Archive for January, 2008

The Journey Begins…

Blueprints Politicians: “We need to strength our Curriculum!”

Parents: “How does that fit in the curriculum?”

Administrators: “Teachers need to teach the curriculum!”

Teachers: “Where is the curriculum.”

Janitors: “Could you move this curriculum. Dust is getting kinda thick.”

Curriculum is the educational plan of learning. Curricula are developed at various levels: state, school district and school. State boards of Education, district boards, state superintendents of Education, district superintendents, school principals, department or level supervisors and classroom teachers bear the responsibility for developing and implementing the curriculum. The accountability vary greatly. State level educators respond to poltical pressure. District educators answer to federal, state, local politicians, and members of the community. Teachers bear the weight of implementing the curriculum that has been, in many cases, developed beyond their input.

Curriculum is a framework of expectations. It can be viewed as a map or blueprint. Both provide an intended set of directions to reach a destination and a means of knowing when the goal has been reached. However, there is a difference between maps and blueprints. The difference lies on how one views learning. A blueprint is a rigid plan filled with sizes, specifications, and types of materials. Location of windows, doors , electric outlets, plumbing pipes, etc. are clearly spelled out. Little is left to the creative abilities of the builder. All the creativity resides with the architect. The blueprint metaphor suits the present drive for accountability. It is easily measured. There is a very specific plan of what to do and in many cases how to do it. There is little decision making. The room is this size. The door is located here. The window there. It fits the model of NCLB. Standardized testing are great for measuring window sizes, number of floor slats, height of ceilings, etc.

While the blueprint offers learning as a distinct plan with strict specifications, the map views learning as a journey. There are many paths that lead to the same objective. The blueprint results in the house of learning. The map provides for a journey to the land of learning. Learning is a life long endeavor. The journey a map offers provides for individual differences. No two children are identical. It is this diversity of difference that makes life so exciting. The success of the USA is the great diversity of its educational system. There are private and public schools. There are urban and rural schools. There are inner city schools and suburban schools. The map allows for alternate pathways. It provides for opportunity to linger longer in one place over another. The map provides the teacher the occasion to linger longer at one place while skipping another. The map offers teachers, schools and districts the prospect of serving their community and pupils. It may be a little difficult to measure accurately but journeys are adventures.

Maps offer a journey of excitement (education) filled with sites of interest, historical markers and scenic overviews. Part of the journey is the process of learning. Fun journeys include other people. People to travel with and people met along the way. Social development is vital to the journey. “education…is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.” (Those longs hours of studying John Dewey in History and Philosophy of Education are paying off!) Maps provide ample opportunity to made choices. Life is filled with choices. Some can be good and some can be bad. Learning to make choices is one of those needed tools of life. Maps provide chances to capture tools and techniques. To use a map, one has to learn how to read the map and use it and what the legend means. Some maps can offer very specific directions with room for deviation. Other maps require the traveler to read the map and make decisions along the way. The task of all maps is to provide the traveler with a means to locate and travel through unfamiliar territory. Isn’t that what education show be about? The Journey Continues…The Journey Continues…

January 30, 2008 at 10:10 pm 1 comment

The Teacher to Ranger to Teacher (TRT) Program

WUPA wukoki photo12

I just received the following email:

 

 

National parks enrich the lives of many in this nation. They provide access to the powerful ideas, values, and meanings associated with the remarkable cultural, natural, and recreational heritage of the United States. The National Park Service (NPS) strives to provide opportunities for all Americans to connect to their national heritage through the national parks. However, these opportunities are lacking for some – often due to a variety of social and economic factors.

The Teacher to Ranger to Teacher (TRT) Program offers a solution, by linking National Park units with teachers from low income school districts. Under this program, selected teachers spend the summer working as park rangers, often living in the park. They perform various duties depending on their interests and the needs of the park, including developing and presenting interpretive programs for the general public, staffing the visitor center desk, developing curriculum-based materials for the park, or taking on special projects.

Then, during the school year, these teacher-rangers bring the parks into the classroom by developing and presenting curriculum-based lesson plans that draw on their summer’s experience. In April, during National Park Week, teacher-rangers wear their NPS uniforms to school, discuss their summer as a park ranger, and engage students and other teachers in activities that relate to America’s national parks.

