Category Archives: In the Classroom

Using Technology for Self-Reflection in the Classroom

by Helen Beyne

self-reflection

Image courtesy of samuiblue at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

At a time when yoga and meditation are part of the mainstream, terms such as self-reflection and metacognition have emerged as popular buzzwords even outside the field of neuroscience. The significance of these concepts is more than mere hype. Research has linked self-reflection to better emotional intelligence, higher confidence, greater mental flexibility, and even reduced risks of mood and anxiety disorders.

These benefits also apply to children. New research has indicated that teaching children how to self-reflect is a highly effective way to enhance learning. Keeping a journal is not the only way to help children self-reflect, however; the modern digital age offers a multitude of new and fun ways for you to implement self-reflection activities in your classroom.

WRITING

The cognitive benefits of expressive writing cannot be overstated, and there are a wide variety of digital tools you can use to take your students’ writing beyond pencil and paper. This approach also aligns with the Common Core State Standards for Writing, which requires students of all ages to use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing. You might have your class keep a daily digital journal or set up a classroom blog where students can post their entries and discuss them with others. Penzu Classroom offers free online classroom journals that students can join with a class code, and they can easily share their entries with the entire class or with just a few students for discussion. Storybird is another free tool that allows students to publish journal entries, stories, or poems online. For young children or students who struggle with writing, it might be useful to provide a template that asks them to reflect on their day, week, or recent behavior.

DRAWING

Drawing is another activity that can be self-reflective and therapeutic. Having students use illustrations to explain what they did that day or describe how they are feeling can be an effective way to help them express themselves artistically. You can try these drawing apps and have your students post their drawings online. You could even have your students create illustrations for their writing. Little Bird Tales is a great tool that allows students to upload their illustrations online and record themselves analyzing and discussing what they drew.

VIDEOS

Helping students record videos of themselves is another fun and easy way to help them self-reflect. Results of a recent study offered support for a concept known as instant video revisiting, in which children watch their activities immediately after they happen, reflect on them, and discuss them with a teacher. The study found that children are more reflective about what they have done when they explain what they are doing as they revisit video recordings. Apple’s iMovie or these movie-making apps make it easy for students to create, edit, and watch their own videos.

How else have you used technology to help your students self-reflect in the classroom? Let us know in the comments!

Helen bioHelen Beyne is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development. She has years of experience in creating innovative curriculum materials in reading, ESL, science, and social studies. She writes about IWBs and free online resources for teachers.

What’s Routine Got to Do With It? Building Edtech Routines

by Amber Wilson

building edtech routines

image courtesy alxsanchez | freeimages.com

As professional adults, the benefits of routines are obvious to us. We optimize everything we can, especially our time. Establishing a routine means that we don’t have to constantly stop and ask ourselves “What comes next?” All classrooms have routines in place. There are behavior-centered routines for classroom management, and there are metacognitive routines for learning and comprehension.

Some routines are inherent to the situation: before class begins, students file through a narrow opening into an enclosed space. (For some of us, the routine consists mostly of standing in the doorway, shooing barely-on-time kids into the room and urging them into seats.) Some of them are consciously developed over time to achieve a specific goal: when I need your attention, I clap twice and you clap once and respond verbally before falling silent and looking at me.

You probably have routines for assigning work, for collecting homework, and for distributing readings and resources to your students. (If you are Google-savvy or a regular reader, you may already be using tech to fine-tune these processes.)

Take a quick inventory of the tech that you currently (or would like to!) use regularly with your students. You may have some technology available that you’re hesitant to use because you don’t want it to pull focus from the instruction and learning tasks at hand.

We know that the point of educational technology is not the tech itself, but the additional learning opportunities it can provide. Just like routines for common occurrences such as students excusing themselves to the restroom, and for infrequent events like fire drills, routines for getting out, using, and putting away classroom technology will prevent distraction and keep the focus on education.

What are some routines you might want to put in place?

What are the benefits of tech-use routines?

