Linking Assessment with Reporting to Parents

A recent staff meeting discussion got me thinking about how teachers link their assessment to their formal reports.

With a mind to reporting time, staff were questioning the current Department of Education guidelines regarding the allocation of A to E grades. There were quite a range of opinions floated:
[quote]…an A is given to students who are working two years above current year level.

…an A is given to students who are working one year above current year level.

…an A is given to students who are achieving well above their current year level[/quote] It really hit home a couple of points for me: firstly, teachers really should be all on the same page with reporting, and have a clear understanding of what each of the A to E grades looks like; secondly, thanks to the numerous exemplars and descriptors about what a “C Grade descriptor” looks like, there is little in the way of what a B or an A looks like (discounting isolated exemplars, which while extremely useful for quantifying grades, only give you very small snapshots of the curricula).

Outcomes for Assessment (2006)

One of my first Assessment Profiles – based on the levelled Outcomes and Standards Framework from 2006

Academic Profile (2009)

Outcomes for Assessment Map 2009

For me, it’s really important that there is a seamless transition from my assessment to my records and then on to my grade allocation.  I want to be able to sit down already knowing where my students sit, and have the evidence to back it up without having to explain complex marking systems or the like to parents who enquire.  Being a primary teacher, I use a criteria-based assessment to judge my students.  I have tried adapting criteria-based assessment to numerical methods in the past (mainly to force my square-peg method into the round-hole solutions of Edmodo or spreadsheet record-keeping), but always end up drifting back to what works best for me – a document for each student which lists the outcomes, and allows me to record when and how often they demonstrate their understanding of these outcomes.

Getting back to the staff meeting conversation… I began to reflect on my understanding of grade allocation.  Three years ago, when I was team-teaching with a colleague in a Year 6/7 class, I redeveloped my assessment techniques to produce an “Outcomes for Assessment” document so we were both on the same page with assessment.  It followed the reporting guidelines at the time – students working AT their year level were a “C”, students working in aspects of the year above were a “B”, students demonstrating success in all (or most) of the year above were an “A”.  My document outlined the outcomes necessary for each student both above and beyond their year level (eg a Year 7 student would have Year 6, 7 and 8 outcomes listed), so I could record achievement of At, Above and if necessary, below so I could demonstrate where a student was sitting and what they needed to do to move forward.

It worked, and I was happy.  Come reporting time, my document showed very clearly which students were at a Year 7 level, and which students were above and below.  And I hadn’t really changed in in three years except to re-create it to reflect the Australian Curriculum outcomes for English, Maths, Science and History.  I even adapted one for the draft Geography outcomes just to see how it fit.

So, heading to the DOE Curriculum Support page, I was a little shocked to see that I sat in the “wrong” corner of my grade allocation thinking.  I felt a little cheated… why hadn’t anyone told me!!! More to to point, why hadn’t I kept abreast with things and checked more regularly to see if what I was doing was correct? My bad.  This document was updated in May 2012, so I actually missed the boat for last semester’s reports…

Department of Education Grade Descriptors

A  – Excellent
The student demonstrates achievement that has greatly exceeded the expected standard. Their achievement is well beyond what is expected at this year level.

B – Good
The student demonstrates achievement that exceeds the expected standard.

C – Satisfactory
The student demonstrates achievement at the expected standard. The student is able to progress to the next level of learning.

D – Limited
The student demonstrates achievement below the expected standard. The student demonstrates a quality of learning that is adequate for progression but will still need additional support or assistance to progress.

E – Very Low
The student demonstrates achievement below the minimum acceptable for this year level.

And more to the point, this extract from the Frequently Asked Questions section:

Assessment Overview (2011)

Electronic Outcomes for Assessment Overview, based on Australian Curriculum – 2011

[quote]In order to gain an understanding of what constitutes an A or B in a year level, should I refer to the C Grade Descriptors and A-E Exemplars in the year above the one I teach?
No. The award of a final grade in each learning area is dependent on content knowledge and an understanding of the concepts, and competence in processes and skills relevant to that particular year level. For example, a student does not need to be achieving at a year 7 level to be awarded a grade of A in year 6. A grade A (excellent) in year 6 should be determined by the work done in that particular year only. The awarding of an A or B does not necessarily indicate that a student is working at the year level above, rather it indicates that they are exceeding the standard set for the year level they are in.[/quote]
Outcomes for Assessment (2011)

Electronic Outcomes for Assessment input sheet, 2011

These are very different interpretations, and require different thinking about assessment and reporting.  My first thoughts were that it doesn’t change my classroom teaching methodology at all – I’m still scaffolding my students like I always do – but what I’m measuring and the feedback I’m providing to my students and parents is going to need to change.

