Posts Tagged ‘assessment’

(CCO public domain image from

(CCO public domain image from

So, I’ve been thinking about grading. The other day I wrote about how well my students were doing leading discussions of the book we were reading.

No problem there. My students continued to do a good job during all the presentations. The group leaders were prepared, and the rest of the class stepped up and participated solidly. I could even join in without it stopping conversation. For our last few conversations, I was back in charge. We had one okay discussion, and then the last class I had a particular activity that I wanted to do as a wrap up, big picture type thing.

Now the problem is, how to grade this?

I took notes during the discussion and asked the students to fill out a reflection/rubric. For the most part, they gave themselves high marks.

Why grade it, you may ask. Good question. Here are my reasons to grade this assignment:

  • I said this would be a graded activity, because I knew they would need to spend some significant time, and it’s a big part of class.
  • If students do a good job, I want to reward that. And, since they did mostly do really well, that is all good.
  • I’m not sure if we will be able devote this much time to student planned and led discussion later in the semester, so maybe I should grade it now, while I have something.

However, I don’t really want to grade them on this. Here are my reasons not to grade this assignment:

  • Each discussion gave the next group more to think about in terms of a model, especially at the beginning. The groups and the class got better at this format as we progressed.
  • Did early groups have a disadvantage? How/will I take that into account?
  • Group work is always hard to grade. Do I give the same score to everyone in the group? For a few groups, there was a clear less-active participant.
  • Do I really want these first attempts to be part of a cumulative average? They are hugely important for learning, but really this is formative work.

In a perfect semester, we would do this several more times. I could give feedback this time. We could work on adding complexity to some of their questioning. We would work on connecting to big themes. We would work up steadily to students leading discussion with more complex texts in terms of plot and numbers of characters.

Back in the real world, where I live, I can’t do everything. IF I spend all that time on leading discussion, we won’t be able to work on writing etc. We are finishing a short read of some comics/graphic novel. The format wasn’t familiar enough for students to lead on this one. And, I think it’s good to mix it up. We will be starting our last book for the semester shortly. It’s a big one with many characters of note, a number of interlocking storylines, and a lot of pages. I’m worried that between the number of pages I need people to read per night and the many things going on in the book, it would not be a good choice for general student led discussions. However, I might be able to plan some particular topic-chapter combinations that would work for shorter, focussed discussions.

None of this answers my grading question.

Anyone have any ideas?

So, I’ve been thinking about reflection. Again. Always. It is going to be a theme for the year at my school.

See, how that is working out? I slowly got more people on board, kept talking about how it was connected to whatever anyone was talking about. . .

Anyway, I had planned to start off with some get to know you/reflection form with my senior class. However, with this and that getting in the way, my questionnaire was incomplete and I was about to scrap it. Then, I ran into a colleague who was also asking her class some basic questions, and I was reinspired. I’m so glad I was.

I thought about what I would really need to know and what would be helpful for my students to think about. I also thought about those posts going around the interwebs at the moment about asking students what they wish their teacher knew about them. Here’s what I came up with.


Nothing fancy, but seemed reasonable.

Once again, I am so glad I asked. How often will I say/write this before I stop being amazed? Hard to say.

I learned lots of interesting information. Several students noted that they are visual learners. Right away I altered the product options for the first assignment. Rather than everyone having to make a rubric, which is not all that interesting visually, I made a flow chart/infographic an option as well. My goal for the work is for students to consider the characteristics they do and do not appreciate in ‘good reads’ and then to create a tool to use in measuring these same qualities.I’m looking for sophisticated comparison and evaluation along several characteristics. A rubric will work, but honestly it’s not the only thing that will work. And, rubric making is not the skill I am looking to improve so no one has to do that for me to get the information I want. A well done if-this-then-that chart with plenty of options and alternative routes will show me just as much of the student’s thought process and let me evaluate the complexity of their evaluation just as well.

