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.

Advertisements

Extra, extra, READ all about it!

If ever you’ve educated the young and have tried to impart the joyous importance of reading you know that while even Sisyphus might empathize with you, he does not envy you.

Why Reading Mattersa documentary by science writer Rita Carter, explores the effects of reading on the evolved brain and if multimedia, specifically video games,threatens those evolutionary gains thus far.  Despite not being programmed to read, she explains, when we do, it exercises and strengthens our ability to empathize with the characters of a novel and learn from their past mistakes in order to apply those lessons to real life.  Some scientists argue that video games, in particular, do not exercise the brain enough in that way due to their lack of content.  Though the evidence is inconclusive, I agree; while video games exercise other brain functions like eye hand coordination they do not exercise empathy enough. Even the collaborative qualities of mission-based, multi-player videos games do not develop the narrative and character enough to give us the empathy the real world is so desperate for us to learn.  What do you think?  Does digital media threaten the evolutionary benefits of reading?

For English Language Learners, their educators, and parents this documentary explains why for them practicing reading is even more crucial to academic development.  In part 2 of 6, minute 5, Professor of Education Usha Goswami at Cambridge University validates what most of us who learn English as a Second Language have known all along: English is much harder to learn than any other language!  She asserts that English is so hard that our brains must develop a whole different system to support this function than when we learn any other language.  For educators this is huge, science validates the frustrations of our students trying to learn content and English at the same time.  It is huge for them to know that there is nothing wrong with them nor with us trying to lead them down this rabbit whole.

“…80 percent correlation between being two years behind in reading at the 4th grade mark and dropping out of high school later.”

Holy what are we going to do if we can’t read, Batman?!

Well, according to this alarming statistic, 17% of African-American, 14 % of Hispanic,  and 25% of affluent students will drop out of high school 8 out of 10 times.   Not only that, but most of us also know that “they” also use this same statistic, 4th grade reading, to project funding for prisons.  It doesn’t take a fourth grade teacher to point out those context clues and draw a conclusion.

Luckily,  The Digital Teachers Corps: Closing America’s Literacy Gap policy brief moves on to explain that to combat this impending doom we should create a super teacher work-force that utilizes all forms of technology at our disposal.  Research shows that technology, used strategically, certainly gives students the authentic opportunities needed to develop language, hence, thinking, proficiency.  This could be huge for English Language Learners as well as Academic English Language Learners.  Have a by-gone perusal of the brief (only a nice 7 pages).

I guess I can lay my head down to sleep and know that folks are creating solutions at the public policy level that don’t have to do with replacing me by RoboTeach.

Good Game!

eLearn Magazine, Education and Technology in Perspective published What Makes a Good Learning Game? Going Beyond Edutainment in February of this year.  The author,  Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen, outlines components in useful buzz words for non-techie educators and the sleek-edu-geeks alike to quickly evaluate the utility of the tons of “learning games” out there when looking for meaningful ways to integrate technology and curriculum.  The buzz words stay with you, and I can see them crossing my mind as I type ready to shoot them down with my semantic knowledge; ready, set, here we go.

1. Substantives – the signifiers and signified – the nouns that set-up the scene,

2. Verbs – the things learners have to do to meet the challenges and get the rewards,

3. Problem-solving – the challenges have to be interesting, and if I may add my two cents, culturally relevant,

4. Rewards – the rewards must definitely be culturally relevant,

5. Feedback – I remember an old mentor always used to say “Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent.”   So be weary of games that do not offer corrective feedback if the educator is not present., and

6. Alignment – while Egenfeldt-Nielsen doesn’t explicitly say to look for games that are tied to standards or even lesson objectives, I am.  If a game has all the first five components without this last one, you might as well just flush your professionalism down the toilet and admit you’re using gaming to baby-sit your class.

That said, Egenfeldt-Nielsen validates drill-and-practice games describing them as a “sound learning principle”.  I use drill-and-practice games aligned to standards and lesson objectives in order to pull small instructional groups for more support toward mastery. (Boy, o boy, a traveling tablet lab would be nice!)

