Saturday, July 25, 2015
CYBER PD- BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
Several years ago, my state encouraged teachers to use a new computerized assessment tool. This tool, which shall remain nameless, was touted as the be all and end all, it could differentiate, diagnose kids' reading needs, and prescribe instruction. I was teaching fourth grade that year. Every six weeks, we would march off to the library, where a bank of computers was set up, and children would take the assessment. Some children took it very seriously. I still remember Alicia's look of consternation as she told me, "I knew, right away, that I had chosen the wrong answer for the first question. But it wouldn't let me go back and fix it." That time she dropped two years, then made a remarkable gain, four years growth, six weeks later.
And I remember Taylor, a great big Saint Bernard puppy of a guy, who had never read a book but read his way through the entire STINK series that year, then graduated to BIG NATE. He finished in about three minutes every time. "I hate those tests," he said. "The words (font) are too little."
Mostly I remember the post-test data review meetings. We'd review the scores one child at a time. They varied wildly from one administration to the next. I was supposed to be able to tell why. And mostly I couldn't. I didn't think I was doing anything differently, except maybe worrying more, during the six weeks when kids did well, than I was in the six week blocks when they did poorly. I had other sources of data-- running records, reading logs, reading responses, anecdotal notes-- but those didn't hold the legitimacy of this test.
We gave those tests for two more years after I left fourth grade. I had moved to a coaching position and helped administer the test to everyone from kindergarten to fifth grade. I saw similar trends with the older kids. With our kindergarten and first grade kiddos, it was a disaster. They weren't used to headphones. They didn't know how to use the mouse. The test didn't measure, at all, what they knew about early literacy skills. Instead it totally measured their technology skills. We ended up using the DRA/EDL word analysis tasks to get the data we actually needed.
I thought of this experience as I read Chapter Six. On page 92, Franki and Bill state, "We must ensure that we are assessing students' growth as readers and writers rather than assessing isolated technology skills." So, so, so true. I would add, "And when we use technology, we must triangulate the data with information from other sources, just like we always have."
And we must receive the data in a timely fashion. Like so many others, we administered the PARCC last year. We haven't seen any results. We don't have any information we can use. So why are we giving it.
I do think, though, that there is a positive side to assessment with technology. On page 93 and 94, Franki and Bill share several tools. At my school, we have been using Google Docs for the past several years. We use it to compile data, to track progress in reading, writing and math, and to keep notes on behavior. I don't think we have arrived, though. Teachers dutifully enter the data, but I don't think they always see it as useful, or use it to guide their instruction. We have a ways to go in that area. I want to try Evernote and see if they like that better. And I bought an iPhone, so I can start taking pictures and videos of student learning.
As I read this chapter, I also thought about the whole aspect of monitoring student growth in using technology. We need to being the year by figuring out what role technology plays in kids' lives. For that reason, I loved the digital reading interview on page 89. If we really are helping our students to become college and career ready, they have to know how to use technology. They have to be able to do internet research, to analyze the credibility of sources, to annotate text, to compare sources, to use information they find, etc. They have to be able to collaborate, and to write and create. It seems to me that we need to somehow keep track of whether we are helping them do that.
And yes, I agree with Franki and Bill, that we have to bring families into the mix, just like we always have with "more traditional" forms of learning. We have to know what access kids have at home. I really couldn't say how many of my students have computers and internet at their houses, but most of them have smart phones. And they have social media accounts. This week, I was floored when a teacher showed me a fifth grader's Facebook page. This little guy is very, very shy. He struggles and struggles and struggles in school. And yet he creates incredible graphics on his Facebook page. And I wonder why we never knew about this strength. Or tapped into it.
I wonder how we can use social media with our parents. Our assistant principal created a Facebook page. I wanted to post on it several times a week this summer, but I haven't done as much as I had hoped. When we do post, we don't get lots and lots of hits from parents, so I wonder if they look at it, and if it's worth our time.
I would love to encourage teachers to set up websites, but I wonder about that too. This week, I watched a teacher update a class website. It was beautiful and looked pretty functional too. There was a button for a weekly newsletter, for class assignments, for kids' work. When I commented on her website, she said her principal requires her to have a website, but she doesn't think parents use it much. She teaches at one of the most affluent schools in Denver and I wonder what it would be like at my school, where the parents are far less educated.
Lots to think about in Chapters 6 and 7. I am left with many more questions than answers…