The added bonus of giving additional product options is that if one particular product is more to a student’s liking, then I am more likely to get better work and work that more accurately demonstrates the student’s understanding. What teacher wants to spend time evaluating something that isn’t a good representation of a student’s ability or knowledge? Not this teacher.

I haven’t seen the products yet. And, I may need to give a little class time for tweaking as I did not do much explaining of the assignment, although it was described on the assignment sheet. (How much should I have to explain an assignment such as this to seniors, if I linked to examples of rubrics? A post for another time.) However, I am going to put this in the win category in terms of using student feedback to inform my teaching. I hope the products are good too.






So, I’ve been thinking about the assessments I give my students. My students have been thinking about the assessments too, mostly in a could-we-not-do-that kind of way.

Monsters and ninjas for prizes

Monsters and ninjas for prizes

Earlier in the month I announced it was time to write a book review of the novel we had just finished reading. Wild applause. Groans all around. These are second semester seniors. Please can we do something else. Can we do a presentation? Can we work in groups? I made no promises, but went home and thought about it. I thought about my goals for the assignment, our remaining time, and the final project, which is not changing. I also went to a talk by New York Times film critic A. O. Scott. Now, I do not currently watch a lot of movies because if my husband and I go out, I prefer to eat and talk, all without cooking or cleaning. We are now just in the no-babysitter-needed phase, but before that, if I was going to pay for a babysitter and sit in silence, the movie had to be awfully good. So, not a lot of movies got watched. Anyhow, a colleague asked if I wanted to go hear A. O. Scott at a local movie theater, and I said sure.

There I am listening to Mr. Scott, Tony it turns out, be interviewed. Super interesting. He talked about opinion writing and critique in general as “an exercise in explaining your thought process.” He spoke about the various and particular objectives and tactics one can employ in writing a review. One that stood out to me was the idea that a review might aim to introduce a work to an audience who would not guess the work would be of interest. In addition there was some fascinating discussion of which movies stand the test of time and make you want to watch them again. It was interesting to hear about movies that were audience and critical favorites that just faded away and those that were panned in their day, yet are now considered classics. It was totally energizing. I scribbled notes on whatever paper I could find in my purse. Then, I thought about which ideas I could use for my class.

The next day I combined part of an old idea from 5th grade with some A. O. Scott inspiration and some feedback from another colleague; I had a plan. (Once again, I would like to say how much I value talking to my colleagues and getting to bounce ideas off them. I do not know if they appreciate my bounciness, but I love it.) I decided that I wanted the students to consider evaluating the books we have read in comparison to each other across several categories. So, I made 3 groups; each group had someone who had read each book. Then I finalized my five categories: complex characters, quality writing, read again, effective message (we are reading YA literature so message is big), combination of narrative structure and story.

Here is my very quickly written description:

For this task, your group will determine the winner and runners-up (book or character) in each category. So you need a 1st, 2nd, 3rd place finisher. Your group should first review each book across each category. Not all group members will have read all the books, but each group should have someone who read each book. In order to make your choices, you will need to decide how you will define the categories. Then, apply that definition to the books to determine the winner and runners-up.

In class, a representative from your group will present your decision and explain the group’s reasoning. Quotations or page/chapter references are expected. Each group member must present at least one category. We will then evaluate the choices and the reasoning behind the choices. The group should also have a visual to support the decision. There may be prizes.

I set the groups working, “working”  maybe. Once again, I cannot claim that everyone was engaged, but as I went from group to group, there was solid conversation comparing the books, which was what I wanted to happen. This review and comparison work was certainly more significant work and better at addressing the essential questions of the course than a single book review. Plus, it served as a good lead up to the final writing assignment that will ask them to consider a number of titles. The day before the presentations someone asked what the prizes would be. I may have forgotten about that part, but luckily I had some left over prizes from bribing my personal kids to do things. I brought those in the next day. (I have written before about seniors being like 5th graders. This is true in prize preference too, since I said money was not an option.)

