As I finished out the Chippewa River Writing Project’s (CRWP) Summer Institute for the first time as a co-director, I had the opportunity to give feedback to my group members that I worked with for almost four weeks. As we sat on my colleagues couches and bar stools, I started to think about authentic assessment and what the definition of authentic assessment actually is in relation to what I was doing with CRWP participants as well as what I do with my students on a yearly basis.
Realizing I hadn’t given much thought to authentic assessment, I started doing some digging. In the past I had focused more attention on formative -vs- summative assessment. As I begin researching the idea of authentic assessment, I knew that I needed help from someone who was familiar with assessments and had vested time with the subject at hand. I emailed a writing project colleague and friend Scott Filkins (@scottfilkins). Scott is the author of Beyond Standardized Truth: Improving Teaching and Learning through Inquiry-Based Reading Assessment (Principles in Practice). He has also worked with students in grades 6-12 and works with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) on the ReadWriteThink resources.
When I emailed Scott I asked him to direct me towards some resources on authentic assessment. Scott replied with a few questions that I had never considered before and therefore plunged me further into thinking about authentic assessment. Scott asked:
“Do you mean assessment that’s true assessment in the sense that it’s embedded in the ongoing work of the local classroom ecology and truly shapes a teacher’s understanding of a kid and what’s next for him or her? Or do you mean the kind of authentic assessment that’s like project based where the kids are doing something “authentic” with reading/writing/literacy?”
Both questions were spectacular in regards to how broad I began my thinking. As I thought about the questions, I knew that I was thinking more along the lines of students doing something “authentic” with literacy. After all, that is what participants of the Summer Institute had completed for us to review.
On the other hand, I was also thinking authentic assessment was the type of feedback we give students when we grade their assignments. I sat down and took approximately 3 1/2 hours to give solid feedback to four individuals. I didn’t fill out a rubric or grade a multiple choice test. I was giving each person what I felt was valuable feedback on the pieces they created during their time of the Summer Institute. Feedback that was going to help them become better writers and teachers.
The more I thought about it and read some of the great resources Scott Filkins had shared with me, I started to realize that authentic assessments and authentic feedback are two different things. They weren’t the same. However, we can’t give students authentic feedback unless we give them authentic assessments. By giving our students more authentic assessments we can then make better decisions about curriculum and more effectively communicate with our students about their learning. Therefore, making them better learners and helping them understand where they are and where they need to go!
As a result of my research and help from awesome colleagues like Scott Filkins, I will reflect more about the assessments my students complete this school year and the feedback I give to them.
With the final day of middle school writing tech in the books as of yesterday, I can officially say it was a huge success. I would have completed this post yesterday, but I needed to catch up on some much needed rest. The very last day I did a video writing prompt with the kids. We watched the Duck Song which is easily accessible on Youtube. If you type in Duck Song in the search box, you won’t have a problem finding it! Upon completion of viewing the video, I asked the campers how the video was related to writing and what made it so appealing. We also discussed the idea of visual literacies. The campers really wanted to make their own video that mirrored the Duck Song, but unfortunately we didn’t have the time. It may be something to consider for next year.
Upon completing their writing into the day with the video prompt, we had our last guest speaker. Our last speaker was an individual who was a head of some of the food services at CMU. He actually runs the small bagel shop in the EHS building. He discussed with the campers what someone in his position does on CMU and how the food service works at CMU. I myself was really amazed at the processes that took place to meet the needs of all of the CMU students when they are all on campus. Creating surveys and reports on student population were just a few of the items he discussed dealing with the writing world.
When our speaker was done speaking, he took us on a tour of one of the dining places on campus. It was huge! The kids really were able to understand better what has to take place to feed over 6000 students who attend CMU. The students really enjoyed their free ice cream too.
After returning from our tour and eating a quick lunch, we talked to the students about fast food and doing research on some of their favorite fast food restaurants or foods. The students learned about the research process and what to look for in a trustworthy source, especially when it comes to the internet. Though the students didn’t have an enormous amount of time because it was the last day, the students were given more specific topics dealing with food and asked to research their topic online and then report back what they find. Some students wrote a small blurb, others showed a short video. This lesson/activity they did is great, but I would like to introduce it to them on the first day next year and then by the end of the week they can present their findings in a digital video, podcast, or a glog of some sorts. They could even create a cartoon on toondoo.com to create some sort of venue to show what they have learned. It was a lot for them to do in one day.
