Online testing, needs some improvements

My students have been taking online NWEA MAP test the last couple of years. I have growing concerns as we move the states tests from pencil and paper to an online format. How will our students adapt? Will the scores match old scores? Teachers have taught student test taking strategies that just don’t seem to translate to the online format.

For starters, I have always taught my students to brain dump information they feel is important to know for an assessment at the start. This gives the student the ability to organize and visualize their thinking and knowledge before they use it to answer questions. An example is show below:

Brian Dump

Is this possible for an online test? Sure if students have paper, pencil and space to write. One of these elements is often missing when most classes test online.

Next is reading on a computer screen. Whether it is a tablet on a traditional computer screen, reading online is so different from reading off of paper. Can students underline, highlight, write notes next to paragraphs? These are all practices currently fostered in most classrooms. We have the technology to enable these practices for online testing but are we using them?

Finally, the age old practice of eliminating the wrong answers. I remember being in 2nd grade and Mrs Garrison at Monroe Elementary teaching us how to eliminate the wrong answers. Cross them out so we don’t accidentally pick the wrong answer. In my classroom, when I collect the test papers I love looking at student evidence of thinking. The pages are marked up, with crossed out choices and helping words. I encourage my students to write out their work on the TEST page before filling out the “bubble” sheet. On last week’s test I had two students come show me their tests to give evidence that they made a transference error not an error in thinking. Having the correct answer on their test paper but wrong on “bubble’ sheet helped me know what skills were missing. How would this work for an online test? Where can they write notes? make cross outs?

Online tests need to allow students to use the same skills they have learned for pen and paper assessments, until they do they lake overall validity are are just a novelty! Student will click away instead of taking time to work through the answers.

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There are so many Positives in Education

Today was a great reminder to me about the many positives in education!

I awoke early on a Saturday went to my brother-in-laws house to pick up my 15- year old niece, Rylee. She has hopes of becoming a teacher some day, so we made plans to attend Edcampou at Oakland University together. Sure I was tired and thinking about how long I could attend the even due to a noon baseball game for my son. It was a dreary cold morning and my niece was silent as we drove the 30-minutes to Oakland University listening to country music. It was a tough week at work, I was just hoping to show Rylee what an edcamp was like. I got so much more.

Upon arrival I was meet with the friendly faces of my PLN, hugs and handshakes. I was quickly reminded of the power of being a connected educator. As the atrium of Pawley Hall filled, it filled with the POSITIVE in education. 200 teachers came from all over the metro-Detroit area to discuss education. To share ideas and philosophies with each other. We came together to support each other in our careers of educating the future. As I was picking up a bagel and getting coffee I saw a face from my teaching past. Jason a student from my first year of teaching (15 yrs ago) approached with his recent bride, both teachers. So great to see a former student joining our ranks and being a passionate educator.

After the kick-off, It was time to attend one session before heading off to my son’s baseball game. I wanted to attend a session Rylee would find interesting as a student. SO, we headed to one discussing HOMEWORK. Rylee sat and listened as the conversation started. Once she noticed that the audience participated (not lecture!) she got the urge to jump in and share how pointless packets of homework are for students since “we Google the answers or take pictures of them and send around a group text.” The participants in the room appreciated her input. The discussion moved towards creating meaningful assignments that students WANT to complete versus creating a culture of compliance. The passion in the room was evident.

When the session ended, Rylee shared that she wished her teachers were in attendance so they could possibly change their homework. We talked about teaching and learning all the way to the ball fields.

After baseball, I returned home to virtually catch up on Edcamp by viewing tweets. It was great seeing all the positive vibes, resources and ideas shared. Every teacher needs to be reminded about the positives that are in education today. The media and politicians seem to always drag us down and focus on the problems in education or society as a whole. Events like Edcamps serve as reminders that there are so many AWESOME things going on in our schools.

It would serve ALL media and POLITICIANS well to attend an Edcamp and report about what is going on, changing the focus from negative to POSITIVE!! I need to take this advice at time too!

Thanks for the awesome reminders EDCAMPOU participants and organizers.

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But I have my own kids too!

