Tuesday, 15 November 2016

What's in a Word?

In the words of children’s songwriters Paul Hann and Dennis Charney…

                Words are amazing, words are amusing,
                Sometimes words can be confusing.

Confusing? Yes, confusing. This can certainly be true with assessment vocabulary!

We’ve recently updated the AAC Assessment Glossary to help provide clarity on some frequently used key terms. And while it doesn’t always matter which term you use, sometimes it does.

For example, assessment for learning and assessment of learning have different purposes and audiences, and if we believe the research on the power of formative assessment, it’s best not to mix them up!

Performance and achievement are often used interchangeably, but within the Alberta context, they mean different things. Authors who write for an international audience might use the terms differently, but if we understand what the context is in Alberta, we can adjust as needed to ensure we are making an appropriate application.

Learner outcomes and criteria can sometimes be a head-scratcher. Why do we need criteria? Aren’t the outcomes enough? When we were researching to write Creating Credible Criteria, we looked at how members of the international assessment community were using the term and discovered that there were different definitions and applications of the term in common use. So, we decided we would continue to think about criteria as we’ve done since AAC began over 20 years ago.

The prescribed learner outcomes are lengthy and written from an academic perspective. Teachers need to translate those outcomes into more concise statements (that we call criteria) to capture the essence of what the outcome is asking. This also helps students and parents understand what is expected. With provincial curriculum development underway, we’ll wait and see if criteria will continue to have a place within the assessment vocabulary. But for now, criteria are an essential part of planning for assessment and instruction.

And by the way, criteria are not always synonymous with “I Can” statements, but that’s a topic for another whole blog!

In addition to updating the glossary, we’ve developed three different professional learning modules that are short enough to use as a conversation starter at a staff meeting or a grade level team meeting.
Take a look and think about using one for your next professional gathering.

Everyone might not always agree with the AAC definitions, but differences of opinion are always starting points for further professional conversations and learning. Check the AAC Go page www.aac.ab.ca/go for a wealth of materials to support ongoing learning about assessment.

Also, if you’ve linked your jurisdiction assessment and evaluation policy to the AAC Glossary, you’ll want to update the link.

What questions have come up as you and your colleagues have engaged with the updated AAC Assessment Glossary?

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Technology & Assessment: Infographics

On the surface, Infographics appear to be a bit of a fad these days. Cute, colorful, visual representations of information and statistics intended to amuse, titillate, and capture the attention of their 21st century audience. But there is more to infographics than meets the eye, and this presents some interesting possibilities from an assessment point of view.

Infographics as Visual Language

Italian designer, Fancesco Franchi, sees infographics as a narrative language -- as "representation plus interpretation to develop an idea". The designer interprets content and adds his/her interpretation in order to make the content meaningful for the audience. Using this medium, the story doesn't need to be linear or one-dimensional (like a Powerpoint presentation), but can provide multiple entry points for the viewer to engage with the content and make his or her own meaning. This requires something much deeper and more complex than just adding clever graphics to some information!

Making Student Thinking Visible

As a classroom teacher, I can appreciate that this type of "new language" requires time, practice and feedback to master, but I can also see the tremendous potential it contains for seeing the complex thinking processes of my students.  And while I may struggle to fully comprehend how or why a student represented something in an infographic in a particular way, it certainly opens the door for conversations about the thinking that took place. As such, infographics can be a rich tool for making student thinking visible and engaging in metacognitive conversations!

Tools and Other Resources for Creating Infographics

Eight Types of Infographics Teachers Should Know About - Interesting and comprehensive article by Educational Technology & Mobile Learning

Teaching With Infographics: Places to Start - NY Times, August 23, 2010

Easel.ly - Read a review of this product on the Lethbridge College Learning Connections website

Piktochart - Read a review of this product by Common Sense Media's website: Graphite

Visme (formerly EWC Presenter) - Read a review of this product on the Teacher's First website

Infogr.am - Read a review of this product on the Lifehacker website

Thursday, 29 May 2014

"Project-based Learning" meets "Performance-based Assessment"

The trend toward project-based learning stems from our desire to provide learning opportunities with real-world applications that are engaging, cross-curricular, student-centered and meaningful. Project-based learning encourages creativity and innovation, and accommodates a variety of learning styles and strengths. Because of its open-ended, collaborative nature, there are challenges associated with the assessment of student learning within the context of project-based learning.

