assessment & reporting

First look at Schoology

So, it’s one week into using Schoology and pretty impressed so far. It has all the essentials you’d want to see in an LMS including flexible resources and management, assignments, discussion forums, file submission, even badges.

I’d like to see a better looking update system that’s not so teacher-centric, like when a student posts a discussion post or not so m manual. Students shouldn’t have to dig down through the folder list to see if there’s something new, and I shouldn’t have to manually tell them either.

This is how the resources are organised;  there’s folders that can contain a range of resources.

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In this folder there’s some PDFs, a JPG and a homework assignment. Assignments get reminders on the front and I get an email when a student has submitted some work.

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Early days but the rubric section looks pretty powerful. I set up a homework assignment with four criteria and a simple rubric and you can see here that one student has already submitted it. It was easy to mark, but the in-house editing and annotating tools were pretty clunky. It wouldn’t highlight where I pointed, and a comment spread over the whole document . In the end I chose the option of downloading the file, annotating in in Word, saving it, then uploading it again. A bit of a disappointment as far as work-flow goes.

Also, I haven’t found yet whether I’m able to just tick that something has been submitted (like a bit of homework) without assigning a grade.  It wants a number of letter. I’ve tinkered around with a simple rubric that says Done/Not Done, but even that wants to assign some points or grades.

 

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I did have a quick go at a class quiz and that does seem to have some pretty powerful features with a range of question types available like multiple choice, true/false, short answer and match-up the answers like here:

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In the end, whether Schoology works will be in the workflow for me and my students.  It’s got to be better than email, or a shared Dropbox folder. So far, it’s promising, but the fact that new resources don’t automatically create an  update, and that the in-house annotating tools are so bad, it might not last for me or my students as a tool beyond our initial semester trial.

 

I don’t want to even talk about PISA

PISA results were released this week. The media has enjoyed it a lot.

I have some strong reservations about the validity of the testing, the meaningfulness of national comparisons and the subsequent media league tables, teacher-blaming and contrived anguish in the Murdoch press that inevitably follows: ‘Our kids dumber than ten years ago.’. Yes, I think this really helpful to all concerned.

I could put up a list of links pointing to articles that talk about this stuff, but look it up.

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Creating Learning Centred Learning Environments

This post was written at the Idea13 #idea13 Conference, MCG, 12/11/2013

Alison Miller from Vanguard Visions talked about learner centered environments with a particular focus on eportfolio approaches to showcasing learning, a refreshing change from the hard data of the first two presentations.

I liked her description of portfolios as ‘a personal control tower for the learner; personal online spaces, with digital objects to manage evidence of their own learning including to present, reflect, plan, collaborate and share their learning.’

Maybe for transition, recognition, assessment, career development …

Alison’s slideshare presentation is embedded here.

Change and continuity in teaching Literature

I’ve been trying to be more actively interventionist in my Literature teaching this year, inspired by some thinking about Personalised Learning I’ve been moved to consciously work on some ‘high impact micro-teaching strategies’ that might help student learning as a follow up to some thinking on formative assessment over the past couple of years.

So, I’ve kept the things that have been working pretty well (the wikis, using OneNote as the default teaching, presenting and note-taking tool) and the blog as the primary means of communicating class news and information.

But I’ve also tried some new things too. I’ve also been up front with the students about that, talking them through my thinking and what the intention/s are. They’re Year 12 students after all, 17 or 18 old most of them, well able to understand these approaches and generally just as keen to do well as I am for them to do well.

We began with a ‘no-hands’ up approach to discussions and I showed them a couple of bits of research about that, including this piece from the BBC.  This approach, coupled with greatly increased ‘wait-time’ has seemed to make the class more generally attentive and receptive. I haven’t had a problem getting discussion going with this group; they’re great about that, but the ‘no hands up’ means that everyone is involved potentially.