  • manage class time effectively
  • students always know what is expected of them
  • minimize student confusion and loss of attention
  • maintain high standards for self and others
  • allow greater independence, accountability, and responsibility for students
  • emphasizes that you value student work (as well as the devices themselves)

Remember that it takes a lot of repetition for something to become habit. Don’t be afraid to invest time in the beginning. Building good habits that allow students (and teachers) to get the most of out of available classroom tech will yield great rewards in the long run.

AmberAmber Wilson is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development.

How to Use Auto-Graded Exit Tickets

by Erin Dye

exit tickets

image courtesy nongpimmy | freedigitalphotos.net

Are you a fan of exit tickets? Is your administration pushing them at your school? Even if they’re not, it’s something to consider. Running formative assessment during class requires preparation, management, participation, and grading time. As a result, the system tends to work best with multiple-choice questions (and thus, it can’t assess the entire range of skills students learn), but exit tickets can be a great way to figure out if you need to reteach or if you can move on.

As with most things, having an easy daily routine can be a good way to manage your formative assessment and exit tickets. Technology in the classroom can make a big difference here, but even if you’re in a low-tech room, there’s still a lot you can do to lessen your administrative workload.

We’ve divided up this resource list based on the level of access to technology in your classroom.

For one-to-one classrooms:

Find a web-based assessment resource that will export data from your students’ answers into an Excel chart or some other useful format. Daily formative assessment is likely to fail if you are still stuck grading 30+ individual answers. We love Kahoot. The great thing about this resource is that it somehow manages to be engaging and fun for every grade level. And it really is fun—try it with your colleagues at your next staff meeting and watch a room full of adults light up.

You can also use Socrative to issue short quizzes. This service also allows you to export data. A lot of teachers like Socrative for vocabulary test prep and for open response as well. Socrative takes just a few more minutes to set up than Kahoot does, but it offers a wider range of answering options (i.e., more than just multiple choice). Socrative even has templates and sample exit ticket questions already available for you to use.

Classrooms with response devices (clickers):

If you have clickers, you can plug a few questions into the clicker software each day and have your students follow the normal classroom procedures for using the clickers to answer. Depending on how you’ve set up the system’s software, the data will export auto-graded results into a format you can upload into your grade book.

Teacher-Tech-Only Classrooms:

Sometimes the only technology in a classroom is the teacher’s smartphone. Never fear, though, you can deliver auto-graded quizzes using paper and your phone.

Mastery Connect, the group that makes the super-useful Common Core app, have a resource called the Bubble Sheet Scanner. Your students fill out a paper multiple-choice answer sheet. Then you hold their completed papers up to your computer’s camera, scan the papers, and the software automatically grades each quiz. (You can also download a free app for your iPad.) All the data is exportable to your grade book.

You can also try using Plickers (“paper clickers”), which allows you to use your smartphone or tablet to capture student responses. First, you print out (or order via Amazon) a set of cards, which you hand out to your students. When you ask a question during class, students hold up their card to answer the question. Each student’s card looks different, so there’s no easy way for someone to copy a classmate’s answer. While students have their cards raised, you use the Plickers app on your smartphone to take a picture of the classroom. The app reads the responses and shows the data on your phone. You can also log in from your computer and download a spreadsheet with the data.

Give exit tickets a try to figure out where your students understand the curriculum and where they may be falling behind. Exit tickets will help you intervene and remediate at the most effective times. Using tech-enhanced resources with your exit tickets will help keep you sane and will make the data more useful.

What do you use for exit tickets? Let us know below.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAErin Dye is Manager of Consulting Services for Green Light Professional Development and a Google Certified Educator. She has extensive experience creating digital materials for interactive whiteboards and iPads. She writes about technology integration and GLPD’s work in local schools.

Reading and Writing Across the Curriculum: The Basics

by Erin Dye

reading and writing across the curriculum

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For more than thirty years, there has been an emphasis on using reading and writing “across the curriculum” to promote student learning—activities that come part and parcel with teaching ELA, but seem more difficult to integrate into a geometry class. The underlying principle is simple: purposeful reading and writing activities help students better understand and think critically about content, no matter the subject.