From the AAC Key Visual
As always, when we plan for assessment in Alberta classrooms we begin with outcomes from Alberta Programs of Study. Typical projects in a PBL classroom likely address a large number of outcomes from a variety of subject areas. When we begin to plan a project, we identify specific learning goals connected to those outcomes and plan ahead for the ways in which we will assess student learning. Project-based learning requires performance-based assessment: giving student the opportunity to demonstrate what they know and can do through their work on a variety of tasks.

After we're clear on our learning goals, we identify the criteria we will use to assess out students, and then consider how we'll help them build an understanding of what success will look like for those criteria. Because the scope of a project is often quite broad, it's appropriate to plan a variety of performance assessments along the way, to allow us to gather evidence of learning for a more manageable number of outcomes and learning goals.

We gather that evidence through recorded observations of students as they work on the project and conversations with students about their learning, as well as by considering their finished products and performances. Being clear about our specific learning goals and how we will assess them at the beginning of the project helps us focus on those key goals. This in turn makes it more likely that students will successfully meet those goals. We provide students with many opportunities to reflect on their learning during and after the project, and encourage them to set next steps and goals for further learning.

Performance-based assessments in the Alberta Assessment Consortium collection are smaller in scope than most projects in a PBL classroom, but can provide a useful model for assessing students in this environment. The teacher materials for every task include a chart outlining the curricular outcomes being addressed by the task, linked to criteria for assessment. The criteria addressed by a task are manageable in number, and are made explicit for students in the task itself. The very same criteria appear again on the rubric used to assess student learning. Take a look at some of these tasks, and consider how a similar model might help you support and assess student learning within a project-based learning context.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Technology & Assessment: ePortfolios

There are many different types of portfolios: classroom writing folders, an artist's portfolio, a teacher's education portfolio, photo albums, etc. and
most, perhaps all, of us have used or kept a portfolio at one time or another.   
All portfolios are meant to “tell a story”, which makes me think that keeping a portfolio has less to do with the physical object (noun) and more to do with the process of communicating something about us/our journey to a particular audience. An ePortfolio, consequently, should be less like a digital file cabinet and more like a multi-format showcase of student learning. Rick Stiggins, in Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: Doing it Right -- Using it Well, asserts that "the desire to capture and communicate the depth of student learning has been at the heart of portfolio use for years", and I believe this should remain front and centre in ePortfolio use as well. 

Stiggins* goes on to state that:

A report card summarizes the story of achievement in one word at the same level of detail that a topic summarizes the story of a book: prejudice is a topic of "To Kill a Mockingbird", but that one word does not begin to tell the story.
An ePortfolio can provide a rich assessment measure because of its ability to tell so much more of "the story".
From Portfolio to ePortfolio: New Tools...Same Processes
The flat, thin case of the traditional portfolio has been replaced with a wide assortment of modern, digital equivalents that can be accessed on all sorts of devices including mobiles. These new tools can be used to:

  • collect work
  • reflect on learning in multiple formats (including multi-media)
  • showcase work online to multiple audiences
  • provide a platform for dialogue about learning artifacts or to engage in reflections
  • to provide feedback/self-reflect in order to improve learning
Multiple Purposes:

There are many purposes for keeping an ePortfolio:
  • to show growth or change over time
  • to help develop process skills such as self-evaluation and goal setting
  • to identify strengths and weaknesses
  • to track the development of one or more products or performances
Because the range of purposes is so diverse, an ePortfolio can fit nicely into a class or school assessment plan. An ePortfolio can "fill in the blanks" left by other tools commonly used to "tell the learning story" or to capture learning that is not easily captured in other, more traditional assessments.

