Last month, I posted a short explanation of the thinking that I put into constructing classroom assessments. This month, I take those ideas into practice.
I am definitely an “early adopter” when it comes to new technological tools, especially those that my students can make use of. When you fuse my tech eagerness with my obsession over grading and assessment, you get a single-minded drive to explore all sorts of digital assessment tools. If there is an online gradebook application, student response device, or new-fangled student data product that was developed over the past decade, I have tried it.
In my last post, I mentioned Validity, Reliability, Authenticity, and Efficiency. In evaluating tools that either students or I can use for the purpose of classroom assessment, I look for Value. I want to know what a tool offers me, in terms of saving me time/effort, or what it offers my students, in terms of access, ease of use, and accuracy. What does this tool cost my school (or, more often, me) per year? In short, how is this better than a pencil and paper quiz in class?
I’ve warmed up to several digital tools that I use on a regular basis. As you will see, some of them have been in my toolbox for years and others are brand-new. All of the them have passed the test of providing value and each offers a different advantage.
Student Response Devices
Most teachers and administrators just call these clickers, which is strangely what my grandfather called our television remote control and what my wife’s family calls our Wiimote. Their biggest advantage is that students respond immediately to questions, teachers don’t need to setup the assessment ahead of time (although it helps), and results are instantly available. The downside is cost, as these can run $1000 for a single class set.
I have tried lots of brands and they each have their good points, but I prefer the SMART Response system for two big reasons. First, students log in with their student ID number, so it doesn’t matter which clicker they grab before an assessment. This is one of those logistical benefits that only a classroom teacher can really appreciate. Second, they allow some level of non-multiple-choice responses and integrate well with the SMART Notebook software that so many of us have (and some of us actually use).
I was introduced to this web-based assessment tool a couple of years ago and it really surprised me. Socrative is really the best alternative to Student Response systems if you can’t afford them. Socrative duplicates much of their functionality for free. The catch? Students must have a device with a web browser, such as a smartphone, iPod touch, tablet, or laptop. This makes Socrative the perfect tool for schools that are embracing the BYOD movement.
With Socrative, teachers compose questions through a teacher web portal and can save them to their account. These questions can be multiple-choice or short answer, and Socrative will automatically grade the former if you provide the correct answer. At the end of the assessment, you can have the results saved to your computer or emailed to you. Think about how powerful this can be when you don’t have to rely on a specific set of electronic tools to perform classroom assessment.
The disadvantage to Socrative is that it doesn’t save your responses and students self-identify as part of the assessment, which can lead to challenges in breaking down the data that you receive. Overall, however, I strongly recommend this tool.
Edmodo is a web-based social network for schools that I’ve mentioned before in this space. My district bought a license this year and so I’ve been using it more actively with my students. For individual teachers, it is a free service with TONS of features. For now, I want to discuss the assessment tools specifically.
Edmodo has several ways for teachers to gather assessment data. First, teachers can write and deploy online quizzes which are automatically scored (except for those pesky, and authentic, short-answer questions). Second, teachers can give digital “assignments” which might include viewing embedded multimedia or clicking on links, or simply writing responses. These must be scored by the teacher. Third, if a teacher is interested in more anonymous data (for the purposes of less formal formative assessment, perhaps), edmodo has a “polls” tools that sends out a single question and collects responses.
In many ways, edmodo is the perfect tool for the modern classroom. It engages students in a very Facebook-like environment and utilizes many of the social interactions and rewards that they already get from the non-school life. Assessments blend seamlessly into what they are already reading and writing on the site. However, I’ve found that the fact that I need to have enough laptops or iPads for each student makes this a some what unwieldy tool for regular use. Edmodo assessments can not be randomized to prevent cheating (although neither do any of the tools mentioned here), and there is nothing to stop a student from taking an assessment at home unless the teacher checks the timestamp vigilantly.
In the end, I’ve decided to post short “practice tests” on edmodo prior to each of my major summative tests. This provides students with a chance to assess themselves but doesn’t necessitate me grading all of the practice assessments. Many of my students take the practice test at home and bring questions to class before the official one.
MasteryConnect is the newest tool in my classroom assessment toolbox. I only learned of it recently from my friend and pushback specialist, Bill Ferriter. It is essentially a standards-based gradebook program linked to the state curriculum that uses the webcam on a computer to quickly scan bubble-type answer sheets.
While the webcam grading is what my students like the best–I’ve trained them to scan their own sheets as they turn them in–my favorite part of this tool is that every assessment question must be tied to a specific objective in the state curriculum. This may not sound like such a ground-breaking idea, but it really forces me to make sure that every question on my short formative quizzes is critically important. The gradebook, which MasteryConnect calls a “tracker”, uses familiar red, yellow, and green color-coding to indicate which standards each student has mastered.
The only downside to MasteryConnect is that the free account only allows 10-question quizzes. In order to give more questions at a time, and unlock a lot of other features that I could care less about, a teacher must shell out $160 per year. That’s well beyond the $40-60 that I am willing to spend for classroom tools that I use regularly like Evernote Premium or VoiceThread. Worst of all, one of the “benefits” of a paid subscription is that you can scan any assessment using the webcam. I actually prefer that the free account keeps me honest by linking each question to the curriculum.
So, there they are: my four favorite tools for classroom assessment. I welcome your feedback and suggestions about others to add to my list. Next month, I’ll finish this series about Efficient Assessment by discussing what I do with the data after it’s been captured.