached into my school bag, and pulled out Kim Meldrum’s Assessment that Matters: Using Technology to Personalize Learning. “Try this,” I said. “You’ll especially like the feedback and next step suggestions on pages 50-51.”
Assessment should not be “hard to get through.” Unfortunately, focus on once-a-year assessments of learning can be tedious, boring, and discouraging. Those assessments do more harm than good. ‘Assessments for learning and as learning actually affect students immediately and alter the course of instruction.’
In Assessment that Matters, Meldrum argues that technology as a tool can provide a wealth of information that guides teaching decisions. She provides multiple examples of apps students can use and explains how teachers can gather assessment data from that work. The best part is students become self-editors and revisers as they reflect on their own work. When that work is shared with a larger audience, students work even harder.
Meldrum urges educators to determine what is being assessed. After a student reads a passage, does the teacher want to assess comprehension or writing? Once this has been decided, the teacher should determine which tool best assesses that skill.
One day this summer, I asked students to demonstrate that they understood the attempted use of yellow fever as a biological weapon during the American Civil War. I was not assessing writing, and a couple of students had a difficult time writing their ideas. As such, I used Meldrum’s suggestion and encouraged the summer school students to use Google Voice Typing to share their new knowledge. A wealth of information materialized when a student complained, “Teacher, the computer isn’t typing what I am saying.”
I watched him voice type and witnessed the error. Next, I had him retell me what he wanted to communicate. When I voice typed what I thought were his words, I had no issues. I then asked him to repeat the sentence while I listened carefully. The student, who unfortunately still read at K/1 reading level in the 7th grade, was not pronouncing the words correctly. This was an aha moment! As Meldrum writes on page 48, oral language is a precursor to reading and writing.
I now knew what to do with this student. I immediately had him practice reading the sentence I voice typed using his retell. He practiced by reading the same sentence multiple times. If the computer correctly typed what he said, he knew he was successful.
Of course, I will share this assessment and learning strategy with his regular teacher. As Meldrum has suggested, I will also encourage the use of screencast apps that will record his progress throughout the semester. This student is just too incredible and inventive to allow him to be assessed as a failure by traditional methods, not when assessment can be used for learning and as learning.
Assessment, for students and adults alike, should not be “hard to get through.” Nor should assessment be a one shot moment that determines whether a student is a success or failure. ‘Technology as a tool can bring a wealth of knowledge regarding student ability and progress throughout the year.’
So, if you would like to borrow my copy of Assessment that Matters, just let me know. I have sections highlighted and marked with post-its. Or you might just want to get your own copy to mark up and keep in your school bag!
Jennifer Scott has taught at Compton Jr. High School in Bakersfield, California for 16 years. She tweets at @JenTechnology and blogs at mrsjentechnology.blogspot.com
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