Monday, December 16, 2013

Meaningful Assessments and Motivation From the Perspective of the Learner

Before you watch the video linked below, ask yourself how your learners may respond to the question, "What is the most important issue in education?"  Would they mention something visible to them such as class size, school safety, or extra-curricular activities?  Or, would they talk about their own motivation and purpose?  Would your learners express concern about not seeing the importance of education and the connection in your classroom?  

This video from PBS shares What Students Think are the Most Important Issues in Education:

The learners spoke about a lack of motivation to learn or perform well.  Surprised?  Dan Meyer's TED talk here: makes me think that he wouldn't be surprised.  He shares that he teaches high school math.  He states, "I sell a product to a market that doesn't want it that is forced by law to buy it."  Dan goes on to share 5 clues that you are doing math reasoning wrong in your classroom:
  1. Lack of initiative
  2. Lack of perseverance.
  3. Lack of retention.
  4. Aversion to word problems.
  5. Eagerness for formula.
What does this have to do with meaningful assessments?  Well, the key to appropriate, efficient assessments is that they occur often (daily).  If our learners are assessed often (daily), then those assessments should be worth their time and purposeful --- meaningful!  I imagine the learning/assessing routine in the classroom to be cyclical: learn/assess/learn/assess, repeat.  Those assessments, though, are actually a fluid, dynamic portion of the lesson design.  A meaningful assessment may be in the form of a task to complete, a process to analyze, or a true application of concepts.  For example, if the learners were expected to classify and sort a variety of geometric figures, regardless of orientation or size, send the learners out into their environment beyond the classroom walls to scout geometric figures, capture them (possibly using digital technology) then sort accordingly.  This can be done individually, with a small group, or as an entire class with a challenge associated.  Would the learners realize they were being assessed by completing that activity?  Possibly not.  Would they able to see the math around them, beyond their textbook, beyond the scripted lesson that may include die-cut triangles and rectangles in a baggie?  Most definitely so!

So why are learners sometimes not motivated and how can meaningful assessments curtail this?  I conclude that there are two reasons for a lack of motivation in the classroom: (1) The learners do not see the connection to what they are doing in class, those tasks they are asked to complete, and their world beyond the classroom and (2) The learners do not feel successful.  What can we do about this?  Provide tasks for the learners that are authentic, clearly connected to the standards being assessed, and allow for self-check.

What are authentic tasks?  When learners are asked to construct their own responses, create their own understanding, or complete their own unique product, we are setting them up to be authentically, actively engaged in the content.  Also, when the learners face challenges that mirror those they may face in their world beyond the classroom, these are authentic.

How can we allow for self-check?  In the geometric sorting activity above, if the learners were to create their own definitions and examples prior to exploring and capturing the images, they could use their own "answer key" to check.  Do not look beyond the power of collaboration with peers.  Given the opportunity to explain a concept to a classmate, learners must re-tell an idea in his/her own words, revisiting the process and communicating appropriately – depending his/her own understanding as a result.

So motivation in the classroom is directly connected to meaningful assessments?  Yes!  If the tasks the learners are asked to complete are worth their time and purposeful in their eyes and they feel successful in the process, then they will understand the importance of the lesson and engage in an authentic manner.  

Meaningful Assessments and Motivation From the Perspective of the Educator

All of those meaningful, authentic tasks you are designing for the learners to complete are actually assessments of their understanding of the associated concepts!  You need not halt instruction and learning to assess – assessing throughout the learning process (formative assessment) when done well occurs often (daily) in the classroom.  If the learners in your classroom were completing the geometric sorting activity above and you noticed a pattern of misunderstanding, you could provide the learners with an opportunity to correct and move forward.  If the learners were able to successfully capture and sort the figures, need you stop the learning process and provide a pencil/paper multiple choice test on naming geometric figures?  Most definitely not!  
So, how do you ensure that YOUR classroom assessments are meaningful?
Are the objectives that you are assessing today essential for learners to know for tomorrow?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Learner Self-Assessing through Formative Assessment Strategies

Self-assessment by pupils, far from being a luxury, is in fact an essential component of formative assessment.
-Black & Wiliam, 1998 

Today we welcome guest Bloggers Jodie Deinhammer (Coppell HS Teacher of the Year) and Missy Schliep (Coppell Middle School West Teacher of the Year.)

