Saturday, May 14, 2011

Assessment As Easy As Cookies

Testing is to assessment as a chocolate chip is to a chocolate chip cookie.  The problem, however, is that current educational policy tends to focus on only one chocolate chip (i.e., tests), as opposed to the entire chocolate chip cookie (i.e., assessment).  Of course, people have a tendency to use the words "testing" and "assessment" interchangeably.  Certainly, the two words have a lot in common; that is, they both seek to measure student progress. Testing, however, is only a part of assessment.  There is a part to whole relationship that exists between the two words that is often neglected.  Along with tests, effective assessment includes other measures: rubrics, quizzes, portfolios, and other related artifacts.  Nevertheless, the difference between the two ideas is profound, and it is the concept that current educational policy is neglecting to realize.

Certainly, we need to know how students are progressing, what they are understanding, and in what areas they need help.  However, I fear that we are missing the big picture, as we are merely using one tool (i.e., tests) to measure students' abilities.  A single, end of course test becomes a high stakes experience for all involved.  It is putting pressure on students, teachers, and administrators at an unprecedented level.  By no means am I indicating that accountability is bad for our schools.  Certainly, teachers and students need to be held accountable. We want to see progress being made and achievement attained.  We want to be a nation that is prepared to compete on the global stage. The concern that I am raising, however, is one that is increasingly being discussed in educational circles. How can we effectively measure student progress, while emphasizing learning over test taking?  How can we more adequately prepare our students for the world of work that awaits them?  How can we continue to be an educated citizenry prepared to compete globally?

I think we need to begin by using multiple measures to assess student progress.  What are your thoughts related to the role of accountability in schools?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What Leading Twitter Question Should Guide the Tweets of a PLN?

The well known microblogging site, Twitter, asks users to answer, "What are you doing?" or "What's happening?" in 140 characters or less.  To many, this seems to be a rather silly, simple, and personal question.  After all, I have Facebook for sharing my life with family and friends, many indicate.

Aside from the misconception that many have about the difference between Facebook and Twitter, it seems that many educators are unsure of the value of using Twitter.  I, like many, initially questioned the value of tweeting. After all, do I really care to know when someone I am "following" is getting a cup of coffee, frustrated with work, or performing another mundane life activity?  Even more, do other people really care when I am involved in such actions?  The answer to many is a resounding NO.

Welcome the Professional (or Personal) Learning Network.  For many educators, including me, this is where Twitter begins to fly.  A PLN is a global social network that include people of interest to your career.  With a PLN, teachers no longer need to feel isolated behind the walls of their classroom or alone in a rural community.  Rather, teachers can be enriched on a daily basis by people from around the world that share in similar professional interests.

Just last week, I added Bill Gates to my PLN.  This means that I can follow his tweets on Twitter, learning about new ideas he has to share.  In the same way, I also follow Bernie Dodge, of Webquest fame.  The fact that I can follow and learn from the ideas and content that they find new, interesting, and intriguing makes my PLN a valuable resource to me.  But the benefit is also reciprocal, meaning that I can post tweets to share with those who are following me. 

All of this said, I have been thinking lately that the Twitter question (What's happening?), really doesn't do justice for the way in which my PLN uses Twitter.  Although Twitter will not likely be changing this leading question anytime soon, I believe that educators would be able to more readily see the value of Twitter, if the question itself was something more along the lines of: 

"What resources (websites, blog posts, journal articles, creative ideas, free materials) have you found that are worth sharing with your global network of colleagues?" 

After all, if Twitter is to be more than a global announcement of mundane life activities, educators deserve to have clarity about the type of content they should be tweeting. Therefore, I ask you, what leading Twitter question should guide the tweets of a PLN?  I welcome your comments.


(The Twitter bird image is courtesy of DryIcons.  See this article for the image source: )

Monday, September 7, 2009

A World Without Walls

At first glance, there is nothing out of the ordinary that can be seen
in the picture attached to this blog post. Yes, it is merely a
picture of a field, the sky, and the open road. More detail, however,
brings to light the impressive nature of this picture (and blog
post). The "cool factor" can be found in the way in which it is
shared. As I write this blog post, I am riding in a car somewhere in
Arkansas, yet I am able to share an image of what I am viewing outside
of my car window with anyone who so chooses to read my blog on the
world wide web. And just think, one of my blog followers may be
viewing my blog via a handheld device - also riding in a car in a
rural area. Oh, what does this say about the world in which we live,
the communication tools available to us, and the impact it will
continue to have on our lives. Think also how this can change
education. Classrooms without walls are continually being redefined.
That said, perhaps my following comment could go without saying, but
for those who have any doubt about the situation, let me make this
clear: I love my iPhone.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Are Students a Barrier or Catalyst to Technology-Integrated School Reform?