I also moved the room around a bit, based on some feedback I got from a couple of teachers who sat in one of my lessons for a ‘classroom observation’ project we’re trialling. I’m stuck with little individual ‘test-style’ tables and, yes I could bundle them into ungainly little squarish pods each lesson, but the next teacher would probably untangle all that and start again. So, I’ve tried a kind of horseshoe arrangement that I use for lots of meetings I run, where students can really make good eye-contact with each other in all the conversations. They’re still all facing the front where the data projector (and teacher) is, but it’s generally more conducive to a good collaborative atmosphere and, importantly, the other teachers who use the room, can mostly tolerate it and don’t shift things back.

I’m going to do more surveys too, shorter surveys more regularly. I generally do an end of semester student survey and end of year but, inspired by a young English teacher who’s been giving her students short surveys using Google Docs (I don’t even know how to do that) I plan to do more surveys online using our own school system.

I did the first survey this week and already it’s given me some good feedback that I intend on acting upon right now, rather than wait until the end of the semester. This is all about helping students improve as they go. I found that they haven’t much enjoyed the poetry cartoon tasks I’ve been setting, which is interesting as I wouldn’t have picked that. I liked them!

And they’re sometimes not so sure about how well they’re going, the kind of progress they’re making. So I want to work on more individual feedback more often, short, focused learning conversations perhaps.

I was also inspired by another teacher to try the “Icy pole sticks”. A simple technique, that you’d often do with younger students, of having an icy pole stick for each student, with their name on it, and selecting the stick at random and asking that student to answer the question. A kind of simple randomiser, and you can just keep selecting sticks at random, or move them from the big pile to a ‘used’ pile to ensure that questions are distributed around the room. I told my class about the idea and got them to name and decorate their stick with some iconographic aspect of themselves. Which was fun.

So, the icy pole sticks, combined with wait time, and the ‘no hands up’, has helped reshape some of the questioning that goes on in the classes so often. And helped make me more conscious of this approach even though, every now and then, I’m drawn to ask the keen student who I know is itching to say something.

Finally, the questioning itself has been sharpened by trying a technique called: ‘Pose, Pause, Bounce, Pounce’, where a question is posed, wait time is added, the question is responded to, bounced to another student, and then a third is asked what they thought of those answers. Sounds more complicated than it is and you can read about it at the Guardian HERE

I’ve just started to try to collect some of these techniques on a Diigo list HERE.  Suggestions are welcome, particularly focused on assessment for learning strategies.

Finally, some traditions are too good to change. Cake day, once every fortnight at the end of the day, is a student-inspired initiative that I’m happy to continue just as it is.

Teachers ‘phobic’ over test data (Murdoch press obsessed with it)

Or at least that’s how Tom Alegounarias, a board member on the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority and president of the NSW Board of Studies, sees it in a ‘hard-hitting’ (read self-aggrandizing) speech at a conference in Sydney somewhere yesterday as reported in the Murdoch press.

No doubt over neatly wrapped mints, glasses of chilled water and an audience who have been nowhere near a classroom in years Mr Algeounarias said that teachers had been dragged reluctantly to the discussion on data.

“The profession has generally been dragged reluctantly to the part of the educational debate that focuses on identifiable and measurable attainment.

“We’re reluctant to be associated too closely with any data that purports to sum up a level of achievement or pattern of attainment, no matter how popular it appears to be to outsiders.

“We are seen . . . to engage with the issue of measurement only to resist it.”

Mr Alegounarias said teachers had to discard their “phobia” of data and instead seize the initiative and develop better and more valid ways of measuring and comparing student performance.

This reluctance to embrace the use of student data was hampering efforts to improve education and overcome the effects of social disadvantage, he said.

Well, perhaps. But that might be because of the paucity of quality data, the reliance on standardised testing (and standarised curriculum Mr ACARA) and the way the data is mis-used by the (Murdorch) press to create the quasi-league tables and the simplicity that comes out of all that.

I attended an ACER Conference a while ago on ‘Using Data to Support Learning’ and got a lot out of it. Trouble is, the data simplifies what is in fact very complex and leads to blanket simplified approaches that improve testing scores but have little connection with real learning.