For additional information about the Teacher Ranger program go to http://www.nps.gov/wupa/forteachers/trt.htm.

What a great opportunity! Sounds like fun and educational and opportunity to do something of interest. Single teachers in particular may find this a grand opportunity!

Teachers often have to supplement regular teacher’s pay with summer employment. As a long tine teacher, I have had a variety of interesting jobs. I was a summer naturalist for the park district for a few years. That was fantastic! I am a biology teacher! One year I worked with the Attorney General’s office trying to resolve customer disputes with businesses. It was interesting but the pay was really bad! My best experience was a wilderness guide to the Quetico. I did that for three or four summers. Money was not too hot but the experience was beyond imagine! (I wasn’t married at that time!) I left the day after school and returned the day before.

Travel and jobs like the above only go to expand your experiences and make you a better teacher. Teachers who can share great tales capture pupil interest and allows the teacher to sneak in some learning!

January 27, 2008 at 1:42 am Leave a comment

THE BEST OF TIMES, THE WORST OF TIMES

j0318112.gif BE PREPARED

Time! Timing! Time of the day! Time of the week! Time of the Month! Time of the Year! It’s all about timing!

I don’t know what it is- but After the winter break is a ready hard time to get back to the grind stone. Perhaps its the long break. Maybe its the time of year. Most teachers will tell you that time of year and time of day are critical in terms of learning and assessing. Plan a test for the last period of the day or before a four day weekend,the results are disappointing. Try to introduce a new unit on the day before Winter Break and see what happens. Notice how pupils are affected by an oncoming storm. As the sun slides away and the kids get fidgety. Forget the planned lesson, the pupils minds are elsewhere. As the sun rises, the pupil’s attention drops- “It’s too hot.” The end of a school day, just before lunch, just after lunch- the pupil’s minds are on other things than classroom work. With time, the rookie teacher learns the best of times and the worst of times.

There are a million factors that affect learning in the classroom. These range from Arachnid to a Zit and everything in between. Many new teachers seem to have forgotten their finer moments as a pupil. It’s good to recall those grand moments when, as a pupil, you had an uncontrollable laughing fit. remember the panic that broke out in the class when a bee buzzed in. How about the dog that some kind fifth grader escorted into the school building or when Jeremy passed gas and caused a near evacuation of the room. Or the time that Billy wet his pants. Or, how about, marylou and the sock that popped out! Its like the high school or grade school reunion where you relive those grand moments. Laughter is a great medicine. They say that it prolongs life. Of course, these are the type of memories you share at a class reunion. But now, as the teacher, it is necessary to view these events from the other side of the desk. It doesn’t mean it’s not funny, it’s just that- you’re the teacher!

You can critique the teacher in question. How would you how handled that situation. Do you remember teachers who lost it. Screamed! Panicked! Stormed out! Called someone “Stupid!” Froze!

The experienced teacher has a book of crazy moments. Rookies need to listen to veterans. Listen to their stories and laugh right along with them but listen to how they handled the situation. I have taught for forty years and I have had my share of crazy moments. Some you identify and deal with instinctively because you had given it some thought. Others you have to wing it and hope for the best. Remember: Common Sense! When things work well, it is the best of times!

Okay, teachers..time for sharing!

Here’s my tale of panic in my first year! I was fresh out of college and had been assigned to a fifth grade at an overcrowed inner city school. It was a hot fall day. My class was on the third floor. I was on the third floor. I was in the middle of a language lesson when I hear the first murmurs of distress. I had 38 kids crammed in the room. The murmurs grew into louder protestations. Soon kids were screaming and and running around the room. I was really young and still very wet behind the ears. Two pigeons had entered the room and were perched on the hanging light fixtures. I was at a loss of what to do! The screaming soon attracted the assistant principal who stepped into the room. Order was restored immediately. I could feel the fear that I think the kids felt. As the class was quiet, she lined them up along the walk and marched them into the hallway. She told two pupils to get Mr. Martin, the janitor. She had the kids sit along the corridor wall. She turned to me and smiled. “Damn pigeons!” I was lucky but I learned!

