Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Forecasting Marks

Sometimes you have to just get out of the way, and let your students work.  Sometimes you must creep around the classroom, observing but a NINJA!  If your students see you, tell them "you can't see me, I am a ninja" and move on.

I tried to stay out of the way as when I walked around, the majority of the questions needed to be answered by reviewing my instructions, the screencast, or the samples of work I provided.  By getting out of the way, or forcing the students to walk across the room to get my help, often students would talk to a neighbour or just review the instructions themselves.

But sometimes, it pays to go around the room and make forecasts.  Because of the nature of my course, I would often get 120 assignments at a time on my desk.  My course was short, approx. 7.5 weeks, so I had to mark all the assignments, and turn them around really quickly.  So, to save myself time, I would take my markbook around the room with me, and then talk with students about their work.  I would always refer to the criteria, or the broad strokes of the assignment.  I was careful not to compare them to any other students, but to what I felt they were capable of accomplishing in class, if they applied themselves.  I would then "forecast" their mark, usually a score out of 5 (Not Meeting Expectations, Minimally Meeting, Meeting, Fully Meeting, or Exceeding Expectations).  Often, students would ask, how do I get a higher score?  I would then ask them to think about their work ethic, quality of work, the criteria of the assignment.  They usually found their own answer.  Sometimes when they were doing really well, we would talk about "taking it to the next level" and I would tell the kid to relax, they are doing well, but what could they do to go beyond the assignment based on their interest.

As a result, I saved myself time on marking (changing forecasts is easy if you write in pencil, or save it to a spreasheet), and I usually got better quality work from my students when they turned it in at the end of the given time.

Assessment comes from the latin "to sit beside".  I think that this method of gathering marks was my favourite.  It enabled me to focus kids on what mattered, and I got to know them better.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Colorful Writing Practice

I was thinking about how to help struggling writers using technology in the classroom.  One thought I had was about was probably the obvious choice - MS Word.  True you could use any word processor, but this is what I am given, and lots of people have it in their homes.  So, I use what I have.

Kids who have problems with handwriting (or even teachers, like yours truly) like using word processors because when you strike the key, the letters always look the same time after time. But there are other ways to use the word processor to help. 

As a primary teacher, I used to walk around the class, and I would help kids by scribing some of their work if it looked like they needed help keeping up, getting ideas down before they forgot them, organizing their sentences, or to just keep the momentum of their writing going.  Not every kid needed help, but there was only one "me" walking around.  A bit of legwork needed, for sure.

 I was thinking, what if we put a struggling writer in front of a computer.  Then, when I needed to help scribe, I could just type what the kid dictates.  I can type way faster than I can write, and as their typing speed improves they would need less help.  But, also perhaps I could change the color of my text.  If they wrote in one color, and I wrote in another color, when you zoom, back you could see how much you are helping the student, and how much they are capable of themselves.  Over time you could compare this with other assignments, and have a quick visual check by looking at the size of the color blocks to see if the student is writing more on their own, still needing the same amount of support, or needing more support.  You could see if they always need help in the beginnings, or the endings of stories - and if that were the case, you could make that a focus in your next writing lesson.

Below I have taken 3 samples (not real writing samples at this point) and zoomed out.  In the first sample we see lots of green, the teacher's writing color.  The next one has less green, and the third sample has less still, with much of the green appearing at the ends of paragraphs and the story itself.  This might mean the student is improving in being able to write more details, but needs help writing concluding statements.


Now if only I could find someone who could try this out, and tell me if it helped them and their students with writing.