This year I am feeling guilty. I am rushing home after school, not staying to plan or meet with our formative assessment team. I missed the first district school improvement meeting and haven’t made a middle school sporting event. This is new for me. Up until this school year, my wife was a stay at home mom. Taking care of our 3 wonderful kids while I worked and looked after my school family. Now she has returned to the work force. I want to stay for school events, but I have my own kids who need me too.

Teachers all over the country are dealing with the guilt of leaving one family to take care of the other. Communities expect teachers to attend every school event. To be around to tutoring, to help out at dances and sporting events. Even to coach sports teams. To attend school events many teachers sacrifice time with their own families. If a school event is missed I feel guilty for not supporting my students. I also feel this guilt when I miss my own children’s event too.

I went into teaching as a second career to make a difference. I know I would not get rich financially but become rich in the connections I made to the community and with my students. Every student who ever walks in my door is “MINE”. I care deeply about them. I feel guilty when they ask if I can attend their game or event and I can’t attend. I especially feel the guilt this week. Our high school has a tradition for Homecoming, football players are to present staff members who made a difference in their educational career with a jersey along with a letter explain why the staff members was picked. This is the second year I have been presented with a jersey. Sadly my 10 year old son has a baseball game at the same time as the homecoming game.

I few outside of education understand how torn teachers can feel. I over hear comments from parents about why teachers can do more after school. Or why Teachers can attend events. We try, we want to, but we have kids too!

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Disservice of sub shortage!

Friday started like any typical school day, teachers slowly trickling into school as the first bell approaches. The copy machine running, students being dropped off out front. Then the PA booms “Teachers were are short on Substitutes today, Please answer the phone when it rings.” Teachers’ moods instantly change as “not again” is moaned by one passing teacher. The Technology Director walks down to one classroom doorway with sub folder in hand stating “Not what I was expecting to do, but it can’t be that bad!”

I hear of this scene all over Metro Detroit. I assume it is happening all over the country. School districts are faced with a growing problem. Substitute teachers are scarce! This problem does a disservice to all staff working in education! Administrators have to scramble to find staff to cover classrooms or cover the classes themselves. Teachers have to sacrifice their limited prep time to teach other classrooms. Support personnel have to abandon their caseloads for the day. Some districts are still struggling to fill full time teaching positions.

This problem most effects out students. How can learning happen when high quality subs aren’t available? or when class size inflate due to lack of teachers? It has gotten to the point where State Superintendent of Education is offering ways to address the “teacher shortage”. “Teaching is the most noble and important of professions and I have no doubt there are people out there who are willing to make a difference,” Flanagan said.

The Michigan Department of Education proposal offers up alternative certification and accelerated paths into teaching. I don’t feel this helps with the urgent need for substitutes around the state. It might help fill the vacancies in some districts. Schools need subs. There are a few ways to fill this need!

1. College Students- Every college of education student should be registered to be a substitute this way when there is a great need to them in schools, they can step up and help out. Great experience and every college student needs some extra cash.

2. Substitutes should get service credit- When I was a sub, my hours counted as service credit towards my retirement. This left a few years ago when school districts were encouraged to privatize their substitute services. Look where this has gotten us. I know many qualified teachers who refuse to sub for this very reason.

3. Community outreach- Districts need to reach out the the religious and other community service organizations to help provide guest teachers when they are short. Local businesses can take an hour or two and let employees help out in the community by teaching the next generation of employees.

The education of the children of our communities should be addressed by everyone in the community. WE all need to work together to solve this shortage. It should not just be pressed upon the school employees.

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Connecting with the already connected? Let’s branch out!!

Did you know October is “Connected Educator Month”? Of those of us educators that are connected via Twitter, Facebook, Google + etc, We can’t miss it. Every 5th tweet in my stream seems to be promoting a #CE14 twitter chat or a webinar about connecting.

But what about unconnected educators? Do they even know that CE Month is happening? What is the purpose of Connected Educator Month?  Is it for all of us who are connected to share how we connect with each other? I hope not. That would be “preaching to the choir”. We know how to connect. We use tools that we like and find engaging. We all have well established and growing Professional Learning Networks.