Please add crazy tales in the commets. Thanks.

January 19, 2008 at 7:14 am Leave a comment

The Honeymoon

First Day Jitters

So Now You Have Your License and are married to a Job…

You have your license and you have a job. Now what!? The classroom awaits you. If you are starting at the beginning of the year, you get to plan it all out. The monster or joyful creature you create belongs to you. If you begin after the school has started, you inherit the monster or bindle of joy that someone else created. In either case, you will be disliked to begin with. It is much simpler to start the year.

All that stuff about learning theories, philosophy and multiple intelligences will be of no use for your first year or two. The name of the game is survival. Your survival as a teacher depends on a number of arenas. First, and foremost, is the classroom. The twenty-five or thirty little people that sit in your classroom are the toughest audience that you will ever face. You, as the teacher, must sell them on the need to learn in your classroom now. The second area is the school building which actually involves three interacting groups: the other pupils in the school, the teachers and the staff. As a teacher, your task extends out of the classroom into the hallway wherever you happen to be. The teachers near you hear you. Teachers are terrible gossips. Teachers will be judge your performance as the year goes on. The staff who clean your room can literally read any difficulties that occur in your classroom or in the lavatory (what a great term for wash room!). They gossip too! The third arena is the interaction with administration. As a new teacher, principals tend to keep a closer eye on your work. They have ears too. They also have eyes. They watch and listen to you and your pupils. Finally, the last arena is the community. Parents also listen. They hear their children. Good parents believe about half of what they hear. Wise parents know that children tend to exaggerate and point the finger of blame away from themselves.

Each of these arenas deserve a full blog or two on their own. This post will deal with surviving the “beginning!” Depending on when you start, there is a different strategy of survival. There are elements however that are common.(The “beginning” for sake of understanding will be the first week or two of school.)

Before Beginning of the first day: Plan your first two weeks. Make very detailed plans. Include times that you will do this or that. Check for any alterations in schedule (fire drills, assemblies, late start, early dismissal, etc). Prepare a first day letter to the parents about your classroom. List all the materials you will need and where the materials are located. Not sure where something is or what the procedure should be for something- ASK BEFORE THE FIRST DAY! Check on technology requirements: attendance on-line? email address? sign on procedures? How to turn on your computer? Check the lights and windows. Learn the names of the teachers around you (They can be a great help!). Practice before the first day how you line your pupils up outside and inside the classroom. Practice the route to the wash room and the cafeteria. Note the fire drill path that your class is to follow. Have classroom rules posted. Set up your seating chart. Read the names of the pupils several times. Try to learn them. Set up your classroom- bulletin boards, special charts or signs, arrangement of desks (don’t count on the staff setting them up for you), arrangement of your desk, papers located, books located for distribution, and on and on. (I’m exhausted already and the kids haven’t even gotten their yet!) Don’t wait until the first day of “work.” Most schools have a day without any pupils as an Institute Day. This is a day usually filled with meetings. Depending on your administration and the quality of workshop construction, the day will be mildly boring to extremely boring. Little is accomplished this day except for administrators to exercise their “classroom skills.” Expect to sit and listen all day. Any physical arranging or planning need to be done before this meeting.

