10 Things I Learned From The Practice ELA PARCC

lightgrenadeI love Science. I love creating a hypothesis and putting it to the test. That’s probably why I was a chemistry major before I became an English major. What’s nice is, every once in a while the stars align and I get the opportunity to play Scientist again. Last week was one of those opportunities!

As PARCC inches closer, thousands of teachers are preparing their students for the controversial assessment. Like these teachers, last week, I helped prepare about 200 fourth and fifth graders for PARCC by giving them the practice ELA test. It was fun (for me) because I got to test out a couple of theories I had and learn what I can do to better prepare my teachers as they better prepare their students.

This was the first time these students sat down and experienced the actual PARCC testing environment and questions. We tested for 20 minutes (in reality they’ll have 76+ minutes) and students were told that the test didn’t count this time because we wanted to help them get familiar with it, but they should still try to do their best since always doing their best is important. I showed them my video to help ease any anxiety, then, after 20 minutes of testing, students were asked to fill out a Google Form so I could collect data and their opinions. Here are the ten things I learned by giving the practice PARCC:

1. I had a theory that students would do just fine with the testing environment. I was right. After just a few minutes, most students were navigating through the test with little problem. They figured out the flagging system, moving through the questions, scrolling, drag and drop, tabbing between readings, and other technical skills with little issue…

2. …except for one technical skill: Highlighting. Highlighting is confusing on PARCC. Highlighting to most kids means you hold down the left mouse button, “highlight” the text, and release. Kids were use to that. On PARCC, after they released, it brings up the option to highlight the selected text a variety of colors; however, some questions ask you to highlight the text (that already appeared highlighted in the traditional sense) by selecting it which turned it yellow. To make matters worse, you could highlight the highlighted text after you highlighted to signal it as your answer… If that sounds confusing, it should because it was. Highlighting is a mess on PARCC. It posed a constant problem; some students even accidentally highlighted the entire screen. Highlighting is used interchangeably to describe four separate actions on the PARCC, so I think we need to make an effort to better prepare them for “highlighting.” Here is a screenshot of the dreaded question in question: #2 on the 4th grade practice test and what a mess it can turn into with all the highlighting.

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3. Furthermore, while many students figured out how to highlight text by holding down the left mouse button with little issue, what became interesting is why students chose to highlight certain things. The most common answer: “I think it might be important.” The problem was what they were highlighting was unimportant, costing them valuable time. Students were wasting time highlighting unimportant information because, as I learned, a vast majority of them were reading the text before the question. This is interesting because students had been taught for NJASK to read the questions first, then the story. Many weren’t reading the questions first which led to screens full of highlights that students anticipated might be important as seen in the picture below. Had they read the questions first, they would have had a better idea on what was going to be important. I’ll have to remind students: questions first!

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4. Another testing skill that had been taught that they also seemed to forget was skipping questions. Many students when faced with a confusing question just sat their staring at the screen. They knew they could move to the next question, yet many did not. Most fourth graders never got past questions 4 or 6 because they were by far the most difficult questions. We need to remind students that the same testing strategies that work on paper will also work on the PARCC. When in doubt, come back to it.

5. Another theory I confirmed in a big way: the hardest part of the PARCC is the directions. Students had an incredibly difficult time figuring out what was being asked of them. We absolutely have to give kids PARCC like directions. It easily ranked as the most difficult part of the PARCC:

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6. Above, you’ll see Drag and Drop ranked rather high. I asked for clarification since students seemed to do just fine with the actual dragging and dropping. What they said confirmed another theory: like the directions, interpreting the drag and drop questions, which basically amounts to an interactive graphic organizer, was difficult. We need to spend more time with interactive graphic organizers. Luckily, this is easily done with an LMS like Google Classroom or Schoology and Google Drawings or sites like Edulastic.

7. Below, you’ll see most students gave their first PARCC experience a “3” on the difficulty scale (with 1 being easy and 3 hard). Most students said the readings were “just right” for them, but interpreting the questions and answers were the hard part. The most repeated phrase during testing was “They’re all kind of right.” Kids were referring to the answers. PARCC doesn’t just ask for the right answer, it often asks for the best answer through multi-select (checkbox) questions or drag and drop. Students struggle with this idea since they are rarely asked for the best answer from a field of answers that are “all kind of right.” We need to spend more time with the best answer, not just the right answer.