Both drill-and-practice and mission-based games can be used to get that much closer to the Holy Grail of buzz words in education today individualized and differentiation.  So let the games begin!

Bilingual and Bicultural, the Immigrant Student’s Way To Success

New research done by the University of Missouri’s David Aguayo and published as  “Culture Predicts Mexican Americans’ College Self-Efficacy and College Performance,” in the journal Culture and College Outcomes finds that Mexican-American students who keep their native language and maintain close ties to their home culture earn higher GPAs than their English Only counterparts.

In the study, Aguayo followed 408 Mexican American students and found a strong correlation between their grades in school and the degree to which they kept their cultural heritage close to them, including language.

This might seem counterintuitive to many who for years have clamored for the elimination of bilingual education and the establishment of English only requirements for schools, however those of us who had the fortune to grow up bilingual, despite the strong acculturating forces that tend to strip away home language and culture in this country while  achieving  high marks in school hardly find these results surprising.

  After all, brain research in recent years point to several  cognitive advantages held by bilingual brains over monolingual ones.  There is strong evidence to prove that bilingual brains have stronger executive functions and can handle multiple tasks better than those that only hold one language.

Researchers have also found that the bilingual brain also has a 5 year delay of the onset of dementia when compared with monolingual patients. Why then, would it not makes sense that students who have hard-wired their brains with double the power in the executive language centers would not have an advantage over those that only rely on one.

It’s our own Dual Processor!

A story that ran today on NPR pretty much outlines these findings.

As vindicating as these findings may be to proponents of bilingual education, we have to pause and ask a few questions:

1. What makes a student more likely to maintain their home language and culture? Could there be a cognitive advantage already pre-installed that allows some students to move through life without losing their native tongue and others to struggle to maintain it?

2. What correlation is there between the ability to remain bilingual and the desire to maintain and nurture cultural heritage? Does one precede the other?

3. What outside factors contribute to the maintenance of a home language? Distance from the border? Availability of Spanish media outlets? The chance to go to a bilingual school? Spanish-friendly public policy? It would be interesting to see how Aguayo’s findings vary across geography and income brackets as well.

4.  What do these findings tell us about the direction of public education given the fact that Latinos are one of the fastest growing demographics? Should we be promoting more bilingual schools, and as a consequence, fostering the resurgence of more bilingual models that have recently bitten the dust as a result of the No Child Left Behind schemes of the past 10 years?

5. Finally, what do we as educators of English Language Learners need to do to make sure we are not promoting English proficiency at the expense of a rich native literacy?

One small change I predict has to do with the the focus of this website. In the future zapaTECHISTA will definitely have to change   from a blog that only promotes the teaching of English to English Learners through technology to one that includes more digital resources to maintain the Spanish language and associated cultures.

This article, by the way, can be used as a reading comprehension lesson. I’ve adapted it and added some questions to the end. Feel free to pass it along.

News-David Aguayo

 

Engage Your Student’s Brain with Dopamine

Reluctance is only one of the words that comes to many a teacher’s mind when thinking about letting students play video games in class. After all, video games ruin your brain, so they say. They turn you into passive, drooling vegetables and will ultimately ruin your grades and your life and nobody will ever want you.

But seriously, the idea that video games can be a beneficial and engaging tools in a classroom  no longer seems as controversial as before. Millions of students around the globe have learned their times tables by shooting rockets  at asteroids,  or learned their spelling words by guiding a frog across a river of drifting logs, or gone on web quests around the world collecting artifacts,  and learned a multitude of skills without even realizing they were learning,  simply by playing video games.

Recent studies have found that what makes video games so addicting and so engaging can also help in making learning irresistible.  The brain, according to Tom Chatfield in this TED Talk,  is rewarded  when put in a game environment. Those rewards are intrinsic in our chemistry, and if we as educators can learn how to tap into those veins, we can make students into learning junkies.

It all has to do with dopamine and how the brain craves more of something it finds rewarding.

