Saturday, December 20, 2014

Is the tone of the assessment conversation what really matters? (#edchat)

Hashtags: #edchat, #eltchat, #education, #teaching, #learning
Photo attribution

Just read Kilburn’s Predictions for K-12 Education in 2015, and his point about the tone of the assessment changing for the better left me perplexed.

One thing is the “tone of the conversation”, or narrative, and another is the reality of two often diametrically opposing world views about K-12 education put into practice. Has the narrative changed all that much to think that some narrative equates to some concrete change for 2015? And who exactly are those participating in this narrative: teachers, administrators, public leaders, politicians, etc.?

I doubt really that many more teachers are talking about the benefits of formative assessment over summative assessment, which has been discussed at length for some time now in the literature - any decent educational program will reveal this.  And perhaps we might lump administrators into this same group as well.  If teachers and administrators are opening up classroom experiences in ways that make the implementation of formative assessments more transparent, and if this is what is meant by a change in the “tone of conversation”, then Godspeed. This is a good thing, but is it really enough?

Or, has a change in narrative by consensus that occurred in 2014 occurred beyond the level of teacher and administrator? Teachers and administrators within the school can be as transparent as they want, but if this level of transparency does not extend to educational stakeholders outside the school system (i.e., civic leaders, politicians, etc.), what good is it?  We still live in times of standardized testing when it comes to teaching and learning in K-12, so I ask, “Who reached this consensus in 2014?” If this consensus went beyond teacher and administrator, I would love to see some evidence of this.  Kilburn also states,
…during 2014 we have seen a growing consensus on the need for better, fewer assessments that provide timely insights into the teaching and learning cycle (para. 7).
So, moving on from consensus, I will assume that “better" assessments means more formative assessment and less summative assessment?  And I was left scratching my head when I read about the idea of fewer assessments, to the degree that I wonder if he means better (formative and/or summative) assessment and fewer (formative) assessment?  For instance, since formative assessment is ongoing, informal, and an alternative to more traditional approaches to student evaluations, it’s hard to quantify it: checking homework, informal classroom decisions, etc. are examples of formative assessment that I doubt many would suggest we count doing, let alone think we should do less of.  So let’s assume that “fewer” assessments means doing fewer summative assessments.

Doing fewer summative assessments can occur internally or externally, which will depend greatly on who has taken part in the consensus building that occurred in 2014.  Since Common Core is still a reality, can we say that external summative assessments have not changed all that much in 2014?  Sure, there are those who oppose them, but is the opposition all that much greater than what we typically see when any standardized program is being implemented at the national level?  And since there is a big difference between talking about doing fewer assessments and actually doing fewer assessments, perhaps whomever is saying that we should do fewer external, summative assessments isn’t really an indicator that in 2015 that we can expect some meaningful change of the actual number of external, summative assessments that are being applied. Yet, Kilburn remains the optimist as he predicts,
I believe that in 2015—fueled by the ways that technology can make assessment data a powerful tool for personalizing learning—we will see a more positive and productive conversation about how assessment data can be used to provide more timely, useful feedback for teachers and students.  
So I ask,
  1. Which educational stakeholders will make this realization in 2015 that technology affords better assessment data for personalized learning?
  2. Are we talking about formative assessment, summative assessment, or both?
  3. Are we talking about personalized learning or differentiated instruction, since there is much more literature on and I would say more useful to discuss the latter.
  4. How will technology (through learning analytics) conjoin formative and summative assessments, both internal and external, using both qualitative and quantitative data in such a way that best benefits each learner?
  5. How will learning analytics be shared among all educational stakeholders and for what specific purposes?
The narrative I would like to see among all educational stakeholders would include seeking answers to the various questions that I pose.  The tone of a conversation is only as good as an end result.  Reaching a consensus is an outcome of putting into practice an idea that came from first having a change in narrative.  I want more for 2015…I want more than a change of tone of the assessment conversation, but a more specific yet contextual and open narrative of the differences in assessment and concrete plans that reveal timely and purposeful learning analytics to better transform each learner into more productive, global citizen.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Desk app for Mac: Initial post and reaction
Initial purchase

I just purchased Desk and am now testing the app on my MacBook Air, mid-2012.  I particularly like the option of uploading directly to a blog (most popular blog sites are supported); but in my case, had a slight issue getting started.  I have a blogger account with the address,, but since I reside in Mexico, this same URL automatically changes to  I tried entering the .mx URL when setting up my blogger account in Desk, but to no avail.  It wasn’t until I entered the .com URL that everything worked just fine.  So, food for thought to those in a similar situation.

