Accurately assessing your students, the SMART Response way
By Sarah Lorntson
Like many people, I was originally drawn to SMART Response interactive response system because the idea of letting the computer grade my tests sounded more than appealing. It seems that every year, more responsibilities are added to our plates, while few, if any, are removed. Why not let SMART Response take over one of my daily chores?
Of course, once you actually work with SMART Response, you quickly see that this is more than a sophisticated bubble sheet. I found myself using questions embedded within my lessons to start a debate about the morality behind Antigone’s decisions, to predict the outcome of Julius Caesar, or to figure out which rule of comma usage we needed to review before the quiz. My Teacher Tools became a series of snapshots of where my students were struggling and succeeding throughout the year. SMART Response became a valuable tool for speaking with parents about their students’ strengths and weaknesses.
But it wasn’t until I learned about Question Tags that I really had an idea of how SMART Response could really change the way I teach. And if you haven’t tried tagging questions, it’s easier than ever with SMART Response 2012.
Here’s where tagging becomes essential for me: I teach 11th-graders who are constantly asking how they can get better scores on their ACT and AP exams. For them, a few more points could mean getting into their dream school or qualifying for a scholarship that eases the burden of paying for that dream. Their problem is that they can take all the practice tests and see if their scores go up, but for many, isolating specific areas of weakness is almost as challenging as coming up with a strategy to improve those areas. And as teachers, how many of us have felt the same way when we look at a bunch of ACT, MAP, or state exam scores? Determining what it all means is like learning a new language.
My newest approach to assessment is to tag all my formative and summative assessment questions in SMART Response. When we are studying punctuation rules, I tag each formative assessment question with a rule from the list in the back of our textbook. Then my students know which rules they haven’t yet mastered. I create custom tag sets for ACT or AP practice exams and then label each question with the skill that it is testing.
For example, one question tag might be “understanding vocabulary in context,” while another is “summarizing and restating.” Now after several practice exam passages, my students get a bar graph that I generate from Teacher Tools. The graph shows the student’s performance (compared with class average) on each of the concepts that we have been working on. When parents ask me at conferences (which they often do) how their students can improve their ACT scores or prepare for AP exams in May, I can just hand them the graph and say, “Here are the specific skills that your student needs to work on.”
Of course, this clear data is immediately useful to me as I plan upcoming lessons and assess the effectiveness of past instruction. Robert Marzano’s research about student response systems shows us that student achievement can increase by 26% if we use instant assessment data to spark discussion in class about the material and to evaluate and adjust our instruction. If my students are falling flat on questions about the author’s tone, I know three or four things I could work into my lesson tomorrow to help them with that skill. And this is where the technology can truly transform our teaching. Because in the end, it’s not about saving me 10 extra minutes, it’s about making me a better teacher and making my students better learners.
Going to ISTE?
If you’d like to chat more with me about how SMART Response can help you be a more efficient and responsive teacher, please stop by the SMART Booth 3313 at the ISTE Conference and Exposition in San Diego, June 25-27. I’d love to share some of my ideas and hear about your experiences!
And for those of you not going to ISTE this year, I will be blogging from the SMART booth, each day of the show. So be sure to watch for more of my posts on EDCompass blog!
For the last 10 years, Sarah Lorntson has been an English Language Arts teacher at Mahtomedi High School, in Mahtomedi, MN, one of Newsweek’s top high schools in America. She has been an avid user of SMART Products ever since she got her first SMART Board interactive whiteboard in 2006. She became a SMART Exemplary Educator soon after, and she participated in the first SEE Summit at SMART’s headquarters in Calgary, Canada, in 2009. Since then, Lorntson has tried to find every opportunity to share her SMART story with teachers and administrators throughout the American Midwest. In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Sarah conducts SMART training sessions across Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, including demonstrations at the TIES Educational Technology Conference. She also has a passion for Open Source Curriculum and was featured in the Japanese Public Television documentary Education 2.0 for her work with Curriki.org.