The First Day: Arrive early. Double check the plan of the day. Take a minute to sift through all the junk in your mailbox (Each teacher is assigned a mailbox. Locate it before the beginning!). Double check everything is as you want it to be. Be sure your seating chart is ready for use. Call a pupil by name and you own that pupil. You know their name! (One of the great mistakes of inexperienced teachers is that they don’t know their pupils name for weeks!) Turn on your computer and sign on. Windows open? Lights? Use your board to have a “bell ringer” activity” or some activity for the pupils to do as they enter the classroom. Depending on the entrance procedure, the teacher needs to ready to greet their new pupils. You can smile but be business-like. Be kind without being overly nice. Begin to establish your routine immediately. Don’t worry about trying to teach academics immediately. Establish routine first. THE FIRST DAY IS THE MOST IMPORTANT DAY OF THE YEAR. Studies have shown that the greatest interest level and attention focus is on the first day. The teacher has their attention the first day. What you do on the first day establishes how you classroom will run through the reminder of the school term.Routines are vital for survival! Teach the pupils basic tasks today. How to enter the classroom. What to do when they get to their desk. Start on bell ringer activity, have books and homework on desk, write a journal entry, etc. (Attendance should be taken immediately. As a management aspect, quiet start to the day is the way to start- you can enter attendance, collect lunch money, gather your wits, collect notes, etc.). You should take a little time to welcome the students to your class, introduce yourself and quickly discuss the rules. Take a deep breathe and begin your lesson. Remember! On this day and for the next week or two, establishing the routine is the priority task. Therefore as you travel through your lesson, you must very watchful of time and activity. In grade school, lavatory time and lunch time and recess time are issues to be cognizant. You will spend more time in establishing the routine for these activities than in later time. In your plans allow for the extra time. Do it right from the start and you will discover that it becomes automatic and you will have more time to teach! It is important to be able to look a pupil in the eye and use their name. Try not to raise your voice. Some teachers develop a set of hand signals to communicate. These are great if used correctly! Keep them simple stupid (KISS) approach to routine is strongly urged. At the end of the day take a minute and reflect on the good and bad. Pat yourself on the back. Teachers usually don’t get a lot of recognition, so you got to give it to yourself. You survived the first day and it went pretty good. A word of warning: kids are always good the first day!

The Rest of the Beginning: Two weeks is the “honeymoon” phase. Honeymoon can be used as another name for the beginning. It is during this honeymoon phase that the pupils test the teacher and the teacher’s routine. It is vital to be on top of each test. The pupils are not consciously thinking of tests. It happens. For example, your classroom routine is to sharpen pencils at the start of the day and after lunch. A pupil rises his hand and asks to sharpen his pencil an hour into the school day. (Remember your routine.)

“Mrs so and so. I broke my pencil and I need to sharpen it.”

“Sorry, James. We sharpen only at the start of the day. Use your backup pencil.” (Good management rule: three pencils?)

“This is my only pencil!” James states.

“I will lend you this pencil for now and we’ll will talk to later.”

Do not waste any more time. If James argues, he is violating one of your classroom rules. Do not respond beyond noting that he is breaking an important rule and he needs to see you: prior to lunch or whenever you decide and issue a warning. You need to be strong. This is the test. Everyone’s eye is on you and what happens. If you allow him to sharpen his pencil then you must be willing to allow anyone to sharpen their pencil at any time. Once you establish your routine you need to stick with at least through the honeymoon. Pupils will test you on every aspect of the routine. The teacher needs to be prepared how to handle the situation. Once routine is established, there is less confrontation and more time for the good stuff, learning the academics!

January 16, 2008 at 11:26 pm Leave a comment

Planning on being a teacher?

ReadingCoach articlepage PRE-SERVICE TRAINING: The College Program

All teachers in any and every state must have a college degree and a license (certification) to teach. In most states, the license specifies the grades/subjects to teach.

Step 1: Enroll in a college that offers a BA or MS or BS.Ed. In other words, the prospective teacher needs to have or being working on a degree.

Step 2: Participate in a pre-service program. The college degree can be the major in Education or a minor in Education with a major in another field. The former is most often the course followed by the elementary teacher. The latter is best followed by the secondary teacher. Individuals with a degree who decide to switch careers and become a teacher can follow two pathways. There a number of programs in which the prospective teacher “teaches” as they take courses and agree to continue to work in the sponsoring school system for a period of time. The other pathway is to obtain a Masters degree in Education. Both pathways offer an opportunity to become a certified teacher. Some states require a test to become a qualified teacher in that state. Each state have their own certification requirements. (Individual state requirements can be researched at this website (http://www.education-world.com/jobs/state_certification.shtml).

Teacher education (pre-service training) has remained relatively the same over the past fifty years. The content may have fluctuated but the courses offered are the same. The standard College of Education course requirements include:

Survey of the Exceptional Child
Educational Psychology
History and Philosophy of Education
Principles and Practices
Methods Classes
“Field Experience”
Student Teaching

Each State spells out the basic requirements for certification of teachers at each level: Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary. The colleges design their programs to fulfill the state requirements for certification. The courses listed above are pretty standard for any teacher certification program. Effective education programs include viable “field experience” requirements. “Field experience” usually entails prospective teachers observing teachers in action.

