Monday, September 17, 2012

The End of "Pick C" Meet the Next Generation Assessments

Does the label "Next Generation Assessments" bring to mind a new Star Trek movie, where educators on board the USS PARCC  boldly go where no teacher has gone before?  It certainly seems as if there are as many acronyms tied to the Next Generation Assessments as there are in the NASA space program...EBSRs, TECRs, can be overwhelming to begin to think about it all.

We ARE boldly going forward.  As you begin to really look deeply at the prototype assessments in ELA and Math, you begin to see just how exciting the changes really are....and how the use of Evidence Centered Design (think Universal Design) is being used to create assessments that are authentic, engaging and really connected to what it is the kids are supposed to "know" and "do" in each grade level.  Wow, think about it, a state test that measures mastery on all the standards - not having to guess at which standards might be "tested".  A state test that offers students the chance to explain or justify an answer. A state test that may have more than one right answer.  A state test that allows students to show how well they can apply what they learned in authentic contexts. A state test that you don't have to set aside weeks to "practice and prepare for" because it is aligned so well to the standards you are teaching - and the kinds of activities you are doing in class - that by the time the kids take the test - they should already have a pretty good idea of how they will do. Even if you are NOT an ELA or Math teacher - everyone can benefit from looking at these prototypes....because they are a good way to begin discussions on how to rethink assessments to fit into the new "growth model" focus of the new Ohio Teacher Eval System. They are good examples of why we all need to be teachers of the LANGUAGE of our content area - building vocabulary by teaching it in context, building knowledge through opportunities to read  and write about challenging, authentic materials.

So let's start with speaking the language of the Next Generation Assessments

Evidence Centered Design - starting with claims (overarching statements about what students should be expected to do) assessment planners work backwards to identify

  • What student products will allow teachers to say with assurance that the student has mastered the content standard...what do the products look like?

  • What are the classroom activities necessary to get to this assessment?

  • What evidence can we point to, highlight or underline in a student response that we will be looking for?

  • Have we designed tasks to elicit specific evidence from students to support our claims?

  • From all of this...begin to build task models that can be used to develop items...think of these like "patterns" that can be followed.

Think about how you could use this same process, right now, to look at the assessments - both formative and summative - that you currently are using in your classroom. Use "essential questions" or "learning targets" to form your "claims"

EBSR - Evidence Based Selected Response Questions - these are replacing the old style "multiple choice" question. EBSRs will actually be a pair of questions - the first will be a standard selected response (multiple choice) question... the second will give the student a chance to indicate words or passages from the question or text they have read that helped them to answer the question. There might be multiple answers they can select, not just one. These questions will be used as a type of scaffolding for performance task items by helping students focus on important information or build knowledge.

Think about how you could begin to use EBSR questions in your classroom as a formative assessment tool - giving you insight into student thinking or as a way to help with metacognition and close reading strategies. Think about how you can begin to teach the vocabulary of your content area - in context.

TECR - Technology Enhanced Constructed Response Questions - these are called constructed response because students need to demonstrate an understanding of the content being tested beyond just selected a correct response. Technology allows students to click on key sentences in a text passage, drag answers onto a diagram or number line, run simulations to gather data, or manipulate objects to build a model.

Think about how you can use often free, online or software resources to engage students in their learning. One of the key reasons for including TECRs was to promote the continuous integration of technology into classrooms on a regular basis. There are lots of ways to work around limited tech availability...don't let limited hardware or internet bandwidth prevent you from trying new ways to integrate tech.

PCR - Prose Constructed Response Questions - items formally known as "extended response" or "essay questions" They will be used in Performance Tasks - in Math and ELA. By far the biggest shift in thinking about assessments, PCRs will expect students to not just write about a prompt, but instead to analyze, synthesize, or support an argument using authentic text material - or multiple authentic texts. The most important expectation... students must be able to go "back into" the text to pull information to support their ideas. EBSRs will help students build knowledge or focus their thinking as a prelude to the Prose Constructed Response questions.

Think about how you can give your students the opportunity to read a variety of literature and informational texts. Narrative writing experiences aren't just story telling - think about how narrative can be used as informational writing - in science, social studies and math. Review writing prompts you use in your classroom. Are they text based? Here is an example of a traditional prompt - We have been learning about Benjamin Franklin - Write about a time when you acted like an inventor. Here is how to make it text based - You have read three different articles/essays/books about Benjamin Franklin. All of the authors seemed to feel like he was a true inventor. Using evidence from at least 2 of the readings, support your argument that he is or is not a true inventor.