The presentations were totally solid. Sometimes it’s because the individual is good at winging it, but even the wingers had done the prep and were therefore able to be convincing and articulate. I certainly got a better sense of what they were thinking about and the type of considerations they were making than I would have from a book review or even a comparison paper. They do have to write and learn to write effectively, but that is not the only way to present a position. We spent an entire long block and then some to get through everything.

My Reflections:

There are definitely tweaks to be made to this. I evaluated on the spot and gave prizes to the entire team of the winning presenter for each category. This added a little tension which was not a bad thing for the group. However, I’d like the students to do more of the evaluating next time. Also, I’d include reflection the next class period to explain what separated good from very good. Mostly it came down to having and applying a specific definition for the category. Everyone had a definition and pretty good reasons why they chose the order they chose, but for some groups either the definition was very bland or they had a definition but then did not use it as their measure against which to determine the winners.

Also, I noticed that most of the winning books were the books that I taught rather than books they read in the literature circle groupsThe Phantom Tollbooth was the big winner with one student saying, “it’s basically the perfect book.” So, did I choose the best books to teach myself? Or, did they get a lot less out of the books they read more independently? I have a lot to think about with these two questions before I can answer them.

This is definitely an assessment strategy to keep polishing.

So, I’ve been thinking about tests and assessments in general. In particular, I have been thinking about students having choice around these tests.

I try to have a mix of assessments in my class. We write, we talk, we test. For our current book, Logicomix, we had a test. And, there were two field trips on different days, taking a few students from my class each day, and about half of my class gets extra time. What’s a thoughtful teacher to do?

I gave up having a single day for the test. We have a test and some short writing that needs doing, so this is what I put on my assignment sheet:

Due Tuesday, November 10th and Wednesday, November 11th

Over the course of these 2 days we will do the following:

  • In class you will pick one of the forum posts to expand to 400-500 words. You should have chosen what you will write and have made a plan before coming to class.
  • Test on Logicomix
  • I think the best plan, for those not on trips etc, is to do the expanded forum post on Tuesday so that there is time for review questions as well. Then, the test would be on Wednesday. If you would rather get the test out of the way on Tuesday, as planned, that is fine. I will be ready with it. IF you will be in class both days, and need extended time, plan to do part each day.

That’s a lot of options. And people came in ready to do various things. What I noticed was that each student had a plan upon arrival. Yay! Students were choosing what worked for them. Although I can make a guess at this, since I am not in their heads (and thank goodness for that), I just don’t know.

I had to make a chart to keep track of who was doing and completing what, but ok, I love charts.

Day 1:

  • 3 people out
  • 3 people doing the expanded forum post
  • 1 person starting on part 2 of the test
  • 5 people starting on part 1 of the test
    • Some of them moved on to Part 2, some will do it tomorrow.

Day 2:

  • 2 different people out
  • 1 person out for second day
  • more tests get finished and started
  • some forum posts get expanded upon

Next several days:

  • 3 other times students had to schedule to finish bits and pieces
  • several extra follow ups required by me


Part of why I could make this work is as an administrator, I don’t have a heavy teaching load. I have the flexibility to chase after people a little more and be available to supervise completing work at odd times. But, I also know that a colleague of mine who has a typical teaching load also does a lot of personal meetings with students for review and retesting. So, it is possible personalize the process.

I still liked that students owned some of the timing and decision-making around the test. It was not a secret test in that it followed a known format and review sheet so sharing information about it was not going to matter. I had already shared it. I didn’t like how much follow-up there was for me.

Would I do it again?

I think I might. However, I think I be either less or much more ambitious. Here’s what I mean. Less ambitious would be:  the test was a little shorter (it was a little long, I admit), the other work was not a turn-it-in situation, but rather a work on something that is ongoing (too much for me to keep track of), I would not do this at time when there were lots of absences/trips planned. On other hand, more ambitious would be: here are 4 days and a selection of products that need to come in. Tell me what you plan to do each day, stick to your schedule, come in and work quietly (this is key) at your own pace.