There is a powerful motivational and metacognitive component to ePortfolios as well. As Paris and Ayers** observe:
The overarching purpose of portfolios is to create a sense of personal ownership over one's accomplishments [learning], because ownership engenders feelings of pride, responsibility, and dedication.
Telling THEIR Stories

Creating an ePortfolio can be a powerful learning experience when the subject of the portfolio (the student) is the author of the portfolio. When students take part in creating a portfolio, they:
  • take notice of their learning
  • track their learning
  • celebrate their learning
  • build an understanding of who they are as learners
  • nurture a sense of self-accomplishment

Beneficial and Abundant Tools

ePortfolio's offer many benefits to both teachers and students in the classroom, and there is no shortage of digital tools available. Here are some links to web 2.0 tools and various apps that you might use with students to create ePortfolios:

Web 2.0 Tools:
Apps - iOS/Android/Windows 8:
Any other ePortfolio tech tools you'd like to recommend? Add them to the comments below!

*Stiggins, Richard J., Judith A. Arter, Jan Chappuis, and Stephen Chappuis. "Chapter 11: Portfolios." Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: Doing It Right -- Using It Well. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2007. 335. Print.
**Paris, S. and Ayres, L. (1994) Becoming Reflective Students and Teachers. American Psychological Association.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Technology & Assessment: Digital Feedback Tools

The Coaching (Assessment FOR Learning) section on the AAC Key Visual can help us understand the place for (and power of) feedback in the learning process. Feedback is the key component of formative assessment, and it's importance in the learning process cannot be overstated!

The Importance of Feedback for Students:

When students receive specific, descriptive, and timely feedback, they are able to close the gap between where they are trying to go (the learning target) and where they are currently. In other words, feedback at the right time and at the right level moves learning forward. 

Not all feedback is created equal, however. Quality feedback needs to be:
  • focused on criteria
  • frequent and timely
  • collaborative, with the learners deeply involved in the process
  • designed to improve student learning
  • differentiated to support the learners at their level

Feedback is also tied to motivation, interest, and performance (not to mention ego), so educators need to understand it's effect and use it carefully. As Ruth Butler's article in the Journal of Educational Psychology (1987) observed, the only type of feedback that helps students to improve and to stay motivated, is comments; providing marks as feedback does not result in any gain in performance and only motivates the top students. Be aware of the purpose of the feedback you are providing, and the timing of it as well; ask yourself WHY am I giving this feedback, and WHAT will students do with it when they receive it. Students should be expected to make adjustments to their work based upon the feedback they receive, and they will need time to do so before a summative judgment is delivered.

So Where's the DIGITAL part of this blog post?!

Okay...so now that we've discussed the properties of quality feedback, let's take a look at some of the fantastic digital tools available for giving feedback:

1) Blogs: What I love about blogs is the ability to provide feedback that is visible to others besides the intended recipient. This benefits not only the recipient of the feedback, but other viewers as well. In a classroom context, this means that students who view the work/feedback of their peers also have an opportunity to internalize the success criteria themselves. My only caution here is that the context needs to be safe for this to take place, so ensure that the feedback is directly related to the criteria for the task, and is formative (not summative/no grade attached).

2) Google docs: When students share their work in Google docs, they can choose to allow collaborators to comment on that work.  Teachers or classmates can highlight portions of the text and insert typed comments. The recipient of the feedback can make adjustments to their work as needed and mark the comment as "resolved" when ready. The ability to collaborate in real time is a key feature of Google docs, allowing collaborators to provide feedback, make adjustments, ask clarifying questions, etc. to improve their work.