NAPLAN’d Out

It’s been a big week, chock-full of NAPLAN testing, among other things. Three mornings of more paper-shuffling than you can poke a 2B pencil at.

And is it worth the effort? Mine, my team or the students? I doubt it. I’ve blogged about NAPLAN before: about teaching to the test, the new lows of league tables, and the fact that other places like England  have begun to reject the national testing agendas we’ve turned into an industry.

And, there’s plenty of arguments against going down the NY schools pathway that Julia Guillard has latched on to with such enthusiasm.  This SMH article described how testing has actually failed NY schools, or this City Journal article, Can NY clean up the testing mess? that describes Campbell’s law:

“The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

Or, as this National Times article put it:

The big question is why Australia would want to emulate a country like the US where academic performance standards are, on average, much lower and where educational opportunity for many children depends on the luck of a lottery draw.

Even Kevin Donnelly has changed his mind about this stuff, as he writes here in The Drum: and says, among other things:

• Testing has failed to raise standards in England or New York and is now seen as counter-productive. Diane Ravitch’s most recent book, The death and life of the great American school system, details the flaws with NY’s model of standardised testing and high-risk accountability.

According to the US national test (NAEP), NY’s results have flatlined. In the UK, notwithstanding national tests and league tables, standards have also failed to improve and the Rose Report, evaluating primary school curriculum in the UK, argues against an over-emphasis on one-off basic skills tests.

• The curriculum has been narrowed and the focus is on basic skills instead of higher order thinking. Subjects like music, art, physical education and history fall by the wayside as teachers and schools focus on drilling for literacy and numeracy tests.

• Schools and teachers are adopting suspicious ways to get better results – poor students are excluded from tests, weak students are told to stay at home, teachers cheat by helping students in the classroom.

• US and Australian test experts agree that standardised tests like NAPLAN are unreliable, invalid and cannot be trusted (it’s lies, damn lies and statistics).

I’ll leave the last word to some of the kids who sat the test this week. Yes, I know that re-tweeting is easy, but so is pretending you’re actually doing something about learning by giving every student who happens to be the same age in Australia exactly the same test.

Meanwhile, on another island…

Not sure what it is with my latest habit of titling my posts with old references to film and TV (the title here is from my old fave ‘Gilligan’s Island”) but it just seemed to fit.

Just as we are sitting the students down to NAPLAN testing, news from the old dart is that those tests are being boycotted for the very same reasons many teachers have reservations about NAPLAN here.

The BBC report said:

Many head teachers say that the tests damage children’s education because they encourage teachers to “teach to the test”, so that other subjects are squeezed out of the curriculum.

And the league tables, they say, humiliate schools and do not show what they and their pupils really achieve.

The industrial action is being taken by the National Association of Head Teachers and heads and deputies in the National Union of Teachers but members are free to stage the action or not.

Mick Brookes, the general secretary of the NAHT, said it was wrong that a whole school should be held to account by a set of tests taken by one year-group.

“Of course schools need to be held to account. But they need to be held to account for what every child is doing in the school and the breadth of the curriculum, not just narrowing it down to English and maths.”

and from the GUARDIAN:

In Camberley, nine primary and junior schools that are members of the Surrey Heath Confederation of Schools had pupils sit old papers.

In a letter to parents, they explained: “We have no objection to testing and assessing children, but firmly believe that this should be done at a time, in a place and in a manner that is right for the children and that testing should underpin teacher judgment, not override it. Our objection relates to the way the government uses the test data, much of which is flawed by inconsistent marking.”

David Harris, the headteacher of one of the schools, Ravenscote junior school, said: “Obviously the children and staff have prepared all year for the Sats and what we wanted to do was provide a solution. Our problem is not with the testing, the issue we have is how the results are used.

“The schools in our confederation are doing an amazing job with the children they’ve got. But they have children with different needs and from different social backgrounds, and Sats don’t appreciate those things.”

Secondary schools could get a better picture of the performance and needs of individual pupils in next year’s intake by talking to teachers and hearing their personal assessments than through Sats results, Harris added.

Meanwhile, on this island…