Friday, December 7, 2012

Formative Assessment & Feedback

For all of the PD days that I've had, the most beneficial to me have always been about how to provide the right types of formative assessments, and how to assess them so as to increase students learning instead of extinguish it. What I mean is this.....

A student completes a project task, whether a brief writing or a few mathematical problems, and they turn it in. As a teacher, I look at it, make a few marks, say "good!" a time or two and put a score at the top. 2.5 and circle it. Then, I write some feedback on the bottom or back of the page explaining my thoughts and how they could improve. Does a student read it? Likely not. They've seen their score, accepted it and are ready to move on. The learning has extinguished.

This is not a new thought or story by any means, but it is a valuable one to consider. With my most recent project, Cyrano's Funk, I've gone through the various formative assessments (See previous post for more information!) and all I wrote were the comments.  Now, I kept track of what level of mastery I believed they were demonstrating, in my own grading spreadsheet, but I never shared that information with them. The next time I did a check-in with the students (a week after the first), I read through their work from the first check-in and they had almost all made corrections and improvements, AND it had helped their writings for that second check in. I can only imagine how good those second submissions could have been if I had seen the students improvements earlier and given even more suggestions before they started their second set of literary analysis compositions.

The key to feedback is making sure that it is timely and specific. (Don't believe me? Read this: Focus on Effectiveness) If a student has just turned in work to you, I don't care that your favorite TV show is on, or that you are feeling a bit sleepy, make sure you grade that work. Especially if you are in a smaller PBL atmosphere, this is easier to comply with (though I had 11 of my 15 students turn something in to me today, so I'm about to be up all night and super cranky tomorrow, but that's another story). If you aren't in a small atmosphere, then try to go through each item and assess it on only ONE thing. That is where the specificity comes in. I don't care that they misused the semi-colon, what I'm providing feedback on is their use of examples in the Columbian Exchange, and that is what I will provide feedback on. The rest can wait. OR even better, the rest can be peer-assessed.

Using peers as a source of assessment is a genius idea. Too often, we leave this method for the English classroom and have them "peer edit for grammar". What a shame! Students can offer such valuable insight to one another and speak it in relatable terms so that both students end up benefiting. We are starting a historical approach to a project in the coming weeks and I fully intend on utilizing students in peer-groups to assess one another multiple times before I even see their product. Now when doing this, you need to make sure that your feedback has a specific focus. Every time the students peer-assess one another, you should have them look for one or two main ideas to give feedback on. When I go over students work, I can see the feedback that they have been provided, and I can see how the student adapted (I can see their learning, how fun is that?!). I can then assess their

For more information on types of feedback, make sure to check out this article Types of Feedback and Their Purposes.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Running Behind & Out of Time

Wow oh Wow. Cyrano is taking a little longer than I had expected. I was hoping to have the students finished by TOMORROW to be able to record all of their competencies. However, due to a variety of factors (including student laziness!) we haven't quite gotten there. Even with my checking in and providing feedback the last two weeks, and giving them time in class, the students are still about a week behind.

Here is a recap of what students have needed to submit to me as their formative assessments:

Competency 1: 
  • Pre-Project Activity--Timeless Themes in Society & Media. A pretty quick and easy write up of what kind of issues or themes are prevalent in their lives today, and have been around for years before. 
  • Active Reading Act 1 & Act 2. A quick activity students do while reading the Acts with the class that help them to understand the characters as they are first developed.
  • Character Analysis: Cyrano. Students were asked to do the Character Analysis for Cyrano only, even though the original PBLU project suggests doing one for each of the 3 major characters. However, after seeing the amount of time it was taking students to comprehend doing one of these analysis, the cooperating teacher and I decided to keep it at one character. Next time I do this, I will plan on giving this after Act 2 and allowing students to pick one of the three main characters that they felt the strongest connection with. I think this would provide an interesting insight into my students, as well as produce better quality of work. Two examples of Cyrano follow below.  Keep in mind, these are works in progress and this is after the first submission to me. Students have only worked on their drawings at this point, and not their written analysis. 