Two of my students presented an analysis of Dead Poets Society today in class. Although I have seen the movie several times, there is a point that is not frequently considered in reviews of such movies. Talk is often made about the role of the teacher, John Keating (Robin Williams), and the constructivist, student-centered perspective that he used. His animation and energy for life and teaching are often emphasized. However, less talk is often centered around the role of the students in this classroom environment. Specifically, talk of their reluctance (at least initially) to conform to new, innovative, out-of-the-box teaching practices is not usually given as much attention or thought. Nevertheless, this perspective is one that many teachers today are facing as they are seeking to advocate the use of technology in their schools.

Students of all ages may see relevance for using technology in their everyday life. However, they may see less purpose for allowing such innovation to be used as a teaching tool. They look around the room and at each other, seeming to question the fact that technology could be used within the context of learning other relevant content.

Sure, there is the perception that all of our students are digital natives, living and breathing with technology. However, this is not always true. They, like many teachers, have to learn technological skills (e.g., Web 2.0 tools). Likewise, they want to see the purpose behind the technological use (i.e., technology integration).

Certainly, it is an interesting age in which we live. Many educators and citizens want to see positive school reforms implemented -- especially such reforms that embrace technology. However, the change is likely going to be a gradual process. eSchoolnews offers some survey results related the barriers of Web 2.0 is schools.

What do you think? Are students a barrier or a catalyst to technology integration in your school?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Should Schools be Open 12 Months a Year?

During a visit to a school in Denver, Colorado, United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told his audience, "You're competing for jobs with kids from India and China. I think schools should be open six, seven days a week; 11, 12 months a year" (see the related article on Denver's local news at As I read his comment, it sparked my curiosity enough to do some investigating on the topic of calendar modification as it relates to student achievement. Based on my quick review, substantial evidence does not directly support a modified school schedule. An AERA published article says it this way: "Thus it would be inappropriate to suggest that the current evidence indicates that modified calendars have a significantly positive impact on achievement, in the practical sense" (Cooper, Valentine, Charlton, & Melson, 2003).  The authors further mention that a longitudinal study on the topic of calendar modification is needed to more closely examine the cumulative effects of such a change (pg. 43).  Likewise, Cooper and his colleagues further identified the reality that calendar modification tends to benefit student from economically disadvantaged backgrounds more than others.  In large part this is due to the realities that students in such environments are less likely to participate in extra-curricular activities (e.g., going to the zoo, park, museum, or vacation) as compared to those with a more affluent home life.

To my knowledge, Secretary Duncan has not expanded on his comment in order to shed more light on the types of reform such a reality could bring.  Will all students be attending this schedule if it is implemented?  Will teachers receive more pay for their continued dedication and hard work?

I seriously doubt many students will be in favor of such a change, especially if they are already working hard to meet the demands of an accountability-driven, standards based system. Educational quality is improving because of such accountability-based reforms, but does that mean our system should also modify the quantity of education for all students.  Until Secretary Duncan shares more insight about his suggested reforms, what do you think about modifying the current educational calendar?  

Cooper, H., Valentine, J. C., Charlton, K., & Melson, A. (2003).  The effects of modified school calendars on student achievement and on school and community attitudes.  Review of Educational Research.  73(1), 1-52.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Resources to Teach Digital Citizenship

As we live in a world surrounded by digital technologies, today's students are communicating and socializing in new ways. Facebook, Twitter and text messaging alone are rapidly expanding the social network of students. Even further, such tools offer new opportunities for learning, and are even reshaping what it means to be a student in the 21st century.

Of great concern, however, are issues related to how our students are using such tools. Often, students are living in a world absent of parental guidance. Some students are networking with strangers, using their cell phone to take and post lewd photographs of themselves (a.k.a., sexting), and be involved in such activities as cyberbullying.

To help reduce inappropriate uses of technology, educators have established guidlines and curricular materials to combat such challenges. Mike Ribble and Dr. Gerald Bailey have written, "Digital Citizenship in Schools" (2007), which is available from ISTE. Likewise, CyberSmart! offers free lesson plans to help teachers educated students about SMART technology use.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Free Publications from the U.S. Department of Education

The U.S. Department of Education offers FREE educational publications on the ED Pubs website: . On occasion, I browse the list of "Recently Added Publications" and "Top 10 Publications." The resources are not only relevant to research, but also to practical concerns, including as brochures that can be distributed and shared with parents and community members. If you haven't viewed the ED Pubs website, I recommend it, as many publications are available as electronic documents (e.g., .PDF files), while others can be shipped to you free of charge. I have found some great resources on the site, and believe other educators could also find some quality information here as well.