Personalizing Assessments with Time In Mind

 

This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >


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We already know about best practices in assessment. We know that we should use formative assessment to look for patterns in errors and adjust instruction. We also know that we need to have clear learning targets to assess, and that these assessments can be common. We know a lot. One area we don’t yet know as much about is how time factors into assessment.

Time is always an issue for educators. We never have enough, and we often feel we must rush through the material. Great educators try not to let time get in the way of good instruction. But even then, time can get in the way of better use of assessment. We use some sort of formative assessment exercise to check for understanding at the end of the day’s lesson; we give end-of-unit assessments; and our districts and states often take a specific week to give an end-of-course exam or grade-level assessment. What’s interesting here is that time is still the inflexible piece.

Why do we always assess students at the same time and let that be the governing factor for student achievement? We know that students each learn at their own pace. Some take longer; some take a shorter amount of time. We have the same high expectations for our students, but we also know students take different amounts of time to get to those high expectations. One critical element of personalization is that time is no longer the driving factor. Instead of relying on the Carnegie unit, students show mastery and are assessed when they are ready. Granted, so many outside forces are demanding our time, but how might we move past them to meet students were they are in the assessment process?

Create Rigorous Competencies

To start being more flexible with when to give assessments, you need to begin with the end in mind. Many schools that have become more flexible with when they give critical summative assessments create rigorous competencies from standards, including the Common Core. Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey also advocate for this:

“Grade-level teams or departments usually specify course competencies and corresponding assignments. Competencies should reflect the state standards while offering students an array of ways to demonstrate mastery, not just paper-and-pencil tasks. The competency assessments should be numerous enough that students can adequately gauge their own progress at attaining competencies; generally 7 to 10 per academic year is best” (2009, p. 24).

Competencies are built from standards and include measurable and transferable learning objectives. When designing a competency, you keep both academic and 21st century skills in mind so that the competency moves toward applied learning of multiple learning objectives. When you cluster standards and objectives like this, you can be more comfortable designing flexible assessments to meet these synthesized objectives.

Be Flexible When You Summatively Assess

It is perfectly appropriate to formatively assess the whole class after giving a lesson, and often educators formatively assess students individually. Through the formative assessment process, we can differentiate, give feedback, and meet the needs of students. When we formatively assess, we know when students are ready or not ready for the next steps. This is where time often gets in the way of good intention. If students are not ready for the summative assessment, why should we make them do it? It may be appropriate to allow some students to take the summative assessment after other students have taken it. Again, this should be a rigorous performance assessment that demands construction and application of knowledge. Summative assessments should only been given when students are ready, and, therefore, we must personalize when we give them.

Allow for Late Work

This is probably one of the most challenging shifts for veteran teachers. On the one hand, we want to foster good work ethic, which means adhering to deadlines; on the other hand, we want to be flexible to meet the needs of all students. The key here is to know what are you are assessing. Are you assessing work ethic or content? Students should never be punished for not learning content in a specific amount of time, hence allowing work to be late. Some educators find it appropriate to assess the 21st century skill of work ethic, but they in turn do not let that affect their content learning grade. Once you allow for late work, you can have students complete assessments, mostly summative, at various times.

The movement toward flexible time for assessment is obviously challenging, but these steps can make the shift more manageable—even in the face of immovable educational demands on our time. If we begin with the end in mind when designing assessments, we can use personalization to keep time as a malleable component to meet the needs of all students. This is a move toward true personalization of assessment.

Reference
Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2009, November). Feed up, back, forward. Educational Leadership, 67(3), 20–25.

The Missing Piece of Personalization: Passion and Engagement

 

This post originally appeared on The Whole Child blog, an ASCD initiative to call on educators, policymakers, business leaders, families, and community members to work together on a whole child approach to education. View Original >

 


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Personalization is quickly becoming a buzzword in education, especially in terms of blended learning and educational technology. I joined a team of educators on a panel on the same subject on the Whole Child Podcast. We unpacked what it is and what it might look like in the classroom. We talked about its challenges and benefits and collaborated to explain its implications for education. Most importantly, we talked about the critical role of relationships. When you break down personalization, most of us would agree that there are great aspects. Take a look at this chart.

I think one of the most overlooked pieces for personalization currently is that the learner “connects learning with interests, talents, passions, and aspirations.” Those who know personalization believe it is a critical component, but in the implementation it can be lost or “put on the back burner.” There are couple reasons for this.

