Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Discussing Effective Assessment Practices with Pre-Service Teachers

Today at 12:30 pm ET, Kurtis Hewson will be a virtual guest speaker in my assessment course. Kurtis is my #edteach colleague and a valuable member of my PLN. He will be speaking with some of my pre-service teachers today about balanced assessments and considerations for designing performance tasks and rubrics. The conversation will be live streamed below.

Kurtis created this Today's Meet backchannel for the conversation. Feel free to watch the live stream and join the conversation via Today's Meet. We would love to hear your perspective. Kurtis also graciously shared these resources to support and extend the conversation. We hope you'll join us today at 12:30 pm ET!

Monday, April 7, 2014

7 Questions to Consider Before Assigning Homework

Does the homework matter?

In the bigger picture of the school day, the school week, the school year, and the students' overall educational experience, will the homework have any impact? Is the homework relevant to the students' lives outside of school? Can you say that the homework truly matters?

Do you value family time?

Students spend the majority of their waking hours at school, away from their families. When you account for dinner, bath time, sports practice, creative arts, and other commitments, there is very little downtime in the evening for most families. Often, homework eats away whatever downtime is left. If we want to raise a generation that values family time, we need to respect their time with their families.

Are you maximizing instructional time during the school day?

As a parent who values family time, I want to be assured that teachers are maximizing instructional time during the school day. Are the learning experiences that you design during the school day valuable, relevant, and necessary? If teachers focus on designing rich learning experiences during the school day, homework can become a thing of the past.

Is the homework for students or their parents?

Consider what you're really measuring when you assign homework. Is the homework a measure of student learning or a measure of parent involvement? My 6-year-old daughter currently has a month-long homework assignment asking her to draw the moon each day as part of a unit on the phases of the moon. As a space nerd, I totally appreciate the homework. However, this homework is for me, not for my 6-year old. She is not independent enough to be expected to work on a month-long homework assignment, not even taking into account the lack of visibility on cloudy days and that the times of moonrise / moonset don't always align with bedtime. There have been several cloudy nights when we've relied on the Internet to draw the moon. What does this mean for our students who don't have the kind of parental help at home that is necessary for this type of homework?

Are we preparing students to be good citizens?

Some teachers assign homework in an attempt to "prepare students for the real world." I don't think I want to live in a world in which people come home from a day at work only to fill out worksheet after worksheet and struggle to find time to do something fun with their families. We need to foster good citizenship, which involves balancing time between work, family, and community engagement.

Is the homework differentiated?

If you've decided that the homework you're assigning is, in fact, valuable and worthwhile, have you considered that not all students need the same homework? If the purpose of the homework is to review important concepts or extend students' understanding, then of course not every student will have the same needs for review and/or extension.

Are you planning to give meaningful feedback on the homework?

If you're asking students to spend their time away from school doing schoolwork, I surely hope you are planning to spend at least that much time giving meaningful feedback and using the work to guide your future instruction. As a former classroom teacher, I'll admit that I did not do this well. Homework can easily pile up and become a low priority for the teacher. However, if this is your typical practice, I urge you to reconsider. Show students that you value the time they invested in the work by investing time of your own.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Holding students accountable for reading

In the courses I teach, students are typically responsible for reading and thinking about the reading before coming to class. I've had conversations with several colleagues about ways to hold students accountable for doing the reading and, more importantly, for thinking about the reading so that they're prepared to interact with the ideas during class. Some folks prefer to give quizzes on assigned readings to hold students accountable. My preference is to design learning experiences that require students to apply their thoughts from the reading. There are a lot of ways to do this. In my experience, when students know that they're expected to collaborate with their peers and share their thinking during class, they are more likely to be prepared for that work by engaging with the reading before class. In this way, students' peers hold them accountable for thinking about the reading, not me. Below are a few strategies for holding students accountable for reading, for thinking about the reading, and for coming to class prepared to engage with their peers.

Speed Dating

Speed dating allows students to interact with several peers in a short amount of time. Students talk for a short time (1 or 2 minutes) with a classmate, typically in response to a question or set of questions. After the specified time period has passed, students rotate and have a conversation with another peer. Sometimes the questions for each dating round remain the same, but sometimes I'll post a different question or set of questions for each round. Last week in my assessment course, students went through three rounds of speed dating. During each round, there was a different question or set of questions to guide the conversation. Those questions are below.

Gallery Walk

A gallery walk can take many different forms but is typically structured so that students work collaboratively to brainstorm ideas and display them for the class. Groups then move around the room (or explore different displays on their devices) to review ideas that were shared by their classmates. I like to incorporate peer feedback by asking students to leave comments on other groups' displays. Again, in a relatively short amount of time, students have the opportunity to interact with their peers and learn from multiple perspectives. Today, I used the Educreations app for a mid-term gallery walk, asking students to reflect on topics we've focused on for the first half of the semester.


I use Triptico often to engage students in a game-based review of the reading. Triptico is one of the only web tools I've actually purchased the premium account for, and I'm glad I did. Triptico makes it easy to build interactive games to review important content. In addition to game-like activities, Triptico also includes cool timers, task cards, spinners, and quizzes. Below are a couple of examples of Triptico activities I've used recently.

RAFTs, Menus, and Choice Boards

I believe that it's extremely important that teacher educators model effective instructional practices, such as differentiation, in their coursework. Rather than simply telling students that they need to differentiate learning opportunities for students, I model that for my own students. RAFTs, choice boards, and menus are some tools I use often in order to give students choice. Below is a RAFT I used with students in my assessment course earlier this semester. 


While I'm using more collaborative than independent learning experiences this semester, that changes each semester depending on my students' preferences. I use Google Forms at the beginning of the semester to find out how my students learn best, and I make a conscious effort to design learning experiences that meet my students' needs (more about that here). Some students prefer to reflect on their thoughts independently, and some do their best thinking when they have the chance to write out their thoughts before talking with others. Freewrite is a quick and easy strategy to give students time to process and reflect. In addition to individual freewrites, a collaborative freewrite strategy I like to use is 4-2-1 Freewrite. First, each student identifies the 4 most important ideas from a text, a video, or some other learning experience. Students then work in pairs to narrow down their two lists of 4 ideas to a list of the 2 most important ideas. The act of narrowing 2 lists of 4 ideas down to a single list of 2 ideas takes some negotiating, which can be a powerful learning experience. Next, pairs partner up with other pairs to form groups of 4. In those groups of 4, pairs share their lists of 2 most important ideas. Each group of 4 must identify the single most important idea from the lists that were shared. Finally, each student freewrites for 3 minutes about the 1 most important idea that was selected by the group.

There are countless other ways to engage students with ideas from texts and from their peers. I'd love to hear about the strategies you use often. Feel free to leave a comment below.