Using Portfolios to Assess Student Work more Effectively

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10% homework, 40% quizzes, 20% participation….. sound familiar?

The result seems to be students working to achieve a grade as close to 100% as they can, while being confused about how they can even calculate their own grades. Teachers want students to realize the power of a strong work ethic and develop intrinsic motivation necessary for deep learning, however, we often use an enigmatic grading system rather than meaningful feedback. The focus is on the grade achieved rather than the learning. This is problematic and all too common. Learning is not simply an end goal but a process as well.

I use portfolio assessments in my world language classroom according to the following general guidelines.

  1. Change the vocabulary to assessment and performance-based assessments. It more accurately describes what we, as teachers should be doing.
  2. Start with the end in mind. The ultimate goal for our students is to develop a certain skill or content knowledge. Therefore, we need learning targets, both a mixture of skills and content, in relation to which we can assess a student’s current ability and progress towards their goal.
  3. Assessment needs to happen early and often. Students need feedback immediately to know where they stand and specifically where they can improve.
  4. We don’t need to “grade” everything. If the purpose is to give feedback, then everything does not need to be recorded. Nor is it practical to record grades as much as they could be given.
  5. Not all grades need to be numerical. What’s wrong with meets standard, approaches standard, exceeds standard with narrative to go with it?
  6. Informal assessments are as useful as formal assessments. They often take less time, and specific feedback can be given quickly and easily. They serve to guide instruction and student work.
  7. Grades should be disaggregated. What do you do if a student turns in a project that completed all the requirements and has acquired all the content but turns the project in one day late. Some teachers would take 50% off the total score. So instead of a 95, that student now has a 47. What does that tell the student when factored into the 20% category of projects? When a parent looks at the 45%, is it clear what the student could or couldn’t do? Have categories that represent specific skills: work ethic (turning assignments in on time and completion), collaboration, content, critical thinking, etc.
  8. Metacognition should be a part of all major assessments. Students need to reflect on the quality of their own work and the contributions they made to a project.
  9. Open-ended performance assessments that show what a student can do rather than what they can’t, perhaps given freedom to display their achievement of skills as content through the platform of their choosing.

10. Involve your students in the grading process. They can help to choose the wording of the rubrics or alter the categories. They can also peer and self-assess. Rubrics and feedback should be put in kid friendly terms, so they know what they can do to improve.

Here’s an example:

My French II students were doing a unit on French cinema. The goal was for students to gain an understanding of the place the cinema holds in French culture and how that differs in products, perspectives and practices of Americans. The main project was to create a whole class blog for the local community to encourage the viewing of French films from the library. The performance assessments were as follows. They had a conversation with a friend deciding what movie they wanted to see that night and why. They took a description about the movie Les Misérables that we watched that was very short and choppy and made it made it more complex using object pronouns. They chose their own French movie to watch and created a blog post about it, including brief synopsis, general opinion and recommendations. Each student then had to choose one other movie to watch based on the description of their peer and leave a comment to their review.

Each assessment was designed to show what a student was able to do with the language in order to elicit meaningful feedback. I also designed smaller assessments along the way to be informally assessed by peers or the teacher in order to check for progress.  All assessments used the same or similar rubrics with shared vocabulary. Each had component of proficiency, content and, if it was a group task, collaboration. The language of the rubrics were put in student-friendly terms, and modified based on student feedback. Each item that was formally or informally assessed was numbered and placed in the portfolio with a note from the students about the success they achieved and an area of improvement to focus on.

At several points along the way, we as a class stopped so the students could reflect generally on where they were in the process and write something longer than they did in the quicker checkpoints. This reflective process was also assessed using a rubric. These reflections can be used to create individualized work for students or serve as a general temperature check for the teacher in scaffolding the work. The half-year reflection point is especially useful for setting goals, and involving parents. With the use of rubrics, students stop discussion around topics like “getting As instead of Bs” and move to using specific language about their own proficiency and work style. This does have to be modeled in the beginning.

Portfolios give students an individualized targeted method of focusing on what they can do with the language. They analyze their own strengths and weaknesses with the help of the teacher and peers to continually improve on specific areas. They can be either housed in a paper folder in the class or digitally on-line. In my world language class, I prefer the digital version, so we can include speaking, writing, and tech-based assessments, like Voicethread, podcasts or blogs. The students are excited to have, virtually or physically, tangible evidence of their success.