Competency 2:

  • Analyzing Literature Acts 1-5. I decided to use the Glencoe (c) Cyrano de Bergerac Study Guide, with blessing from the English department, to help me determine students comprehension and analyzation of Cyrano. These were great study guides for the students and helped me to develop some pre-reading activities to get the students in the right mindset for the Act of the day. In retrospect, I wish I had done more of these pre-reading activities, as I know it really helped me put the students in the right mindset. I think it would have helped to have done this for all acts so that the students would have been more actively engaged. There were a few days where some of the students just weren't that into the reading, and I think setting the stage could have helped them to get there. 

Competency 3
  • Playlists for Acts 1-5 & Write-Up. Students were asked to really analyze the theme and compare how theme is represented in a classical piece of writing with contemporary music. I think that this is by far the coolest part of the project that we can do, yet my students are struggling to get it done. I'm not sure why they are struggling so much, though I believe it may have to do with their musical preference. I believe that the type of music they listen to doesn't reflect all of these themes, and they are nervous to expand their boundaries. Students are picking two themes prevalent in each of the acts and are citing specific examples from the text that represent this theme, as well as specific lyrics from their song. They are then asked to provide justification for how/why they represent the overall theme and how the theme is represented differently in both mediums. This is taking us the longest time right now, and is what students are finishing up for the week. Next time I run this project (next year, I can't wait!!), I plan on giving students the electronic copy of the Playlist Write-Up at the beginning of the Act and having them use their active reading to help track themes, as well as giving the students sticky notes to track the quotes that they would like to use. This would likely make this a quicker and smoother process for all. 

At this point, I've assessed their work two times. Each time, I've been providing feedback with a different colored pen indicating areas that they need to work on, or questions I would like more insight on. It seems to be an effective method for my students, because they are used to mastery-based grading, where they can continually re-do until they demonstrate the level of mastery necessary or that they would like to achieve. So far, I  have students asking me EVERY DAY what they can do to improve their scores. I have never seen that, even with other projects we have done. Previously, I've had a handful of students ask me one time each how to improve their score, they take my feedback and resubmit. This time, with two check-ins on all of the same material, students are asking each day as they go over their work and review it what could take them to the next level. Now I'm not saying this is the end-all-be-all: you must correct two times in different colors; but I am saying that I've had more than half of the class engaged in it, and that is a win in my book.

Aside from competency assessment, I've been assessing students in the following 21st century skills areas: collaboration, technology use, and critical thinking. The main one we have been working on here is collaboration, as we are trying to build ourselves a stronger sense of community.

Students are now on their third instance of collaboration, and I'm pleased to say it is working better now, even though I've changed students' groups each time. The first instance of (designed) collaboration was at the beginning of the project, where students were each reflecting on three timeless themes prevalent in their lives. Having a chance to think about it individually, write their thoughts, and then share, lead to greater collaboration and better products for their classroom posters on Themes Throughout Time. Students produced well thought out posters, even though they weren't the most creative or colorful. Students really enjoyed the opportunity to bond with one another over some of their issues and it brought the advisory closer as a group. Secondly, students have had the opportunity to collaborate on their playlist acts and give one another feedback, which has gone really well so far, but we are still in the process of finishing up. On top of that, they are meeting with their final product partners or small groups to discuss their performance pieces for next weeks' Project Showcase!

I think next time, I may try to have home groups that they can collaborate on any part of the project with throughout the project. I think the students would really benefit from having a core group of students to work with and reflect on their work with over the whole course of the project. This would be the group of students that feel most comfortable with one another, not necessarily the group of students that would benefit each other most academically or skill wise as we've done in some other grouping formations.

The hardest part to all of this? Time management. I totally thought the hardest part would be finding appropriate content to help my students (keep in mind I am NOT an English teacher), and maybe it would have been the hardest at another school, but with my awesome coworkers to help guide me in my searches, or give me their stamp of approval, I was able to come up with some pretty good material for the kids. Instead, the hardest part was making sure I managed MY time wisely to make sure that students received their specific and timely feedback in a timely fashion. It's a lot to read, and a lot to comprehend--I certainly have some more empathy for English teachers--but I'm glad I had the experience with them.

Sigh.... I can feel the project slowly wrapping up and I hate having to say good-bye to it. I feel an awful lot like I used to at my more traditional school when I would get to 5th period and think "Man.... I taught this lesson way better than I taught it to 1st and 2nd period." Well, practice makes perfect.