Archive for February, 2008

Online Writing Programs- Not Formative Feedback

I’ve begun to look at online writing assessment programs. The one thing that I have noticed is that the feedback is very general such as “May have organization in parts, but lacks organization in other parts”. How helpful is that feedback to a struggling writer? Does it tell him/her what specific parts are organized or what parts are not organized? Does it tell the student what to do to organize the part? Does it provide scaffolding to help the student organize the part? The bottom line is “How likely is it that the student will improve based on the feedback?”

So far the online writing program that I have seen do not give formative  feedback. I’m afraid the students using these online writing programs now  somewhat know  something about what they did without being given the tools to move forward in their writing.

Let’s save Local History Through our Classroom Technology

Many years ago there was a push for students to produce local histories. I’ve not noticed that recently. In my community, the last school publication on this local community was done about 1990 and then it was very superficial- more of an activity book, then a history book. Like many communities, we have WW I and II vets, the people who owned the original buildings, the people who remember what life was like back “then”, the people who saw the rise and decline of the community, the people who have new visions for the community, buildings that are falling down, cemeteries that are being overrun with weeds, local famous people who few remember anymore, local historical landmarks that are being torn down for new buildings, old documents are falling apart, old pictures are fading away, etc.

Today we have so many classroom technologies to capture quickly people’s memories–digital cameras, digital camcorders, digital recorders. Digital storytelling is a big movement. We should not wait until Veterans’ Day to have people from our community into our classroom. Let’s involve social studies, English (narratives), math (chart the population over the years) science (what technology changes have taken place and its impact on the community), health (changes in water and sewage, types of restaurants) and other subject areas to collect valuable historical information on our community before it is lost.

Let our schools save the local history before no one or no objects tells of the past history. Let’s involve our students in real learning that involves community people. Let our students be of service to the community. Not longer do we ask ” Brother, do you a dime?” but “Brother & Sister, do you have technology to save our past before it is gone?”

Digital Classroom – Technology Rich or Technology Poor

In one room that I teach I have a desktop and an LCD. Not even a printer. It is very difficult to be a Web 2.0 class when there are not computers for students. It is hard to be a Web 1.0 when I just have the one computer. There is no Smartboard, no clickers, or nor other interactive technologies. I’m the only interactive technology. The Tech Director had to modify settings to allow me to use programs like YouTube. There are two log-ins. Sometimes technology is almost too difficult to use.

Yes, I do use technology in class but it takes effort to figure out how to do it interactively. Students answer questions in turn instead of individually answering questions like they would  do if they had their own computers.  Students cannot move at their own pace, they move in -lock step.  Students cannot take online quizzes to measure their progress.

Let’s get rid of digital divide! Let’s harness the  power for learning that technology brings to the classroom.

Sensationalizing Weather and Technology Benefits

I’ve noticed this year that the weather people tend to sensationalize the weather just as the news reporters do with the news. They predict horrible storms and we get a few inches.  They warn about possible ice conditions that could making driving extremely difficult and then we get a very thin layer of ice that melts away in a few hours.

I wonder how much we sensationalize the effects of technology.  My class is doing so much better due to ……

Some questions we might want to ask ourselves:

Do we assess how much the students are learning  with the “new” technology through an assessment instrument? Is that assessment instrument similar to one we normally use in class?  Similar to one used on our school final or a state assessment?

Are we noticing the students’ excitement and motivation and misinterpreting those as their learning?

Has the “new” technology allowed our students to probe more in-depth than without the technology? What evidence do we have?

Does more student talk or even student talk with others in distinct locations give students a more comprehensive learning about the goal? What measurable evidence do we have?

Have we restructured how our students do learning activities in the classroom? Is that restructuring the real cause of the student learning and the technology is just the context of the learning?

Has the “new” technology allowed our students to make more mental connections among their learning?  How do you measure those connections by using concept maps or other assessment tools?