I began researching.  I found very, very little on-line conversations from West Australian teachers about their interpretations.  Victorian teachers from my understanding were making the same transition. My big question still remained however: What measures can I use to indicate my student is exceeding the standard set for the year level?

The Department only puts out C Grade Descriptors. Am I again to be left to my own judgement to decide what constitutes an A or a B?  I think my answer has come from (somewhat remarkably), a parent forum at essentialkids.com.au, by the user HOWDO (09/06/12 12:12pm):

essentialkids
In all cases a grade is given against the year level they are working at. As are given for higher knowledge and understanding and application to the learning in new contexts.

For example completing a sheet of multiplication algorithms is not a new context. It is showing that the students can repeat the same operation in the same way and perform multiplication. Using multiplication to solve a problem involving a new situation/s and scenarios enables the child to show higher order thinking skills and *that* is actually what is expected at grade level. The more you show you understand this grade level expectation and in more complex ways the more likely you are to move to As and Bs.

The General Capabilities are what students are required to demonstrate understanding and a high level of competence in to receive an A grade. So in mathematics, to get an A, students will be able to compare, contrast, evaluate and so on and demonstrate that understanding in new contexts. It will still be at year level however in that if the requirement at year level is to work up to 10 (Foundation) then the child doesn’t get an A simple because they can count to 100. Getting a A involves being able to work with the numerals 0-9 and count correctly, subitise, connect them to the names in words and use the numbers in increasingly complex ways and in new situations. For example if a child can count to ten and point to each numeral and word as you ask them they are working at D level. There is no new application there. If they can talk about, explain and apply their number knowledge to a new situation, for example count the number of spots on a ladybug out in the garden, then they are beginning to work at C level. When they start to talk about how many is in one group and how that differs to how many is in another group and find number in the world, subitise in real life situations then they are beginning to work above C level. They are still working with the same set of numbers and skills but applying them in increasingly different ways and in new situations.

This appears to me to link closely to what the WA Department documents are stating, and give me some direction for not only how to incorporate the General Capabilities of the Australian Curriculum into my planning and assessment.  It is time to change rewrite my “Outcomes for Assessment” document to reflect this thinking, and this could well be the direction to take.

In Year 6, students MUST BE ABLE TO:  achieve this aspect
In Year 6, students MIGHT BE ABLE TO: apply it to these contexts
If students apply this aspect to some of the contexts, they are exceeding the expected standard.  If they can apply it to all or most of the contexts, their achievement is well beyond what is expected at that year level. A diagnostic plotting map like this would allow me to identify where my students need improvement, and target students’ next progression.
Questions that arise from this reflection:
  1. Am I on the right track?  Will this allow me to correctly assess and report on my students according to the West Australian Department of Education guidelines?
  2. The General Capabilities are organised into bi-yearly statements – does this affect how I should view Year 5 or 7 achievements?
  3. Is this a valid use of the General Capabilities?
  4. Is there a concern that this style of assessment “caps” the learning of students?  Will teachers stop teaching gifted students content from above their year level because they look to find more and more contexts for the students to demonstrate achievement in?

feature image source: wikimedia

Planning for a team-teaching mathematics lesson

This year, I have been fortunate enough to have a support teacher with me for two morning a week.  

I’m normally an English/Integrated guy before recess, and a Maths guy between recess and lunch, but with this opportunity, I felt it was time to move maths to a morning slot to make better use of the extra hands and knowledge that was on hand.

One thing I wanted to do was ensure that the lines of communication were clear between the two of us – although I’m in charge of planning and implementing my mathematics program, Gus brings a wealth of knowledge and teaching skills that I have been learning from.  I decided to prepare a simple one-page template that outlined all the activities that I felt would be beneficial to the students attaining understanding in the topics we were covering.  During the lessons, Gus and I  take smaller groups, whole class or individual students, depending on needs, and use the planning sheet as a guide – not all activities are done during the sessions, and sometimes they are thrown out the window as the students lead us in new directions – often scaffolding well beyond the original planning.