Jodie writes, "I feel that it is important for learners be given time to reflect and have the opportunity to re-evaluate.  The best learning occurs when mistakes are made.  If we allow learners to feel comfortable making mistakes without receiving a bad grade, they are more likely to take risks and learn at a deeper level.  For example, when learners are creating a project for publication, I meet with each team and give verbal feedback and conduct a Q&A with just that team.  I offer suggestions on how to improve, alter, change, etc.  They are comfortable asking questions in a small group setting and bounce ideas off of me and other group members. "

"Once they submit their work to me for evaluation, I grade the project without assigning an actual grade to it, only providing feedback and suggestions.  The learners then have more time to make adjustments or changes to their work before the final submission date.  While resubmitting is completely optional, almost every group takes advantage of improving their work.  Throughout the entire project, learners are checking for understanding during our team meetings and small group interactions.  We are also planning to incorporate an anonymous peer review to our next project, so learners can have a better understanding of that process and gain feedback from their peers, as well as me."

Missy adds, "You do need a safe environment. No way will you get your learners to own up to not knowing something if they feel they will be ridiculed. I do like getting my learners involved in their learning. I want to know what they want to know, what misconceptions they might have on the topic we are going to study. I also like having my learners reflect on what they learned. It is important for learners to verbalize their learning, in writing. (See what I did there? Two birds and all. They have to write and express their learning!) Get learners to focus on the learning and not the grade. Because the learning is what’s important.

How are you including learners in YOUR ‘Assessment Process’?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Importance of Feedback in Assessment

“The most powerful single innovation that enhances achievement is feedback. The simplest prescription for improving education must be ‘dollops’ of feedback.” 
-John Hattie

Guest Blogger Kimberly Kindred (Assistant Principal, Coppell Middle School North) writes:

TOP TEN Reasons to use Feedback in Assessments

Number #10: It allows for opportunities for re-teaching. You will be able to see EXACTLY where learners are with formative assessments and provide opportunities for re-teach when a learner has struggled with a topic.

Number #9: It serves as a personal conference with the learner. When you take the time to provide individual, personal feedback to students that is very specific, it naturally lends itself to being a personal conference. SN: Personal conferences are also a huge intervention strategy used with our struggling learners.

Number #8: You will only give a test because you HAVE TO, not because you need to. You will know where every learner falls on every topic, in all your classes.

Number #7: EMPOWERMENT! Yes, let’s empower learners and allow them to see what they know and don’t know. Make their learning personal, specific to them!

Number #6: And after empowerment comes enrichment opportunities. After learners are able to see what they do and don’t know, allow them other avenues to get the information that they missed. Put them in the driver’s seat!

Number #5: It helps you track learner growth over content, the process in which they learn, or the products in which they produce. Tracking learner growth will enable you to see strengths and weaknesses of each learner.

Number #4: It allows for personal educator growth. By allowing learners to process feedback, from you, and assess their own learning, you will be able to make adjustments within your own process of teaching. It lends to a self-reflection after meeting and discussing with students.  You may begin to ask yourself such questions as: Was this explained clearly? Could there have been another way for me to present this information? Why are most learners struggling with this particular concept?

Number #3: Parents appreciate the consistent feedback. Instead of remembering how someone did at the end of a unit, you will have check marks all throughout that you can refer back to.

Number #2: You will gain a better understanding of how your learners process the material. It could help with unit/classroom design of future projects.