Writing Types Quick Diagnostic – Quick yet meaningful information

I do not want to teach my writing classes with blinders on.  I want to know the students’ entering perceptions about writing and their actual writing skills. I made up a quick online survey on  Zoomerang. The survey asks the students

To identify if they have done this type of writing
If they have done it how many times 1-6
How well they think they do it 4 (very good)-3-2-1(beginning level )

Narrative (Telling a story)
Definition (What something means)
Classification (Categories of something)
Process (How to do something)
Illustration (Explaining something)
Description (What something looks like? Mood?)
Cause and Effect (What caused something? What was the result?)
Comparison (How similar or different are two items?)
Argument/Persuasion (Convince/Persuade about something)
Research Paper

For them to identify their favorite type of writing and why
For them to identify their least favorite type of writing and why

What they do well in their writing?
What they would like help with in their writing.

As soon as they have completed the survey, I have the compiled results.  I now have meaningful information to help me plan the course.  I will change it to help them move forward in their writing.

Backing up data

Over the years I’ve had two laptops die on me. Yes, I had backed them up – a few weeks previous to the crashes. But I still lost much data. Two students last semester had their flash drives toasted so that they could not get data off of them and they needed the data for their end of the course portfolio.

So let’s check: How often do you back up

Your computer?

Your files at school? (How often does the school back up student files?)

Your bookmarks if they are not online bookmarking?

Your wiki or blog- in case your provider does not back it up?

Your flashdrive?

Do you back up your information to at least two different storage device – perhaps an external harddrive and a DVD?

Do you store those backups in two different locations – one at home and one at work? Don’t keep both in the same location! The house of a person I know was destroyed in a fire and all of his multiple backups were destroyed.
Do you save critical files online such as in your Google docs or email them to yourself frequently?

How do you protect your valuable work?

Writing Pretest- Students Top Three Responses to Writing a Paragraph.

At the start of the semester, I asked my 40+ college students to write down what they think of when they think of writing a paragraph. Then they formed small groups and combined their answers. What do you think were the top three answers?

Scroll down to find out.

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Spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Every group came up with these three answers. These deal with the mechanics of writing, but not the content.

Only half of the groups came up with main idea.

No group listed pre-write or brainstorming. Nothing for revising . So much for the famous writing process.

The more we know about what our students think about a process, the more we can help them.

Feedback vs Formative Feedback: Take a Snow Covered Boat North

I saw a snow covered boat being towed up north into the snow belt of Central New York. I wondered about the logic. Maybe the driver is looking forward to the summer.

Many teachers evaluate what they do in a unit at the end of the unit. They decide what they could do better the next year they will teach that unit. They may decide to make changes in an upcoming unit based on some new information they have on the students’ strengths and learning gaps.

How often do teachers evaluate during the unit and make changes within the unit to provide students with formative feedback so that the students can improve in this present unit? Waiting until next year (summer for the boat) to make changes does not benefit this year’s students. If students are to learn the goal, then teachers need to evaluate (formative assess) what is happening frequently in the class and constantly give formative feedback for the direct improvement of students. Students may sink without our present help. Summer will be too late! Let’s give students daily or at least every other day feedback that moves them forward in their learning in this present unit. They can sail forward with our daily formative feedback and bask in their learning.

Graphic Organizers/Concept Maps – Limiting or Encouraging Thinking?

I made a concept map that I thought would help the students in their writing. As I observed the students, I realized that my concept map actually stopped their thinking. When students have a paper concept map, they stop when all the bubbles, boxes, or lines are filled in. When they have an online one with bubbles, boxes or lines, they do the same. They fill in the bubbles, boxes or lines and they stop thinking. However, often these concept maps are just the start of the students’ thinking about the topic. The concept maps are more like a writing prompt than the actual writing.

I realize that my concept map did not have enough boxes, bubbles or lines to guide the students to explore the writing topic more thoroughly. Likewise the boxes, bubbles or lines were too small. Once the students have written something that fills the boxes, bubbles, or lines, they stop writing. The boxes, bubbles or lines confine the students.

Cause Effect concept map

This concept map needs to be extended to include the three major examples and the details that the students will use to prove each cause or effect. The concept map will double in size. In addition, if I am using a paper version, I will stretch it out to be a full page so that the students have plenty of writing space. Bigger spaces equals more room for thinking.

What do your concept maps look like? Do they encourage additional thinking or do they stop the students’ thinking?