Having the common document between the two of us means we both know exactly what we are looking to achieve, we both know exactly which outcomes we are focussing on, and it means we are able to effectively add value to students’ individual assessment records as well.

Download Assessment and Planning Cycle for Mathematics

feature image source: PortocalaMecanica @ flickr

Academic Profile Assessment Tool

A key focus of my student records is trying to make the process as seamless as possible from assessment to reporting to parents. Over the last few years, I’ve developed my assessment process, and this year, adapted it to the Australian Curriculum.

I start each year with the student reports from the year before.  The WA Department of Education guidelines stipulate that a “C” grade is awarded when a student achieves all outcomes for their year level.  A “B” grade is awarded when a student also shows evidence of achieving outcomes from the year level above. An “A” grade is awarded when a student achieves all outcomes from the the year level above.  Based on this feedback, I am able to make a start on filling in a student’s academic profile.

Downloads

Science Academic Profile
English Academic Profile
History Academic Profile

Through the course of the year, each time a student demonstrates an outcome, I place a tick in the box, and when I have seen enough evidence, stamp the outcome “Completed”.

As I prepare for semester and end-of-year reports, a quick glance at the stamps and ticks allows me to make a quick assessment of a student’s grade.  I also use the academic profiles during student-teacher conferences when discussing with students the outcomes they have achieved, and areas that require more evidence.

Microsoft Word DOCX versions (with Mailmerge XLS file with class list to print a class set of profiles), and OSX Numbers electronic versions are available on request.

feature image source: DaveCrosby @ flickr

Australian Curriculum Musings

The Australian Curriculum is beginning to be implemented in schools across Australia.  At the start of 2011, I made the decision to dive straight in and begin unpacking the curriculum to use in my classroom with my students.  For the first semester, I used the English, Mathematics, Science outcomes, and fortunately, the History outcomes (as our school’s Schedule A had Time, Continuity and Change from the older WA Outcomes and Standards Framework (WA OSF) as the main focus).

As the year progresses, more and more resources are coming out – both from the various education departments around Australia, and from educational publishing houses – that are directly referencing these outcomes. My first impressions of the Australian Curriculum are that they are easier to understand than the existing WA OSF and K-10 Syllabus, with clearer, specific outcomes, and that the students also are having less trouble understanding the “teacher-speak” in them.  The greatest benefit is that publishing houses and education departments around the country will be able to focus all of their attention and resources into one set of standards, meaning a greater, deeper range of learning experiences that can be shared with students.

In the spirit of sharing, I’ll be posting all of the resources I’ve adapted to meet the Australian Curriculum.  Initially, I did a lot of re-writing of the curricula in order to get my head around it, and experiment with different ways my programming could be mapped out.  My programming and assessment paperwork has been an ongoing evolution for ten years now, and I can’t see myself settling until I find the “perfect” way!

Student-Led eFolios

Improving student assessment

Through my reflections, I’ve identified that my assessment is an area that could be improved upon.

That’s not to say I don’t assess; some at my school would say that my assessment records are even over the top!  However, reading through the Level 3 Teacher competencies, I can’t help but feel that I’ve become pigeon-holed in the range of assessment types I offer to my students.  With the advent of all the technology in my room, such as the TurningPoint system, and the use of Google Doc forms, a lot of my assessment has become test-driven, rather than opportunities through rich tasks.

Competency 2: Employ  consistent exemplary practice in developing and implementing student assessment and reporting processes.

Digging further into this competency are two key points:

1. Uses a range of appropriate assessment strategies: Provides a range of planed, meaningful opportunities for students to demonstrate progress and autonomous and consistent achievement of outcomes, using valid and reliable assessment methodology.

2. Provides explicit information about student assessment: Negotiates explicit criteria with students for assessment, based on intended learning outcomes and provides formative information to enhance student and teacher reflection.

Thus the idea of an eFolio appeals to me on a number of levels – one, it should encourage me to plan for a wider variety of assessment forms; two, it will give my students a greater opportunity to take control of their own self-evaluations.

What are the eFolio options?

