Monday, May 28, 2012

Formative Assessments

Formative assessments are non-threatening and open-ended, allowing students to develop a variety of emerging skills in an informal, holistic setting. Ongoing feedback from either the instructor or classmates deepens student understanding and develops communication and leadership skills. Web 2.0 tools like Edmodo, Voice Thread, Wikis, or group blogs allow students to communicate their problem-solving ideas and respond to the solutions of others. As Tuttle stated in his Stages of Formative Assessment, a student responds to the prompt and has an opportunity to hear responses from peers or others. This sets the stage for collaboration and helps the students form their own learning. The instructor can also diagnose the response and share feedback with the students to guide learning before wrong concepts are cemented into their thinking.

For example, I can use Edmodo to present a Problem of the Week (POW), have the students post their individual solutions, and collaborate together on the various methods they used to find their solutions. In addition, the instructor can offer improvement strategies based on the specific learning gaps of each student. By collaborating with peers, students receive multiple perspectives and enhance the way they originally viewed the concept or prompt. Since the pace moves rapidly in an online setting, instructors should respond at least twice a week to help students stay focused and moving in the right direction. Instructors may also create online study groups based on grade level or student interests. Feedback may consist of private messages, peer comments, inline comments in a Word document, rubric based scores, and open discussion feedback. The students are given clear expectations of what to do with this feedback, including:
  • Redo the assignment
  • Correct mistakes
  • Respond through comments to prove mastery of the content
  • Perform an alternative assessment. 
When students are given an opportunity to collaborate with classmates, they enrich the learning experience, deepen their understanding of the concepts, and are more likely to retain what they have learned through meaningful reflection.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Accessibility for All Students

When I first started teaching at UCLA five years ago, I modeled my syllabus after that of my mentor’s and was pleased with how detailed it was. I soon realized that most of my students were not referring to it, even though it offered critical information for completing assignments throughout the quarter. I have tried several times to simplify it and make it more user friendly, while still including the important assignments and information. After reading about Accessibility, I now realize that I have to take a serious look at how to add headings, create a sub-heading system that makes sense, and possibly include graphics for some of the student activities explained in it. This week’s assigned reading totally opened my eyes to realize that I have not considered students with special needs in my course material. Within the seminar content sessions, all of my lessons are hands-on, use manipulatives of some kind, and are designed for visual learners—which is my strength. However, now that this brick-and-mortar setting is morphing more and more into an online interaction with my students, I realize that I need to address these other learning modalities as well.

 Recently, I viewed some educational videos that I was interested in showing to my elementary students. The videos were designed by students from MIT in Massachusetts who wanted to answer student inquiries and make math and science come alive for our students. The only problem is that most of the student presenters speak so rapidly that I cannot understand or follow everything they are saying. Since I am a native English speaker, I can only imagine how frustrated my bilingual students might be trying to follow these presentations. Yet, if they slowed down their speech and had subtitles, these videos could offer tremendous support to math classrooms around the world by offering real-world connections for everyone.