Category Archives: educon

Assessment Alternatives

Although I teach in a project based learning and standards based grading school, the standards are not always a part of the final product, but are assessed along the way as they are foundational knowledge for it.  So it seems I still end up having students writing short essays to explain the standards for most assessments.

I was looking for some ways to shake this up so students did not just have to write for every assessment. Here are two ideas that I came up with. The first was to have students create a short presentation of primary source images. Then students screencasted themselves explaining why they chose the images and how the pictures explained the standard.

The second was for students to sketch pictures to explain the standard. I have been thinking about visuals lately especially after meeting Amanda Lyons at Educon and seeing her great visual notes (check our her blog Visuals for Change). I showed them RSA Animate ‘s site and some of their videos as an example of images supporting someone’s thoughts. (If you want to make real RSA style videos check out this post from Paul Bogush.)

Amanda Lyons Community Mural at Educon

 Since I wanted this to be quick and easy for assessment I just asked the students to draw their pictures and then either write some sentences next to them explaining the drawings or come explain their sketches to me verbally. I wanted the process to be simple since I was more interested in their visual thoughts than I was in creating a video.

How do you encourage visual thinking in your classroom? What are alternative ways of assessment that you use to keep it fresh?

"What are you willing to get fired for"?

My favorite session at Educon was session 5. You won’t find this title in program, but this is a snapshot of a great conversation that I had with Rob Grecko. He asked me: “What are you willing to get fired for? Poor test scores vs. refusing to teach scripted curriculum?”

Photo Credit: muffytyrone via Compfight cc

We all make compromises and do things that we may philosophically disagree with at times to work in a system called a school, district, or whatever. If we are always backtracking to obey district mandates it is a slippery slope. Where do we draw the line? When is enough, enough?

But I also have an addiction to food, clothing, and shelter (hat tip to Ron Houtman)  that my wife and children share. I need my job to live and I was raised to respect and obey authority figures. I think a not so subtle belief of my religious upbringing was that they have all of the answered figured out and everyone else is wrong, which very quickly leads to listen to their authoritative voice and don’t question it.

If you know me, you know that I have shed the “don’t ask questions part” but in truth I am a complicated mixture of rule follower and rebel and don’t even know how to classify myself.

So the driving question haunts me because the truth is I am not willing to lose my family income for what I believe is the best for students. The truth is also though that I am not in a position where I have to make that choice.

But let’s try an experiment in empathy. What if you WERE met by your administrator tomorrow and handed a scripted test prep curriculum and told that you had to use it the rest of the year and that your students had to reach a certain level on the state test or you would be fired. 

Which risk would you choose? Teach the test prep curriculum and hope you don’t get fired from low scores or ignore the scripted curriculum in favor of meaningful student-based inquiry and risk getting fired for disobeying orders. Which risk has the better payoff? Which risk helps students?

What are YOU willing to get fired for?