With many states adopting the Common Core State Standards to direct instruction—which includes a set of standards just for reading and writing about history, science, and technical subjects—there is a renewed emphasis on the inclusion of purposeful reading and writing activities both inside and outside of the ELA classroom.

Reading across the curriculum means more than reading an assigned chapter in a textbook. Students might also read related essays, letters, speeches, reports, and so on to better understand a particular topic. Students in an American history class, for example, might read an online excerpt from one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates to better understand how politicians viewed the issue of slavery before the Civil War, using a program such as Diigo to annotate the text as they read. To kick off a new unit in a math class, students could read an excerpt from John Allen Paulos’s Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences or Keith Devlin’s Life by the Numbers to answer that age-old question, “When am I ever going to need to use this?”

But reading subject-specific texts isn’t enough. To develop understanding, students need to produce related writing. There are two main types of writing activities that teachers can use to promote student learning in any classroom—“writing to learn” and “writing in the discipline.”

When students write to learn, they produce short pieces of writing that help them process the content that they have learned. For example, a student in a chemistry class might use a “learning log” (using a program such as Evernote) to reflect upon a week’s concept—recording their initial reactions and questions. These types of assignments typically require only a cursory review by teachers.

When students write in the discipline, they produce longer pieces of writing that also adhere to the conventions of a particular discipline. In an ELA classroom, for example, a student might produce a research paper that adheres to MLA guidelines. The chemistry student would develop a lab report to document an experiment.

Reading and writing can be integrated in any class to further student engagement and learning. Find ways to make “writing to learn” activities a regular activity in your classroom and ways to incorporate “writing in the discipline” activities as long-term projects, and you will make your students engaged, thoughtful learners.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAErin Dye is Manager of Consulting Services for Green Light Professional Development and a Google Certified Educator. She has extensive experience creating digital materials for interactive whiteboards and iPads. She writes about technology integration and GLPD’s work in local schools.

Use Technology to Develop and Celebrate Fluent Readers

by Helen Beyne

Are you looking for activities to boost your K–4 students’ reading fluency or ways to extend and enhance your classroom reading centers? Do you want to plan a special event to celebrate your students’ developing reading skills? Use the online resources and technology ideas below to help students build fluency skills and get excited about reading.

  1. Expand students’ opportunities to listen to fluent readers.

Record yourself reading a variety of texts, put audio books on iPods, download ebooks, or invite parent volunteers or older students to record themselves reading class favorites. (Fluency expert Dr. Timothy Rasinski has put together a great list of titles, “Fabulously Famous Books for Building Fluency.”)

In addition, create classroom listening centers where students can listen to examples of fluent reading online. Two excellent sites—both free—that feature celebrities and authors reading classic picture books are Storyline Online and Online Storytime. Encourage students to notice how readers vary their voices and pace to read expressively and portray different characters. Help them understand that reading fluently is more than just reading fast.

  1. Have students read along with online text.

Set up an independent or partner read-aloud center where students can see online text as they hear it read. In addition to downloading ebooks and reading apps, give students access to free online resources such as those at PBS Kids, Starfall, Reading Is Fundamental, and Scholastic’s Listen and Read. The sites include a wide variety of genres, engaging music and visuals, and easy ways to pause or hear a word or sentence repeated multiple times. Students can do repeated assisted or independent readings, timed or untimed, until they can read accurately, expressively, and easily.

  1. Have students record themselves reading.

Hearing themselves read aloud can be a great motivator for many young readers. After students practice reading a poem or brief passage several times, invite them to a recording center to record themselves. You can choose from a wide variety of recording options. For some classrooms, an inexpensive tape recorder with a microphone makes the most sense. Other teachers and students might use apps, software, or web platforms like Audio Memos, GarageBand (see Using Garage Band to Work on Fluency video), Audacity, Audioboo, or Evernote (see Increase Fluency with Evernote video).