In the course of the variety of subjects studied in the pursuit of a teacher certificate, future teachers learn:

<>to plan (lesson plans and units)
<>to execute the plan (methods)
<>how to assess the plan (test construction)
<>Theories of learning
<>Philosophy of education
<>The psychological profile of children at various ages
<>Cultural differences
<>Legal requirements for teachers
<>Identification of learning disabilities
<>Education ethics
<>Along with a host of other topics including classroom management skills

The number of semester hours of education courses vary somewhat from state to state. In Illinois, 18 hours of course work is required. Most institutions in Illinois require a passing grade on the Basic Skills Test before acceptance into the program. One hundred hours of classroom observation is required by prospective teachers. (This does create a problem for future teachers who work during the day and take classes at night. In order to complete the field experience observations, the working student will need to take time off to make their observations.) Before receiving the license, the teacher must receive their diploma, pass a state test, complete the required application form, and pay their $30 fee. Once that is completed, you are a certified teacher.

Now as a certified teacher, you can apply for a job. The teacher has to be finger printed and cleared through the appropriate state agency after a series of interviews. In most cases, you are on your own. Good Luck!

January 16, 2008 at 1:02 am 3 comments

The Teacher as an Evaluator

thinkers cartoonTeaching, like learning, is cyclic. It is a continuous process. It has no beginning, middle or end.There are three aspects to the teaching cycle: planning, implementing, and evaluating. Teachers approach these tasks as a one step at a time process. But ,in actuality, these three aspects of teaching are so interrelated that the teacher weighs all three aspects at one time. Effective teaching requires that the teacher be involved in all three phases of the cycle.

Planning involves developing learning objectives, designing the method to achieve the objectives and deciding on the assessment to determine if the objectives have been achieved. There is no set order in designing the plan. Sometimes a teacher begins with the objective and moves to the method. Other times the teacher has an assessment and determines the objective and method to be used. Other times a fantastic activity (method) is discovered and the teacher plans around this. When the teacher walks into the classroom, a plan is prepared. Experienced teachers have the plan laid out in their head. The rookie teacher needs to write it out. This lesson plan, written or mental, is the backbone of good teaching!

The implementation of the plan involves putting the plan into action. Success often rests with the ability of the teacher to manage students and the classroom environment. Motivation is an instrumental factor. Students need a reason to become engaged in an activity. The simple desire to learn or “its fun” motivates many students. The drive for good grades motivates others to become involved. Motivation is the deciding factor in becoming successful as a teachers over time. It is this element that a teacher needs to uncover over time. What motivates a particular student to learn? Experienced teachers have learned good motivation techniques. These teachers have also learned that different things motivate different students (different strokes for different folks).

Teaching, like learning, always ends with a question. When teachers have completed a lesson, they ask what worked and why. This is evaluation. It is an attempt to find the answer to questions, such as: Were the objectives clearly stated? Did the objectives really state what was to be accomplished? Did the method or activity fit the objective? Was the motivation adequate? Was the assessment fair? Did the assessment actually measure what was to be achieved? Did the students learn? What did the students learn? Teachers are constantly evaluating the answers to these questions. Evaluation leads to growth. This growth leads to improvement in future planning and implementation. The lesson can then be improved or “junked.” The teacher has found the value in each aspect and can improve the cycle.

This final role of a teacher- to evaluate- is vital to a teacher’s success. It is this role that allows the teacher to discover the worth of their work. Teachers must find the value in what they do. Most fields of endeavor have some measure of success. The salesmen have their list of sales per month. The assembly line worker has the number of products produced. The lawyer and doctor have their number of clients or patients. Teachers have the student he taught twenty years earlier who comes up and shakes the teacher’s hand and says; “Thanks, Mr M. You inspired me.” (That’s more than a Rocky Mountain High!) In recent years, standardized tests have been become the measure of success for teachers. Unfortunately, the politicians and others have used these tests solely to evaluate teachers and schools without taking into consideration all the other factors involved. True and fair evaluation must take into account many factors. This assessment is a comparison score. It is not an evaluation of the student’s work. The scores could be used by teachers or the school district to help diagnose curricular or learning problems that need to be addressed. Other factors can then be weighed to evaluate the programs.To use a standardized test as a critical evaluation tool for promotion or graduation is disgraceful.