Initial reaction

Things that I like about this app for far...
  1. Streamlined interface.
  2. Automatic numbering/bullets just by entering a number or bullet point…no need to push a formatting button.
  3. Automatic resizing of text when adjusting window size.
  4. Streamlined process for uploading to personal blog.
  5. Simple word formatting like underline, bold, and italics just be using hot keys or intuitive popup mini toolbar that appears once text is selected.  Although using hot keys to format text is standard these days, this app does not include fixed icons that takes up space.  One of the attractive features of this app is the minimalistic approach it takes by not including tool bars that take up screen real estate and distract from the overall writing experience.  Again, when you select text, a mini toolbar appears for most common formatting features one would need.
Two things that I miss already (have had the app only for about 30 minutes): 1) automatic spellcheck and 2) a way to insert an image using a URL.  I just tweeted @DeskPM about this and will post there response.

What do you think?  What’s your experience with this app?  Is it something that you find useful?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

#Edudemic authors, why hide?

Edudemic (#edudemic) was created in 2010 and has since grown into one of the most popular destinations to cover teaching, learning, and how technology positively shapes our education.  They publish various types of posts:
  • Research and evidence-driven strategies for professional and self-improvement
  • Expert guides and how-tos for the newest education apps
  • News re-caps of the most important updates for each week
  • Compilations of the most useful edtech tools and tips
  • Reviews of valuable and innovative products for educator
  • Special features such as college reports
I have written for Edudemic in the past (image) and have shared many great stories related to education.  But today, as I was perusing the site, I came across a post that I wanted to share. I noticed (for the first time) that the "author" of the post was listed as Edudemic Staff.

In this particular Edudemic post, I happened to take issue with the narrow definition of the term scaffolding; but more importantly, the bigger question is whether an educational website like Edudumic should post ideas anonymously.

The term anonymous can be defined as
  1. without any name acknowledged, as that of author, contributor, or the like.
  2. of unknown name; whose name is withheld.
  3. lacking individuality, unique character, or distinction
By listing the author as Edudemic Staff, ideas then get linked to the entire Edudemic organization and not to any particular author(s).  From an organizational standpoint, what's the benefit for doing this?  From an individual standpoint, what's the benefit?

As in a school, Edudemic's identity, reputation, etc. is directly related to the efforts of it's individuals.  What's better for the organization, to have a reader disagree with an individual (author) or with the entire organization?

As an individual author, what advantage is there posting one's ideas as Edudemic Staff versus listing one's own name?

When I have posted to Edudemic, I would never have considered spending the time to post an idea if my name weren't associated with the idea.  My rationale was (and still is) that posting to Edudemic was a good opportunity to share my ideas to a readership that also might subsequently lead to connecting with other individuals.  Those who read my posts could also make a value judgment on the validity, reliability, and level of bias of my ideas - they could consult my online identity and judge for themselves how credible (or not) my thoughts and opinions were.  I think this is a valuable consideration that readers of Edudemic lose when posts are published under the veil of Edudemic Staff.

A possibility: One possible reason for posting as Edudemic Staff is to give the impression that there are more authors involved in publishing than there actually are.  If this is the case, what's worse? 1) A blog with the same (or limited number of) authors or 2) not knowing who wrote the blog?  I would say the latter.  If the problem is having a limited number of authors, the answer is not posting ideas anonymously. 

  1. Should websites like Edudemic post ideas anonymously?
  2. From an organizational standpoint, what's the benefit of posting ideas as Staff?
  3. From an individual standpoint, what's the benefit of posting ideas as Staff?
  4. From an organizational and individual standpoint, what's the benefit of posting ideas using the author's name? 
  5. What's better for the individual and/or organization, a reader disagreeing with an idea posted as Staff or an idea where the author's real name is revealed?
  6. How can organizations promote open authorship in online spaces?
  7. What are possible reasons for posting ideas as Staff?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

ELT Live #7: Questions from future English language educators

ELT Live #7 is scheduled for tomorrow where my applied linguistics group will have their second opportunity this semester to participate in a live hangout on air (HOA) - see their first attempt from last month.  Questions from the show notes have been percolating all week as educators from around the world have been both asking and answering questions related to TESOL.  Our friend Maria Colussa even posted to her blog a detailed reflection!

