Click here to read Part 1 of this post, where Alexander Clarkson discusses the challenges teachers face when giving regular formative assessments and feedback.
I don’t have the answer, but I have an answer: next generation digital assessment. My teaching emphasized writing as assessment because I was suspicious of structured response items like multiple-choice, true/false, or matching. They felt less like authentic thinking tasks and more like artificial hoops that practically beg students to cheat or use test-taking skills to trump thinking skills. But, what if I could reduce the amount of writing grading that I faced by replacing those bulky assessments with next generation digital tasks that required authentic thinking skills, properly challenged students to master those skills, and provided formative feedback necessary for modification of instruction? And what if that approach graded itself?
The idea is simple. We can now develop digital assessment models that automatically grade while providing students with challenging, authentic skills practice. We must move away from multiple-choice question types to those that present thinking challenges that cannot be “gamed,” but will accurately provide data on a student’s ability to perform a skill, with that data indicating how to proceed.
Let me give an example. I wrote an item last year to prepare students for Ohio’s state tests, which were being administered by Pearson’s PARCC platform for the first time. In trying to prepare students for these new tests, I had nearly no practice material, so I collaborated with another teacher to write original material based on PARCC approaches. This particular item was based on an excerpt from Stephen King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (wonderful little book; check it out) in which the protagonist, a 14 year-old girl named Tricia, finds herself lost after fainting on the Appalachian Trail. The question gave the students six statements about events that happen in the novel before the excerpt presented in the assessment. Students had never read that part. They had to arrange the statements into the correct order. Students had to use causal and inferential reasoning to accurately arrange the statements. In the excerpt, the girl had just woken up from a faint, so the statement “Tricia faints” was logically the last event before the excerpt. The student would move backward from there.
I’m using this item as an example because it shows the type of assessment item I am now looking to repeat. It requires skills that I actually want students to develop, causal and inferential reasoning, not test-gaming with multiple-choice or matching questions. It is replicable for another passage, which means I can re-write the question with different content and give more opportunities to practice the skills. And, best of all, it will be automatically graded. All I need to do is assign it, let the students complete it, review the data, and modify instruction. The grading burden drops to nearly zero. Sure, the assessment creation takes time, but less time than grading, and assessment creation can be shared collaboratively with teachers throughout buildings or an entire district, thus reducing the time needed even further.
This is where I was when Edcite came into my life. I knew what I wanted to do, but I was struggling with the perfect platform to accomplish it. As a Google user, I stuck with Forms graded through Flubaroo, but Forms was never designed for educators. It works just fine for multiple-choice questions, but designing this Stephen King question in Forms led to a student experience that was basically clunky. I suspected that students may not be able to complete the question well because of its awkward presentation. Edcite, however, offers an order list response item type, which allowed me to create the question as a user friendly drag and arrange item. It worked perfectly. After looking at it, I reviewed other items in the same assignment, which were mostly traditional multiple-choice and multiple-select items, and chided myself for not creating more of these rigorous and authentic challenges for my students. Empowered by Edcite, I’m excited to design more.
And what will those items look like? How about having students watch a compilation of movie clips and then sort quotes based on the type of figurative language? How about asking them to graph a quadratic equation or use a math keyboard to answer a word problem? Or maybe asking them to click on sections of a map when asked questions like “Identify the compass rose” or label a blank map of Mesopotamia? No multiple-choice to provide assistance. Just the student’s ability (or lack thereof). How about asking students to highlight statements from the novel The Valley of Fear to answer a question about irony? All of this automatically graded. Just design the assessment, assign it, and modify instruction based on the data. It’s just like setting up that robot pitcher.
That’s why Edcite is such an incredible gift to teachers. Instead of offering a handful of question types and limited ability to customize, Edcite offers (at the time of this writing) 74 question types. I have discussed only five or six here. Most questions allow for customization including the embedding of images, videos, sound files, links, and more. With a little creative thought and focus on effective learning challenges, a teacher could use this platform to completely redesign assessment in a way that would provide repeated opportunities for authentic skills practice. Oh, and without the crushing burden of grading.
I’m an English teacher. I will always grade essays, and my students will always work hard to improve those vital communication and critical thinking skills, but by embracing next generation assessment approaches, I do not need to only grade essays. I can develop a library of assessments that will sharpen a wide range of skills without the constant crush of grading.
It’ll just be that kid and me, her in the cage, me watching from outside. A pitch and a miss, followed by a few words. Another pitch, another miss. More words. Some demonstration. Another pitch, and CRACK! A slam threatening to punch a hole in the net.
Alexander Clarkson is currently the digital instruction specialist for Sylvania Schools, where he helps teachers include innovative instructional strategies in their classrooms as they move to full 1:1 implementation. Just last year, though, Alex finished a sixteen-year tenure of teaching that included English language arts, philosophy, and film studies at the college, high school, and junior high school levels. When he’s not thinking about digital instruction, Alex marvels at his two-year-old’s abilities with a tablet and his fifteen year-old’s abilities with a drum kit.