Converting Long URLS (website addresses) to short Ones Via Tinyurl

In my classroom, I have an LCD device but I cannot send out websites to the students. (Emailing website URLs is a chore.) They have to copy theURL  and then enter them. Whenever I give them a long URL they often make mistakes in copying it.  The solution is the tinyurl site which takes a long URL and converts it a very short URL. For example, http://www.authenticeducation.org/bigideas/article.lasso?artId=63&-session=Auth:8D95D4D40533c2028AMsFEF5FFBB

becomes http://tinyurl.com/35m6xn.

Converting to a tiny URL works great for twitter or written material.

Try it and you  be amazed at how it makes it easier for your students!

Just ask- Electronic Surveys for Formative Feedback from Students

In our classes we think that we are sailing our class on clear seas. However, if we stop to ask our students to reflect on their learning, we may get a story of stormy waters where they feel they are drowning. Unless we frequently stop to ask them to reflect and give us feedback we will not know their present learning conditions. Most quizzes and tests do not give us that information since they are summative. Frequent surveys or feedback forms do provide us with very useful information on how to help them better navigate their learning. When we give those surveys in programs like Blackboard or Zoomerang, we can instantly get the results organized by question so that we can immediately redirect our sailing and their sailing.

How often do you survey your students for their feedback about present learning strengths and learning gaps?

Technology Widespread and Frequent or One Example

I like watching weight lost ads. They say a person has lost 100 pounds and then in small print they say “Results not typical”.

What results are typical? Do we do the same technique with technology use in our schools? Are technology-uses widespread (more than the majority use it)? Are technology uses frequent (i.e. they use it often)? If not, then we are using the weight ad trick.

Should we be boasting about the one teacher who has used a specific technology such as a Web 2.0 to promote learning? Or should we wait and then boast about all of our the teachers who use that technology to promote learning? Do we create the illusion about the benefits of technology through telling about one teacher or do we show the overwhelming reality of it when many teachers have their students improve their higher-level learning through technology?

Are your results typical?

Teaching or Educating with Web 2.0 Tools

If teaching is to impart (or stuff in) knowledge & educating is to nourish (or pull out), which do we use technology for?

Any technology can be used for either. A wiki can be used to push stuff in such as a chapter summary or it can be used to have students think through the pros and cons of a real life situation.   Just because a technology is a Web 2.0 does not make it an educating technology.   Videoconferencing can deliver lectures (teaching) or have students share similarities and differences in local folktales (educating).  Social bookmarking does not necessarily educate, it can just provide lists of websites (teaching).

How do you use Web 2.0 Tools?

Non Graded Formative Assessment Rubric for Writing

I’ve been using a non-graded formative assessment rubric in my college English classes for numerous classes. One student had missed many classes and when he got his essays back, he looked at the rubric and said, “There’s no grade!” Another student explained, “He circles the score (4- above proficient, 3- proficient, 2-progressing 1- beginning ) for each individual part of the essay.” She added, “Look for circles in the threes and fours, that’s when you’re getting good at it.” She commented later to me that she can see her progress as her circles in many categories have moved from 1s to 2s and now to almost 3s. She said that she looks at the low scoring circled areas and tries to work on them for the next essay. Furthermore, she commented that I usually go over the low scoring circles the next class with additional hints for improvements. The young lady admitted that the smaller circled areas tells her more about what her strengths and problems are than a grade could.

How do you assess your students work?

Formative Assessment and Homework article

I had an article on formative assessment and homework published on Grant Wiggins’ Big Ideas An Authentic Education e-journal. Also, http://tinyurl.com/35m6xn.

Instructional Uses of Clickers or Personal Response Systems

We can use clickers in many different ways in our classroom. Here’s a few. We can ask the students:

Background questions such as “Have you ever explained to someone the reasons you wanted to buy something? 1-Yes 2- No”

Learning style questions such as “How long did it take you to do the essay? 1-30 2- 40 3- 50 4- 60 + minutes”
Or “Which part of the essay was the hardest to do 1-Identify a topic 2- Pre-Write 3- Write topic sentences 4- Provide vivid details”

Low thinking level review questions such as “An effect essay 1-shows similarities between two things 2- tells a story of a change 3- gives details about a process 4- provides the results of something ”

Higher-level thinking questions such as “Which body paragraph in this essay has the most concrete examples? 1- first 2-second 3-third?”