I’m very familiar with the WordPress platform, and my initial thought was to use that… but would that be too much extra work?  Would the extra time spent using it in class mean better outcomes for my students?  So I made a short-list of possible options for student folios:

  • WordPress
  • traditional display folder/scrapbook
  • PowerPoint
  • Publisher
  • Word
  • Google Documents

My wife is an early-childhood  teacher, and I’ve seen the hours and hours of extra work that goes into producing “traditional” paper-style portfolios… usually by the teacher (especially in PrePrimary)! I also don’t want the students’ folios to be simply work sample books – I want them to show continuity, reflection and growth – and be truly student-centred pieces, and I’m worried that by going this route, student work sample books is what we may well end up with.

The Microsoft Office and Google Documents options also did not appeal… the file would become cumbersome over a year, and would not allow the flexibility of adding video or audio easily into the files (and keep the file size minimal!).

The Shanghai American School approach

WordPress appears to be the best option.  But have any other educators had success in using WordPress? How do they use it?  One of the first blogs I came across was The Thinking Stick, by Jeff Utecht.  His article, True eFolios for students, outlined how he drove a whole-school approach toward each student having a wordpress-based eFolio, at Shanghai American School.  A student example can be found here.

In summary, Utecht approach towards this was that:

  • every middle-school student had a blog that was visible to the whole Internet;
  • by making the blogs public, it gave students a powerful sense of writing for an audience;
  • blogs run in chronological order, following the school year, making it a perfect vehicle;
  • students set up categories in subject areas, allowing for quick reference to specific areas;
  • students used a “Student-Led Conference” category to refine a range of posts that they could  use at parent meetings.

Adapting the ideas to my classroom

On balance, I wholeheartedly agree with the Shanghai American School approach – the concept of students being able to quickly pull a reflection from three years earlier, and compare it to a current one is brilliant – what better way for students to measure their own growth?  In my classroom, students should be able to do the same thing, even if only over the course of the single school year, before they move on to high school.

I would happily dedicate sections of the school day or week to students reflecting in-class.  The opportunity for students to record themselves reading in Term One, and again in Term Three, and reflect themselves on improvements in fluency and understanding of the texts they are reading have the potential to be extremely powerful.

My only reservation is the public nature of the eFolios.  The Department of Education has clear guidelines and expectations around student images and the like on the public domain, which would have the potential to severely impinge the types of information that could be posted.  I would also think twice about feedback I wrote on the blog, in the form of comments.  On the other hand, I also agree that a degree of “writing for an audience” is essential to maintaining enthusiasm and vision.  It would be a wonderful experience if students got into the habit of being able to go home each evening and log onto their eFolio to show their parents how they were going at school.

This is a question that needs to be tackled in conjunction with the parents and administration.  I feel we can get past the issue by individually password-protecting the blogs – allowing students to share a password with people they trust (i.e. family members), but keeping the general public out of information that is potentially confidential.  It would also require clear explanation to the parent group to get permission to go ahead with the project.

If the general feeling within the school is that it is too much a risk to student privacy, then the next option would be hosting the WordPress sites on the school Intranet, thereby restricting students’ ability to reflect out of school hours, but ensuring student privacy.

In summary

I believe student-led eFolios have the potential to truly enrich my students’ learning.  Half of my class (whom I will teach again next year), are already familiar with WordPress, which will make the upskilling a combination of teacher-led learning and peer tutoring.

Down the track, I believe it also has the potential for students to drive their own learning – by looking back on the outcomes they have covered so far, and identifying the outcomes that they would like to focus on next, and then through teacher-student conferences, develop activities and rich tasks that will help them achieve those outcomes… but let’s get the whole thing off the ground first, eh!?!

Feature image source: wikipedia

The Flipped Classroom

Recently I read the term “Flipped Classroom” when exploring on the net, and decided to find out more.
The traditional classroom sees students learn lessons from the teacher during class time – it may be a “chalk and talk” lesson, or the explanation of a concept or idea. The students then have set homework to do at home based on this. The Flipped Classroom model sees the homework aspect as the “chalk and talk” lesson, completed via on-line vodcasts that students watch and observe. The in-class time is then dedicated to small group work and extension of the understandings learnt at home, allowing the teacher to complete a lot more one-on-one time with students.

A sample of sites I found

Over the past few months, I’ve been toying with online tutorials for my students (a few examples can be found here), but more as an opportunity for them to revise what they have already heard in class.  The models espoused in the above webpages certainly lend themselves to a high school setting, where each teacher only has to focus on one learning area, but what of the primary school teacher?  Is it realistic to expect my Year 6 and 7 students to watch enough online tutorials each evening to cover all eight learning areas? My first impression is no.