Number #1: It makes learners MORE successful in the long run! And that is why we all teach; for the students. What matters MOST is learner success, and feedback in assessments, formative and summative, is a great start!

How do you give constructive feedback to your learners?
What changes are taking place as a result of the constructive feedback?

Monday, November 18, 2013

SAMR & Assessment

Guest Blogger, Kayla Brown (Assistant Principal, Coppell High School) writes: 
Think back to a time in your life when you were a kid in school. Now think about an assessment you took when you were in school or the instruction you received to make that “A” on the exam.

Do you ever wonder whose knowledge was actually tested?! Have you ever wondered what the history textbooks would say if they were written from a different perspective or if a different leader in a major war was quoted in place of the one recorded?! Are we assessing on the standards alone?? Are our learners truly future-ready and who is determining that standard?

Have you ever wondered why the gap is so large between state standardized assessments and our national ACT/SAT assessments?! If you can peel away surface thinking, you can conclude that knowing the state standards alone are not enough to be future-ready in a global society. So, if that is the case, what are we really doing for our future leaders?!

I think back to when I taught Kindergarten Math. I always wondered why kids in China had higher Math scores than US kids when using the same national exam (abcnews video-"China beats US in Reading, Math and Science"). I knew there had to be more to this than me taking the Math textbook, a worksheet made by the textbook company, and my knowledge of the content to prepare my Kindergarten learners to be future-ready in a global society.

I did some research and was fascinated by all the incredible ways to learn Math. Have you ever researched how kids in China learn how to count? For some reason, at 32 years old, I understand something as simple as counting better now than how I was taught many years ago. I wonder how many foundational concepts are lost because we haven’t allowed learners to explore and make meaning of the endless amounts of wisdom and knowledge from the world?!

As an instructional leader, I hear educators express their passion to produce, if you will, future-ready learners that can compete with anyone in any country. We all have the desire and the passion, but the logistics seem to be so overwhelming that we shut down because it is 1. Change and 2. Something that we haven’t had as much training to realize that we “don’t know that we don’t know.”

This is where SAMR comes to the scene. I do not want SAMR to be viewed as “just another thing to do” or “I have no idea what this is, so I am not going to do it.” SAMR, once you truly understand what it looks like in action, will revolutionize your learning environment and will give your learners the opportunity to be future-ready.

SAMR is the tool/rubric for educators to guide instruction and assessment. Instruction and assessment should be aligned. Have you asked yourself, “Is my instruction aligned to my assessments, which are aligned to future-readiness standards?” In other words, are you instructing according to the Learning Framework where your class environment is conducive to risk-taking, your learners are connecting to the world to deepen and enrich their understanding of the learning outcome and by exposing learners to the world, is learning going beyond the standards and the classroom walls? If your instruction is aligned to the Learning Framework, then what does assessment in your learning environment look like?

In, “Assessment and Instruction: Two Sides of the Same Coin,” the author states:

“One of the most powerful features of well designed technology-enhanced learning environments is that they enable us to embed ongoing formative assessment and feedback into the instructional activities themselves. In this way, the student not only gets the chance to practice what they are learning but also receives performance feedback that they can immediately use to tune their learning.”

Because instruction and assessment must be aligned I linked an example of what SAMR looks like in action. SAMR is a guide to identify where a particular assessment/lesson falls on the spectrum of technology integration.
Think of assessment strategies you have or are planning on using this year.
Where is that on the SAMR model? What change(s) can you make to that assessment to move it up the SAMR ladder?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Assessing: OF & FOR Learning

“When the cook tastes the soup, that’s formative assessment; when the customer tastes the soup, that’s summative assessment.” - Paul Black

How often are your learners playing the role of the chef and how often are they playing the role of the patron?

The CISD Learning Framework (Ch. 5, Sect. 1) describes formative assessment as assessment for learning. "Assessments used for formative purposes must entail sufficient breadth, depth and cognitive rigor to promote a deeper level of understanding...for the improvement of learning.” The Learning Framework explains that assessments being used for summative purposes provide a “...means for the measurement of learning, effectiveness of instruction and the alignment of the curriculum.”

