If you’ve listened to any of my earlier podcasts, you know that I started creating a bi-weekly podcast that focuses on topics my colleagues have asked. During my 20 years as an educator I’ve had plenty of challenges and spent plenty of time seeking innovative but realistic solutions. I am also a bit of a social butterfly. Where some people get their work done and head home, I tend to get distracted when I pass by another teacher’s room. Some people would probably call me a busy body. In any case, this frequently leads to a conversation that involves brainstorming solutions to obstacles we are facing in the classroom. Somewhere in the conversation, I usually mention a strategy or tool that results in the inevitable question... “How do you do that?” or “Where did you learn about that?” This podcast is my way of intentionally sharing some of the ways I stay abreast of new ideas, best practices, current research, trends, and everything else that goes into making me the educator that I am. In this episode, I will be sharing a few ways to make good use of assessment data. Before I begin, I want to make sure to point out that the websites and tools I share with you today have been classroom tested by me. I am not receiving any compensation or fun SWAG for sharing these. I really just believe they can help educators and students. With that being said, let’s talk data.
Teachers have no shortage of assessment data. The question really is which assessments provide the most useful data what are we doing with it? Certain assessments are externally imposed. I don’t know about you but I often find these are usually the least useful to me as a teacher. Some assessments are initiated externally but we opt in. These have potential to be useful. The most useful to me are generally those that I have selected based upon prior teaching or areas that will be taught soon. Today I will share with you 3 types of data and how I have made use of it to improve student learning. Let’s start with the Snapshot tool in Edmodo. I do not use Edmodo as frequently now that we have transitioned to Google Classroom in our district. But Edmodo does have something that Google classroom doesn’t and that is the Snapshot tool. It is aligned with Common Core State Standards and I love that I can create these short assessments to use for small groups of students. Here’s how I do it. First I set up my classroom and create my roster in Edmodo. Then I create some small groups based on student ability. Next, I generate a snapshot for a specific standard. Suppose I am getting ready to teach multiplying and dividing fractions. If I believe there is a group of students that may already know how to do that, I can pre-assess with a snapshot and then provide an alternate learning experience for those who demonstrate mastery. Suppose some students have been struggling with finding equivalent fractions. I can re-teach in small group and then assign a short snapshot assessment based on that standard to see if they have a better understanding. The snapshot tool is super easy to use and it’s the main reason that I still have students linked to my Edmodo account. There are some pros and cons that I have found while using this tool. In fact, I wrote a more detailed blog post about the tool and will share a link to that post in my show notes.
Let’s talk spelling. If spelling is part of your curriculum, I have a few questions for you to ponder. Do all of your students have the same aptitude for spelling? What methods do you use to differentiate spelling for your students? Do you have separate lists? Are these lists based on novels, content area vocabulary, sight words, word origins, or something else? If you are not differentiating for your students, what is stopping you? If you are differentiating, how much time are you spending creating lists, assignments, and conducting assessments? What if I told you that differentiating spelling for your students could actually save you time? I bet that got your attention!
It’s true and there are lots of ways you could be doing it. One easy way is to give students a pre-test from the Words their Way book. Yes this takes time on the front end but it pays off later. This assessment is an excellent guide if you want to use spelling lists that target specific spelling skills. After pre-testing I chose the appropriate list from K-12 reader. Did you know that this site has a whole bunch of lists leveled by grade and target skills? I’ll put a link in my shownotes for you. These lists save me the time of creating a list but I still need an easy way to assign the list to students. Once again, I still like the small group feature in Edmodo. I have another blog post that explains how I assign students to spelling groups and how I assign lists and assignments within those groups. What I like even better, is Vocabulary/Spelling City. There are a number of options that are free but I have used DonorsChoose for several years to fund a classroom subscription. I am pretty picky about my classroom subscriptions to online programs. SpellingCity definitely makes the cut. Spelling is so easy now. Set up a roster. Create lists. Assign lists to students. Preset certain activities for spelling practice in class and for homework. This is really a set it and forget it type of tool. If you pay the subscription cost, you will have access to reporting features. It’s been years since I gave a whole class spelling test. Students all work at their own pace. Do you have students that really excel when it comes to spelling? Would you be interested in allowing students to customize their own word list? Here’s another thing I really love… on Friday, I have students take a pre-test on the spelling words for the next week. Any words they miss will remain on their list but the ones they already know get replaced with words from higher level lists or words the students have chosen from a novel they are reading. Better yet, why not have students keep track of words that they frequently misspell in their classwork. These can become the filler words and then students are really focusing on learning something targeted specifically to their own deficits. Like I said, there are efforts on the front end that will be a bit time consuming but when you no longer have spelling assignments to grade or tests to give, I think you will see the long-term benefit!
Alright, so here’s a biggie. We all have externally initiated assessments that we find ourselves opting into with varied levels of buy-in. Regardless, the data that we receive can be a powerful tool if we use it right. One of the ways I have found to be really useful is to empower students and I’ve done this by designing fast-paced review. Preparing the activity is a bit tricky but so worth it. Let me break it down for you. We are preparing to administer benchmark tests for 5th grade students in math, reading, and science. Let’s consider math. When the test is over, teachers could review the data and make decisions for future teaching. We would probably feel pretty good about that. We might decide that the majority of students missed certain questions and we should take time to discuss those questions with the whole group. Not a bad idea but what about those students who got that question right? Honestly, it is unfair to force them to sit through that review. So, maybe we can identify small groups of students that have made common errors and we can hold multiple review sessions while other students work independently. That’s better but poses huge demands on the teacher and let’s face it - the person doing the work is the person that is learning. So, the goal is how do we get the students doing the work? Our entire team of 5th grade teachers work together to make this happen. Again, I have a blog post that gives more details and you can follow up with that if my podcast has piqued your interest, but the gist of it is we will be identifying students who demonstrated mastery on the majority of the test and assigning these students to be teachers. Every other student will be given a list of questions that they missed and a schedule to visit the appropriate student/teacher to receive instruction about how to solve that problem. The teachers just monitor traffic as students move from room to room. We received really great feedback from the students after trying this last year and we’re hoping to improve our practice as we prepare and conduct these math meet-ups again. It’s kind of like speed dating, but for math. In fact, the main thing we know we need to improve on is the pace. Our pace was a little too fast for kids who are really struggling so we will be keeping that in mind as we move forward. Don’t forget I have a link in the show notes where you can see some action photos and follow my “how to” if you want to create your own Math Meet-ups.
Alright, that just about does it for this episode of “How Does She Do It?” Podcast. I hope it left you not only with some new ideas but also a better understanding of How I do it and How you could do it too! Check out the podcast notes for helpful links and the schedule of upcoming podcasts along with topics. You can also connect with me via comments and questions. Using speakpipe, you can even leave me a voice message. Who knows I might include your message in an upcoming Podcast. Oh and one last thing - you might want to consider subscribing to the feed so you will be notified when a new podcast comes out. Thanks for tuning in.