Evaluation is a subjective process. Teachers and administrators evaluate lessons, textbooks, programs and students. They even evaluate each other. Evaluation attempts to find the value in. It is a process that must take into account many factors. These factors will vary depending upon what is being evaluated. For example, evaluations of textbooks take into account reading level, graphics, durability, coordination with school curriculum, and cost. Other factors that might be contemplated are multicultural slant, teacher ancillary materials, technology integration, interdisciplinary integration, and weight or size of the book. There is much to be considered when evaluating.

Evaluations of students present similar difficulties. There is no one factor that should be used to find the value in a student. Each student is different. Many of the problems teachers face with students have never changed. Kids are kids. But what kids have been exposed to has changed drastically. Students learn everywhere: home, street, school. Some of today’s schools are the same as their grandparents were educated in fifty years ago. Even the paint is the same. Ventilation on a hot day can be brutal to the learning process. Peeling paint and ugly water stains add the dementia of the learning process in primitive schools. Technology in a classroom with a single painted-over outlet offers a real challenge to modern learning practices. Environment is vital to the evaluation process. The availability of learning resources seriously impacts the learning process. Evaluation is a subjective process to find the value in a student amidst all the distractions of learning.

There is no standard that says the teacher is perfect. Teachers are human. The difficulty with evaluation is that it is often confused with assessment. Assessments are used as tools to evaluation. When a student scores an 76% on a history test, it is just an assessment. This same student may well have provided the class within a magnificent insight into the causes of World War I the previous day. Based on the test assessment, he is an average student. Based on the discussion, he is a genius. The teacher must be aware of many factors to find the value in this student. Evaluation is not just a series of test scores, or quiz grades or turned-in homework. It is an accumulation of many things within an environment in which a teacher must make a subjective judgment. Teachers are not always right. They can make mistakes.

Teachers return to planning and implementing with new insights or values that evaluation has given them. Teachers are continually planning, implementing and evaluating. There is rarely a time that all three are not active. They are melted into the teaching cycle. Evaluation is the emulsifier of the cycle. It is what keeps the teacher on target: leading students to learning.

January 4, 2008 at 1:15 am Leave a comment

The Teacher as the Assessor

report cardTeachers draw a distinction between assessment and evaluation. Assessment refers to the tools and resulting measurements. Evaluation is using those assessments to find the value in certain events. Teachers use assessment to determine where the child is in the learning process and what teaching processes have worked. Tests, quizzes, papers, discussion, observation are a few examples of assessments. The assessments are used by teachers to evaluate the pupils with grades and/or parent conferences.

When teachers prepare plans to teach it is important to know where they are going, how they are going to get there and when they have arrived. Learning is like taking a vacation. The travel agent (teacher) designs where the traveler is going, how they will get there and some type of indication to let them know that they have reached their destination. Of course, it is always best if the travel agent and traveler plan the vacation together. The traveler wishes to take a vacation in Hawaii. (Sounds good to me!!) The two sit down and lay out their plans: Means of travel, What islands to visits, what sites to see, what hotel…, etc. (These are the goals.) The flight will be United flight 342 departing and arriving on.., transfer to hotel such-and-such by…, tickets Happy Concert on Tuesday…, etc. (These are are the activities.) You know when you arrive because the humid air caresses your face and the pretty young lady slips a lei around your neck. (This is the assessment.) The assessment is the indication that the journey has reached a particular point safely. (Both the teacher and student need to be aware of arriving at the desired destination.) After the vacation is over, the traveler tells everyone how great the vacation- they found value in the experience.

In education words, teachers develop learning goals that they make known to students. Teachers develop activities (methods) that guide students toward the goal. And teachers inform the students what is expected of them when they have achieved the goal. This is the Teaching Cycle. teaching cycle

TEACHER ASSESSMENT TOOLS

Teachers assess in many ways. Assessments need to be authentic. In other words, the assessment must measure the goal stated and be appropriate for the method employed. Traditional assessments include tests, quizzes, essays, reports and the like. Some educators distinguish between traditional and alternative assessments. Alternative assessments in some circles refer to anything that is not a multiple-choice test. Tests are the most often-used assessment tool. Most experienced teachers use a variety of assessment tools. Teachers should inform students of the type of assessment tool to be used. (“When this exercise is finished, you will be expected to take a test and answer 70% of the informational questions correctly.” “After working on this activity you will be able to build a paper airplane and be able to have it fly 15 feet”).