So, on reflection, how can I use this – theoretically excellent – idea in my classroom?  Well, I certainly wouldn’t expect students to watch my tutorials for homework; firstly, not all of my students have access to the Internet; secondly, I’d like to be present to answer immediate questions, rather than have students write them down, and ask them the next morning.

However, I would certainly use tutorials as an independent or small-group learning tool.  I can see real value in subject areas where students are all working at varying speeds and levels (such as our English programme, consisting of spelling skills, comprehension, and conventions), where students can use the tutorials at their leisure, ask for immediate assistance and feedback, and then work on their enrichment tasks.

So, my professional challenge for Term 4 will be to use an in-class “Flipped Classroom” style model for my spelling and grammar programme.

Challenge: Adapting “Flipped Classroom” approach to Spelling

Reason: My students are beginning a new “style” of spelling for Term 4 anyway, where they take a more individualized, independent approach.

Curriculum:The new Australian Curriculum has been used heavily to guide the structure and content of the programme, namely English: Writing: Language.

Question to Consider:Will using self-led tutorials be of greater benefit to the students’ learning than traditional face-to-face teaching? Gauge success through student interviews and feedback forms based along the line of “Did you prefer to use the on-line tutorial, or have Mr Hinchliffe teach the class each new learning point?”
Competency 1: Use innovative and/or exemplary teaching strategies and techniques to more effectively meet the learning needs of individual students, groups and/or classes of students.
Uses a range of meaningful and relevant learning and teaching strategies. 

feature image source: wikimedia

Using WordPress in the classroom

I recently decided to experiment with using WordPress for my Year 6/7 students as a vehicle to explore the Information outcome in Technology and Enterprise.  Little did I know, the project would grow legs and become a far richer experience for both the students and myself!

Initially, I set them the following task:

In teams of four, you are to create a personal website using the WordPress platform. The site should be about something you are interested in – a favourite band, actor, video game. Alternatively, you may create a website that informs people about aspects of school life – a blog, assembly reviews, etc. Your topic should be relevant and useful to others (so they visit it). Your group should make something you would all be proud to show your friends, your parents, your family and your teachers. You will then need to advertise your websites.

We then discussed all the things that make a website effective.  With 28 students in my class, I had seven groups.  Setting up seven separate WordPress installations on my webspace took a little time (I’ve since discovered WordPress multi-site), and there was a little outlay of the class budget on cheap domain names that the students selected to “best” represent their site.

Our next step was to ensure we all understood why we were learning WordPress, and the outcomes we hoped to achieve as a result:

Outcomes

  • The Nature of Information
  • The Creation of Information (Technology Process)

There are four stages in the Technology Process that you will need to follow to complete this project:

  • Investigating: You will need to research your topic, learn how to use WordPress, learn some effective advertising techniques and make sure you know how to reference properly.
  • Devising: You will need to use the above design brief to plan your webpage and advertising campaign.
  • Producing: You will need to create your webpage in WordPress, implement your advertising campaign, and keep a reflective journal.
  • Evaluating: You will need to complete your reflective journal, and complete a peer review on other groups’ webpages.

Each week, an hour was set aside specifically for WordPress development.  Sometimes I would start with a whole class lesson outlining a specific skill or idea, other times I “floated”, spot teaching where necessary, or encouraging peer tutoring.  On the occasions I did spot teach, I followed up by posting a video tutorial on our class website, mrhinchliffe.net, so that other students could log in and view the skill in their own time.

Assessment

Students were aware of the specific criteria before beginning their projects.  As well as ongoing individual feedback, I provided each group with a mid-project review – that is, the grade I would give it at that moment.  Students responded to this feedback, focussing their efforts on improving the areas of concern.

Two other key aspects of the assessment were the reflective journal, allowing students the opportunity to critique their collaboration and ability to adhere to the design brief; and the peer review, which allowed the students an opportunity to critique their peers’ work as well as receive constructive feedback on their own.

Ultimately, however, the students were most driven by what they saw as the most important “feedback tool” – the hit counters at the bottom of their websites!  This real-life feedback regularly drove groups to approach me or their peers seeking new ways to improve their website or advertising techniques to “get more hits”.  At the end of the day, people write for an audience, and the students developed their understanding of this in a way with much more clarity than they could have by writing a narrative or a poem in class!