Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tech Tip Tuesday: Photo Math

This week's tech tip is a cool one that you can share with parents (or students) to help them check their math homework. Photo Math is a neat app that allows you to scan a math problem with your device's phone (only computer printed, the app does not work on handwriting currently). The app walks the user through the steps to solve the problem one-by-one and displays the correct answer.

This tool is great for parents or students for all levels of math, from basic operations to high-school level math like linear equations, quadratic equations, and inequalities. The apps are available on both iOS and Android platforms.

Why this is great for ELLs:
ELLs can check their answers and view step by step, in real time, how to correctly solve problems they are struggling with. Homework is designed to provide valuable practice of difficult skills, and instant feedback like that from Photo Math can really help maximize student learning. It can also help parents keep up with students and assist them with supporting their students.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Grading ELLs: Overall Considerations

I've written before about Federal laws regarding grading ESOL students, but I wanted to delve a little more into what should actually be considered when assigning grades to these students. Throughout this series, we'll delve into some important considerations for grading ELLs.

First, I think it is important to distinguish between grading and assessment.  While the primary function of assessment is to gather and interpret data to inform instruction and learning, the primary function of grading is evaluative, and the primary goal of grading is to communicate information to students and parents.

Often times, letter grades don't do a good job of communicating information about learning because students and parents aren't made aware of the components of the grading system and how much each of those components contributes to the overall grade.

Additionally, it's important to consider how you are differentiating the grading process for your ELLs. We differentiate assessment and instruction, so it is only logical that grading is differentiated as well. One important piece of this is to shift your grading paradigm from the idea that grades should reflect achievement to the idea that grades should reflect progress. For ELLs, it's important that their grades reflect English language development as well as content learning.

For all students at all ages, it's important that grading be based on learning goals. Students should participate in setting their learning goals, and in regular self assessment. This gives them buy-in to and some control over their own learning. It also requires quality feedback from the teacher.

Next time, we'll delve into the components that should be included in your grading system. Take a few minutes to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I currently differentiate my grading process for ELLs?
  • What components are currently included in my grading system?
  • What weight is each component given?
  • How often do I include:
    • Performance assessment?
    • Paper and Pencil test/assignment?
    • Student Self-Assessment

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tech Tip Tuesday: Rewordify

This week's tech tip is a tool that can help teachers with differentiation in the classroom. Providing texts that are differentiated for students based on reading level or language proficiency is often one of the most daunting tasks when trying to differentiate a lesson. This is because t is time consuming- either because you are scouring high and low for a text that covers the same content in more simple language (which can also be expensive if you do find it), or because you end up rewriting it yourself (which takes time and thought).

This week's tech tip is to use ReWordify. You simply copy and paste the text of your reading into the box on the website and click "ReWordify Text". The computer program usually rewords the text fairly accurately, simplifying some of the most difficult words to yield a more readable text. Even cooler, you can print out a number of "learning activities" based on the text you entered. My favorite is the vocabulary list with definitions- a list of all the "rewordified" words and their definitions.

Sometimes, in order to get the text perfect for your very lowest students, you may still have to make additional changes yourself, but rewordify can still be a great starting point, making the process much easier.

Why this is great for ELLs:
In order for our ELLs to acquire language and content, they need to be provided with comprehensible input. Rewordify makes it easier for teachers to ensure that students are still getting the same content knowledge while presenting that knowledge in a comprehensible way. It's a win-win for teacher and student, making the differentiated classroom that much easier to manage.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Tech Tip Tuesday: Incorporating Technology into Instruction

This week's tech tip Tuesday is a little different- instead of discussing a specific app, website, or tool, I'd like to answer one of the most commonly asked questions I hear from the teachers in my tech focus groups: "How many new tech tools should I try at a time?"

There is no hard-and-fast answer to this question, but it depends on several factors:

  • Age of students
  • Technological exposure
  • Complexity of technology
Age of students
Students at younger ages often have less exposure to technology than older students who may have their own devices, laptops or phones. Younger students also need more practice with common procedures to ensure technological fluency

Technological exposure
Students who have exposure to tech at home and use it on their own are likely more technologically proficient and will be able to pick up new apps, programs, websites and procedures more quickly. These students can be great helpers in the classroom!

Complexity of technology
The more complex the app or tool, the more practice and support students will need before working independently with it. 

My basic recommendation to teachers are:
  • Implement one tool at a time and spend as much time as needed until students are accustomed to it and able to work independently with it before introducing a new tool
  • Use tools you've introduced consistently so that students stay accustomed to it. It does neither you or them any good to introduce a tool and practice using it only to never use it again
  • Determine which apps you will use for which purposes, organize them into folders on your desktop or devices and let students know how they are organized. When you say, "We're going to do a quick assessment," they will know to go to the assessment folder.
  • Prioritize the tools you will use and teach them in the order of most important/useful to those which are used least often.
Why is this good for ELLs?
ELLs are already functioning in and learning a new language, in addition to new content all day long. New technology procedures on top of that can be stressful if too many new tools are taught at once. Pacing out the introduction of new tools gives students- especially ELLs- plenty of time to learn and get comfortable with a tool before having to learn a new one.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Portfolio Assessment for ELLs: The What and Why

As educators, we know that no two students learn the same way. This is something that is drilled into us from day 1 of teacher college! So, why do we assess all students the same way? I could go into the myriad of problems associated with standardized testing- but that is not the point of this post. Suffice it to say, any good educator knows that standardized tests don't truly do a great job of measuring what every kiddo knows and can do. That's why I'm a big fan of multiple measures- one of those being a student assessment portfolio.