Hmmm. What do you think?

A Balanced Diet

Posted: October 15, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,
flickr photo by smiteme shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

flickr photo by smiteme shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

So, I’ve been thinking about assessment. One my “duties to be assigned later” is to co-chair, along with the three Division Heads, my school’s Prek-12 curricular group. This group consists of teacher leaders and academic deans or the equivalent. We focused on assessment last year and are continuing that topic this year.

One of our goals as leaders of the group was to broaden the types of assessments in each discipline. While we did not want to dictate that each department had to do one of this and one of that, we did want to diversify. I have taken to lobbying for a balanced assessment diet. I feel like this term respects that each discipline is different, while making it clear that all assessments being the same format is not the goal. I hoped that this phrase would give the department leaders a way to begin discussions with their department members–a way to say, “Let’s look at our assessments for any given course and see if they spread out the way we want them to.” Or, “Are our assessments assessing the skills that we teach?” Or even, “Are there skills we want to promote in our students that we are not assessing?”

A few of the chairpeople have adopted the balanced assessment diet term. And, what I hear when they speak is that they feel they have a framework that makes sense to them, that they can own. Again, it’s important, I believe, that as the leaders of the group we have not said your balanced assessment diet should be x. Maybe your department is going meatless, maybe your department loves a good milkshake. Fine, just mix it up with some fruit, some grains, some veg, a little good fat.

To continue with the food analogy, there should be something in the meal plan for everyone. I was discussing this issue today with @Betny802. My goal in assessing students is to find out what they have learned, give the students feedback on my findings, and report back to parents. If a particular type of assessment does not give me good information, I need to rethink that format. For example, when I taught 5th grade I had students write essays about the books we read. I used this writing to assess their writing skills. I did not use these papers to assess student reading comprehension for the most part. For 5th grader writing an essay was not an effective way to determine comprehension. Now that I teach in high school,  papers are a more common tool for general assessment in English class, but not the only tool. Students are more experienced readers and writers, and the expectation is that they should be able to write effectively enough that their writing is an accurate reflection of their thinking. Sometimes this is true. And, writing will not be everyone’s best format for communication.

Over the course of a semester or year, I want students to learn content and skills and be able to demonstrate that knowledge. Some of what students will learn is how to demonstrate knowledge in a particular format. However, I never want a student to know that all assessments will that dreaded format x. Therefore, if I assess everything in this one form, knowing there are students who are better in other forms, I have ensured that the information I gather is really about student ability in a particular format.  I should assess in a variety of ways over the course of a semester. In fact, I believe it is my responsibility to do so. Am I super-assessment-teacher all the time? No. Sometimes I am more successful, sometimes less. But by keeping the goal of a balanced assessment diet in mind, I think I can come closer to my goal.


So, I’m just getting to making some sense of the evaluations of our “Who Owns History?” conference.

The first thing I did was just average (or rather tell the spread sheet to average for me) the rating for the day (1-5 scale). The average was 4.4. I’d say that’s a pretty good start. So, the kids liked it.

Next, did they learn anything?

Here are some answers to the question “what is one thing you learned in the session” (answered 3 times per survey, 1x for each session):

