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.

 

 

 

 

 

Smart APPS*

Rocket Math

Rocket Math catches my attention for two reasons.  First, I think it has a lot of imagination.  The player is able to create his/her own rocket in their image.  Also the player is able to choose the rockets name.  Second, the game is also smart. In order to buy attachments for the rocket you have to get money, and in order to get money you have to solve math problems.  Another example is when you launch the rocket into space there are bubbles that have numbers in them and  “you have to get the ones your assigned to like evens or odds”.  Clearly, Rocket Math is one of the best math apps for kids like me playing to learn.

iScroll

iScroll is an amazing reading app for two reasons. One, its organized. It has a bookmark so wherever you left off it puts you there when you start again. Second, it has a store filled with fantastic books.  It gives one book for free and that book is called The Art Of War.  I thought it was amazing.   All in all, IScroll is far though the best reading app I have.

*Smart Apps is a weekly review series that researches and reviews iPad education related applications by Sol Ruiz, a 5th grade student, and Sebastian Ruiz in 7th grade.

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.