One of the most challenging aspects for educators of English language learners (ELLs) is accurately assessing language development over time — oral language, in particular. Due to the conversational nature of language, it can be incredibly difficult to assess oral language while simultaneously engaging in conversation, not to mention recording the data as you go.
While the speaking and listening domains can be the hardest to objectively assess over time, reading and writing shouldn’t be overlooked. ELL educators are always looking through two lenses — content knowledge and English language development (ELD).
A few savvy strategies coupled with technology integration can enhance not only English language learning within the four domains (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) of ELD, but your assessment of language development over time as well.
I was recently asked, “What is a current trend in education that has shaped your teaching?” My immediate response was civic engagement. Knowing the “why” of my praxis guides my choices in lesson design. As I ponder this question and my response more deeply, an unsettling feeling takes over.
How could civics learning be considered a trend? How can preparing students to actively participate in our democratic society be seen as one of the many here today, potentially gone tomorrow, initiatives in public education?
Shouldn’t developing skills to help our youth contribute, question, and make informed decisions about what goes on around them be at the heart of public education? Shouldn’t part of helping learners articulate their voices be focused on engaging in real-world challenges? If not, all the number crunching, all the empathy lessons, all the increased awareness of our histories, all the hypotheses and experiments… Why?
We can all agree that most young people are frequent and savvy users of digital media and online tools. And we’ve all seen compelling and impressive examples of youth using these tools to make a change when it comes to issues that matter to them, such as Black Lives Matter, the March for Our Lives, and #MeToo.
However, not all young people know how to use digital media to express their civic and political perspectives. In fact, data from a recent survey indicates that only 15 percent of youth are highly involved in these kinds of online political activities. That means 85 percent of young people are NOT involved or only occasionally involved in online participatory politics. What’s more, other studies show that youth (and adults) often struggle with a range of critical civic tasks, such as:
Clearly, new skills and dispositions are needed to help fully leverage new opportunities for effective youth participation in democracy, while navigating new challenges. And youth need and want adult support. For example, a nationally representative group were asked if they and their peers would benefit from learning how to tell whether information online was credible, and 84 percent said “Yes!”
I’d be very surprised to find a teacher that has fallen asleep at night thinking, “In what ways can I bore my students tomorrow?” However, school is changing — and with it, so are the roles of teachers and students.
Rows of individual student desks with a teacher in the front of the room are becoming a thing of the past. Collaborative and flexible workspaces with multiple teachers and support educators are the new norm.
The way we consume information has also changed, and teachers are no longer the sole sources of information with a duty to impart knowledge to our students. Students are consuming media and information every day — from the time they wake up until the time they fall asleep. They ask Google a question to be met with an instant response.
How might we adapt our roles as educators to facilitate learning and thinking in an impactful, purposeful way in this new learning environment?
“What gets measured is what gets done.”
I hear this mantra often in the educational world. While some people might read it and sigh, thinking about all the testing our kids have to go through, I see it differently.
Why accept the current frame, that assessment is a tool merely for evaluation? What if assessment were a process that is fulfilling for students and teachers instead of draining?
How might we rethink “What gets measured is what gets done,” and shift our focus toward documenting students’ potential instead of merely passing a test?
One approach I find effective for this work is digital portfolio assessment.
For many years, educators have used the SAMR model as a way to conceptualize technology integration. Districts and conferences alike have poured great amounts of money into training teachers to think about their planning through this lens.
In an effort to make expensive technology more than just a “$500 notebook,” this model has served as a way for educators to have conversations about deeper uses for technology in their classrooms. While I don’t see anything wrong with it, I feel that this model fails to think about one really important entity: the students.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”
~ Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
When I was a classroom teacher, this quote was posted on my wall to remind my students that they would have many choices in life. I wanted my students to be ready to explore the world and walk through all the doors that would open for them.
I was recently re-inspired when I saw these same words posted on the wall of a classroom I visited. It reminded me not only of the inspiration I find when reading many of the Dr. Seuss books, but also that each of his books has a message — some buried deep within the text, others more obvious, almost jumping off the page.
I’m sure by now you’ve heard — a brilliant star went dark in the cosmos.
Dr. Stephen Hawking, British theoretical physicist who overcame ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) to publish wildly popular books probing the mysteries of the universe, died on March 14th at the age of 76.
On August 17, 2016, I was invited to meet with Dr. Hawking at Cambridge University’s Research Centre for Theoretical Cosmology to talk about community access and voice output machines. As I noted in an article for the Oregon Education Association’s quarterly magazine,
“Over the years as a special education teacher, I have had over a dozen students who use voice output devices. To inspire my students, I have shared videos of Dr. Stephen Hawking. ‘If he didn’t use his talker,’ I told one student, ‘nobody would know he was the smartest man in the world.’ Believe me when I say that Dr. Stephen Hawking is my hero.”
Can your students contend with the disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda that floods their phones, tablets, and laptops?
Since the 2016 presidential election, there’s been intense concern about whether people can make sense of digital information. Our work at the Stanford History Education Group may have contributed to the unease. Over the past several years, we have designed short assessments of civic online reasoning — the ability to effectively search for and evaluate social and political information online — and in November 2016 we released a research report that indicated that students from middle school to college struggle to evaluate online content. Our assessments revealed that students had difficulty distinguishing ads from the news, imposters from verified social media accounts, and lobbyists from independent researchers.
So what can teachers do to tackle this problem?
One place to start is with our short assessments. Below, we detail four ways to integrate one of our assessments into instruction.
It may seem far down the line when we talk about career prospects for elementary school students — or even for middle schoolers — but many students decide on careers in STEM long before they graduate high school. Plus, STEM skills and digital literacy have a proven demand in a job market that is increasingly technology and data-driven, thus making these skills critical competencies students should be learning in school.
Research shows a startling gap between what business leaders expect of graduates and the reality in the classroom: by 2021, 67 percent of U.S. executives expect to choose job candidates with data skills over those without, but only 23 percent of educators believe their students will graduate with these essential technology and analytical skills.
Educators need tangible resources to build the skills students need to succeed in the current and future workforce. Active-learning activities provide students with practical, hands-on education and engagement key to building their STEM competencies. Whether these activities are done in the classroom or as an after-school program, students lead the learning and gain opportunities to hone their teamwork, delegation, problem-solving, and communication skills.