Tag Archives: assessment

Reflecting with Hexagons

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:

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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!

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C.S.I.

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.)

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Here is a link to a template you can use.  If you teach younger grades, here is an example of a Kinder C.S.I. product. This template might be more useful for younger students (less wordy).

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!

Redesign the Report Card

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.

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image from Kyle Harmon on Flickr

PicCollage Game Boards

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.”

Mindset Monopoly
Mindset Monopoly Game created by some of my 3rd Graders (using some Mandala images made by my 4th graders!)

Formative Assessment with Music Lyrics

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.

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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 them the 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!

Formative Assessment with Hexagonal Learning

Even though I’ve already mentioned Hexagonal Learning a couple of other times on this blog, it definitely bears repeating.  If you want to listen to your students having rich conversations about a topic and to discover how well they understand something they have read or that you have taught, this activity will deliver.  And, although I can’t make any guarantees, I have always seen complete engagement with Hexagonal Learning – even from introverts and students who have attention difficulties.

You can find details in last year’s post (linked above).  I just completed another round of Hexagonal Learning for Tuck Everlasting with a new class, and was once again blown away by the intensity of the discussions and deliberate care that went into each group’s connections.  My 5th graders, who were last year’s Tuck Everlasting class, also just completed the same assignment with hexagons from The Giver.

Of course, Hexagonal Learning can be used in ways other than analyzing literature.  Russel Tarr has a great post on how he used this idea in history class.  Tarr also gives a link to a post by John Mitchell on Visual Hexagons, which is an interesting twist I would like to try!

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One group’s interpretation of how to connect the themes, symbols, and characters from Tuck Everlasting

SXSWedu – Throwing Out Grades

I am attending SXSWedu in Austin, TX this week.  You can see the posts that I’ve published so far to summarize my learning here and here.

Our K-5 school is about to embark on an interesting journey.  We are working on “throwing out the grades.”  Instead of averages in each subject, parents will be receiving feedback each nine weeks on how their child has done in each standard that was covered during that period.  Our plan is to slowly roll this out, starting with Kinder and 1st next year and adding two grade levels each successive year. Our goal is to have the entire school using this system in three years.

We are still working on the details, so I was excited to see some of the pioneers in this area would be presenting at SXSWedu.  Mark Barnes and Peter Bencivenga presented. Unfortunately, the third presenter, Starr Sackstein, was unable to attend due to a severe case of the flu.  Mark and Peter did a great job despite missing a teammate!

If you have ever had a student ask you, “Do we need to know this for a test?” or “What do I need to do so I can earn an A?”  then you might understand the reasons for changing our current system.  In the traditional system, students aren’t learning for the sake of knowledge; they are looking for ways to beat the system – to find ways the shortest way to an A.  Another problem is that an average on a report card doesn’t effectively tell the story of that student. Does a B mean that she didn’t know it at first but has completely mastered it now?  Or does it mean she kind of knew and still kind of knows it?  Also, students tend to see that grade as the culmination of their learning and move on, rather than reflecting and revising and digging deeper to achieve more understanding.  They often choose courses based on what has the most potential to increase their class rank rather than on what they actually want to learn.

Mark and Peter spoke about how “throwing out the grades” can actually increase engagement and learning among students.  The feedback that is given to students is actually much more frequent, and gives multiple iteration opportunities to the students so they can improve their work.  Because the students are more focused on the projects they are doing than on the grades they can obtain, they voluntarily work harder to learn more for their own benefit.  Self-reflection is a key component.

One argument that you may hear against this philosophy is that students will have a difficult time getting into colleges if there is no rank and no GPA.  The presenters, however, have seen a shift in college admissions that reflects their own recognition of the need for change.  They emphasized that there is a need for “bottom-up” reform, saying that even reluctant colleges will eventually need to change their process once they see that K-12 schools are making this change.

Communication with parents is vital, and you may find yourself with the difficult job of changing mindsets.  One quote that made a lasting impression on the attendees was what to say in conversations with parents who oppose throwing out the grades.

“Your child is more than a number and a letter.”

What parent can disagree with that?

Hacking Assessment by Starr Sackstein
Hacking Assessment by Starr Sackstein