Thursday, September 27, 2012

Let's Get Real About Assessment...and Technology

Before we begin, let me first say that I am not an assessment expert. There are many people who could talk circles around me when it comes to assessment. But I have witnessed many different assessment practices, have been involved in many assessment conversations, and have been through my share of assessment for learning training. These experiences and my own teaching experiences have shaped my opinions on assessment.

For the past two days, I was involved in vendor presentations for assessment systems. These companies, which will remain nameless, all showcased systems that did essentially the same thing. Each system gave us way to test students and get data back on a variety of standards. Some of the technology that was on display was simply awesome! From the easy to use interfaces, to the types of multimedia questions that could be used, to the tracking abilities, and to the types of input devices that could be used, these systems showcased some great assessment technology! As a tech guy, you would think this would be all great but it was not. 

Seeing all the technology and what it could do, just made me reflect on where we are now in terms of assessment. If a system like these are going to succeed, there are going to be changes that have to occur in our everyday practices.

1. Standards replacing letter grades - With assessment systems, the greatest strength is the ability to tie questions to standards. From this, teachers can get the data to see if students are meeting the standards. From this data, teachers can adjust their instruction and truly differentiate to meet the needs of their students. Notice that I have not talked about a percentage or a letter grade. Unfortunately, we still need grades for that grade book so a letter grade can be given at the end of the quarter. Are we ready to make the jump to standards based learning and reporting or will we not take advantage of a new assessment system and just use it to grade tests for us?

2. Teachers as data analysts - When I started teaching, the only data I remember having is the yearly standardized test data. I had my grades from my grade book and my observations, but I did not have the capability to easily collect target data on my students. Now with an assessment system, teachers have assess to tons of reports. To make the most of this system, teachers will need to learn how to pick the best report and interpret the data. These are new roles and we know that change does not come easy. It is a change in practice and an additional responsibility. How are we going to make this work?

3. Teachers as assessment experts - It made me smile during these meetings when I heard some other teachers talking about assessment practices after seeing the presentations. By seeing the possibilities, it caused the participants to reflect on their current assessment practices. I was hearing discussions on formative and summative assessments, what types of assessments were best to be used with an assessment system, etc. With greater assessment and data analysis tools, we as teachers need to become assessment experts to take advantage of the system to get the right data. It is now not good enough to be instructional experts, we need to be assessment experts too.

When it comes down to it, any system we choose is only going to be as good as our assessment practices allow it to be. Are we willing to change and step out of our comfort zone? 

Just like anything else, the technology can be great but it is all in the application. I am excited by the possibilities!


Monday, September 17, 2012

Class Dojo for Report Card Data

I have been hearing more and more about Class Dojo so I figured it was time to take a deeper look at this program. As a classroom management tool, it does a good job of keeping track of positive and negative behaviors. With the accompanying app, you don't have to be tethered to your laptop or interactive whiteboard to track behavior. I can remember many times where I was working with a small group and I had to correct behaviors of other students working independently. With the app, I can quickly record the positive and negative behaviors and get back to teaching my small group.

I have seen teachers apply several strategies when using Class Dojo. Some teachers only give points for positive behaviors and do not record the negative behaviors. They want to focus on the positive. Others give only negative because that is the data they are tracking. Some teachers reset the points after a week so everyone gets a fresh start. Most teachers I have seen do not take advantage of the student and parent connections that are offered through the program. They simply want the data to be their own. No matter how it is used, Class Dojo is a great data collection tool for behavior.

So let's go back to the title of this post...How can Class Dojo be used for report card data?

Here is a sample of a 4th grade report card:

I always struggled with filling in this portion of the report card. With every other section, I had grades as my proof or justification of the grade.For behavior, I usually had to go with my overall thought without any data to back it up. With Class Dojo, I can customize the behaviors to match my report card. This strategy allows me to track data that I can use when filling out the report card.

Here are some screenshots that show how this would look in the Class Dojo web version (left) and the Class Dojo app (right).

Notice that when you are using the app, it does not display long titles. This is something to consider if you are going to use your smartphone to track behavior with Class Dojo. I would recommend using keywords that will display no matter which version you use.

The other strategy I would use is to make the positive and negative behavior titles the same. So in my example, I would input the report card behavior indicators in for both positive and negative behaviors. In this way, my data is aligned to what is reported at the end of the quarter.

I definitely recommend that you check out Class Dojo. Besides the ability to track behavior, Class Dojo is easy to use, has a great interface, and enough reporting features to make it worthwhile.

It is technology that actually works!