At the end of the day, the campers worked on their piece they were going to submit for our anthology. Each student contributed one piece to our anthology and as co-directors we are putting together an anthology which will be mailed to them. After they were done polishing their piece and sending it to me via Google Docs, they anxiously waited for their parents and guardians to arrive. The participants then took some time to go over all of the work they completed throughout the week and showed them Youth Voices. This lasted about a half hour and then we came back together as a whole group and volunteers shared with the whole group.
Overall, I feel the camp went really well. The students seemed to have a really great experience using the Ipads, listening to various speakers talk about writing, and visiting different places to get inspired to write. It was incredible how many of the campers came up to me to say thank-you for the week. It meant a lot to me! In addition, there were many parents who commented on the fact that they would be back next year. With this being our first year, there are a lot of thing we can improve upon. On the other hand, we are hoping this group can be a solid base and all of them return next year. I definitely want to direct again next year and incorporate Youth Voices once again too. Thanks to all who have followed our adventure this week!
Day 3 of writing tech camp is in the books! My how time will fly. We spent the first half of the day doing our writing marathon. For those of you who are not familiar with the National Writing Project and their work, participants of the summer institute do a writing marathon where we visited different places and wrote. With the middle schoolers, we visited the campus greenhouse, the sports arena complex, and the library. The students not only had various places and items to motivate and inspire them to write, but they learned about some wonderful places on CMU campus.
Upon completing our marathon and returning to our lab, the students took time to cool down and eat their lunch. Then, we had another guest speaker talk with the students. Our free-lance writer writes for the CMU paper and shared two short videos with the students about her trip to Mexico where her and some other students who are going into teaching, worked with students who had very little. The video was great and she used it as a lead into a discussion about how our writing should be as if we are looking through a video camera lens. Our writing should invoke all our senses. We should use as many senses to appeal to the readers of our writing. She completed a writing activity with the students that allowed them to choose from several different prompts and then the campers found ways to make their writing better by answering some questions that surrounded the prompt. In addition, they learned synonyms that made their writing stronger. For instance, words like polite, kind, friendly, likable, and charming can be used instead of “nice”.
To conclude our day, the campers worked on completing their pieces of writing from the marathon we embarked on earlier in the day. I posted two discussions on Youthvoices and the campers need to post to those discussions. In addition, we had them continue to work on the stories they did with our guest speaker as “free-lance writers”. The other co-director decided we also wanted the campers to go back and “polish” their writing so that it wasn’t completely riddled with errors. I know there are professionals out there that would put more emphasis on grammar, sentence structure, etc. However, I am more interested in hearing the participants ideas and seeing them transform their ideas into pieces of writing, no matter what mode that writing may take on. In addition, it is important that the students express their great ideas into a piece of writing that represents them. We can worry about the polishing later.
Now that we are nearing the end, I have been reflecting back on the past few days and I am thrilled with the group of campers we have. They have great ideas and their word choice is incredible when it comes to their writing. Our guest speakers have been truly impressed with the originality of the their ideas.
I would definitely give the students more time in between the places we visited, so the students have more time to write. I feel as if they were rushed today as we went around campus. Furthermore, I would like the students to use more technology like podcasts for their poems and such. More thoughts on that to come.
I am saddened to say tomorrow is our last day, but I am excited for the fact the students get to take some time at the end to share with us and their parents what they have been doing all week. It should be a great time as we discuss research and the food industry. I can’t wait to blog about it tomorrow. Until then…
With our second day of middle school tech writing camp complete, I am no doubt more fired up about the campers and their writing, but I am also exhausted. Today was a huge poetry day along with tying up some loose ends with our writing yesterday.