First, the language is key. Here the learner is in complete control, and it almost seems as if a teacher is not part of the picture. In fact, a teacher is still integral to personalization, not only in helping provide scaffolding and instruction, but most importantly the engagement. A pitfall is to look at this language around personalization and engagement to a point where teachers have no role in it. In fact, student engagement—whether in a model of personalization, differentiation, or individualization—is arguably the most important factor. If you ask teachers what their biggest concerns are for the classroom and education, student engagement is at or near the top of the list. We need to remember that this is still true in personalization. Relationships and the creation of engagement still remain a critical component of personalization.

Secondly, there is a danger with regard to personalization and technology. Much of personalization is done through blended or online learning. I, myself, am a big advocate for online learning. However I have major caveats and critiques. I have seen digital courses where students still receive the “sit and get” instruction, where they is no choice in what they learn or how they show their learning. The digital curriculum may have amazing tools, such as videos, games and more; but the model of learning is still grounded in traditional instruction. Yes, students may have control over time, place, and pace, but often the engaged tenet is not truly manifested in this model of personalization.

As we move forward with personalization, we need to make sure not to forget student engagement and its implications for truly personalizing learning, where student passion and interest are not only allowed, but a critical component of the model.

PBL Meets the Next Gen Science Standards

 

This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >

 


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Although the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) have not yet been fully implemented, more and more states are signing up as early adopters. The NGSS call for a conceptual shift in teaching and learning. Along with traditional subject matter, science and engineering are now integrated into the standards, and students will learn about the principles of engineering and engage in the engineering design processes.

In addition, many concepts are cutting across content. For example, the concept of “systems and system models” is used in the exploration of nuclear energies as well as ecosystems. Also, scientific and engineering practices are aligned multiple times with the disciplinary content. The NGSS calls for a deeper understanding and application of content. The focus is on core ideas and practices of science, not just the facts associated with them. This is a great opportunity for project-based learning, because not only can PBL align to the shift in pedagogy, it can also enhance what the NGSS demand.

The Alignment
Just as the draft NGSS calls for deeper understanding and application of knowledge, PBL demands the same — in-depth inquiry into the content. When teachers design PBL projects, they choose to focus on power standards, or standards that usually take significant time to teach and focus on depth, not breadth. The NGSS will be a similar kind of standards, and thus easily used when designing PBL. In fact, a teacher designing a PBL project might target one of the crosscutting concepts, something that permeates the entire year of content. This is no more evident than the NGSS App available on iTunes. Take a look at the Grade Four Earth Systems Standard:

Identify evidence from patterns in rock formations and fossils in rock layers to support explanation for changes in a landscape over time.

This standard focuses on explanation of changes — not just identifying them, but using them to think critically about the content. In fact, the NGSS app provides an “Assessment Boundary” that says: “Assessment does not include specific knowledge of the mechanism of rock formation or the memorization of specific rock formations and layers.” This is about depth, not rote memorization, which is ripe for a PBL project. In fact, the clarification statement of this standard highlights possibilities for a PBL project:

Examples of evidence from patterns could include rock layers with marine shell fossils above rock layers with plant fossils and no shells, indicating a change from land to water over time; and a canyon with different rock layers in the walls and a river in the bottom, indicating that over time a river cut through the rock.

Being a Scientist
Most state science standards were linked to the scientific inquiry process. The NGSS continue to honor this as a key component to science education. Dimension 1 of the NGSS focuses on practices which “describe behaviors that scientists engage in as they investigate and build models and theories about the natural world and the key set of engineering practices that engineers use as they design and build models and systems.” Embedded throughout standards is language where students must “use evidence,” “make observations,” “ask questions,” “combine information,” and “apply scientific ideas,” to name just a few. All of this language focuses on the art of being a scientist to learn the content. PBL calls for students not only to be scientists, but also citizen scientists investigating real-world scientific problems and challenges to make an impact. Like the NGSS, PBL focuses not only on the content of science, but also on the content of being a scientist.