Learning Progressions
Real world
Learning Goals and Criteria for Success
Descriptive Feedback
Tied to TEKS or objectives
Self- and Peer-Assessment
Include learning outcomes and soft skills
Collaboration - Educators are Learners and Learners are Educators
Evidence of the learner’s Higher Order Thinking Skills


Please reflect on the following questions:

How are these attributes evidenced in your formative assessments? In your summative assessments? Which attribute needs the most growth and attention in your own experiences and how do you plan to support this growth?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Assessment Beliefs

Black & Wiliam (1999) express their belief that improving learning through assessment depends on five, deceptively simple, key factors
  • the provision of effective feedback to pupils;
  • the active involvement of pupils in their own learning;
  • adjusting teaching to take account of the results of assessment;
  • a recognition of the profound influence assessment has on the motivation and self-esteem of pupils, both of which are crucial influences on learning;
  • the need for pupils to be able to assess themselves and understand how to improve.
Black, P. & Wiliam, D. 1999. Assessment for Learning: Beyond the Black Box, Assessment Reform Group, University of Cambridge, School of Education

What are YOUR beliefs concerning assessment? What challenges are you currently experiencing when implementing your beliefs?

Comment below or tweet your response with the #cisdassessment hashtag.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Digital Learning Environment Reflection

“Given a rich environment, learning becomes like the air. It is IN and AROUND us.”
~Sandra Dodd

Seven weeks ago, we invited you to learn in a new way with us.  Through this professional learning challenge, we have begun crafting a new digital learning environment for you.  During this first piece of our challenge, you have chosen activities, some virtual, some face to face, that we hope have helped you to expand your understanding of how to craft your own digital learning environments for your learners.

Now that you have had a chance to participate for the past few weeks in the activities that you have chosen within our DLE, take a moment to reflect.  How has your perspective changed? Are there things that you were already doing that you didn’t realize were part of a digital learning environment?  What have you been inspired to do?

In the comments section, use the sentence stem below to reflect on your understanding of digital learning environments.

  • I used to think….  now I know…

We are coming to a close in celebrating a digital learning environment, but fret not…  we will not leave you without blogposts.  Next week we will be starting a module on assessment.  Join us for our awesome and inspiring weekly blogposts.  Also gear up for another Twitter chat, webinar, and a couple more face-to-face sessions.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Curation as Creation

Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.   ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

This week's post has been written by a guest author.  Thank you to Mrs. Melanie Ringman for her time and willingness to share.


In a time where we are struggling to meet all of our learners’ needs, we need to find ways to work smarter. Teachers need to step away from thinking that they have to create or find everything for the classroom. Education is no longer a one way path; embracing education as a learner/educator model and realizing that our students are wanting ‘buy-in’ to the process and have much to bring to the table is a paradigm shift that is happening and should happen in schools.

The question remains --  how do we make that shift? The teacher should spark inspiration that drives students to explore and locate the resources, to critically think about how those resources can contribute to the assignment, both personally and shared with classmates. In this process, the students learn how to find answers to their own questions. I employed this method in a recent unit over Mood and Tone where I was trying to create student buy-in and engagement. I wanted to find engaging texts and then transition my students to challenging pieces to analyze. In the past, I brought in song lyrics to start the lesson, but it was music that I loved. When they looked at me, they did not see my music choices as relevant to their lives. I finally asked myself; why couldn’t they bring in their own music and videos that we could analyze? So I tasked them with finding a music video that they felt conveyed a strong mood and tone. They were to find and curate (organize, save, and use) something that was personally meaningful to them.