Connected Educator Month should be about helping those educators who aren’t connected to see the value of connecting. Connected educators need to reach out of their comfort zones of technology connections and connect with those not in our Professional Learning Network. This means spending energy to connect in a DIFFERENT  mode. We can’t promote Twitter, Facebook, or Google + on those networks, we will only reach those that are already there. Having a Connected Educator conversation on twitter draws in nobody new.

As I walk the hallways of my school, October has begun. The Principal has mentioned that it is National Bullying Prevention Month. High school conferences are on the horizon as well is progress report grades. Football and volleyball dominate the after school agenda, along with a fall dance, Homecoming at the high school and Halloween is in the air. No mentions of Connected Educator Month anywhere. .

How do we draw attention to the power of  connections to the unconnected teacher?  Many organizations have online magazines promoting CE Month. I even wrote an article for one last year. Few teachers have time to read these on a regular basis. We are too worried about reaching the students in front of us everyday. The power of connecting can really only be shared in small conversations. I recently has a conversation with two unconnected educators, they asked why and how I had time. I shared my story and experience. It helped them understand more. Will they connect? Maybe.

A better way that telling is showing! The Warren Education Association President has asked for help connecting on twitter. Since we have been friend for 3 years he has seen how I connect and he is trying something new. He has offered up his office conference room for me to show him and anyone else who wants to learn. Tonight during the #michED chat, We will be meeting up to connect. I will be showing a few people the how and answering questions.

Connected educators need to take the time to show others the power! Lets branch out! Have a Greet and Tweet. So that Connected Educator Month can be about adding more members to our connected community.

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Reflective Teaching Day #30 – IF I weren’t afraid

Day 30- @TeachThough  30 Day Reflective Teaching Challenge 

What would you do (as a teacher) if you weren’t afraid?

If I weren’t afraid I would start my own school. I feel the current path that public education is heading down is full of the best intentions but politics and funding seem to rule where the intentions end up. I want to build a school where the world is the classroom. Teachers are the guides. Learning is fun and engaging. Where students don’t have to ask why we are studying a topic because they picked it. Where teachers will show the relevance of topics. Student spend their days motivating teachers and never wanting to leave until sapped of energy instead of the other way around.

Desire to learn is a natural thing. Some how our current society/school model has drained this natural instinct. New schools need to be created without the old school norms. Free from being a political pawn each election season. Where learning is the focus, not day care and seat time. Where a culture of learning is cultivated with the growth mindset.  Students will work at their own pace growing until skills are mastered.

This seems Utopian and full of “buzz words”. It does exist. We have to strive for it everyday. If I weren’t afraid I would stop trying to change my current school and go build a school every child, teacher and community deserves.

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Reflective Teaching Day #29 – Changes in me

Day 29- @TeachThough  30 Day Reflective Teaching Challenge   

How have you changed as an educator since you first started?

 I have been teaching for 15 years. If you were in my first class and came to watch me teach now, you would notice many differences in how I teach. One thing that has not changed over the years is my passion. I care about my students, care about their learning and take pride in my job. If these attributes of my teaching change, it would be time for me to change professions. So what has changed?

My teaching style has changed. I no longer have a teachers centered classroom. The room is my students, for their learning. Less lecture, few time reading out of textbooks, no class time dedicated to copying notes from the overhead. Learning targets are posted on the white board and my class website. Students know what they need to learn. I don’t know if I deliberately told them this 15 years ago. I do repeatedly now. I grade far fewer papers, give less homework and have more fun in class. I feel this has created a better learning environment for my students. Due to spending the last 4 years focusing on formative assessment in my classroom, I have students reflect on their learning frequently. 15 years ago, I never had students reflect. I make more accommodations for my students when I see their needs.

I think teachers do change with experience. They see what works, what doesn’t. Since becoming a connected educator 3 years ago, I feel the changes in my classroom have sped up. I am no longer afraid to try new things with my students. I don’t fear failing in front of them. Teaching has to change, our students and society is changing so teaching has to change with them.

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