Sunday, April 20, 2014

A New Path to Reassessment

One of my big hurdles for the last few years has been how to go about getting kids to be able to really show that they understand a topic. There are a lot of ways to do that, but usually, what it comes down to is the kid having to show that knowledge on a quiz or a test. One reason is that this is something concrete. You can point to a question and say, you got this (or not) based on the quality of the answer. Being able to prove a kid knows something based on what they are doing in a particular lab, however, seems to be more of a gray area and open to a lot more subjectivity.

When I started SBG and introduced the idea of reassessment, it quickly escalated into a mad rush of points collecting. So much so that in my chemistry classes, the targets are now written so that they are covered over and over on future assessments. Basically, reassessment is required and a student cannot come in and just retake a quiz on his own. I love this, but most of my chemistry targets are skills based and it didn't work so well with some of my other classes. It could be that my targets need rewritten (again), but I really like them right now so I am reluctant to do much adjustment there.

So I am trying something.

Every student in our district has a Google account and so my Ocean Science class is doing a lot of blogging this year. Lab analysis and critical thinking assignments are all written up. Pictures are good. If we draw on a map, we upload a picture to help describe it. Kids are taking pictures during labs so they have evidence of what went on. It is still in beta testing, so they aren't as polished as I would like. We also haven't made it quite as interactive or public as I am envisioning, but I think that might come later. Either way, this gives kids a way to talk about what they have learned in labs. These are not recorded for a score, but are commented on and kids are encouraged to edit in response to suggestions.

We still take tests. This is Phase I and actually, the path of least resistance for kids to show what they know is to really study for a test and do well there. I still give 0, 1, 2 as a score based on the covered targets and these get recorded into the grade book.

Phase II is sort of a reflection on those scores. Each student has also created a site on their Google account specifically for this class. This is modeled after what Chris does in his classroom. In my case, each unit has a page, so for example after we take the test on Waves, students create a new Waves page and add each target to that page. Then they take their test and talk about what it was that went well and what it was that did not go so well. What did you get correct and why do you think you understand it? Link to your blog. Which labs tie into that target and show how you really get the ideas? Why were you able to understand it in the lab but couldn't apply that knowledge to the questions on the test?

As you might imagine, some kids do really well and some do really not well. We are really getting into that whole idea of metacognition here and that is not an easy thing for a lot of them to do. I get a lot of "I could have studied more" as a way to explain why they didn't do well. We are working on that. If students do an amazing job reflecting and can tell me exactly why something was misunderstood and how those ideas have changed, the scores can go up to reflect that. If not, there is one more thing they can do.

Phase III is essentially a mini capstone. Design, carry out and present an activity that demonstrates your understanding of the target. This is also written up on their blog, but they also have to present it to the class. So far, I haven't had many takers on this one, mostly because I think it is a lot of work. I am okay with that. The ones that have gone through the process have been extremely creative and done a great job of showing that they do in fact know what is going on.

So far, I like this. The feedback I have gotten has been mixed. I expected that. Everything from the predictable "it's too much work" to "can we just do the activity without taking the test?" I think I am doing a bit more work than usual, but then again, so are my kids. If kids are going to succeed in this type of activity, I really owe them thoughtful and constructive feedback.

My biggest problem has been to allow a reasonable amount of time in class. There is a delicate balance between kids that will use every second I give them and those that still don't want to do anything.

There are some kinks to work out, of course, but overall, I think this is something I am going to integrate at least to some degree into my other classes.

Is there something I am missing? What other options could I offer kids?

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