Watch the video to find out the 7 ways in which video game architecture can be used to engage students, as I don’t want to repeat what he says. However the ideas he advances should be taken very seriously by todays education gurus. Here are a few points that I think could be furthered developed:

Experience Points

Current assessment models that track student progress are known for being obtuse and non-immediate. A student report card is usually a collection of grades weighed with different considerations in mind like homework, test results, effort, etc.  They are mere summaries of a grading period and especially in the elementary grades, provide very little feedback.  Instead, students academic progress should be measured by experience points, starting in Kindergarten and ending at graduation. These records could follow a student throughout her or his educational career and would provide a greater motivation than simply getting an A here and a B there, year after year. It would make learning into a cohesive continuum in which students move at different speeds and accumulate points as they move through life.  Furthermore, a student would not be limited to gaining these points by attending a particular school  or completing a regular course, but in theory they could accumulate them through other means, as long as they prove they master the essential steps (in our case academic standards). They could learn from home, or accrue more points though real life learning situations. A whole variety of programs and curriculum would exist to permit students to play and gain points though video games, simulations, brick-and-mortar learning,  digital portfolio evaluations, and even peer review.

 

Learning Missions

Chatfield mentions that engagement is greater when there are mini-missions to complete. Huge tasks are overwhelming, but smaller, more manageable ones are a lot more fun and will give the brain a better “high” in the end. These mini missions would essentially replace the typical lesson.

“Today, class we will work on dividing decimals by two digit whole numbers. Take your textbook and turn to page 89!”

or

“Today we will see how well you can use conjunctions in a sentence with correct punctuation. Open you practice books and try not to fall asleep.”

Quotes like the ones above will hopefully be a  thing of the past one day.

“Today we are going to play a game with some students in Singapore who are challenging our class to divide decimals in order to escape a labyrinth they made! Make teams of five and log on to…”

This example shows how students could complete a quest as part of a team (this part is key) and move through to the next level only if they problem solve and use the skills above. They could complete the mission at home on the Wii, or on their mobile device, in the learning lab, or in their portable holographic projector while they run on their treadmill. (Hey, learning does not mean sitting on your butt).

In fact a student could go on a hunt and take pictures, video, and gather evidence, to later present to their peers and show how they were able to use decimals and conjunctions and earn a digital “badge” like scouts.

 Learning Teams

Students should not have to be limited by their particular school in order to make progress. They should be able to connect to students at the global level and work on solving problems in teams, like in the virtual worlds described by Chatfield.  I would also expand this to include a peer-teaching component. It is no secret that students often learn faster from each other.

Any sort of online learning collaboration should, as a fundamental part, include an element of peer review and instruction. Those students who have more experience points can team up with those who are starting out and lend them a hand.

Competition could still play a role, but students would be compelled to make sure everyone on their team was up to task in order for the team to complete a mission.

Bright Horizons?

The challenge in all of this is not merely to change the way we teach our children. Many of these ideas are already permeating the educational world in smaller, more limited settings. Others are still in their infancy. What is truly worrisome is that these changes will arrive and that they will become centralized and monetized for the for-profit world.  The last thing we need is for all of this to be handed over to Pearson or some other large conglomerate whose only concern is reaping a profit and who see our students not as the leaders of tomorrow, but as items on a quarterly report.

###

Also of interest is a study by Stanford Medical School that found that the male brain is more likely to be rewarded by video games than the female. Hmmm…definitely throws another wrench into the equation!

Also, check out this podcast for some funny insight on the world of video games:

A Life Well Wasted

 

 

ELLs and the National Standards

Last September the CCSSO (Council of Chief State School Officers) sponsored a conference entitled : Charting the Course of Success for English Language Learners Conference: Common Core State Standards Implementation

They discussed a variety of topics from assessment considerations for English Language Learners to how to make sure that students are successful within this new framework. The materials, PowerPoints are available here:

The conference offers a great starting point for those intersted in getting involved in the creation of new materials, assessments and  in designing programs to make sure our ESL/ELL students have a head start on the new National Standards CCSS.