Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Classroom Based Reading Assessment

Print-based student portfolios have been used, misused, discarded, and reintroduced by many schools and districts over the past thirty years. Keeping track of students’ work, storing these collections, evaluating them, and using them to drive instruction has had its ups and downs in literacy education. Online and digital portfolios have been used with similar outcomes in elementary, high school, and college settings.
The biggest challenge for portfolio advocates is whether to apply normative or criterion-referenced standards for evaluating the contents of students’ portfolios by creating rubrics or other grading processes, or allowing individual students to use portfolios to document and demonstrate their learning and development over time. The second approach, a learner-referenced approach, has not been widespread in schools since so many assessment programs are designed to compare children to other children or schools to other schools.
Portfolios are collections of one’s work designed to provide opportunities to reflect on progress or change over a period of time. In most “real-world” instances, for example interior designers, architects, photographers, or artists, portfolios are used to demonstrate competencies and accomplishments. This type of portfolio is rarely scored using a rubric.
As the requirements for being proficiently literate (of course defining proficiently literate is problematic in itself) continue to expand and grow more complex in the digital age, the assessments we use to understand students’ abilities and performances need to expand as well. Portfolios and other performance assessments offer possibilities in this arena. For me, the challenge is not how to collect and evaluate portfolios but why to collect and evaluate portfolios. In my book, Classroom Reading Assessments (Serafini, 2010), I proposed three essential aspects of portfolio assessment:
1.    Help teachers teach more effectively
2.    Help students learn more effectively
3.    Provide information for stakeholders
 In order to do this, classroom-based assessments should: 1) utilize a variety of sources of information, 2) involve students in evaluating their performances, 3) focus on abilities, not deficits, 4) be conducted over time, and 5) respect the teacher as knowledgeable observer in the assessment process. There are ways of using portfolios as performance assessments that align with the above-mentioned criteria. Unfortunately, most designers and implementers of portfolio systems are too busy trying to scale-up or standardize what goes into the portfolio. More complex systems of evaluation will be needed to understand the complexities of student performances beyond the collection of artifacts or bubbling in answers on a standardized test.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Teaching Reading in the Digital Age

We come to know those things we enjoy and spend time doing with greater efficiency and speed than those things we despise and those things to which we pay little attention. It's just that simple sometimes. Being afraid to engage with or consider the potential impact web-based and digital resources could have on our teaching ensures we won’t be successful in the digital age. People may still call for a back to basics focus for our curriculum, but we must realize that in the digital age the basics have changed dramatically.
To help teachers move forward into the digital age, they need to be given time to explore a wide range of digital resources, time to talk with other teachers about how they have been using these resources in their classrooms, time to play around with them, provide time for their students to play around with them, and visualize new ways to use these resources in the reading workshop. Teachers can’t just read about web-based and digital resources, they have to begin exploring these resources for themselves. Teachers also need to begin thinking about how these resources might be used in their reading workshops.
I will be the first one to admit there are factors that make using new technologies in one’s classroom a challenge. Teacher limited experience and familiarity with new technologies and limited resources are probably the first two challenges that come to mind. But, these challenges must be met head-on if we are going to take advantage of the web-based and digital resources available and help our students be successful in the digital age.
For a month last year I kept track of all the different types of reading I did everyday. My self-study revealed that I read and write extensively in both print-based and digital environments. From daily email and text messages to greeting cards, I consistently used both paper-and-pencil and digital technologies to support my reading life. I have had no problem giving up some long-held print-based literacy practices in favor of digital technologies when they have proven to be more efficient and effective.
I am the one that decided when my print-based calendar needed to move into the digital age. My new calendar program now allows me to sync it with other family members so we can see what everyone has on their schedule. Making the shift from a typewriter to my computer and writing letters to email were easy changes. The advantages of these new technologies were obvious and the shift was a much a social phenomenon as a personal insight. Other new technologies have been more difficult to accept. For example, I still write notes in my paper notebook. The origins of most of this book began in my notebook and on legal pads before being transferred into a digital document. My daily “to do” list is still on a sheet of paper so I can keep it in my pocket. There are hundreds of digital to do lists available but for me the sheet of paper in my pocket is till the most effective and efficient technology.
            As a college professor and former elementary teacher, I feel the same way about new technologies in the reading workshop. If the new technologies help me to do something more effectively and efficiently, if the new technology allows my students to work more collaboratively, if it improves my students reading abilities, well I am on board. But I am not afraid to say when the new technologies are more cumbersome and less efficient. As we move into the digital age, we have to let go of some outdated practices and embrace the new technologies that support our teaching and our students’ learning in more effective and efficient ways.