Who Assesses the Assessments?

Remember that catchy saying from Alan Moore’s the Watchmen?

Well, here is your chance to rate those old 20th century multiple choice high stakes  assessments! Time for teachers to do the assessing for a change. That’s right, even though most teachers sign ominously-worded affidavits prohibiting the discussion of most test items and language, we are still free to comment online and informally on the overall effectiveness of the CELDT, CST,   or any assessment. Thanks to a marvelous team of frustrated teachers,  as of August of  2011 we have…

Assessment Advisor  describes itself as follows:

Assessment Advisor is a website created by teachers that allows preK-12 teachers to review publicly available assessments that they use in their classrooms. It is a resource for educators who want effective means of measuring their students’ progress, and gives teachers a platform for voicing their thoughts on which assessments work, and which don’t.

Rate the CELDT exam

Anyone with any experience in matter can probably guess that most of the high-stakes exams currently available and widely administered are not exactly 5-star winners. In fact, the CELDT is rated at 1.57/5 stars, while the English Language Arts CST (California) can boast a higher rating of 2.29!

Granted, these ratings are not exactly quantitatively bullet-proof at this point, with most assessments relying on less than 20 ratings. Still, they provide a good starting point for further review, especially for test designers and state agencies  who are wrangling with the development of the next generation of assessments in this,  the post-NCLB age (is it too early to call it that?).  Will they listen to the teachers, or will the rely on the Arne Duncan, test-with-a-human-face market- based approach? Will these  experience-based numbers make into the Power Point presentations  of ed consultants who preach a data driven approach as the magic bullet for school reform?  Only time and more ratings will prove this to be true.

Please share and let’s get this project of the ground.

Edudemic Magazine built for the iPad Educator

The editors at edudemic.com have released their Edudemic iPad magazine, exclusively dedicated to the world of iPad in education. So far, they have published two issues, with Vol. 2 featuring an article written by us!

Download the latest version and tell us what you think.

 

The article, which we can’t link here because you have to download the magazine into an iPad, is entitled: Toward Meaningful iPad integration and deals with issues of app proliferation, equal access, and the future of app development in the age of Common Core State Standards.

Digital Dialects Helps Students Learn Oromo, Kurdish and Czech (and Also English) For Free

Digital Dialects is a free way to learn over 60 languages for the cost of a breath of air. You can learn Malay, Cebuano, and Maltese, but I suspect most people will use it to learn the more plain vanilla languages like English and Spanish.

It has been around for about 5 years now, but it still retains its shelf life as the activities and games cover basic English Language vocabulary like food, clothing, numbers, colors without looking like a preschool site.

Most of the animations were produced by Craig Gibson, who developed the idea after working on a dissertation about online English language study. By now the project has grown and continues to expand, with many games featuring audio files to help the student with the proper pronunciation. Again, it is designed for true neophytes, so don’t expect much in terms of extensive language lessons.

I put my newcomer students on Digital Dialects and they spent the better part of the morning fully engaged. According to them, (5th and 6th grades) the games were “easy” to “so-so”.  We’re recommending it here because it is free, and visually engaging enough to supply the brain with enough dopamine to sustain learning. Plus, it helps out your students who just walked in the door from El Salvador, without having to deal with logins and passwords.

Here is an example of some of the artwork.

 

iBooks and English Language Learners

Apple’s recent announcement of a “gamechanger” in education arrived with much fanfare and generated mega decibels of buzz around the world because the Cupertino, CA tech giant was again attempting, to either  A) help revolutionize how we consume and create content, or B)  to gobble up yet another industry.

The past few days have produced many posts and tweets, many critical, many outraged, some cynical and  others truly awed and excited about the possibilites iBook Author offers. With all the questions regarding content ownership, portability, collusion with mega publishers aside, we at Zacatechista wanted to drop our own thought droppings on eTextbooks and iBook Author specifically.

 

Here is a screenshot of our current project–and the reason for this post:

We should disclose that we have been working for more than a year now on a set of English Language Development games and apps for the iPad called elDcoder, and while the project is still under construction, the prospects of being able to extend its boundaries  into the textbook realm offers new possibilities.

First, as content creators we look forward to adapting and extending the content of elDcoder,  which is currently much more geared to gaming and testing English listening, reading, writing skills, and porting some of that over onto a sequential textbook series that can accompany the app, or vice versa. And its clear after only one weekend of playing with iBook Author really makes this process easy. This should come as no surprise, coming from the same company that puts out Garage Band and iMovie, both of which were used to build the content for the first chapter of elDcoder’s (Beginner level).

Getting the hang of it was no problem. Knowing how to best take advantage of the features and to better streamline your job will require more tinkering. Discovering the versatility of working with Dashcode also contributed to the prolonged sense of tech-arousal inherent in these interactions. Now a textbook can be embedded with anything we can dream of, as long as it is not Flash.

As for what this means for English Language Learners? Well, anyone that teaches ELL students knows that ELD curriculum is not always the top priority of most schools or districts. The requirements are there, but ELD, at least as it is practiced in California is a reality often found on paper, but with so many curricular and other constraints, it often goes untaught or folded into the traditional English Language Arts, leaving many students with profound language gaps in both the forms and functions of English which prevent them from every reaching Fluent English Proficient Status, permanently relegating them to a secondary LEP  status, thereby  not graduating, or amounting to anything, and dying a cold and lonely death.