If an alternative assessment is used, it must be clearly explained. The rubric is a specific diagram of guidelines and how much weight that particular guideline carries. Rubrics are vital to non-test assessments. The rubric should be simple. A written essay might involve a rubric with the following guidelines: Three paragraphs, five to six sentences per paragraph, no more than three spelling or grammar errors, a cohesive topic, etc. This establishes the parameters of the assessment.

Recently a great deal has been said of portfolios. Portfolios are great assessment tools if used properly. They are also very demanding on the teacher and student. Creating a viable portfolio rubric may take several years. There is much published on the use of the portfolio. Before venturing into the portfolio the teacher needs to carefully investigate the available ideas and options. Some schools have demanded portfolio assessment. Guidelines are sometimes vague and misleading. Assessments need to be clear and distinct.

Assessments need to be valid and reliable. Valid refers to assessing what actually has been learned. Reliable assessments are consistent when the same conditions are repeated. Teachers who use the same test year after year need to be careful. The teacher must teach the same material in the same way wit the test being offered at the same time. As a result all variables are controlled. Varying one variable while control all others can then be used to determine the effectiveness of the altered item. Using a different approach to presenting a lesson, can be tested by using the same assessment as long as nothing else varies. Tests constructed by book publishers are great for a appearance but they are rarely valid. Effective teachers use these tests as source material for classroom testing.

Teachers must carefully consider the assessment tool to use in trying to measure the results of learning. These assessments may also be used to measure the effectiveness of a learning method. Assessments result in measurements. A student may score an 8 out 10 on a quiz. That is an assessment. 79% on a test is an assessment. 4 on a rubric is an assessment. The assessment is nothing more than a measurement.

Teachers establish criteria for the assessment. “A student is expected to get at least 7 out of 10 on a quiz” is a criterion that indicates to the student that he has successfully completed what’s expected. “75% of the students obtaining a 7 out of 10 on a quiz” is a criterion that the teacher can use to determine the effectiveness of the instruction.

THE EXTERNAL ASSESSMENT TOOL

The dreaded standardized test has become the tool of choice in determining teacher and student accountability.

State and national politicians demand accountability to be freed from the bias of teachers and schools. The assessment that has become espoused by most states is the standardized norm-referenced test. In most cases, the result of this single assessment has become the evaluation of a student’s progress. In some school districts this single test has become the benchmark for promotion or graduation.

These types of assessments are designed to be used as comparisons. In order for tests to be used for comparison purposes, the test needs to be standardized, that is, have a standard set of instructions, testing conditions, time allowed and questions asked. Standardized testing are norm-referenced tests, that is, a statistical average is established by a sample group of students. Students who then take the test are compared to the sample group or the norm. Statistical methods are employed to establish a normal curve. When a normal curve is graphed it appears as a bell shaped curve. The results of a tested student can then be placed on the bell curve indicating a score. This score can then be used to compare a student or group of students to a larger group of students: local, state or national. Test publishing companies usually normalize their tests every 5-7 years.

These standardized tests do not guarantee that the material studied in the classroom is being assessed. These tests are developed to assess students in a broad area. National tests, like the California Achievement Test (CAT) or the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), are developed to assess students in many areas of the country. Many states have now developed standardized tests to assess students across their state. (More of this to come on future blogs).

Assessments lead to evaluation. In order to be fair in evaluating students it is vital that the assessments used are actually measuring the objectives and methods employed. The concept of “teaching the test” is a valid point. Most teachers must prepare students for assessments that are developed by others. These assessments are extremely important since they are often used to determine if a student is promoted to the next grade. These assessments are often used to evaluate a teacher, school or school district. Needless to say, this has been become a heated dispute in the education world.

January 1, 2008 at 1:34 am Leave a comment


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