We started today with the students writing 25 word stories in their composition notebooks. I showed the campers the examples on Kevin Hodgson’s Prezi. The campers enjoyed the many stories that were in the Prezi. We then proceeded to share our own 25 word stories out loud. Participants did an amazing job! We then quickly transitioned into our poet coming in and speaking to them about writing and what it means to be a poet/writer. Robert Fanning was our poet and he did a super job with his presentation. He had the students create this huge word wall on our whiteboard and then he read some poems to the kids. He discussed the power that words have, something that students today need to hear again and again. At the end of his presentation, he took the campers down the hall and opened a box full of words on pieces of paper. He then had the students throw them in the air and once they landed, the students needed to form lines of poetry. He instructed them to be silly and non-traditional and I was impressed with how our campers worked on this. I was even more impressed by one young man who had some really powerful lines. Below are some pictures of the activity and the lines individuals came up with:
When our poet departed today, the students wrote three different poems. They wrote something called a diamond poem where they started with a topic like female and then end up at the complete opposite which would be male in this case. In addition to their diamond poems, they wrote haiku poems and then collaboratively wrote a poem that rhymed. You can see student work on youthvoice.net. Their work is under CRWP and writing poems. I encourage you to check out some of their work.
Throughout the time the participants were working on their writing they used Ipads for the duration of the day. Some campers had experience with using Ipads, others did not. Students were actively engaged in writing using Google Doc/Drive and Youth Voices. There were very few gliches and overall, the students did a plethora of writing today incorporated with the use of technology. They finished out their day responding to other camp participants work on Youth Voices and trying to polish their detective skills by solving some of the staged scenes that were posted on to the Youth Voices website.
With all of the writing the campers have done so far, our goal for this camp is to look at a way we can incorporate the three major areas of writing the Common Core State Standards focuses on: narrative, informational, argumentative. Yesterday we asked our participants to be detectives and try and solve a murder which led them to writing a police report, a great lead into argumentative writing. Today, we focused on poetry, part of the narrative world of writing. Thursday we will look at research, a type of informational writing. Our adventure continues tomorrow as we embark on our writing marathon and hear another guest speaker.
It is without a doubt a whole different world when you are talking to middle schoolers about writing when they actually care and want to be writing. All in all, the first day of middle school tech writing camp was a success. I now understand what NWP directors go through with logistics on the first day. My co-director and myself spent a good portion of the morning getting a majority of our students signed up for their Google accounts so they can use google docs. Unfortunately the Ipads were not ready today so the students had to use their composition notebooks, which isn’t a major set back, it was just frustrating when it is a middle school tech camp and they couldn’t use the technology.
After their writing into the day was completed, we focused on argumentative writing with the campers and we used George Hillock’s Teaching Argumentative Writing and Crime and Puzzlement by Lawrence Treat. The campers looked at two different cartoon murder scenes and wrote down what evidence or facts they saw in the picture. Then, they used that evidence to form a rule or warrant. If the evidence did not answer all of the questions the campers had, they wrote down those questions. The students worked in groups on this and eventually they wrote a police report. Before the students wrote their reports we had a detective from the CMU police department come in and speak to the campers about his job and what police reports look like and why writing is important in police work. The students asked great questions about his profession and they asked really smart questions about the reports they were writing. In addition to the detective, we showed a model of an actual police report that was done on a car theft. I also showed the campers a short youtube video on writing a quality police report. The video had to be slowed down because it went to fast, but the students were able to understand what we were asking. When the students were done with writing their reports, all four groups shared out their report. Next year, I am hoping they will be put into a google doc and then be shared with the other groups so they can collaborate and get feedback from their peers.
The really fun part came in the afternoon when the students got to use the digital still cameras and the digital video cameras. The campers were instructed to make their own murder scene and take digital still pictures of the staged murder scene similar to the ones that were given to them earlier. In addition, the campers were to take the digital video cameras and record a narrative that would explain the scene for others to follow. Before the students were allowed to wander the building and stage their murder scenes, they needed to develop and write out their plan for what they wanted to do. Furthermore, they needed to write out a script for their narrative. Once their scripts and plans were approved, they were able to start staging their scene. What I want to do is load their images and videos into youthvoice.net. Then, I want the camp participants to go to youth voices and watch other groups videos and look at their pictures. After viewing other groups work, I want them to comment on their work. I have to upload their work tomorrow morning to the youth voices website.
The last item I had participants complete today was write a short reflection on the days events and discuss what they might have learned about argumentative writing, visual literacies, writing as a whole, etc. Reflecting on my own work today, I want students to have more time to play with the digital cameras. I would also like to bring them in props to use next year (if we go this route). It would also be beneficial for the participants to have more time to plan for their murder scene and script.
Again, it was a very successful day. I feel that it went well and it extremely fast. Tomorrow we are exploring poetry and we have a poet lined up to come in and speak to the students. It should be a blast!