Have students—alone or in pairs—listen to their recordings, evaluate their fluency, set new goals, practice some more, and then re-record. When students are happy with their reading, you might upload the recordings and feature these podcasts on a class or school website, store them on class MP3 players for classmates to enjoy, or email them to parents.

  1. Plan a special reading performance.

Showcase your students’ increasing fluency by having them read orally for an audience. Knowing that they will be reading aloud might be just the thing to keep your young readers motivated to practice reading. Below are several ideas for class-only, grade-level, or all-school events. And don’t forget—all these performances could be recorded and transformed into podcasts or become part of students’ digital portfolios.

  • Reader’s Theater: With a focus on expressive reading, gestures, and facial expression, these dramatic presentations provide wonderful opportunities for students to develop fluency. Choose a script that fits your students’ interests and talents—from the budding actor or actress who enjoys the spotlight to a shy or struggling reader who would prefer being part of a chorus. Find reader’s theater resources and free scripts at PBS Kids, Reader’s Theater Scripts and Plays, and Aaron Shepard’s RT Page.
  • Book Talk: Students share their ideas about a favorite book—what it’s about, why they like it, and so forth. Have students read aloud a brief passage that illustrates a key event or illustrates the author’s writing style.
  • Poetry Read: The short lines and interesting sounds and rhythms of poetry make it a great read-aloud choice. Two helpful online resources for using poetry to develop reading fluency are the Shell Education Podcast The Poet and the Professor: Poems for Building Reading Skills and Kathy Norris’s Performing Poetry: A Study Guide for Teachers at PoetryTeachers.com.

Helen bioHelen Beyne is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development. She has years of experience in creating innovative curriculum materials in reading, ESL, science, and social studies. She writes about IWBs and free online resources for teachers.

5 Sites to Publish Student Writing Online

by Helen Beyne

websites publish student writing

image courtesy arinas74 | freeimages.com

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) require students to “use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing” beginning in Grade 4 and continuing through Grade 12 to publish digital content. Google Docs are a great way to encourage collaboration and to pique students’ interest in publishing their writing online. However, what are the best tools for your students to use to share their work safely with a broader digital audience? Here are 5 great sites to publish student writing online.

Blogger 

Blogger, one of the most commonly used blogging tools, is free and fairly intuitive. It offers a number of basic, colorful templates, and advanced users can customize their blogs even further. In the classroom, students can use Blogger to create their own individual blogs, or teachers can create a class blog and invite students to contribute. This user-friendly site is Google’s blogging tool, so students must create a Google account before they can use Blogger (if your school already uses Google Apps for Education, Blogger is an easy addition to the arsenal).

Kidblog 

For young students, Kidblog might be the way to go. Because teachers create accounts for each student user, students do not need email addresses to sign up. Teachers also have the option to assign and reset passwords, so instructors will not need to worry about younger students forgetting this sensitive information. The basic version of Kidblog is free, but its premium features are available for an annual fee.

Edublogs 

Edublogs is one of the safest places for students to publish their writing online. The site is equipped with content filters to keep their blogs student-friendly. Teachers also have total control over privacy settings, so they are able to share students’ work safely and responsibly. One drawback to Edublogs, however, is that its free version is rather limited. Users must pay a monthly free to enjoy all that the site has to offer, including embedded videos, mobile blogging, and custom domains.

Penzu

Penzu is a free online journaling site students can use to reflect privately or share their thoughts with others. If users choose to share their journals, commenting enables viewers to turn a static journal post into a conversation. Penzu Classroom makes it easy for teachers to start a collection of journals for students. Teachers can then use their own Penzu accounts to create assignments for the class, give comments, and grade students’ entries.

Pen.io 

Pen.io is the easiest way to post writing online. It is one of the few sites that do not require students to create an account. Instead, they simply create a unique URL, assign a password, and start publishing content. This barebones blogging tool lacks the fancy templates and other customizable content that comes with other blogging tools, but its anonymity is a plus for teachers who don’t want their students to publish their names online or those who require their students to publish their writing only few times a semester.