The more questions we can ask at the higher-levels of thinking, the more we can engage not only the  students’ attention but their in-depth thinking.

Gradebook Grades or Standards-Based Grading

A teacher was showing me how well her students were doing. She showed me from her electronic gradebook their high grades in homework, class participation, and quizzes. However, when I asked her how well they were doing in the standards for her course, she gave me a puzzled look. She repeated that her students did well on homework and quizzes. I rephrased my question and asked her which particular standards did each homework and each quiz focus on. She said they assessed the book’s chapters.

I showed her how she could change her grading to reflect the standards. She could create new categories such as S1 (standard 1), S2 (standard 2), etc. Instead of focusing on all the homework, she could select which part of the homework focused on Standard 1 and then record that grade under Standard 1. Likewise, she could modify her quizzes so that each quiz focuses on one standard so instead of a quiz grade she could give a standard grade. Now her students could see how well they were progressing in the standard instead of how well they did on quizzes, participation, and homework. She could know how well they were progressing in the important standards rather than the textbook chapters.

Do you give grades or do you give standards-based grades through your electronic gradebook?

Blog Content Skills Checklist

I’m trying to think through the skills that our students should display in the class blog that represent academic learning.

Do our students
Provide in-depth information?
Ask others to clarify information?
Ask probing questions to understand the topic more in-depth?
Summarize the many blog entries  into a few meaningful statements?
Identify patterns in blog entries?
Provide vivid examples?
Provide real life examples?
Show alternative views?
Support others as they try to understand the concepts?

What other academic skills should our students show in the class blog?

Standards Tagging To Benefit Students or Just an Exercise?

The college where I work wants each activity in the class calendar to be labeled with one of the official course outcomes (standards).

I applaud the effort in asking instructors to think about how what they are doing supports the outcomes. However, I also realize that most instructors just put numbers in so that each activity has a number. They do not change what the activity is; they just put a label on each activity. The instructors do not change what they do in the classroom.

Furthermore, there is no common course assessment so, in fact, each instructor gives whatever type of final covering whatever type of content. Until we give common course assessments there is no real outcomes based (or standards-based) learning.

Students do not benefit from such pseudo-standardizing of courses.

How to make Wikis and Blogs Collective Intelligence

THE magazine has an article on 6 technologies that will impact education in very near future. The writer used the term collective intelligence to refer to Wikis and Blogs. I agree that wikis and blogs are collective. Are they intelligent? Ithink that depends on how the teachers have their students use these tools. As a comparision, are all classroom discussions intelligent ones in which students grow academically from the discussion or is it a an exchange of opinions?

Here’s two things we can do to improve the intelligence of the wikis or blogs.

When students do add to a wiki to build a collective body of information, how do they use the information once they have created it? For example, if students find articles on different article on the same topic (immigration), summarize the articles, and post to a wiki, we simply have a collection of articles. What do we have the students do that uses that collection? Do they compare/contrast the articles? Do they search for the bias in each article? Do they create their own article that incorporates an in-depth view of the pros and cons of the issue?

When students post their ideas to a blog or even twitter about the ideas, how do students grow from each other’s comments? Are the students’ comments ones that challenge ideas, ask probing questions about it, give another view(perspective) of it, show connections, provide alternative explanations, or explain how to do it? How do their comments move them along the learning path?

Concept Maps Create Focus

Many of my Composition students have said that they have the most problems in deciding on a topic.  I think that they cannot get a handle on a topic.  I had them use a technique last night that I call “Try it for three minutes.”  We were doing cause and effect writing. I gave them a list of topics and asked them to pick any topic that seemed somewhat interesting to them. Then I asked them to spend three minutes to complete a graphic organizer for either causes or effects. There was a bubble for the topic and then three big rectangles (one for each category) and then three smaller rectangles for each category (for the examples).  If they did not like the results, they could pick another topic. Almost every student had the topic, categories and many of the examples in three minutes.  They could see what they had and what they needed. They could see the connection among their ideas.  They all said that they would write about the topic for which they had just completed the concept map.  Sometimes students think aimlessly; a concept map focuses their thinking.

