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.
Ahhh! Yup, school is out for the Summer. At the start of every year I tell my students that we need to treat each other as if we are family. AND… just like family we will get sick of each other and bicker, pick, and get tired of each other’s habits. Well, I can honestly say we were at the edge. It was time for us to part ways and have a break. My students were ready and I was ready too.
It was an exciting year for me professionally. The book Create, Compose, and Connect Troy Hicks and I wrote was published, another book I contributed to is coming out very soon, and I am working on a book with some really great educators from all levels right now. In addition, I had the opportunity to present at some excellent conferences here in Michigan. I also felt I did a better job as a reading teacher, but I still have a long ways to go to consider myself stellar.
Looking back on this past school year has left me with mixed feelings. On one hand I feel as if the students completed a lot of writing and dug pretty deep into some reading throughout the year. On the other hand, I struggled with students retaining information as we made connections later on in the school year. My colleagues struggled with this as well and at times it was very exhausting to get students to make connections from earlier lessons.
As a middle school staff, I feel that we grew more this year and we are continuing to keep the students at the center. We are striving everyday to do what is best for them. In particular I worked more closely with our S.S. teacher on doing article of week, a historical research paper, and we worked on a written report for our Salmon in the Classroom Project. You can see where we were featured on Michigan-Out-of-Doors. You can see us around the 20:00 minute mark.
The Social Studies teacher and I are starting to mutually appreciate each other’s strengths and I know our professional relationship will continue to grow. This year I really tried to be patient with all staff members and recognize their strengths when I could.
Besides trying to build more positive relationships with all of my colleagues, we will have a schedule change for next year, which is positive. We will now have about 60 minutes per class to teach. I am very excited about this because when our S.S. teacher figured it out, we are actually getting one extra class period per week when all of the extra minutes are added together. Prior to this we only had about 52 minutes per class. I feel that my class discussions around different text we are reading or the different genres we are writing will be deeper and the students will have the opportunity to do more critical thinking. Feeling rushed to get through material could potentially fall to the wayside if all goes well (snow days could hinder this).
In addition to having more time with students, our principal made a push to put a more solid curriculum in place. Our monthly early release meetings can at times be a joke. In the department I co-chair we work hard to keep moving forward and we have done some tremendous work with the CCSS Anchor Standards, but from what I have heard from other departments, participants were using the time to shoot the bull and grade papers. At times when we have met as a whole district, it has irked me to see fellow teachers also grading papers.
This past year, it was proposed that there is a more solid focus on developing curriculum maps, pacing guides, and establishing what is important in concerns with the anchor standards. Though this was received well at our district improvement meeting, time wore on, and there were some complaints about what we needed to accomplish within our departments. My big question is why? Why are questioning what should be in place already. We can’t just adopt the CCSS and say that is our curriculum. Personally, I am glad we are being asked to do this. Yes, I am willing to take time over my Summer break to make my teaching better and do what is best for students.
Overall, I am glad this year has come to a close. There are many aspects of my teaching that I am going to change. I am also spending the Summer reading some professional texts on how to become a better reading teacher. Summer is not a time to be lazy, it is time to think about our instructional practices and what we are going to do to help our students succeed. However, a few beverages are nice too!
Getting closer to the school year is dangerous for me. I tend to have thought after thought going through my head and I get all of these ideas to do things in the classroom and I never make the conscious effort to write them down anywhere. Well, today, I am. Those that follow me and others who know me understand and know my passion for using cell phones and other mobile devices in the classroom. Today, I started examining and thinking about using these devices from a different angle. An angle where I honestly feel it is my responsibility to help my students use these devices in the classroom and to teach them how to use them responsibly.
I can hear teachers screaming now saying, “Not me, it isn’t my responsibility!” Yes, there are many skeptical teachers out there who believe these types of devices have no place in the classroom. Others, already feel overwhelmed with the Common Core Standards and don’t want to add one more thing to their plate. Though teaching students how to use mobile devices may have its challenges, it doesn’t add to my existing curriculum, it enhances it. My passion for using mobile devices goes deeper than just being excited about the latest and greatest flashy items that can be used in the classroom.
1. Students Learn Differently – I have mentioned before how students grow up with technology in their hands. From cell phones, Ipads, Kindles, and Nooks, it is easily accessible to students. Think for a moment if a middle schooler has a question about anything in general. Where do you think they look for that answer? You got it, the internet! In addition, according to Pew Internet Studies about 75% of students ages 12-17 possess cell phones. Those cell phones are used for texting (hmm, I smell writing opportunities here), emailing, surfing the internet and accessing social media outlets. Our language arts department adopted Schoology for the upcoming school year ( a social media site for teachers and their students). The bottom line is we can’t shove text books in front of our kids day after day or even have them do drill and kill exercises. The best teachers I ever had from elementary to college were the ones that kept the class or students engaged. Mobile devices can help me as a teacher to keep my students engaged.
2. Collaboration – One of the biggest reasons I love using mobile devices in my classroom is for collaboration. Literature circles are an easy way for teachers to expose their students to numerous novels and at the same time teach the students responsibility by assigning roles to each group member. Keeping the spirit of the Common Core in mind, I add cell phones into the mix and my students not only collaborating with technology, but now the conversation can take place beyond the walls of the classroom and students start discussing the book without any prompting by me the teacher. Social media sites like Schoology also allows the students who don’t have mobile devices, to still interact via desktop computer. In another instance, my students can collaborate on their writing via Google Docs. For the past two years my students have been amazed at how Google Docs works and what it can provide. Students instantly become connected learners when they collaborate on a piece of writing by their peers. Google Docs was awesome for the writing group my colleague and I put together this past school year. Watching students’ writing transform and go through the entire writing process is amazing. The finished product is no doubt better with Google Docs because of the collaboration amongst students.