When they came to class, ALL of my students (yes, I said ALL) were eager to share what they found. The groups then viewed the videos and voted on the best one to share out as a class. I can not tell you how many authentic teaching moments I had with my kids as they discussed and evaluated the validity of what they brought. They were using text evidence to argue their point and having (take a deep breath and wait for it) an academic discussion.  And let me tell you, Taylor Swift is brilliant at teaching mood and tone because she is an angry woman with a broken love life  -- and the kids got it. The students wanted to write about the tone and mood they found in the music, and the transition to the pieces that I wanted them to read and analyze was a much easier one because the foundation was in place.

It made my job easier!!! And we all know there are not a lot of things that are making our jobs easier these days.  The students want to be a part of the process of education. We have to make it authentic and give them a voice in what they are learning. If all the knowledge can be googled, why do we not let them search for their own questions or even set their own questions to guide their learning? Our task is then to teach validity, problem solving and critical thinking with students that are engaged in real world material.

In class we ventured into expository reading and writing. This type of writing is so important for them to master because it is a life skill. For the most part, whatever career they choose will have some form of expository writing, but it is the most boring (to the kids) type of writing to do.  I wanted them to see what the world had to offer in Expository writing. I had them curate and bring authentic expository pieces about topics that they wanted to read. Instead of spending my time finding the pieces, they were building their cache of authentic real world pieces that we still refer to, even though we have moved on from that unit.  Anytime we are writing, we will pull pieces that they have included now as mentor text in their writing territories.  It is not just about finding authentic engaging pieces but using them as a resource over time.

Learn more:  Click here for a great article about the value of learners curating.

Have you ever had your learners curate for you?  Share your experiences.

Is this a new idea?  If so, how could you include curation of resources (online games, videos, photos) into your learning experiences?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Organizing The Digital Learning Environment

“Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it’s not all mixed up.”
--A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

With instant access to so much information online, organizing your digital learning environment can be quite a challenge!  As we explore creating digital learning environments for our learners, we need to keep organization in mind as well. There are tons of online productivity tools to help keep you, your learners, and digital information organized.  Evernote, Google Drive, Edmodo, Symbaloo, and Diigo are among some of the most popular ways to organize and save digital information.  

Diigo (Digest of Internet Information, Groups and Other stuff) is one of our very favorite tools. It is a web tool that allows you to save, annotate, and share any information from the internet.  

Watch this video to see how the iTeam is using Diigo to organize our digital learning environment!

Top 3 reasons we love Diigo:
  • Collaboration - Each iTeam member is part of the iTeam Resources group, so we can all add content any time.
  • Tagging - Any resource we add to the group can have multiple tags, so we don’t have to decide on a single way to organize.
  • Access - We can access Diigo from any internet enabled device any time, so when we find a great resource to share we can add it to the resource list instantly! This makes it easy for us to add resources to our list and share them with you.

Ideas for using Diigo with learners:
  • Guided Research - Choose a tag for an upcoming research project.  Collect resources in your Diigo account for the project and tag them with the tag you chose. Visit your Diigo library and click the tag for the project.  Share this website address with your learners via your website or QR code.
  • Classroom Resource List - Save sites you would like learners to visit.  Organize your list with tags your learners will understand.  Link your resource list to your website.
  • Keep Track of Project Resources - Learners with Diigo accounts can keep track of all of the resources they use for a project.  
  • Offer Product Choices - Create a list of sites for learner to use to create products.

You can learn more about Diigo here:

You can visit the iTeam Diigo Resource list here

What is your favorite tool to organize your own digital learning?  Why?  

What is your favorite tool to organize digital learning environments for your learners? Why?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Flipped Experiences as part of a Digital Learning Environment

“Learning is what most adults will do for a living in the 21st century.”  ~Alfred Edward Perlman (born 1902); Civil Engineer, Businessman

“Flipped”  is a buzzword in education right now.  It is certainly a buzzword in our district.  So the question is - is it worth it? The simple answer is “yes”.  But, of course, there is so much more to it than that.  This simple learning strategy happens when content that is normally presented and worked on in class is reviewed during the time traditionally used for "homework." This allows for class time to be used for application of knowledge, collaboration and interaction with the content.