How do you use concept maps to focus your students’ learning

Technology Impact and a budget vote

The email is down at my institution. Students are screaming. Office people cannot get anything done. Instructors can not communicate with their students.

Often times people take technology for granted. However, when a problem arises, then they take notice.

I heard a story about a director of technology whose network, unfortunately, went down a few days just before a budget vote that involved a substantial and debated major increase for his department. As soon as he said that with these new budget purchases he could probably prevent such outages, he got every penny he had asked for. It was only when people realize what they can not do without technology that they realize how important it is

Sometimes the absence of something speaks louder than its presence.

Digital Camera to Record Exemplars

Our classes seem to happen at a NASCAR race speed. Students produce proficient work through in class sketches, demonstrations, quick concept maps, short writings, etc. Often some or even much of the work shows above proficient work. However, as soon as the class is done, we have lost those wonderful examples of learning. If we have a digital camera, then we can capture these moments of exemplars. A quick aim and click can record these exemplars. We may have to take a second to change a setting so that the camera best captures document work if we are taking pictures of writing. Of course, we will have had our students sign a release form so that we can use their “intellectual property”. We can use those pictures in subsequent classes that day to show exemplar work. We can show those exemplars the next day in the same class and have the students review what makes those exemplars exemplary. We can have students compare their work to the exemplars and improve.

So what classroom exemplars have you capture and use to help other students to become proficient in the class learning goal?

Handwritten Essay assessment by Computer!

The University of Buffalo (my alma mater) is taking a bold new step in writing assessment. They are attempting to computer score the eight grade English Language Arts assessments which students hand write. So far they are within one point of human evaluators and their program assesses the student’s writing in seconds. If this program can quickly score students’ writing, then the teacher can work with students to improve their writing. Students could take mini-ELA assessments during the year to assess their progress and work toward scoring a 5 or 6/6on the state assessment. At present, teachers can only assess so many writing assessments during a year due to the time it takes to assess each writing. Now they can focus on improving students’ writing instead of focusing on correcting their papers.

Grading or Learning Opportunties Through Homework and Test

I’ve told my students that they can redo any assignment (homework) or test.  I am much more concerned that they learn than that I give them a quick and low grade. By allowing them the opportunity to be aware of what their learning gap is and  by giving them suggestions to overcome that gap, I help them to be responsible for their own learning improvements.  I have told them that I will take the higher grade. For the test, I have a slightly different version of the original test that still asks the same information but in a different manner. Students like to be successful and when they see that they can make changes to improve they are willing to make the changes.

Does your homework and grading policy encourage learning on a standard’s goal or does it stop the learning?

Word Process all Assignments For Easier Improvements

I ask all of my students to word process all of their assignments.  I have one simple reason- so they can revise their work more easily. In my class students receive a  plus (+)  for above proficient work, a check mark for proficient work, or comments for less than proficient work.  I tell them they can  redo any less than proficient or even proficient work  to improve it. I will take the higher “grade”.  In one  of my college class the students have six assignments per session; I rate each and give comments to explain how to improve the work.  Most students modify their already word processed work in just a few minutes. Almost everyone gets the higher grade.  If anyone does not show improve, then I have a one-on-one with that person. If they had handwritten their work, they would not willingly make changes.

Rewriting a Rubric To Be Formative instead of Summative

In my last blog, I mentioned that my students had suggestions for improving their essay rubric so that they could better understand it. I went through and made all of their changes. As I made those changes, I began to see that my rubric lacked examples of what each category asked for. I added mini-examples such as a real thesis statement, a paragraph topic to support it, words that support it, real transition words, concluding sentence, etc. All of my examples supported the thesis example that I gave. With these changes, I feel that the students can “see” what each section requires. They no longer have nebulous terms but real examples to look at.

I will try it out on their this week’s essays and then have the students react to it next class.

How you changed your rubric to help students understand what is really expected of them?


RSS Education with Technology

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