I want to begin a series on the pedagogy behind the tools. I work with a lot of teachers who go to conferences and return excited about great tools. As a matter of fact, when I work with them in their classrooms, they love anything I can show them that’s practical. However, and we’ve all done it, they often miss the most important thing, which is student learning. Pedagogy and best practice are how we do what we do. As much as we think certain tools are fun, the engagement factor will never be for students what it is for us, because we come from the digital immigrant generation. That’s why our assessment tools can’t only be chosen based on what’s newest and shiniest. So with this series, I want to delve into different categories of technology tools and how you can make a good choice for which ones will be incorporated into your classroom.
Assessment Tools: Seven Features to Find
Let’s start by talking about assessment tools. As much as we often think we hate assessment, it is what gives us that cold, hard data that we can use to make informed decisions about future teaching plans. In an assessment tool, these are the features you should try to find:
- Auto grading. You want something that is going to take some of the grading load off your plate. Trust me, I was an English teacher. I often rewarded myself with cleaning or working out, both of which I hate, as a result of accomplishing the grading of just two essays. Thus, if I’m going to look for a tool, I want it to do some of my grading for me.
- Multiple types of questions. There are some things I machine just can’t grade. For those, I want to make sure that I have robust choices for what data comes back to me. In addition to auto-graded features such as true/false, multiple choice, or drag-and-drop, I want a feature that allows students to respond to a prompt of my choice and that I can grade, preferably with a rubric.
- Exportable assessments and data. Thirdly, I want data that I can take anywhere I want it to go, even after I move on from a certain product. As much as I used to love Quia, the only thing that is exportable is their data. Quizzes I built there I can’t load anywhere else. I’m forced to start over. Plus, I want data, preferably in Excel form, that I can take and manipulate and load into other systems. Many modern tools provide that, and it’s definitely a feature I would look for before making a commitment to a tool.
- With that data should come easy reports. One of the tools I discuss in the video below is a favorite for assessment because of the beautiful pie charts it creates. I love to read. That’s why I taught English. However, when it comes to data, I want visual, differentiated reports. So that’s another item you should look for when you are trying to find an assessment tool.
- Included Survey Tool. Next, with assessment comes surveying as well. I like a tool that will allow me to do formative feedback in the form of surveys, not just graded or summative quizzes. I don’t want kids to think my “cool tools” are really just a mask for punitive, serious grading, at least not all the time, and as any education grad student knows, much of our data is qualitative.
- Price Plus Privacy. Next comes a conundrum. I like free tools. After all, I’m a teacher with a limited paycheck. However, I also care if the tool mines student data. I’m linking here to Common Sense Education’s new initiative on vetting different educational technology companies for privacy. As you’re considering a tool, consider the cost, but not just in monetary reasons: also consider the cost to your students’ privacy. Never use a tool that gives away so much you wouldn’t want your own children to use it.
- Finally, and I will use this factor for a lot of the tools I share, make sure the tool you pick is device-agnostic or device-unnecessary. You have some students with smartphones or the latest affordable tablet from Walmart. You might be in a one-to-one Chromebook or Surface school or have iPads. Whatever the device the student has, you want to make sure the assessment tool works on all of those student technologies. Especially if you’re going to invest money or have your school do the same, please do a thorough trial with different devices that your students may bring to school, to ensure that they work with your integral tools.
Suzy’s Favorite Assessment Tools
The video at the bottom of this page comes from a Facebook live session that I do every Tuesday. I call it Tech Tuesday and it happens at 8 p.m. on my Facebook page, linked here. The tools I’m covering in this video for assessment include some of my favorites, which are:
- Microsoft Forms
- the Canvas Quiz builder
I’m not going to repeat all that I say in the video about each one, so you’ll have to tune in;) Click Play to watch.
Here’s how the tools in the video stack up on the features I mentioned:
More To Think About
Let me leave you with these final thoughts when it comes to choosing an assessment tool. Although many of us were raised in a generation when the teacher didn’t even know what formative assessment was, we definitely do. As you’re choosing a tool, make sure that it’s casual enough to allow students not to feel stressed out when you’re doing an informal assessment but then robust enough to give great data when you’re doing a summative.
Also, to curb the cheating concern on devices, here’s a little trick I used to use. I bought lots of resources for my 11th grade classroom from Laura Randazzo. One of her ideas that I thought was very helpful was the one-question quizzer. I’d love to hear how you adapt this for your classroom, but in the literature classroom, I would ask one assessment question from the chapter students read the night before. Students had an according number of minutes to answer it…usually two or three. They knew it or they didn’t, and they didn’t have time to cheat. It worked really well, and if my students were cheating, they were doing a terrible job of it 🙂 I definitely knew who the readers were.
Also, if you are going to be quizzing on school provided devices, have students put their phones face down on their desks or in phone jail. It’s not that phones aren’t amazing tools. As a matter of fact, I tell you several ways they are used in this post. But allowing students to use two devices during a test or quiz is just asking for trouble.
Finally, if you’re going to do some of the short answer grading that I mentioned in the first section, make sure to show students the rubric. In tools such as Canvas Quiz Builder, you can attach the rubric right there. If you don’t use such an LMS, maybe you want to provide a paper copy of the rubric or a link to it. Letting students see the grading criteria is a great idea if you want better answers.
I hope these tips help you choose a better assessment tool. After all, there are so many flashy tools out there that I I’m sure have not even named half of them. As a matter of fact, here’s what I’d like you to do in the comments below:
- Please share your favorite tool. It could be one I listed or not. Tell why you like it.
- Also, share an idea with our readers about how you choose assessment tools or manage them in your classroom.
I would love to hear from you!
With tech and twang,
Missed the other episodes?
Check them out here:
Tech Tuesday #1: Visual Goal-Setting with Sway
Tech Tuesday #2: Creating an Excel Habit Tracker
Tech Tuesday #3: Classflow, a Device-Agnostic Tool for Lesson Delivery