What do you think? Which online publishing tool is right for your classroom? Do you know any other safe sites for sharing? Add them in the comments!

Helen bioHelen Beyne is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development. She has years of experience in creating innovative curriculum materials in reading, ESL, science, and social studies. She writes about IWBs and free online resources for teachers.

Connecting Content to the Real World with Project-Based Learning

by Erin Dye

connect to the world with project-based learning

Image courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Project-based learning has become an important alternative to more traditional methods of instruction and for good reason. It addresses the looming question many students have about what they learn in the classroom: Why do we need to know this? Not only does project-based learning help connect class content to the real world but it also helps students develop the skills they will need to operate in the real world—critical thinking, creativity, teamwork, and time management, among others. An effective project ideally should include the following:

  1. A Compelling Question. Think about what topics or issues actually interest or affect your students and how you can address that in your classroom. Come up with a creative way to introduce the driving question to your students. TECH TOOLS: Consider using Newsela to introduce a current issue, Google Earth to explore a location, or Prezi to create your own presentation that introduces the topic or issue.
  1. An Appropriate Timeline. Creating a project—instead of a simple assignment—means considering the amount of time your students will need to really develop their knowledge and skills as they work to address the question. A meaningful project will allow students enough time to really understand the driving question and develop an appropriate product to address it. TECH TOOLS: To help your students stay on track during the project, create a Google Calendar to share with them. You might also have students use an app to manage the tasks they must complete during different stages of the project.
  1. Clear Guidelines for Assessment. Because project-based learning includes activities that are less structured than those you might use with more traditional instruction, students need to understand how their progress will be assessed. Rubrics work well as a way of outlining your expectations for students at different stages of the project.TECH TOOLS: Use Google Drive to create and share a rubric with your students so that they can easily review how their performance will be measured during any stage of the project.
  1. A Final Product or Products. Because project-based learning is all about real-world use of class content, it’s important to give your students something to do that isn’t just dressed-up busywork. Think about what your students can create to help address the driving question for the project, and be flexible about what students can produce; allow them the space to think critically about how to address the question and use their creativity to develop a product. TECH TOOLS: The possibilities here are endless! Depending on the skill level of your students, you could have them create a podcast using PodOmatic, a blog using Blogger or Weebly, a video using iMovie, an electronic book using iBooks Author, or a presentation using Prezi or PowToon.       
  1. An Opportunity to Share the Product(s). Providing students with an opportunity to share one or more of the products of the project is an important way of reinforcing the project’s connection to the real world.  Whenever possible, have your students present their product(s) to an authentic audience—one that would likely see or use their products in the real world. TECH TOOLS: If your students’ final product is a performance, presentation, or address, they could share it with an otherwise inaccessible audience via Skype, Google Hangout, or other videoconferencing application.

Whatever project you develop for your students, choose tech tools that you think will both enhance the project—the process, the product(s), or both—and be easy for your students to use. Come back and let us know which tools worked best with your project and your students! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAErin Dye is Manager of Consulting Services for Green Light Professional Development and a Google Certified Educator. She has extensive experience creating digital materials for interactive whiteboards and iPads. She writes about technology integration and GLPD’s work in local schools.

How to Use Backchannels in the Classroom

by Hope Morley

how to use backchannels in the classroom

image courtesy miamiamia via freeimages.com

If you’ve been to a conference in the past several years, I’m sure you saw that the event had its own hashtag. Whatever your feelings about Twitter and hashtags, I can tell you that some great conversations happen thanks to those hashtags and that it’s a great way to hear what someone else in the same sessions thought of the speakers.

This type of digital conversation occurring in the background of a live event is known as a backchannel. Backchannels can be great in the classroom as well as the conference center.