What have you heard about Flipped Learning?  Does it sound like an entire methodology for teaching that you haven’t had time to explore?  Have you ever considered flipping one lesson or even a one unit?  

The best thing about flipping is that it can be a tool in your toolbelt.  You don’t have to do it every day.  And you shouldn’t flip a lesson to check a box that you have done it.  With intentional and thought-out design, a flipped strategy - used at the right time - can be one of the most powerful.  

Listen to these educators and learners describe their recent experiences with a flipped lesson.

Click here to view the video if you cannot see it above.

Notice that each educator cited different reasons for using a flipped strategy.  Can you think of other reasons that you might want to try a flipped lesson?

What is your biggest obstacle to flipping a lesson?  Share your ideas with each other and if you have any solutions to others’ obstacles, by all means share those too!

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Virtual Learning Environment

"Don't limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time."
- Rabindranath Tagore

The virtual learning environment is a place where a community of learners interact with one another in a non-threatening, respectful and positive setting. Educators establish an atmosphere where learners are safe to contribute ideas, give and receive positive and constructive feedback, build knowledge, and celebrate successes.

In what ways are you setting the tone for a positive virtual learning environment within your own "classroom"? Please reflect on the following questions and share your comments below.
  • How do you prepare your learners to participate in your virtual learning environment so that they feel safe to contribute?
  • How has the virtual learning environment affected inquiry?
  • In what ways do you feel a virtual learning environment supports a constructive approach to learning?

If you are unable to see this video, please use the following link:

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Physical Learning Environment

"Every educator has a responsibility to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for all learners."
 - CISD Learning Framework
Educators have the responsibility to provide a variety of spaces from which learners are able to collaborate, construct knowledge and meaning, and contribute to others. Through the design of the physical "classroom", educators either contribute to or take away from learners' abilities to reach their fullest potential.

How can we address these needs in our "classroom"? Please reflect on the following questions and share your comments below. 
  • How does your physical classroom provide opportunities to reach different learners?
  • How can you rearrange your "classroom" with minimal expense to support both collaborative and independent spaces that are inviting and appealing?
  • How does the arrangement of your "classroom" physical spaces enhance digital learning?

“Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not. ”

Check out the Vlog below...

If you cannot see the embeded video, click here to watch it instead.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Creating Your Digital Learning Environment

“Every learner is an educator. Every educator is a learner.”
-CISD Learning Portrait

In a world of digital natives that can and do learn anytime and anywhere, from us and from each other, our learners’ environment is no longer limited to time spent in a classroom. So why should your learning environment be any different?

We, as your educators during this professional learning challenge, pledge to design this experience differently. Hours of sitting through technology training that may or may not relate to your role, learning style, or classroom are over. As you work through the different types of learning that you choose to participate in during this challenge, you’ll see that a classroom environment is no longer just about a physical, face-to-face environment or experiences. Our classroom for this challenge is this blog, our webinar time together, the Twitter chats you participate in, the implementation challenge activities you do, and more.  Yes, there will be times you may take part in a physical, face-to-face experiences, but how we design your physical environment for those will also set the stage for digital learning success.

We’d like you to think of the format of this challenge as inspiration. While you are the learner for this challenge, we hope that you will take the experiences with you and be able to use what you have learned when in your educator role on campus. Learning is so much more than what happens in between those four walls of your classroom.  We believe that learning environments should be varied and collaborative. They should allow for learner’s voice and choice. They should be global as well as local, digital as well as physical.

So why do digital learning environments matter so much for today’s learners?

For today’s reflection, take a moment to reflect on your definition of a digital learning environment. 

Use the comment section below to answer one of the following questions:

  • What structures do you need in place as a learner to ensure your success in our digital learning environment for this challenge?

  • As an educator, what digital elements do you currently use as part of your classroom learning environment?