OK, hyperbole aside, It should also be noted that while explicit English Language Development is very important, not just for newcomers, but for those students with years in the system, there often is very little invested in terms of materials for its instructions, leaving many teachers to make up their own curriculum.  This is where iBooks author comes in. All of us who are in the trade of educating English Language Learners in all of their manifestations and who have been for years developing our own curriculum where there was none now can come together and start building the next generation of textbooks, as open and free in many cases, and under Apples restrictive ownership agreements in others.

The goal for us ESL teachers, authors and content providers  should not be whether can get rich making textbooks, as the mega-conglomerates are happy to do, but to offer schools the most authentic, constantly updated, classroom-tested textbooks at the lowest possible price in the name of education. If we must partner with the Giant Apple that is now doing the gobbling in order to do so, then we must deal with them with the best interest of our students constantly in our mind.

If you are interested in contacting us about possible collaborations or if you have further questions, please leave a comment below. We will be launching a more formal collaborative effort with the aims of producing a collaborative eTextbook series for English Language Learners in the coming months and asking other interested educators to share their lessons, materials and other resources for inclusion into the elDecoder series.

 

 

 

 

 

Biblioteca Digital: An Indispensable (and Contemporary) Source of Spanish Language Texts

Mexico’s Biblioteca Digita ILCE has been around for many years now, and has undergone many face-lifts over the years. It’s newest form is no different and still constitutes one of the greatest portals for Spanish Language quality texts available on-line.

It not only features curated sites for the study of humanities, sciences, art and more, it also has an impressive children’s library containing dozens of high-quality, illustrated books that will students reconnect with their Mexican heritage as well as learn content area material ranging from science to social studies, ecology, and more.

The site is perfect for anyone who either teaches Spanish as a second language or in a primary language Spanish-bilingual classroom.

I’ve used their materials over the years throughout the elementary grades. The format tends to vary, as the materials comes from various authors and illustrators, but the content is available in most cases on mobile devices, making it an indispensable tool for the Spanish or bilingual classroom, or those wishing  to stay connected to Mexican and other Latin American cultures.

 

ILCE which stands for the Latin American Institute for Educational Communication, is the organ that put together this great project. They have been around for 55 years and these days they are dedicated to setting up all kinds of collaborations between countries and making Spanish language educational materials available online through various partnerships.

 

When My Dictionary Doesn’t Help try YourDictionary

How many times have you assigned work out of some dictionary–even reputable online dictionaries–and end up with a definition that is equally baffling to a student. A student in this situation will usually do what she or he is  told and copy said definition in their notebooks. Then  they will attempt to write a mangled sentence with no sense of context and meaning, suggesting that the whole activity might just have been a huge waste of time. 

This aforementioned scenario takes place in countless classrooms around the world and millions of students who are supposed to be learning new vocabulary are in fact engaged in a senseless practice of copying from a reference book and practicing their handwriting and patience, but little else.

Dictionaries are useful tools that can help a reader find the meaning of a persistently hard-to-pin-down word when all other recourses fail. They should not be used unless context clues and word analysis don’t help.

That said, I recently came across Yourdictonary.com, a site specifically developed for learners of English who struggle with the oblique and comprehension-unfriendly language often found in most dictionaries.

It works very similarly to a dictionary.com or the Websters online dictionary. The user enters a word into a field, and as long as it’s spelled correctly it will reveal the definition. The difference is that in YourDictionary the results actually make sense.

Let’s compare:

Here is the dictionary.com entry for “manifest”

man·i·fest

[man-uh-fest]

adjective

1.

readily perceived by the eye or the understanding; evident;obvious; apparent; plain: a manifest error.
2.

Psychoanalysis. of or pertaining to conscious feelings, ideas,and impulses that contain repressed psychic material: themanifest content of a dream as opposed to the latent contentthat it conceals.
verb (used with object)

3.

to make clear or evident to the eye or the understanding;show plainly: He manifested his approval with a hearty laugh.
4.

to prove; put beyond doubt or question: The evidencemanifests the guilt of the defendant.
5.

to record in a ship’s manifest.
noun
6.

a list of the cargo carried by a ship, made for the use ofvarious agents and officials at the ports of destination.
7.

a list or invoice of goods transported by truck or train.
8.

a list of the cargo or passengers carried on an airplane.

And here is the YD version…

manifest

Manifest describes something that is clear to see or understand.(adjective)

An example of manifest is someone knowing that something is true.

Manifest means to prove or make something clear. (verb)

An example of manifest is showing someone the facts about something.

As you can see, the latter is much clearer and easy to understand. It goes without saying that the previous definition is more comprehensive and more reliable in terms of finding out the specific use in all the possible contexts, however the YD version has the advantage of purging out the language that is an obstruction to understanding, and only presents the most common uses of the word.

Another advantage to YourDictionary, at least as it pertains to English Learners, is that it offers sample sentences, probably fished out of the internet by some algorithm, but that nonetheless offer a student many different ways they might encounter a word, or many real life ways that a sentence can be constructed with it.

But it doesn’t stop there. Besides providing word definitions and examples in sentences, YourDictionary.com  offers ESL and Education pages specifically designed to help teachers and students of ESL make better use of their vocabulary development time. There are lesson ideas on how to use YourDictioanry.com and other resources to help with comprehension whether you are learning English in Harbin, China, or in Phoenix Arizona. You can even use your mobile device so you can get results on the go.

There are also pretty simple printable worksheets on vocabulary, commonly confused words, GRE or SAT practice, essay writing tips, grammar help for kids and more, earning this site the title of “indispensable” for any bilingual or ESL classroom.

So next time you think of throwing  a brick at your students, send them to YD instead, and you will hear more students exclaim, “Aha” instead of “huh?”