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Sure does look like a middle finger…

8. Most kids simply can’t type as fast as they’ll need to for the PARCC. That means they’ll need to become more efficient in other areas to make up for the time it takes them to type.

9. As theorized, all the negativity surrounding PARCC has affected some of my kids. I had three kids who were so anxious they cried before they even got in the room while others had no qualms in letting me know how much they didn’t like the idea of PARCC. I couldn’t help but smile listening to their very adult talking points. As teachers, it is important that we are sensitive to the feelings of our students no matter our thoughts on PARCC…

10. …because their feelings are just as unique as they are. I asked each student to give me one word that best described their PARCC experience. I was surprised by some of their answers:

parccthoughtsMy biggest takeaway from all of this? 1) Students need to spend more time with PARCC-like directions, questions, and graphic organizers. 2) Kids’ll do just fine with the testing environment if they see it enough. 3)Kids need to be reminded of effective test taking strategy.

There you have it. Just some thoughts and takeaways on my students at my school which are different than the students in your school. Remember that and perform your own experiments! Hopefully, though, some of the things I learned will be helpful to you or you can apply to your school.

Up next: Math! Since you’ve made it this far, here’s a prize: the MATH version of my practice PARCC trailer which I made to help ease the anxiety of elementary and middle school students. I made a generic version for you to share with your district! Enjoy!

Until next time,

GLHF

 

PARCC: Won’t Somebody Please Think Of The Children

helen1Missing leading title much? Kind of.

It’s no secret that PARCC isn’t very popular with many teachers and parents. With so much negativity surrounding PARCC who knows what students might read or overhear. I wouldn’t blame them if they felt mad, overwhelmed, or nervous. I wanted to do something about it!

With the holiday break over, PARCC prep’s in full swing in my district. Tomorrow, we are taking the first of many classes down to the computer labs to take a sample PARCC so they can become more familiar with the testing environment. I wanted to do something to calm the anxiety of any worries students, so I made a PowToon / Screencast hybrid video to tell students a little bit about PARCC, why it’s important to do their best, what kinds of questions they might see, and, most of all, not to worry because they’re going to do great! The video is short and meant for elementary and middle school students. I’m going to play it before they take the practice PARCC!

I’ve put a generic version on YouTube in case you wanted to use it in your class or even show it to teachers/parents so they can see what kind of questions will be on the PARCC and the technical skills students will need to be proficient in (drag/drop, scroll, etc.) to be successful. This video focuses on the English portion of the PARCC. I will post the Math version sometime next week if people are interested. Again, if you like it and want to use, feel free. If you do, I’d love a follow and shout out on Twitter! The feeds at the top! Enjoy:

Until Next Time,

GLHF

 

Simulating A Testing Environment With Google Apps For Education

lightgrenadeWith PARCC looming on the horizon in New Jersey, many educators are trying to simulate its unique testing environment with frustrating results. The PARCC will be totally online and feature many questioning and answering methods students have not seen before. Skills like drag-and-drop, window pane, and computer-based tool (protractor, ruler, calculator) manipulation will be new. Understanding drop-down menus, fill-ins, and check box style questions and typing efficiently will be required. The PARCC will place multiple texts side-by-side or in a separate window, so familiarity with scrolling techniques and alt+tabbing will be imperative. Short cuts for Copy (Ctrl+C) and Paste (Ctrl+V) and Find (Ctrl+F) will help students work more efficiently while students with special needs will have to get use to accommodations like text-to-speech, speech-to-text, in-line reader, answer masking, and more. Understand, we aren’t even talking about content! We are talking about the test itself! Kids continue to struggle to get use to the harsh testing environment, so while many teachers have been turning to different websites to help them create PARCC-like assessments, I’ve turned to Google Apps for Education to make my own.

My PARCC-like assessment

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I’m Fired Up

lightgrenadeI was a Junior in high school the first time I got fired up. My best friend stormed up to me and smashed a burnt CD into my chest and said, “Listen to all of this…” I still remember the fire in his eyes as he continued, “…loud.” Later that day, I did just that. What came blistering and blaring out of my speakers rattled my windows and set me on fire: How I Spent My Summer Vacation by The Bouncing Souls.