When you have a class discussion, what percentage of students really participate (outside of monosyllables)? 50 percent? 75? Using backchannels is a way to increase that number by allowing students who may not feel comfortable speaking up, or who process more slowly, to contribute their ideas.

I also like backchannels during lectures or while showing movies in class. Students can post questions as they watch, and you as the teacher can monitor engagement. It’s similar to collaborative note taking. You can pause the movie if you see many questions about a topic or comments indicating that students are itching to discuss!

Obviously giving students an open platform can be risky, so moderate any backchannel while it is still in use and shut it down when the activity is over.

Backchannel Tools

The Best:

Today’s Meet

With a fast and easy setup and no sign in required, Today’s Meet is the easiest and quickest way to start using backchannels. Once you start your chat, you get a simple URL (no long sets of numbers or letters) or QR code that can be shared with your students. Transcripts of the discussion can be downloaded for reference later. Today’s Meet asks for “Nicknames,” so set rules with your students as to what name they need to enter.

The Rest:

Padlet

This is a great option if you want students to post anything in addition to text, or if you don’t need the discussion to stay in chronological order. Padlet is also a good option if you are having students use a backchannel while reading an informational text. If students have questions that require a little outside research, other students can post answers, images, or even videos. Lino is a similar service, but I prefer Padlet’s interface.

Chatzy

Chatzy creates an old-school chat room. Guests need to be invited via email, which is an additional step you may not want to take. Chatzy also lacks a presentation mode and the ability to download transcripts like Today’s Meet. You can ask multiple choice questions, though if you want students answering questions during class I’d recommend Poll Everywhere or Socrative. Chatzy also has public rooms with questionable content, so keep curious student eyes on your room.

Google Moderator

I want to like this tool. I really do. The features, such as threaded conversations, seem great… but I can’t stand it. I find the layout very confusing and the presentation mode leaves out any replies to comments. A rare whiff on Google’s part.

Edmodo or Twitter

If your students are on Edmodo, you can have students post in a group. I don’t think Edmodo is as clean or easy as Today’s Meet, but go for it if your students are comfortable with the site. Twitter also works (set a unique hashtag), but all your students would need a public account.

For more about backchannels, check out Cybrary Man’s backchannel page. Or pop over to Twitter and ask me your questions!

Hope bioHope Morley is a consultant and social media coordinator for Green Light Professional Development. She writes about social media, conferences, and anything else on the web that helps both students and teachers learn. Follow her @GreenlightLT

Educational (and Fun!) Halloween Activities

by Helen Beyne

halloween activities

Image courtesy of satit_srihin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While most students associate Halloween with candy and costumes, it is a holiday full of cultural traditions. Similar holidays are celebrated throughout the world this time of year. Each variation on Halloween has its own rich history and cultural traditions.

Halloween is the perfect time to have students scare up a spooky story, learn about the origins of All Hallows’ Eve, or read the chilling works of Edgar Allan Poe. Below is a list of suggested topics and activities to “thrill” your students.

1. The History of Halloween

Where did our modern-day Halloween traditions come from? You can get the facts by visiting the History Channel’s mini-site, which explores the origins of our traditions through videos, infographics, and images.

2. Spooky Stories

Halloween provides an opportunity for students to practice creative writing, which is an important part of English Language Arts curriculum. Have students practice writing mysteries or epitaphs. If your students are having trouble thinking up an idea for a story, have them check out Scholastic’s writing prompts. When students have completed their mysteries or epitaphs, encourage them to use PowToon to create presentations and make their writing come to life.

3. Edgar Allan Poe

Halloween is a great time to introduce students to the inventor of the modern detective story, Edgar Allan Poe, whose haunting tales and poetry have made him one of the most famous macabre writers. There are a number of interactive resources available that feature some of Poe’s well-known works. You can use Flocabulary’s educational rap, “Pit and the Pendulum,” to review the plot of Poe’s story in an engaging way. If you are teaching “The Raven,” TeachersFirst offers an interactive version of the poem, which reviews key vocabulary and literary devices.