3Kaizena (GAFE/Chrome app): Kaizena is a web app that allows you to leave audio comments on Google Docs. You enable this by creating a Kaizena profile, a place where your students or peers can go to request your feedback by selecting a document and placing it in one of the "boxes" you set up with your profile. Have a look at the Kaizena Blog for more details on how to enable sharing.

4) MS Word: MS Word has had the ability to provide typed comments for years, and this feature is still available for both Mac and PC. The PC version, however, also allows for audio comments -- a nice feature, especially for those times when a large amount of feedback might be needed. You can learn more about how to provide comments in Word on the Microsoft Support website.

5) Screenchomp: Screenchomp is a free iOS app created by Techsmith (makers of Jing, Camtasia, Snag It and other popular software tools) that allows the user to leave audio comments as well as text comments/drawings on uploaded student work. Watch this video to see Screenchomp in action.

A clear understanding and implementation of formative feedback can have a powerful effect on student learning. There are many digital tools available for providing feedback, but as is the case with most (all) things, the quality of the feedback – not the quantity – is critical.

Feedback resources:

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Technology & Assessment: Visual Thinking Tools

Visual thinking is the use of images and text for understanding, creating, explaining, communicating, and problem solving. Visual Thinking Tools (VTT's) can be any tools that help students combine text and images to represent knowledge and ideas.
Visual Thinking Tools combine text and images.

There are many types of visual thinking tools available for students, from concept maps and organizers that can be filled in by hand, to high powered apps and software that can be used on an array of devices. Many of these tools, like Kidspiration and Inspiration, are full-featured and have been around for a long time. Others, like the web 2.0 tools Diagrammr and WordSift are newer tools designed for more specific uses. Regardless of the tool, there is plenty of research to support the use of Visual Thinking Tools to visually represent information.

According to Robert Marzano et al. in Classroom Instruction the Works:
The more we use both systems of representation—linguistic and non-linguistic—the better we are able to think about and recall knowledge. This is particularly relevant to the classroom, because studies have consistently shown that the primary way we present new knowledge to students is linguistic. We either talk to them about the new content or have them read about the new content (see Flanders, 1970). This means that students are commonly left to their own devices to generate nonlinguistic representations. When teachers help students in this kind of work, however, the effects on achievement are strong. It has even been shown that explicitly engaging students in the creation of nonlinguistic representations stimulates and increases activity in the brain (see Gerlic & Jausovec, 1999).  (Marzano, Robert J., Debra J. Pickering, and Jane E. Pollock. "Nonlinguistic Representations." Classroom Instruction that Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement. Alexandria: ASCD, 2001. . Print.)

Additionally, in the journal article: Reading and the Brain: What Early Childhood Educators Need to Know, Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher observed: 
(John) Medina (2008) argues that vision trumps all other senses and is "probably the best single tool we have for learning anything" (p. 233). In other words, visual stimuli will be attended to over other stimuli most of the time, especially when the visual stimuli moves. Medina argues that attending to visual information is a survival mechanism, which is why it takes up so much neural real estate and resources (about 50% according to Medina). 
They go on to say:
But all visual information isn't equal. Pictures consistently trump text or oral presentations. This is so common that cognitive scientists have a name for it: pictorial superiority effect (Stenberg 2006). For example, there is evidence that people can remember 2,500 pictures with about 90 percent accuracy several days after seeing them (Standing et al. 1970). In another study, adults were able to recognize pictures of Dick and Jane (from the readers) decades after they completed elementary school (Read and Barnsley 1977). It's not just that pictures are easier to remember, they're significantly more likely to be stored and much more likely to be retrieved. (Frey, N., & Fisher, D. Reading and the Brain: What Early Childhood Educators Need to Know. Early Childhood Education Journal, 103-110.)

