Chapter 6 brings assessment into focus through a literacy lens. Chapter 7 explores the home-school connection. In my opinion both are intertwined. We assess to drive our instruction and we want families involved/invested as partners in the process. So why shouldn’t we view assessment and the home as connected pieces?
I particularly loved the idea of starting the year with a reading interview as a pre-assessment. In fact I LOVED it so much I decided to put it into a survey as a Google form to have students fill out at the beginning of the year. What I love even more about using this survey as a pre-assessment is that it gets my students already expanding their idea of what ‘text’ is. I also think asking families to take the survey too helps open their minds to the idea that reading is more than just working with print. It is an interaction between words and thinking. Expanding what we think of as text to those ‘non-traditional’ sources. This includes audio and video because these functions still invoke an engagement with words. Spoken or written, language that is taken in through our eyes or ears to be considered, connected to, clarified, questioned, synthesized… Meaning is constructed either way.
Again through the gifted lens, I believe pre-assessing students is the key to determining whether acceleration, enrichment, both, or neither is the best fit. Teachers cannot assume gifted learners already know content, understand a procedure, or possess a skill. Nor can they assume that a gifted learner will figure it out. Gifted learners still need instruction; whether it be pointing them in the direction of resources that can be accessed independently, a quick mini-lesson, or scaffolding a skill that may not yet have been mastered, pre-assessments are my nuts and bolts. Thankfully digital tools have been a blessing in this respect because I think gifted learner needs are extremely complex. (I have a soapbox to stand on about gifted learners being just as diverse as students at the special needs end of the spectrum… let’s just say that too many believe that the term “gifted” describes one type of learner when nothing could be further from the truth!)
Most of the assessment I use is formative and drives my instruction. My students for the most part do well on grade level summative assessments, so my instruction aims to continue moving them upward. I might have a student with on grade level skills in writing but can read texts 4+ years above their grade level. Tests, quizzes, and such that come with published programs do not tell me what I can learn through samples, observations, and conversations with students. Thus digital tools such as Evernote let me collect and curate these things and tag them by student. I can take a picture of work a student has done; I can jot down notes (or use speech to text to take them), and can use audio recording to capture a conference. Audio recording a conversation with a student or small group discussions are priceless (especially when the memory isn’t what it used to be!)
What is poignant about assessment is that it used to move students along their learning journey. Again, working with gifted students means that you do not have a ‘ceiling’ to reach. My students know that if they have scored at the top level of a rubric, it is time to adjust the criteria to meet their needs so that they can grow. That is, once they have climbed a mountain, it is time to find a higher mountain to climb.
Of course a key component to assessment for gifted learners is self-assessment. This is important for these reasons: (1) some gifted learners are perfectionists and they need guidance on how to keep this in check, (2) some gifted learners are used to school being easy and accustomed to getting everything ‘correct’ or being on top, and (3) gifted learners need to realize that they are not trying to reach a finish line but rather moving along a never ending journey. When a gifted learner assesses himself/herself, they should be evaluating against their personal bests and not comparing themselves to others. Self-assessment forces them to evaluate their work against set criteria; not how a classmate did. When using a rubric to self-assess, a gifted learner can see what s/he needs to do to continue improving (assuming that the rubric used gives students something to work for.) Giving a gifted learner a rubric that pushes and challenges their abilities gives the student something to keep working for; thus the journey. Self-assessment not only lets a gifted learner monitor his/her own progress but also aids in the setting of goals. I like to do this through conferring or chatting with the student.
Digital tools then make it easy to share the assessment with families at home. I think of it as being transparent. Parents should be viewed as partners. They look to us to be the ‘expert’ when really I think a parent is the expert on his/her child. How great is it when a child can have many experts working together?! Digital tools let me do this. When collecting samples or notes on what I observe with Evernote I can (and have!) email these to parents. When having a conference, I can (and have) pull up all of the notes I’ve taken over time because I’ve tagged them. Technology lets me record conversations too. While I can do this in Evernote, I have found iTalk or Recordium a better fit for the longer files. Most often I have students record the conversations they have in small groups. This helps me assess their speaking and listening skills but when shared with parents it provides a window into their child’s world that they don’t otherwise have. (In our classroom we turn book discussions into podcasts; this requires permission and some editing on my part at times, but WELL worth the investment!) Delve into Discourse and Listening Station Archives
Other digital tools make assessment so easy. Google is my new best friend. I love that most of my students have latched onto using Google documents for assignments. I can easily give detailed feedback using the commenting feature and…wait for it… I can share the document with parents too! (No more ‘they didn’t bring it home so I didn’t see it…”!) I am a FIRM believer in meaningful, targeted feedback. Teachers who only write “good job”, “awesome”, etc. with a smiley face aren’t helping a student improve. (That’s another soapbox…) I strive to tell a student something they did well for affirmation, but then try to always find a nugget to suggest for improvement. Keeping this limited to one or two suggestions mind you. Then I hold my students accountable for making that improvement. Here’s where technology makes that possible! I can check my notes to see what I suggested and then make sure that suggestion was applied. Meaningful feedback that is put to use.
Finally, my big “to do” more of after reading chapter 6 is to harness the power of a digital portfolio. Working with 8-10 year olds means that growth occurs over time. A digital portfolio would help the student, myself, and the family document the journey. What better way to feel accomplishment than to see a ‘before’ and ‘after’. Furthermore, I see a digital portfolio as a tool that the student and family can own so that the learning continues after me. I’ve got some ideas with Google, but for my younger students I’m leaning heavily towards the SeeSaw app…
Reflecting upon just chapter 7, I am considering more ways to help families with digital reading at home. My survey for one to help change thinking about digital reading. The other ‘biggie’ is on having my students be digital creators. Last year I started exploring the idea of my gifted students moving beyond the concept of being consumers of information to being producers. We got a Mac Book (Donors Choose) and I amped up our video studio with a green screen and some photography lamps. I really push the Bloom’s Taxonomy with my gifted students. They know I want them working mostly at the top 3 levels of analysis, evaluation, and creating. When students learn and then process that learning so they can share it with others it is more meaningful. And let’s face it, digital tools make production more fun. I further motivate my kids with publishing their productions on websites I created with Weebly. We have one for our independent study “passion projects“, one for our virtual field trips, one for our picture book projects, and one for ‘creative response to reading‘. Tell them it is going on YouTube and they are all over it. (FYI…I obtain all necessary permissions and teach my kids about being responsible digital citizens!)
This brings me to my bit about digital citizenship, which I do take time to explicitly teach and share with parents. My students should NOT be on social media yet, but they know all about it. Anything I can do to start that education before they jump into those waters is important. Thus I teach the 9 elements of digital citizenship to students and parents. We practice and reinforce it. (As a side note, we used Digital Learning Day to learn about hashtags and using Twitter responsibly; see #DLDay) Bringing parents into these discussions and lessons is critical. To quote the text, the Internet has a ‘dark side’. Making sure we help parents know how to teach and reinforce how to go into the light is our duty and responsibility.