My ultimate goal would be for reported “grades” to be a narrative and based on meeting a standard. This however is a larger school or district decision.  Therefore, when using a portfolio assessment, a teacher will have to decide for themselves what it would look like as translated into a numeric grade.

I hope we can all begin to contemplate the power of this type of assessment. Think about when you were in school and received grades you did not understand, that did not in actuality assess what you knew or were able to do with the skills and content that were acquired. In most classes, grades are an end result. Learning should be the end result with grades a way to focus the students and give them direction on how to create an individualized implementation plan.

Picture This: Social media to improve Interpersonal Communication in the World Language Classroom

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I have been using Instagram as a fun social app for a while now. And of course as soon as I could figure it out, I started brainstorming how I could use it in my world language classroom. Instagram is a social app for photos, where you post post pictures of which you and your friends can leave comments, tag friends, and hashtag as a certain subject.
Here’s a picture I posted from the recent ACTFL conference in Denver. There’s a few things you’ll see:

At the top lists my username, lelises, and the location I marked us in.

People who “like the picture” are next to the heart.

I have tagged one friend with the @ sign.

My comment, next to username lelises shows what I wrote about my own photo, “No taxi necessary.”

And I have classified the subject of the photo with a hashtag, #actfl.

My friend tagged in the photo commented.

Here’s a quick tutorial on the basics:

How can your students use this?

1. Taboo/10,000 Pyramid
After teaching vocabulary, have students post pictures up of certain items that you studied. The pictures can be difficult to guess, so you have them write a description in the target language underneath describing the object. If nobody guesses you can leave another clue. This can be done by the teacher or by the students. Here’s an example: (Please note, I used English here simply as an example.) Read the rest of this entry

Teaching as a science and art…and something in between…

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This blog post really spoke to me. Hope it does the same for you.

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/12/14/1045226/-Some-thoughts-on-teaching

Some thoughts on teaching

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which were occasioned by a recent conversation where i was asked if I thought teaching more of an art rather than a science.  I responded that the question was a false frame, and was asked to explain.

My explanation comes in part from my background and formal education in music.

I think what we are seeing in education is neither art nor science, but the attempt to turn education into an engineering problem.  In engineering, it is of course important to have rigorous standards.  In manufacturing the ideal of exactly the same interchangeable parts is an important component of mass production, which provides consistency, and may even save on cost.

But students are not, and should not be, widgets or other manufactured outputs.  They are absolutely unique individuals, and should be respected as such, even as we try to assist them in growing and developing and learning how to learn.  Please note that last phrase – learning how to learn –  we thereby empower them to lifelong learning that does not depend upon a formal school/educational setting. Read the rest of this entry

Authentic Texts Part Deux: the Hows

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Many teachers struggle with ways to expose novice learners to authentic texts.  If you scaffold appropriately, novice learners can handle a variety of materials.  It’s certainly easier to use anything that has audio or visual in addition to written text.  Here are simple steps to scaffolding an authentic text:

In the context of a larger unit on travel, I had my students interpreting the safety procedures on a plane through videos, online brochures and websites.  They watched several videos.  Here is one example.  It is a good choice for novice learners because of its familiarity and cognates.

1. Preview the text: Before students learn any new vocabulary, allow them to watch the video a few times, trying to see if they can identify any words or phrases.  Tell them to watch it in a relaxed manner.  I usually use a calm voice, and say, “Just listen.  You don’t need to understand every word.  Focus on what you can understand, not the words that you can’t understand.  Just listen.”  During the second viewing, as a formative assessment, they can write down the words they hear that they are familiar with, and new words they can infer based on the context.  At the end of each viewing, I ask them to hold up a hand low in front of them using their fingers as a way to represent their comprehension, 5 being the highest.  They mark this down on the same paper.  I can collect the papers and see what does not need to be retaught or we can make a class list off all the words we already know as an anchor activity. Read the rest of this entry

Get Real!: Cultural Literacy through Authenticity – Part One: The Whys

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“Culture is an abstraction; it cannot actually be seen or touched…. We see people acting in agreed-upon ways in the face of similar situations…we notice people moving their bodies in certain ways – making choices in their lives about where to live, what to eat, how to learn, how to work and love – in response to similar events and experiences, and  say: “oh, these people belong to the same culture”.  (H. Ned Seeyle)

Our recent #langchat inspired me to blog about something which I am truly passionate, using authentic texts in the world language classroom.  We discussed the definition of culture and how to teach it.  Because culture is fluid and amorphous, it is difficult to define.  The website http://coerll.utexas.edu/methods/modules/culture/ expands upon culture as a skill.