Ohio Resource Center - resources for Ohio's New Learning Standards

Math Interactive Websites/Tools
Interactive Boards Lessons
  2. Everyday Math and the Smartboard (Interactive Board)- lesson templates
  3. Math and Science Smartboard Lessons
  4. Interactive Activities for Smartboards - eMints Themes
Online Manipulatives
  1. Houghton Mifflin Math For Kids  Grades 1-6 homepage
  1. Kindergarten
  2. First Grade
  3. Second Grade
  4. Second Grade eManipulatives
Doing Math Online
  1. Using Google As A Graphing Calculator
  2. Wolfram Demonstrations    math interactive manipulatives - requires a download
  3. SAS Curriculum Pathways - math (requires FREE district registration)
  4. Illuminations Website - NCTM Interactive Lesson Activities

Interactive Activities for ELA
  • ReadWriteThink ( National Council of Teachers of English) Interactive Tools
  • Interactive ELA Resources
  • Scholastic Schools - Interactive Resources (good for interactive boards)
  • SAS Curriculum Pathways ( Middle School and High School) Requires a FREE district account to be created - students can access from home or school.  Best tool - the Writing Reviser that allows them to write an essay - then it analyzes the essay for them - mechanics, structure, voice and gives them hints for organization and audience.
  • BBC Learning Resources - for all grades
  • Content partners include Smithsonian, NatGeo, ReadWriteThink, Wonderopolis and Kennedy Center for Performing Arts

Monday, September 3, 2012

Metacognition, Formative Instruction, Next Generations Assessments and New Learning Standards

Think about the last time you had to study for a test or read a text passage that was difficult for you to comprehend.  What strategies worked for you?  Maybe you are a highlighter...and created pages of yellow and pink highlighted passages or notes.  Or, perhaps you are a flashcard creator - going through piles of 3x5 cards as you memorize vocabulary or important dates.  As your read the passage, did you find yourself going back and re-reading?  Most successful students have a toolbox of strategies to choose from when they are faced with a new learning challenge or an impending assessment. AND...they know which strategies to use when. Metacognition is the ability to recognize how you think and come up with a plan for your learning.  As we shift to Next Generation Assessments and New Learning Standards, it is important to also plan how to shift our students thinking about their thinking!  

Metacognition and Formative Instruction
Formative Instructional Practices (FIP) allow for time in a class to assess FOR learning.  One of the key activities in any FIP centered classroom is self reflection and the chance to review instructive feedback.  This time for reflection might be centered around a think-pair-share activity, which gives students the chance to reflect on their own understanding, compare it to a partner then build on it within the broader group.  Keeping a reflection journal is also a helpful tool to build metacognition. Time needs to be set aside at the end of class or a lesson to allow for this reflection.  In order to really build metacognition, it needs to focus not just on a "What we did in class today" prompt but more on "What I learned in class today...what didn't I learn, What do I need to learn more about and What helped me to learn today" prompt.  Students in a FIP classroom should also have the chance to plan their learning. Starting with a clear learning target, students and teachers can work together to decide how to best work toward achieving the target. Entrance cards and pretests give students information on where their existing strengths and weaknesses are. Students with good metacognition are better at predicting their success on assignments because they have a realistic view of their own knowledge level.  Activities that help students to connect new learning to prior knowledge also help students to reflect on how they are learning.

Metacognition and Next Generation Assessments
It is test day and a few of your students can’t wait to take the test because they KNOW that they are going to “ace” the test. And then when the test is returned with a low grade they are stunned, blame you for writing a terrible test and toss the test paper in the trash. These are students who have low metacognition. Spending time helping student to understand the types of questions on the test, talking through strategies for preparing for those types of problems and having students reflect on how they have prepared for tests in the past will help to build metacognition. The Next Generation Assessments pose a unique new problem. In the past, students taking state tests had a significant delay between when the test was administered and when the results were returned. There was a real disconnect between their taking of the test and how the results related to their actual learning.  The new assessments will be administered online. Students will receive almost immediate results. The new assessments will have built in tools that will help students who have an awareness of what testing strategies work best for them. Highlighters, scratchpads, and drag and drop fields will be available for all students to use. This means that students need practice in how to highlight key and supporting information, write out possible solutions to problems and organize information in a way that makes sense.

Metacognition and Ohio’s New Learning Standards
There are a lot of words that have been used to describe the new learning standards - rigorous, deeper, demanding, mastery.  If we really want students to have a deeper, more complex understanding of the standards, we need to also work at teaching them how to learn differently.  Just memorizing lists of vocabulary words or math formulas in order to take the test on Friday, then forget it and move on isn’t going to work anymore. In order to really read along a continuum of text complexity, students need to recognize when they aren’t comprehending a passage and draw from a variety of reading strategies to help them to build that comprehension. This is metacognition. Where to start? Giving students permission to “write in the books” - either in pencil or on post-its - allows for a “conversation” with the author by asking questions as they read, highlighting challenging words or key concepts, reading different types of text beyond the textbook all help them to acquire knowledge.   Helping students take effective notes - from “tagging” key ideas to using column style (or Cornell style) notes helps to build understanding and gives them a tool to use to study for summative assessments.  Graphic organizers, Frayer model notecards, responding to blogs and online discussions all help students frame their thinking.  Talk with students about how YOU learned the material.  Do “Think-out-louds” when you are solving problems in front of the class.  Use short term (one activity or period) collaborative groups with clearly defined roles and tasks to give students the opportunity to compare their learning to the learning of their peers. Try to pick tasks for the group that they could not accomplish on their own.  

As we move ahead this year with conversations about changing the way we think about teaching, let’s make sure we are bringing our students along with us!