Visual thinking tools help students structure their thinking and provide a visual aid that can help depict the correlation between ideas, facts, or concepts. These tools can also support students as they visually organize and outline ideas to structure writing, and can improve communication and expression.   
The most common visual learning strategy is concept mapping. Concept maps help students visualize various connections between words or phrases and a main idea. While there are several types of concept maps, most are comprised of words or phrases that are connected by lines back to a main idea. These lines help students make meaning connections between the main idea and other information. 
Visual thinking tools can facilitate learning across academic areas and benefit students of all ages and learning abilities. These tools can be used for: 
  • building background knowledge (linking of new ideas to previous knowledge) 
  • constructing knowledge (connecting ideas and concepts to each other and to visuals) 
  • fostering and supporting collaboration 
  • creating a product (representing the conceptual structure of knowledge) 
  • formative or summative assessment (to identify, monitor, and communicate student understanding).
 Visual thinking tools can be used to:
  • plan and revise writing
  • brainstorm and plan for writing, presentations, research projects, or multimedia projects
  • create an outline or hierarchical representation of information
  • demonstrate knowledge prior to and/or after a learning task
  • facilitate self-reflection and metacognition
  • review a unit of study 
  • present learning in a visual manner 
  • express ideas and experiences 
  • compare and contrast ideas, and show relationships or connections between ideas and/or information 
  • synthesize information into categories 
  • record and categorize information from multiple sources 
  • create an advanced organizer for note-taking in class and for research projects 
  • assess students’ understanding of text, concepts, or experiences by asking them to create a concept map of the information.
As assessors, our goal is to ensure that the conditions exist whereby EVERY student in our classroom can best represent what they know, understand, and can do, and for many (and perhaps all) students, Visual Thinking Tools can provide a critical support in that regard.

Some Assessment Questions to Consider When Using VTT's:
  • How can we use VTT's do determine that learning has occurred?
  • How can VTT's support the (specific) learners in my classroom?
  • How will we gather evidence of learning using VTT's?
  • How can students use VTT's to practice skills and develop understanding?
  • How will students receive feedback on their VVT's? 
  • How will we use VTT's to provide formative assessment evidence (in order to adjust instruction/learning)?
  • How can VTT's be used as a final product for summative assessment?

NOTE: The Learning Technologies: Information for Teachers website has information and support materials for a number of different assistive technologies. Check it out!

Links to VTT's:

Friday, 2 May 2014

AAC Assessment Materials Support Teachers in Achieving the Vision of Inspiring Education

View of the NEW Competency Connections
tab on the AAC website
Performance Assessment Update: Task Specific Competency Connections

Alberta is in a time of transition. A new Ministerial Order is now in effect which outlines expectations for student learning, including a focus on literacy, numeracy, and competencies. Although curriculum prototyping is underway, the results of which will inform the development of the new programs of study, the existing programs of study are still in effect.

Gr. 9 Social Studies: Papaschase Land Claim
Task Outcome/Criteria Correlation

The Ministerial Order states that "competencies are interrelated sets of attitudes, skill and knowledge that are drawn upon and applied to a particular context for successful learning and living, are developed over time and through a set of related learner outcomes." It has not yet been determined whether the competencies will be addressed separately from the outcomes or embedded within the assessment of outcomes.

During this time of transition, AAC performance tasks will continue to link the assessment criteria to the existing learner outcomes. However, a separate document has been provided that shows the specific competencies that are addressed within the task. For educators who are grappling with what the "new" competencies might look like in action, the AAC competency connection and task specific outcome/criteria correlation documents can provide concrete examples to consider.
Gr. 9 Social Studies: Papaschase Land ClaimTask Competency Connections

Browse through the library of Performance Assessment Tasks on our website (like the Papaschase Land Claim PA Task shown on this page) and have a look at how the Outcomes/Criteria of the task align with the competencies in the related Competency Connection documents. We hope that by making links between the familiar language of outcomes and criteria to the potentially not-so familiar language of competencies, you might gain some clarity around what the competencies look like in the classroom.

We'd like to hear from you: 

  • Does this process help you to gain clarity about what the new competencies entail? 
  • Are there questions that arise when doing so? 
  • What additional support do you require to assist you in this process?