Sunday, December 9, 2012

Out of my comfort zone

This weekend I've been presenting at the InspirED Conference, organized by TeachForIndia.  Along with some other colleagues, we've been presenting about 21st century assessment.  When I was asked to present by our Assistant Superintendent I jumped at the opportunity, however what she asked me to do next pushed me right out of my comfort zone - because many Indian teachers don't have access to technology, she asked me to do the presentation without technology.  Now as an IT teacher for the past 13 years, I could come up with plenty of assessment strategies that used tech tools - but to think about some that didn't use technology at all was a real challenge for me.  However most people who know me know that I actually like challenges - and I'm so glad I did this because it made me reflect on my practice and to cast my mind back to some really good strategies that I've used in the past.  I therefore decided that I'd do a presentation about different Visible Thinking routines that could be used for pre-, formative and summative assessment.  Teachers often find it difficult to assess what students are thinking and how much they understand, these routines can help them to make this thinking visible.

Pre-assessment routine:  I see, I think, I wonder - this routine involves looking carefully at something and thinking about why it is the way it is.  This routine "helps stimulate curiosity and sets the stage for inquiry".  As teachers it can help us to know what the students are thinking before a unit starts - teachers can use it as a way into the unit or to motivate student interest.  With this routine I demonstrated different ways that students had used it, for example with a map and with a couple of picture books, and then let the teachers practice using this routine themselves.  We talked about how student responses to the routine and their wonderings can be recorded so that they can be returned to during the course of the unit.

Formative assessment:  Think, pair, share - this routine involves students pausing to think, turning to another student to talk about these thoughts and then feeding back to the rest of the class.  It can be used during maths lessons to assess how students are thinking about solving a problem, during science experiments, during a reading lesson when discussing what is happening in a book and so on.  One of the most powerful ways of using this I've found is to have students share what their partner is thinking rather than what they are thinking themselves.  Students can write down these ideas or make drawings of them before sharing with the rest of the group.

Formative assessment:  What makes you say that? - this routine takes students' thinking a little deeper as it asks them to give explanations to justify their thinking.  I've seen this routine used as a pre-assessment too, as a way of trying to find out what the students already know.   This routine can be used in exploring a poem, making scientific observations and so on.  In my case I gave the participants a photo of a city and asked them to talk about where they thought it was.  We had a lot of interesting observations:
I think it's in Europe.  What makes you say that?  The buildings look too old to be the USA.
I think it's in a Christian country.  What makes you say that?  I can see church spires.
I think it's in a country that is very environmentally friendly.  What makes you say that?  It seems very clean
I think this city is trying to preserve its culture.  What makes you say that?  I don't see any tall, modern skyscrapers so I think they want to preserve the historical appearance of the place.
I think it's on the coast.  What makes you say that?  I can see large cruise ships so I don't think the water is a river or a lake, I think it's the sea.

Summative assessment:  I used to think ... now I think - this routine is used by students to reflect on how and why their thinking has changed and I often use it at the end of a unit so that students can self-assess their learning.  I wanted to do something very quickly that would actually cause a change in the participants' thinking so I decided to ask them this question: "If you are standing and looking at yourself in a mirror and you want to see more of yourself do you step forwards or backwards?"  Some of the participants said forwards, some said backwards.  So we then went and all stood in front of a long mirror and tried it out.  Some stepped forwards, some backwards.  I knew that the results of this quick experiment would blow their mind because every single one of them was wrong.  The answer is that it doesn't make a difference.  This is a real challenge to our thinking - every single person I've asked this question to really believes they know the answer and are always amazed when they actually do this experiment.  After this it was very easy for them to practice this thinking routine!

I really enjoyed doing this presentation.  Thinking outside of the "technology box" was good for me.  I'm glad I stepped out of my comfort zone.

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