I like the term “cultural literacy” which includes:
  • The ability to perceive and recognize cultural differences.
  • The ability to accept cultural differences.
  • The ability to appreciate and value cultural differences.
In my experience, the most effective way to teach culture is through the use of authentic texts.  They can teach cultural literacy because they contain authentic cultural information and give students exposure to real language.  Ned Seelye writes: “Learning a language in isolation of its cultural roots prevents one from becoming socialized into its contextual use. Knowledge of linguistic structure alone does not carry with it any special insight into the political, social, religious, or economic system.”

What is an authentic text?
A “text” isn’t limited to something written down. A text can be a film, an artifact, anything in a language and culture that conveys meaning.  Authentic texts are print, audio, and visual documents created and used by native speakers. Examples include books, web sites, articles, artwork, films, folktales, music, advertisements, videos, posters, news, songs, food, commercials.  Think of any experience you go through during a normal day in a foreign country. Read the rest of this entry

Don’t Beat ‘em, Join ‘em!: Cellphones Allowed!

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Ian Jukescommitted me” a while ago.  We live in a time of exponential change, and education serves our students only if it prepares them to live in the world as productive citizens.  When we think of the real world, we don’t think of an isolated classroom containing barriers with no access to technology, or where its use is prohibited. Unfortunately, many schools are continuing to educate students in this manner.  Often, teachers are burdened with narrowing technology budgets and limited resources.  Most students have access to cell phones, which currently act a lot more like computers than phones. How can we see them as helpful to our classes rather than hindrances?

Take advantage of the fact that you have 10 or more “computers” in your classroom available for use at any moment, no training required!!

Here are are some useful and meaningful ways to use cellphones in the world language classroom:

1.     GoogleVoice: Save time and go green!  As an oral assessment, have students leave you a message by calling your GoogleVoicemail in class responding to a  prompt. Then, text or email back your feedback and score. Read the rest of this entry

Keepin’ it real: Authentic Texts using Visual Thinking

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There is a general consensus to the value of an authentic text in a world language classroom.  Authentic texts if scaffolded can be successful at any level of language learning.  Many teachers find it most difficult to utilize them during the first year of learning a new language.  A children’s story can be a powerful way to integrate the necessary use of authentic texts, using the technique of VTS, visual thinking strategies.

When completing a unit based around a story, a good way to introduce the story and get students to write or speak in the target language would be to have them use the pictures from the story as a prompt.  There are a few ways this could be done.  In each case I recommend that the the students have the prior knowledge of the vocabulary, or that the vocabulary has already been scaffolded.

1. Cut up the images of a story.  Have students order the story as to how they think it occurred, and work collaboratively to retell the story verbally or in writing. They then need to explain to the class or another group what happened and why and defend their position.

2. Show them images of the story in order and have the students write or tell their own version of the story.

As a way to differentiate this type of activity, I will use a certain amount of brainstorming ahead of time depending on the students’ needs.  We may list vocabulary that we see in each picture first, as a whole class, or preferably in rotating stations on chart paper.  Then I hang the chart paper on a clothes line so the words are anchored there for the students.
For students at a lower level you can provide prompts to start sentences, or in some cases the words that match with the pictures.
As teachers, we know our students and their needs and can group them accordingly.

As an assessment, the students can create a new ending to the story, write a new story based on that one (see my previous blog post as an example), or talk about lessons learned in order to create a community or school project.

I have personally seen that the use of authentic texts can help language acquisition grow exponentially. And with the added component of VTS, they are made more accessible in the classroom.

Explorer Elementary Charter School in San Diego, a school I recently visited, serves as the inspiration for this post.