My newest post for NEO is all about empowering students with choices to “show what they know.” In the article, I make the case against multiple choice assessments, which: often make it easy for students to cheat, rarely allow students to demonstrate deeper knowledge, and aren’t authentic windows into student ability. I give some suggestions for other ways to learn whether your students have mastered a skill — and you may be surprised at the time you will save on reteaching and retesting in your classroom if you adopt some of these methods.
All of my NEO articles can be found here, and you can see a list of my published articles, including some that I’ve appeared in as “an expert,” here. I also continue to add to my public collection of free resources on Wakelet, which you can follow here.
I think that the deepest discussions I ever hear in my classroom happen when we do Hexagonal Thinking. If you haven’t heard of this strategy, I explain how I use it with my 4th graders in this blog post. Last year, I did a post on using Hexagonal Thinking to reflect on the school year. In the past, my 3rd-5th graders have used Hexagonal Thinking. This year, on a whim, I decided to try it with my 2nd graders.
My 2nd graders have never done an activity like this before. It was our last day of class together, and I wanted to help them sum up the things they have learned in our Gifted and Talented class this year. Because they were new to Hexagonal Thinking, I conducted the activity in a slightly different way.
First, I went to this awesome Hexagon Generator, and asked the class to help me brainstorm words that represented things they have learned in GT. Here is what they came up with:
I did this right before their recess time, so I could make some quick copies for everyone while they played.
When we got back to the classroom, I paired up the students and gave them the paper. Now this is where I really departed from my traditional lesson. Instead of asking them to cut up the hexagons and place them where they wanted on a new sheet of paper, I asked them to make connections between words that were already sharing sides. We went over a couple of examples so they could understand that I didn’t want them to say things that used the words in the explanation, (such as creativity goes with problem solving because you need to be creative to problem solve) but to think about the qualities that each word shared.
You know how you sometimes come up with an idea right before class and you start executing the idea and realize about 3/4 of the way through explaining it that it was the dumbest idea ever and now you need to figure out how to get through the next 45-minutes without anyone crying – including you?
That’s how I felt as I started monitoring the partner discussions. Expecting 2nd graders to “go deep” on the last day of class was not a brilliant decision on my part. There were comments like, “Well, bridges goes with stability because they need to stay up or they will fall down.” True, but not what I was going for.
And then something kind of magical happened. I heard partners saying, “No, no, that’s not what she wants.” And I started reading some of their notes. And I realized that these kids can think deeper than I can when given the opportunity.
A few of their comments:
Stability and Support – “You have to be strong and stand up for your friends.”
Creativity and Perspective – “You have to think the way others think to make them happy.”
Perseverance and Adaptations – “They both don’t give up trying to survive.”
Perseverance and Adaptations – “Sometimes you need to change to work together.”
Ethics and Perspectives – “When you don’t look at different points of view, sometimes you get in a fight.”
You can see the working drafts one pair used below.
The great thing about this activity was hearing the students use the vocabulary, like “ethics” and “perspectives” correctly, and being able to tell from their comments if they really understood these topics.
If you still have some time with your students before closing out the year, I definitely recommend this activity!
I should probably explain right at the beginning of this post that I am not going to be talking about crime scene investigation. Or television shows. Or the fact that I couldn’t stand C.S.I. Miami because David Caruso is a terrible actor. Or the fact that watching too many episodes of C.S.I. resulted in me being less worried about being murdered in my home than about the idea of a team of people being so horrified by my lack of housekeeping skills that they wouldn’t be able to concentrate on solving my murder.
No, this is a different C.S.I. This one is a Visible Thinking Routine from Harvard’s Project Zero. I am a little upset with myself that it took me 27 years to discover these Visible Thinking Routines. It’s good I don’t plan to retire any time soon…
In this case, C.S.I. stands for, “Color, Symbol, Image.” Students can use this to reflect on something they’ve read, a video they’ve watched, or anything else they have learned. From the student responses, teachers can really get a great idea of each student’s comprehension of the material. It is also what I like to call a “self-differentiated” activity because students of many abilities can use this tool at their own level.
