Monday, April 20, 2015

Technology and CCSS: Let Me...I Mean Them...Explain

No matter what your views of CCSS might be, there is one facet of the standards that indisputably good for students. Let me explain what I mean. Or better yet, let's have our students explain.

And that is my whole point.

For so long teachers would administer multiple choice or T/F quizzes and tests and then assign "right" or "wrong" scores to a series of highly subjective questions. Now, I am not here to condone standardized tests as I feel they do serve a place in the assessment battery of our school systems. Rather I am perched on my digital soapbox to spread a new kind of educational gospel - one of placing the brunt of the workload on those who need it most - the kids!

A selected response assessment is too often used to place students in categories or "flex groups" when in fact the results of these tests are inconclusive and fuzzy. A 4-option question, for example, yields a 25% chance of gaining the correct answer, and that is before students utilize the vast amounts of "test-taking strategies" taught to them in classrooms near and far.

C Ruined My Life!
Imagine this scenario. Johnny and Suzy, after exhausting all available strategies, are each deliberating over A or C as the correct answer to a question. Johnny chooses A - the "right answer" - and subsequently earns a spot in the advanced reading group in sixth grade. He naturally goes on to be a doctor, lawyer, and award-winning chef. Suzy, meanwhile, settles on C, and faces a 9-week stint in a remedial reading group that scars her educationally for the rest of her school career. She then leads a life of despair and grief with multiple appearances on the daytime talk show circuit.

What we never hear, is that Johnny guessed correctly and lives his life of luxury reading advanced novels and celebrating success with ice cream bars on Fridays, while Suzy chose poorly and is subjected to scorn and ridicule...and decaying corpses in secret medieval caves.

Of course, this is an over simplification of a vastly complex issue, but the point do we really know that Johnny used schema, context clues, inference skills, and 6th grade developing intelligence to make his mark while Suzy lacked in all of those categories?

The Common Core State Standards demand that students not only arrive at correct (or valid) answers but also that they be able to explain how they got there. Thus the difference between Johnny simply guessing "A" correctly and Suzy being able to explain why she chose "C" as a response.

A glance through CCSS helps us see that students need to be able to Describe, Explain, Refer, Analyze, and Cite in order to be proficient and advanced on any variety of assessments. Simply put, selected response tests, in and of themselves, will not cut the mustard anymore. There has to be more evidence.


Well, there are ways to truly determine what our kids know, at least where standardized testing is NOT concerned.

Even as students are asked to "show what they know" on assessments of all shapes and sizes, it remains true that the most fertile ground for budding knowledge is and always has been the respective classrooms of teachers across the world.

I contend that there are some shockingly simple and efficient means whereby teachers can more effectively determine where their kids "are" against any particular Common Core standard. These means allow kids to be creative and innovative with technology - all the while showcasing their knowledge and learning in simple-to-use formats.

Without further adieu, here are some ideas of programs and apps that allow students to talk and write about, illustrate, and show their understanding of a concept or skill (with more details forthcoming in separate subsequent posts):

1) Powtoon - Online animated video creator. Easy to use and upload to Drive, YouTube, etc.

2) Standard Camera/Video Apps - Allows students to record and save explanatory material. Classroom presentations 3.0.

3) Tellagami - Tablet app featuring adjustable cartoon characters. Great formative assessment tool.

4) Explain Everything - Tablet app that allows modifiable screens with voice overlays. Living and dynamic slide shows with tons of features.

5) Private YouTube channels - a simple way to house videos and presentations for ongoing comments and teacher/peer review about student presentations and videos.

As always, these programs and apps represent just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There is so much more out there that we can learn and share.

And that is why we are teachers. We can do anything with just a little bit of ingenuity and drive.

Please comment below with your own ideas and processes for having students of all ages show what they know. And check back here in coming days for a more in-depth look at the above-mentioned ideas.

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