3. Digital Citizenship – To me this one term brings everything into focus for me. Part of me almost thinks as teachers we all have a duty to discuss and model this for our students. Again, some teachers may give the proverbial eye roll and bark out, “What about the parents?” I know it may sound funny, but the parents are in just as much need to learn about digital citizenship. Last week I proposed to my principal an “Ed Tech night” where parents get to engage themselves in what their child may do during a school day with technology. In addition, I want to discuss with parents digital citizenship and what that means. I want to talk to them about how students are using their cell phones in inappropriate and why it is inappropriate. Furthermore, discussing with parents what cyber bullying looks like and what affects it can have on another student. Hopefully by engaging the parent as well as the student, some issues can be eliminated and parents will have a better grasp on why I use mobile devices in my classroom. Needless to say, my principal is embracing the idea and we are meeting about it next week.
I am not sure if my reasoning is reasonable or even understandable, but I do know I am passionate about my job, my students, and the reasons it is important to implement mobile devices into my classroom. When I hear in the hallway how much my students love my class because of how I use cell phones, I get pumped. After all, you don’t hear students say they enjoy language arts class.
Every single day we face challenges as teachers. Whether it is a discipline problem or something as simple as what lesson is going to most affectively reach a class, we go home exhausted every day because we are doing our job well. For the past week I have had something plaguing my brain like a tick sucking blood from a dog. I know, a bit extreme right? Let me enlighten your brain as to why I am feeling this way. I start by asking you a question: What do teachers do with a student who is not meeting curricular requirements in school? Wait…wait, I know what you are going to say. Sit back, there is more. The student is a middle schooler who could potentially be starting drivers training within a year. They have been tested to receive special education services and did NOT qualify. They are a constant disruption to every classroom they enter. Said student is not at grade level with reading, writing, or math. The teachers are in contact with the parents on a weekly basis and everything is documented. There have been several teacher meeting about this individual to help make this student more successful in everyone’s classroom. So, what is a teacher to do?
When all avenues have been exhausted it is difficult for any teacher not to feel frustrated with the performance of the student. After all, we want to see our students be successful. I wonder if there are not only other teachers who feel the way I do, but are there other students who fit the same profile? Retention is always an option that is on the table, but by the time the student graduated he could be twenty-one years old. Because this individual does not qualify for any type of services, I find myself wondering what more can be done. What drives me bonkers the most is how he disrupts other around him. Besides a behavior plan, an academic plan can be put into place putting benchmarks before the student to reach, but with no motivation from the student, it proves worthless. I am not a teacher who is just going to let a student of this caliber slip through the cracks. Unfortunately, I have seen this before and the student continues to play catch-up for the rest of their school career.
Let’s face it, every year we encounter students who just don’t want to be at school. I don’t claim to be the world’s best teacher, but I work my tail off to make sure my students get the best education possible. I know I don’t reach every child I come in contact with, but I know if I reach a few, I can feel confident I am doing my job. Now, I worry about students that I have described. Our state is coming out with stringent evaluation tools for teachers. If there is proven growth in my students, my head is on the chopping block. I can’t help but think low achieving students, who have absolutely no motivation, will affect my evaluation because there isn’t any growth being seen.
I will continue to push forward and do what I can to help any struggling student in my class, but when there is a lack of motivation and intelligence, I need my colleagues, my administration, and my parents for support. I am open to any suggestions.
Ahhh, it feels good to be writing again!
As we have plunged into our 3rd marking period, my principal is trying to get a jump on next year’s schedule for the middle school. This year our middle school is divided into seven hours. We have the privilege of conducting a 40 minute homebase or better known as an advisory class. Then I teach five hours of language arts between 7th and 8th grade with a planning hour that comes at the end of the day. With the exception of homebase, each class runs approximately 55 minutes. To paint a clearer picture, our high school is on a 90 minute block schedule.
Okay, so here is my thinking. I have been teaching at the middle school for almost 6 years. We have always had an advisory/homebase class to start the day. I understand the middle school concept. My Master’s degree is in Middle Level Education. The advisory/homebase concept is a great idea, but I haven’t seen much progress academically with students because we have an advisory class. First, 40 minutes is too long for students. Our discussion last week was to knock down this time to possible 15 or 20 minutes. The time taken away from this class would be added to the other hours to extend contact time in the core academic classes. This would create a better transition for our middle school students going into the realm of block scheduling.
Now, this schedule is not permanent yet. A lot of discussion took place about preserving the homebase/advisory class. Arguments for this time revolves around building relationships with middle school students. I know this time is great for talking with students and getting to know them. It also serves as a way to give students an adult they can go to if they ever have issues. Our principal did a great job of carving out what we should be doing with the time we have for homebase/advisory. I am still not convinced this time is valuable. With the Common Core Standards in place at our school, students are going to have to work harder and teachers are going to need more student contact time to help students better understand what their expectations are. So, my suggestion is to just get rid of our homebase/advisory class and add even more time to the core academic classes. Now the question remains, how are we going to build relationships with students? As busy as we are outside of our teacher role, we should attend sporting events that our students participate in. My colleague and I have started a writing club once a week during lunch. To me, this is a perfect opportunity to build relationships with students. Perhaps a math club could be formed too. Relationships could also be formed on an everyday basis with longer academic classes. Not to mention, if student from a 55 minute class to a 65 minute class, they are going to have a smoother transition into a 90 minute block schedule.
Scheduling issues are typically at the forefront of many discussions in schools. My take is for us to put our personal wants and needs aside and do what is best for the students. I am sure we don’t have the perfect model and I am sure middle school concept advocates will frown on our schedule. What I know is I want our students to be successful and I am willing to try something different from what we have been doing.