  • you can think an artifact is so much different from what it really is
  • I learned about observation and inference
  • things are not always what they seem
  • That when you look at something that is not in your generation, you will most likely misinterpret it
  • misinterpretations can happen at anytime.
  • I learned that listening to stories can make archeology fun!
  • It can be hard for archaeologists to identify artifacts.
  • I learned that the artifacts that we find now are what people in the future will think of our everyday things that we couldn’t imagine life without.  Also people in the future might misinterpret what it is and make something else of it.
  • Never judge something by the way it looks without doing some research first.
  • I learned that King Tut was found by Howard Carter they gave King Tut to people to clean him. Now they want King Tut back.
  • I learned that hills form when different cities and structures collapse and the more layers that fall the bigger the hill gets. Also when you dig something up you will see those layers, and the bottom layer is the oldest.
  • That you can use everyday household objects to tell a story
  • You can tell your history with plants and buildings. Not just writing on paper
  • Lots of different things can tell stories
  • That there are many stories out there, you just have to look closely.
  • I learned that you can’t bring artifacts from one country to another.
  • that you can tell stores with out writing
  • it’s hard to find out what things are
  • that the Egyptians should have their ancient artifacts
  • That some people didn’t like that the US took Egyptians discoveries
  • small mistakes can lead to big discoveries
  • Some museums didn’t have very good security
  • It can be hard for archaeologists to identify artifacts.
  • That there were criminals even that long ago!
  • That the people in Egypt wanted their artifacts in Egypt but everyone else wanted it for them to take care of because they thought they would keep it more safe.
  • that in archaeology it is very difficult to find out who owns the artifacts, and that every one thinks differently about who gets it.
  • All about how different people in Egypt, USA and Europe feel about where Egyptian artifacts belong
  • we have artifacts of our own
So, I’d say they learned some things.
What next? Well, we asked them that too. Here’s what they said about future conferences.
First, the answers to the question how to make it better fell into these basic categories:
  • longer
  • longer
  • all day
  • more time

The answers to what should another conference, if you think we should have one, be about were more varied:

  • the ocean
  • the economy or current events
  • healthy food choices
  • debates about silly things
  • Ancient Greece or Rome
  • Math or a book club like thing
  • War
  • Reading or writing
  • more artsy things
  • the rain forest
  • mostly the same topics except the topics in session 3 were not all that interesting to me.
  • Greek or Egyptian gods
  •  I think we should have another conference that is all day and covers a lot of different topics. I don’t know what would be a good topic, but we should definitely have another one.
  • mummies
  • all about Egypt
So, the kids liked it; they learned something; they want more.
Who am I to say no to that?

So, I’ve been thinking about what do on the day before spring break when there will be a few too many people absent to do something new and a few too many people present to just do fluff all day. I planned my formal assessments for the day before the last day since I actually needed everyone to do them.

Then I planned a super-fun, if I do say so myself, day of running around and showing me what you know about Ancient China. Yes, you read that correctly. Why don’t I tell you about it.

First, the background:

  • We have been studying Ancient China.
  • I gave a map quiz, but needed to assess student knowledge on dynasties etc.
  • I really didn’t want to give a standard test.

Here’s what I thought about as I planned:

  • This blog post by Hadley Ferguson about how a colleague of hers combines physical activity and coursework.
  • If we’ve been doing group work maybe I should try group assessment.
  • I wonder what my kids would like to do?

Step 1:

  • I talked with my class about the fact that I needed to know what they had learned.
  • I posted on our class blog asking for suggestions of games or activities we could play.
  • We reviewed the many helpful blog comments and had more discussion in class.

Step 2:

  • I settled on 3 games (a version of “The Amazing Race,” memory, and a version of Capture the Flag)
  • I spend a ton of time making the games, the answer sheets, laminating, color coding, etc.
  • I make charts to record “data” as the games progressed.

Step 3:

  • Let the games begin
And the results are in: VICTORY!
Proof it was a success (another list):
  • I overheard more than 1 student say “I studied so much.”
  • I also overheard someone say, “I forgot my notes so I read over the whole chapter. It took me forever.”
  • All of the above was said with smiles and excitement.
  • I am NOT kidding.
  • Students had a great time running around looking for clues and answering questions in “The Amazing Race.”
  • They strategized and made secret signals to get information to team members in the dynasty memory game.
  • They huddled to perfect their explanations for the tough questions in “Capture the Dynasty.”
  • I got plenty of information about who knew what.
  • We all went home happy.
(Photo by Dennis Jarvis used under Creative Commons license)