STEAM PBL
I wrote about this in a recent blog. As we notice the new engineering focus of NGSS, we might consider design challenges, a key component of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM) education. However, design challenges are not necessarily PBL by default. One can take a design challenge, add some PBL-essential elements to it, and make it into a PBL project, yet there are some components that must be added to make it a true PBL project. In the example from my previous blog, students made recommendations for retrofitting a local bridge and presented this information to city officials and engineers. Yes, the product might be a bridge design, and yes, students might engage in a toothpick contest along the way. The difference is that the work goes outside the four walls of the classroom and is actually an authentic situation where students are engaged in real-world work. As the design process and other components of engineering are leveraged in the NGSS, PBL projects can be designed to teach and assess these standards.

The NGSS will be successful only if we give students the learning models that call for the rigor and depth they demand. Not only is PBL ready for the challenge, but it can create deeper engagement with the content, where students’ deeper learning in the classroom makes them real scientists and engineers of the real world.

PBL and STEAM Education: A Natural Fit

 

This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >

 


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Both project-based learning and STEAM education (science, technology, engineering, art and math) are growing rapidly in our schools. Some schools are doing STEAM, some are doing PBL, and some are leveraging the strengths of both to do STEAM PBL. With a push for deeper learning, teaching and assessment of 21st-century skills, both PBL and STEAM help schools target rigorous learning and problem solving. They are not exactly the same, but teachers can easily connect to them to teach not only STEAM content and design challenges, but also authentic learning and public, high-quality work. In fact, many know that STEAM education isn’t just the content, but the process of being scientists, mathematicians, engineers, artists and technological entrepreneurs. Here are some ways that PBL and STEAM can complement each other as you deliver instruction.

From Design Challenges to Authentic Problems
Many of us have experienced, either as a teacher or student, the bridge design challenge. It often unfolds in this way. Students are given the challenge to make a bridge out of materials that will hold the most weight. These materials might be marshmallows, glue, toothpicks and the like. Students are given multiple opportunities to try out ideas and refine their work. It might culminate in a public content or presentation day when the bridges are tested for the last time. This is a fun and engaging design challenge that encourages the freedom to fail as well as opportunities for revision, reflection and using critical thinking skills.

PBL can take this design challenge up a notch. Instead of just designing a “fake” bridge, students might actually make recommendations to real architects and engineers for local bridges that need repairs. Some further math or physics content might be intentionally included and scaffolded so that students end up writing a rigorous design briefing and make a public presentation to the architects. Here the work can be more authentic and perhaps make a real difference as students truly become designers of real-world STEAM work.

21st Century Skills
One of the essential elements of PBL is the 21st century skillset. These skills are often defined as the 4Cs — creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication — although there are many more, including technology literacy and health literacy. In a PBL project, teachers teach and assess one or more of these skills. This might mean using an effective rubric for formative and summative assessment aligned to collaboration, collecting evidence, facilitating reflection, and scaffolding many quality indicators and collaboration skills within the PBL project. Although STEAM design challenges foster this naturally as an organic process, PBL can add the intentionality needed to teach and assess the 21st century skills embedded in STEAM.

For example, a teacher might choose to target technology literacy for a PBL STEAM project, build a rubric in collaboration with students, and assess both formatively and summatively. In addition, the design process, a key component of STEAM education, can be utilized. Perhaps a teacher has a design process rubric used in the PBL project, or even an empathy rubric that leverages and targets one key component of the design process. When “marrying” PBL and STEAM in projects, the 21st century skills not only fit well, but fit intentionally into the assessment process.

Integrated Disciplines
Project-based learning can target one or more content areas. Many PBL teachers start small in their first implementations and only pick a couple of content areas to target. However, as teachers and students become more PBL-savvy, STEAM can be great opportunity to create a project that hits science, math, technology and even art content. The key is to start with the content. When teachers design projects, they need to leverage the backwards design framework and begin with the end in mind. The questions should be:

What STEAM content will be assessed?
What products will students create to demonstrate mastery of these many content standards?

As STEAM focuses on integration of content, pairing STEAM with PBL can hit not only STEAM content, but also content outside of the core STEAM subjects. English can be integrated, as well as foreign languages and social studies. It’s all about designing effective PBL that targets these content areas.

As STEAM and PBL continue to grow in implementation, teachers can fit them together in curriculum and instructional practice. Additionally, these two approaches can capitalize on each other’s strengths and fill each other’s potential gaps. The key is an intentionality in design that recognizes what might be missing from each approach. Engage in your own design challenge to create STEAM PBL projects, and share your work with like-minded practitioners.

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