Once the recording has been posted to YouTube, I will embed the recording to this blog post as well as to the ELT Live archive page. You are also encouraged to visit the ELT Live main page to find a more complete video archive along with Twitter feeds for each talk.  If you wish to find out more about ELT Live, you are encouraged to join the ELT Live Community.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Matching the needs of the learner with the expectations of the teacher (@teachpitch)

TeachPitch asks, @bnleez thank you for tweeting! We'd love to hear your take on how we best map & match the #learning needs of #teachers. Do let us know:)

Let's assume a formal educational context where course objectives are stipulated beforehand, based on curricular goals.  Create a learning map (e.g., Google sheet) that is shared by all students.  In it, course objectives and any other expectations the teach has can be included.  Then, set up column titles that students can fill out (one row per student): student name, interests, needs, goals, strengths, weaknesses, individuals or public websites students feel comfortable with for getting additional help, any social media contact information, etc.  Depending on the maturity level of the students, this information might be a public document or private, and teachers may wish to obtain this same information by having students respond individually.  But there should also be a way for students to periodically check in with the teacher about how the class is going: particular things students like, dislike, find easy, find difficult, and suggestions as to what students need or how they prefer to engage.  This allows the teacher to "check the pulse" of the class throughout so that changes to teaching practice and/or learner tactics can be made more promptly.  

This is one way to map and match learning needs with the expectations of the teacher.

English Language Teaching (ELT) Lesson Planning and Assessment (#eltlive, #keltchat)

I enjoyed today's #eltlive discussion on lesson planning.  The main takeaway for me was how to associate lesson planning around the idea of assessment.  One of the questions I posed was how can lesson plans be assessed, which shifted the conversation to the importance of assessing students during the implementation of the lesson plan (i.e., formative assessment).

Assessing students

Comments were made about how we receive feedback from students and how we typically reflect in action, to borrow from Schon (1983). The conversation included the dichotomy of covering content by strictly sticking to the lesson plan and being flexible with the lesson plan based on how students are performing in class.  And although this relates to assessing students indirectly, it doesn't exactly reveal how we plan lessons around the assessment of students.

I tend to think of lesson planning as being a backward design (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005; Popham 2008).  We plan our lessons around assessments first (presumably based on course objectives), then decide on the most appropriate learning sequence.  By deciding on assessments first, we prepare a "road map" that frames the journey students are to take in order to achieve particular outcomes (whether these outcomes are part of the curriculum or pre-determined by the language teacher and students).  This approach to assessment is the opposite of planning a lesson sequence first, then thinking later how to assess students on what was covered in prior classes.  In a backward design, the point is to "uncover" content and not merely cover it.

Assessing the lesson plan

Throughout today's discussion, I also kept thinking about how others might assess their lesson plans (I ask because I don't do nearly enough of this).  Assessing lesson plans can take on three forms: 1) assessing the lesson plan before implementing it, 2) assessing the lesson plan while implementing it, and 3) assessing the lesson plan after implementing it.  Assessing before the class might involve sharing and collaborating around a lesson plan with colleagues, students, admins., or any other education stakeholder around course objectives, materials or technologies used, among others.  Assessing during the class is not necessarily the same as assessing students as mentioned earlier, but rather would include reflection in action in terms of students' actual behavior and how one originally planned students would behave before class.  And finally, assessing after the class would not only be an individual reflection (reflection on action) on students' actual behavior vs. planned behavior, but could also be a shared experience with others (e.g., via social media).  All three ways to assess a lesson plan include distinguishing between intentional and incidental student behaviors that are either favorable or unfavorable.   

One idea I heard repeatedly was that many of us know when students are engaged, on task, etc. which we then can assume to mean that the lesson plan went well...and this quite often might be the case.  But I have oftentimes been surprised to finish a lesson, think that all went well, only to find out (after asking students) that it did not go quite as well as I had originally hoped.  It's not a stretch to acknowledge that misinterpretations can exist when it comes to the signals students provide in class and assumptions we place around those signals.

I always appreciate those who take part in these open, online discussions (like #eltlive), whether they are HOAs, Twitter feeds,  or through some other means because it gives me perspective and awareness that teaching in isolation does not have to be the norm and that professional learning opportunities continue to be at our fingertips.

(Language) Learning is Mainly About Engagement.

A recent response about my current feelings about (language) learning and purposeful engagement...

Let me start by saying that I have not seen in action, and am only commenting on the post made in EDUKWEST.

I guess that I am a little surprised to see that the three key trends seen by EDUKWEST are personalized, effective, and efficient learning. I get effective and efficient learning, but it seems that personalized learning is practically inherent in any open, online experience. One trend that I am surprised not to hear much about is engagement.

The main problem that addresses is the difficulty in using authentic content based on research that supports the notion that learning must be organized in order for it to be efficient (and I don't doubt that such research exists). But is systematic learning through authentic and purposeful engagement realistic?

If language learners want systematic language learning experiences they can go to school for that. Perhaps more startups should focus on the authentic (and purposeful) engagement piece more and the value of learning an additional language much in the same way one learns the mother tongue. If they get the engagement right, the effectiveness, efficiencies, and personalization (which have more to do with the individual learner) will fall into place.

Looking at learning in general, the trends favor engagement (how we communicate with each other and for what reasons) over effectiveness, efficiencies, and personalization. I would argue that language learning is no different.