What is portfolio assessment?
Portfolio assessment is a method of assessment that involves collecting student work over the course of the academic year and using it to showcase strengths, weaknesses, progress, and areas of growth (or lack of growth).

Why use portfolio assessment?
Every educator knows that no single measure of assessment gives a comprehensive picture of where our students made progress and what they have mastered. This is especially true for ELLs. Many standardized and classroom assessments leave an incomplete picture due to cultural and linguistic bias. Therefore, the use of performance-based, authentic measures such as portfolio assessment allow educators and other stakeholders to form a more clear, complete picture of a student’s strengths, weaknesses, and progress.

What else can the portfolio be used for?
Student portfolios make excellent pieces of evidence for many things- including cases where a student is brought up for intervention or possible special education issues. The evidence contained within a portfolio can help experts in these areas determine if the student has issues of concern that go beyond normal second language acquisition associated phenomena. It is also an excellent record of a student’s progress that can be shared with parents or sent on to future teachers with the student’s other records.

What goes into a portfolio?
In the case of portfolio assessment, we want the portfolio to showcase both strengths and weaknesses, and show progress (or lack thereof) that the student has made over the course of an academic year. Therefore, the portfolio should include items that show the student’s best work, as well as items that show need for improvement. Each item included should be accompanied by a rubric or analysis of some sort. Classroom work, informal assessments, and formal assessments can be included.

Every year that I was in the classroom, I kept assessment portfolios for each of my ELLs, and I still recommend to teachers that they do the same. While it does add a little extra work to your load, it can make it so much easier when it comes to really assessing the progress your students have made. It can also make your life easier when you need student work samples for any reason- intervention meetings, SpEd referral, or other special services.

Don't miss my follow up post- Portfolio Assessment for ELLs: Building a Portfolio Assessment System on VA is for Teachers!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tech Tip Tuesday: Kahoot

Happy Tuesday! If you're back at school, I hope you're settling into your routine by now. If you're one of those lucky ducks who doesn't go back until after Labor Day, I hope you're enjoying the last sweet days of your summer (while the rest of us envy you!).

This week's tech tip is all about Kahoot! Kahoot! is a game-based digital assessment tool that works on any device with an internet connection. Kahoot! is free to create and free to use. Since it is a web-based tool, it works on any device that has an internet connection and a web browser.

Kahoot! allows you to create a variety of assessments, from quizzes, to discussions, to surveys. You can even embed media into your Kahoot!, such as YouTube videos or images. Most of the time I've seen Kahoot! in action in a classroom is when a teacher is using it in quiz mode.

Quiz mode has timed responses and a points system to create a competitive atmosphere. The survey mode is similar to quiz mode, but does not include the scoring component. This allows a teacher to receive feedback or assess knowledge without the element of competition. The discussion mode has a single question, without the competitive elements. This can be used to prompt class discussion. Student responses will then appear at the front, which could ignite debate among classmates.

Some other great features of Kahoot!:

  • The ability to share it with anyone in the word. Your class could play with another class that is across the country or across the world!
  • Kahoot! Tracks all the data from each Kahoot! you launch in your classroom and makes it available in your dashboard. Hard, fast, data that can be used to track knowledge and inform instruction at your fingertips!
Kahoot! has created a great user guide with explicit, clear instructions to help you get started!

Why this is great for ELLs:
This tool gives every student a chance to answer each question you ask- total class participation- without putting the student on the spot like traditional questioning. The competitive nature is naturally engaging, and the points system and leaderboard allow students to see learn and accept that not everyone answers every question right all the time- and that's OK! In addition, when using it in quiz mode, students are able to get instant feedback on whether they were correct or incorrect. Data at your fingertips allows you to adjust the lesson as you continue.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Strategy of the Week: Exclusion Brainstorming

This strategy is perfect to get students thinking critically about an event, concept or topic they are studying. It also provides opportunities for students to engage with peers, and to practice in multiple language domains.

First, create a list of words that appear in the reading you are using or that have come up as you’ve been learning about a particular event or topic. Include some words in the list that don’t belong, as well. Divide students into small groups or pairs and provide each group with a list.

Students should work together to identify the words that belong and separate out the words that don’t belong. If they struggle with figuring out what belongs, ask them to choose which words they would use if explaining the event, idea or topic to a friend- these go in the “include” column. Any words they wouldn’t use in an explanation would go into the “exclude” column. 

It a chance for students to explore both content and the vocabulary related to it while incorporating higher-order thinking skills like synthesizing and justifying. As such, this activity makes a great warm-up review of previous learning, a wonderful pre-assessment, or an excellent post-reading activity. Close with a whole-group discussion on why certain words should or should not be included.