I worked with a student a few years ago in my science class who quickly grew bored of the traditional kind of education that included reading a text, taking notes, and answering questions. He demonstrated his understanding of the content very easily and finished far ahead of the other students. At the time, I hadn’t created any sort of Extend Your Learning sort of activities that I have in place in the classroom now. I didn’t know what to do. I feared that I was losing him to the sad game of repetition. And that’s when I got a bolt of creativity. I constructed some extension activities that he and other students who showcased their learning ahead of schedule could work on. One of the projects involved using the game Minecraft to create a usable model of the layers of Earth, highlighting important facts about each of the major layers. As he loved Minecraft, I knew that this option would pique his interest. Well, to say the least, he and the rest of the class, went bonkers for this project and worked outside of class to finish their Knowledge Phase to get to this extension activity. They also spent much time working on their Minecraft model outside of class. The screencast videos they made of the models were amazing. My students are so creative and always have been. I just didn’t always create opportunities for them to showcase it.
Chapter 5 of Grading Smarter Not Harder by Myron Dueck was all about the importance and benefit of being creative when crafting assessments, tests, and projects to assess students on their understanding of the content, learning targets, or graded objectives. Creativity is a crucial life skill for our students. He cited educational gurus Daniel Pink and Sir Ken Robinson to help him make his point. Creativity allows for a variety of ideas and a unique way of thinking, he states on page 120 of his book. He then goes onto mention how creativity will be necessary for problems to be solved by future generations. Teachers need to allow students options and choice when showcasing their learning. Empowering students to utilize their strengths to demonstrate learning of a particular concept leads to engagement and focus in and out of the classroom.
- Dueck suggests using Test Feedback Sheets to allow students to examine and reflect upon their work on a test or final assessment. While I use a more simplistic form of this type of reflection in the classroom, the specificity of his example would better allow my students to reflect and grow as test takers and learners. He asks questions such as, “Are there parts or sections where you felt more confident than others? Explain.” I like this idea. I might not use it after every assessment, but for unit assessments it could be a useful reflective tool for the students.
- Although I am not a fan of multiple guess tests, the author asserts a new approach to multiple choice exams. He calls it the “I Know I am Close” Multiple Choice Response Format. It allows students to choose more than one letter or answer to a question when they feel as though they have a specific reason for not being able to select just one answer. The students would select more than one letter or answer and then explain, using support, why they have chosen more than one answer to the question. Cool idea, if multiple choice tests must be used in the classroom as an assessment tool. I try to steer clear of them for many obvious reasons.
- Dueck suggested using a Twitter Format as an assessment tool. Students would create a Twitter conversation between two or more parties or items pertaining to a topic and have to meet one of the learning targets through the conversation. The example he provides on page 150 is to create a Twitter conversation between two of Earth’s spheres. They must discuss the effects of deforestation on their sphere. Each sphere needs to have a handle and a relevant hashtag. Only four tweets can be used. Keep it simple. I love it. It allows for brevity and succinctness in a creative manner. While this task could be difficult for some students, it may allow other students to feel successful when attempting to meet a learning target or graded objective. The idea is about providing students with options and choices in how they can showcase their learning process.
As I have only the Conclusion chapter remaining, I’m feeling a bit let down by the book. I longed for more. Sure, the chapter on Unit Plans was fabulous and has provided me with much fodder in crafting my new units for the next academic year; however, the other chapters were not what I was hoping for. It would make a great text for new teachers or teachers who are stuck in the traditional ways of grading and teaching, but for someone who has been utilizing the methods discussed in this book for several years now, it is a bit basic. I’m not putting the book down by any means because the author does a fantastic job outlining some of the components of great and effective teaching. It’s just not the professional development text I was hoping it would be. It’s more of a primer on great teaching practices. With that said, it has been a fun ride this week digging into Dueck’s ideas and thoughts. The prose was interesting and captivating. He used personal stories to help state his case, which added depth and humanity to the points he was trying to make. I liked it, but I didn’t love it.