Thinking about assessment (old post)

Posted: August 3, 2010 in Uncategorized
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(post from my old blog Feb 7, 2010)

Last year I started using a classroom blog, mostly devoted to language arts. By the end of the year there were 1,701 comments. Most of those comments were part of assignments, and I therefore thought they might need some sort of assessing. Even when I was wearing my superhero cape, there was no way I could keep up.

When assignments are on paper, I can just put a quick comment on it that indicates I read it and it was acceptable. When all the work is digital and on a blog, what to d? I used to feel like I needed and the students needed me to comment on each of their comments. But, it turned out that as long as I made it clear that I was reading the comments, by what we talked about in class and by mentioning some in particular in my next post, my students were satisfied. Plus, I am guessing that since they could see what their classmates were writing, they didn’t actually need me to tell them how they were doing as much as they did when everything was “private.”

However, I teach at an independent school where parents certainly expect some feedback and where report cards in the lower school are a combination of narrative comments and a skills check-list (where I give a check, check + or -). So, I need to do some assessment and record it so that when conference time or that dreaded report-card-writing-time comes around, I have data (even though  it is not numbers and percentages). My “grade book” is not so much a collection of numbers as a collection of comments on assignments. I might write down the check, check plus etc, but more importantly, I write down a few notes on what parts of the assignment the student “got” and what parts we not as successful. An example of a typical comment might be “+details, tried to connect, no big idea.” And on the paper products of student work I would write some expanded and more tactful version of the same.

This year I also am serving on a “teaching and learning task force” which is looking at about school-wide systems. So, putting those ideas together has led me to be thinking about an assessment system for all of the digital work my students produce–a system that involves neither me emailing comments on everything (the hours that would take!) nor printing things out endlessly.

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • I think of a lot of assignments in groups. That way, no one assignment is critical and I focus on the progress of a student over a brief span of time.
  • Sometimes I just check for completion of a series of comments and then ask students to pick one comment to perfect and edit for assessment. This allows me to give the same type of assignment several times, the students to “practice” if you will, and the assessment to be on a second try at the student’s choice of best work.
  • I try to have a limited number of skills I’m trying to get at with a group of assignments: inferring or making connections or noticing details. Then, my notes in my “grade book” are about how close a student is to being able to perform this skill independently.
  • And, my newest cool system is the best. It is based on the box-score format in baseball. I have just started using it for our poetry unit where I put up a few poems each night and students comment at least half the nights, although many comment every day. So, a check in the box means the student left a comment for that poem. I add a brief note about the topic of the comment (details, liked it, language, etc). Then, and this is the good part, I make a diagonal mark across various corners of the box to indicate different actions. Top right=I commented directly to this comment on the blog (I need to spread my comments around). Bottom left=student left a threaded comment for another student. Top left=student referred to another student’s idea in his/her comment. And I note how many comments the post has gotten so that I can go back and know if anything new is there without reading the whole comment thread again.

Here’s a not-so-great picture of my “poetry score-card” system.

So far, I love my poetry score-card. I feel like it gets me lots of information, is not at all tedious, and is relatively quick. I hit the trifecta!

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