I decided to use C.S.I. with my 5th graders to find out how they felt about the novel we are reading, The Giver. We haven’t gotten far in the book, so I plan to have them do this same activity after they have finished the story so we can compare/contrast their feelings about it. Before giving them the green light to start, I showed them this example (thanks to Kristen Kullberg for sharing this and the Kinder example linked below on her blog) from another dystopian novel, The Hunger Games. You can see a couple of their completed products below. (The sticky notes were added by other students when we did a gallery walk and they could put stickies on the “wow” ideas.)
This was a good formative assessment. The students seemed to enjoy it, and I was able to see that they had already developed some interesting insights about the fictional community in the book. I’m looking forward to using some more of the Visible Thinking Routines from Project Zero!
I have been looking at alternate report cards lately – some that use standards based grading, some that assess 21st century skills, etc… As I did my research, I ran across an article from 2011 that appeared in Good magazine, challenging readers to “Redesign the Report Card.” I was intrigued by the idea of not only rethinking what would be assessed on my ideal report card, but how it would be visually represented.
Since the article was from 2011, I deduced that there was probably a subsequent article announcing the winner. I was correct. But before you look, here is a slideshow of the submissions from readers that made it to the final vote. I was intrigued by the variety of presentation ideas as well as the infographic-type style incorporated into many of the redesigns. The addition of QR codes to one of them so that parents could scan to get more detailed information was brilliant!
Here is the link to the winner. Considering this was created six years ago, I feel that it is pretty innovative. However, I still think that we need to consider the question of what kind of feedback we are actually trying to communicate with reports to parents. What does a grade really mean – how much the student knows now, or how much she crammed for a final exam and forgot the next day?
I think it would be a fantastic idea to pose this challenge to students. Think of the rich discussions and debates you could have in the classroom as they struggle to create a meaningful report card. Even with younger students you could ask them what their parents would want to know about how they do in school. Older students could start with what should be assessed and talk about if grades should be used or another way to keep students and parents informed about progress.
The PicCollage (or PicKids) app is a versatile tool that my students have used for reflection, creating visuals for a report, and telling stories. Recently, I’ve seen a couple of different articles on the web about students and teachers using PicCollage to make game boards. This can range in educational value from creation for fun all of the way to another way to assess learning. In all cases, creativity can be a part of the activity as students can personalize the boards with photos, stickers, and text. For some examples and specific integration ideas, check out these two blog posts: “Digital Game Boards with PicCollage” and “Creating and Playing Games on PicCollage.”
Even though I really enjoy hearing the conversations that go on when my students do a Hexagonal Learning activity, my students will tell you that the playlist assessment is actually their favorite when it comes to demonstrating their understanding of a novel. According to them, they enjoy being able to work independently on this assignment, and to really “dig deep” (their words) into the meaning of lyrics as well as the novels we are analyzing.
Here’s how our playlist assignments work: I give the students 5 songs to listen to, in addition to the lyrics from each of the songs. The students are told to choose one song that they think represents the book the best – in other words, if the book were turned into a movie, this song would be a great theme song. Then they must justify their answers using at least three different lyrics with at least three different examples from the book.
A couple of notes: 1.) I like to give students choice, so the first couple of years I did this activity, I asked them to bring in their own ideas for songs. They never did. I still offer the option to request a song be added, but the students rarely suggest one. They seem happier with the ones I recommend. 2.) If you choose to do this activity, you will need to “vet” the best way for the students to access the songs. Podsnack is a nice site for creating playlists, but won’t play when my students log in. YouTube lyrics videos work for us, using SafeShare, as long as I have approved the videos beforehand. Another option is to create a station where students can listen to the songs downloaded on an iPad or iPod.
I’ve done this activity with groups of different sizes, and the silence is eerie when everyone puts on their headphones and get started. The students are intensely focused on the assignment. Some take notes on scratch paper before choosing a song. Others page through their novels as they listen. I almost feel useless as the students work because they are so incredibly engaged that there is no need for redirection. Instead, I periodically give them feedback in Google Classroom to encourage them or remark on their interesting ideas.
My 4th graders do this activity with Tuck Everlasting. My 5th graders do it with The Giver. I asked my 5th graders this time if I could share a couple of their responses with you, and they agreed.
If you are interested in using The Giver Playlist Assignment, here is a link to make a copy. Within that document is a link to the Exemplars that I used with my students to show themthe different levels of responses.
I should probably warn you that, once the students do this assignment, they may request to listen to the music while doing other assignments as well. Some of them get very attached to the songs!