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Feedback To You!

lightgrenade

During presentations and essays, I like to have students use Google Forms to provide peer feedback. While Google Forms is awesome, there are two big problems when using it for peer feedback: 1) It isn’t great for collecting wordy feedback. As you know, when you collect big pieces of text via Google Forms it can be hard to read. 2) Once I have all that peer feedback collected, it is difficult to share it back to that student so they can reflect.

For a while. I was printing out the feedback, cutting it, and handing it back to each student. This was annoying and time consuming. I said to myself, “Self, there has to be a better way!” Thus, my first foray into scripting came about like most inventions: Necessity.

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The Best Assessment Ever!

lightgrenadeWhat if I told you I had an assessment that hit most Common Core standards, increased test scores, was cross-curricular, and, most importantly, fun and engaging?

What is this magical assessment, you ask?

Student-made board games!

Students make their own board games at least once a level in my class. I use it to add some life to something boring like our mandatory vocabulary curriculum, to assess students’ understanding of a piece of literature or non-fiction, or to work on their ability to write informative texts.

My students work in Guilds for the year. When it comes time to make a board game, each Guild is given a class period or two to design the game. I tell them they have to make the game fun, fair, educational, and playable by the biggest Guild. I tell them they must also write the rules and directions out since they will not be there to explain them. That’s it! That’s all the direction they get. What kind of game they make, the rules, the questions, and everything else is up to them.

This creative freedom has led to some great games:

Forget playing the board games for now. The real learning and reinforcement comes from creating the game. If you think about how much high-level thinking goes into creating a fun, fair, and educational board game it’s easy to see why it hits so many Common Core standards.

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Gotta Be In It To Win It


Update 11/6/14:
KI Furniture has released our commercial!

We always encourage our students to take a risk, but when is the last time you took a risk for them? With them?

As I’ve started to revolutionize my classroom, I’ve had to take a lot of risks. I’ve had to put myself out there in ways that I never thought I would because I realize now the things I want to do and have in my classroom will likely never be given to me; I have to the risk and go out and get them!

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It’s Time For Mastery Learning

lightgrenadeOnce upon a time, I was terrified that I wouldn’t pass my drivers test. I wasn’t good at parallel parking to begin with, but as I waited for my instructor to pick me up I realized that I had been practicing on the wrong side of the road. I had been approaching the parking spot from the north when I should have been approaching it from the south. To be successful, I would have to mirror everything I’d trained myself to do and would only have two shots to get it right. Outlook not so good.

Once upon a time, I was terrified that I wouldn’t do well on the SATs because I never took a strategy class, nor studied in any meaningful way. To add to the stress, my parents couldn’t afford to pay for college, so I needed to do well on the SATs to get a scholarship. Do poorly and I’d have to go to community college and live at home; not something I wanted.

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Gamify Your Class Level III: Badges

lightgrenade“Badges ruin students’ intrinsic motivation to learn!” I hear this or a similar intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivational worry every time I talk about Gamification. What people are trying to say is that they are worried about the Overjustification Effect. The Overjustification Effect is a real thing. It does happen. Just not all the time to everyone always like people seem to believe. It’s more a sometimes to some people under certain circumstances kinda thing which you can see in studies like this one, this one, this one, this one, and, most recently, this one. I believe, when used properly and creatively, badges do much more good than harm. I’m not an expert in psychology, but I use badges and they’ve worked wonders for me; I love them. From the people I’ve talked to, things I’ve read, and mostly my personal experience in a gamified classroom here are 10 things you can do to get the most out of badges in your classroom and put the Overjustification fears to bed.

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Getting My Game Up!

lightgrenadeA quick weekend update to let you know some of the changes I’m making to my gamified class this year. You can see my gamified class site at Saga City Learning.

Whenever I add new game mechanics to my class I keep two things in mind: the types of kids we teach and what motivates them. In order of most powerful to least powerful, what motivates kids (and everyone, really) is Status, Access, Power, and Stuff.

Status – means to raise the value or esteem of someone.

Access  – is the ability to have something not everyone can have.

Power – is the ability to have say over yourself and others.

Stuff – tangible… stuff.

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