4. Things That Go Bump in the Night

October is a good time to work nocturnal animals, such as bats, into your curriculum. Scholastic has rounded up seven science activities that allow students to explore the bat’s anatomy and learn about its habitat. Students can also explore fun facts about vampire bats on National Geographic Kids.

5. Salem Witch Trials

Have your students explore a time in American history when innocent men and women were accused of practicing witchcraft and hysteria spread throughout the village of Salem. Have them learn about the history of the Salem Witch Trials by exploring Discovery’s interactive adventure, which chronicles the infamous series of hearings and prosecutions.

6. Día de los Muertos

As an alternative to discussing Halloween, teach students about el Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, a tradition observed in Mexico and throughout Latin America that celebrates those who are no longer with us. Check out National Geographic’s site to learn more about this lively celebration and the cultural traditions associated with it.

Happy Halloween!

Helen bioHelen Beyne is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development. She has years of experience in creating innovative curriculum materials in reading, ESL, science, and social studies. She writes about IWBs and free online resources for teachers.

What You Need to Know About Common Core Testing

guest post by Trisha Beck DeOre

common core testing

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just the mention of the Common Core assessments often fuels anxiety for students, parents, and certainly schools, but it doesn’t have to. Here’s what you need to know to make sense out of the mayhem and start preparing your students for a successful testing experience.

What’s New About These Tests?

Under Race to the Top, the U.S. Department of Education awarded grants to two companies: Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced). Both tests 

  • assess Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts (ELA) and Math.
  • assess students’ readiness for college and career.
  • provide quick results that ultimately inform remediation and guide subsequent curriculum and professional development.
  • are computer-based and have been designed to assess higher-level thinking skills and proficiencies that previous tests could not. (Only Smarter Balanced features computer adaptive testing [CAT].)

Which Test Are My Students Taking?

States choose which test(s) to administer to their students; see the lists below. Some states have not yet chosen either test, though they may in the future.

PARCC: Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island.

Smarter Balanced: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, U.S. Virgin Islands, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

When Do My Students Take the Tests?

Many schools around the country took field tests last spring to help prepare for the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests. Full implementation of the tests begins in spring of 2015, although many states are opting to delay testing at least another year.

PARCC tests students in grades 3–11; Smarter Balanced tests students in grades 3–8 and 11.

How Are the Tests Structured?

PARCC includes two mandatory summative assessments and two optional assessments (diagnostic and mid-year).

  • The mandatory Performance-Based Assessment tests multiple standards and standards that are difficult to measure, such as writing and research (ELA) and real-world application problems (Math).
  • The mandatory End-of-Year Assessment measures reading comprehension (ELA) and conceptual understanding (Math).

Smarter Balanced includes one mandatory summative assessment and optional interim assessments (diagnostic and mid-year).

  • The mandatory assessment tests key skills and conceptual understandings in Math and ELA. It includes a Performance Task that tests multiple standards and standards that are difficult to measure, such as research and complex analysis skills.

How Can I Prepare My Students?

The spring 2014 field tests showed that preparation was key to successful tests—for districts, for schools, and for students. Schools need to ensure that they have enough bandwidth and available devices well in advance of testing. Students need familiarity with computer basics (drag and drop, typing for essay responses) as well as practice with their test’s formats. This familiarity eases anxiety and helps students focus on the content of the test without being confused by the format.

Keep in mind that both PARCC and Smarter Balanced are trying to make the tests as transparent as possible, and both have extensive sample test questions to help students get comfortable with the formats. Take a look at your state’s sample tests (see PARCC or Smarter Balanced), and give students ample practice in a low-pressure environment. And don’t forget: the goal of the tests is to make sure students know and can demonstrate their understanding of the Common Core State Standards. The more teachers and students work with these standards in class, the better they’ll do on the tests.

What additional questions do you have about CCSS testing? Leave a comment or ask us on Twitter.

Trisha Beck DeOre is a senior curriculum developer at Nieman Inc.