By: Amy Bilek, K-8 Math Instructional Coach at The Frances Xavier Warde School in Chicago
Having an accurate assessment of students’ comprehension is essential for teachers. However, in 2020, students spent much less time inside the brick and mortar classroom, resulting in teachers struggling to accurately track their learning. Teachers are faced with the challenge of assessing students’ learning while having much less access to observational data. In a typical classroom, teachers can walk one lap around the room and see how each student is progressing in real-time. This becomes much more difficult with a virtual classroom. But the need for gauging your student’s progress may have never been greater. Many educators fear school closure could cause academic slides and lasting learning deficiencies.
Thankfully, there are a number of great learning platforms available to help teachers harvest accurate assessment data. Seesaw for Schools, is a digital app-based platform that allows students to complete classwork and subsequently share it with teachers and parents/guardians. With so many schools shifting to an off-campus or hybrid model during the pandemic, the use of Seesaw in elementary classrooms has skyrocketed.
Understanding the critical importance of accurate assessing in the learning process and how challenging it can be with remote classes, I’ve outlined four tips in assessing using the Seesaw platform:
1) What Should We Expect? - Grade-Level Fluency Expectations
When creating a Seesaw activity for assessment purposes, start by having a clear sense of what you are aiming to evaluate. An activity focused on oral counting order is assessing something different than dragging digits to complete a number line. Before creating a Seesaw activity focused on a particular content area, write down specifically what you are trying to measure.
For example, in this video from the Developing Roots kindergarten program, our friend is solving a word problem involving cookies. By simply observing this short video a teacher can assess her understanding of the math steps required to solve the equation. The ability to structure the problem into parts allows the teacher to assess where the disconnect may occur. For example, is it a reading comprehension issue, or is the student struggling with transforming the word problem into an equation, or is it simply a calculation error. Formative assessment is about understanding what we as observers are looking for and then determining the next steps to advance the learning process.
Additionally, the technology in Seesaw allows you to remove potential barriers for students in demonstrating their understanding. For math-focused tasks, utilize the caption button to record the directions or read a problem aloud. This allows students to hear the directions orally and removes the reading barrier from the math task. Additionally, you can embed various manipulatives onto the page, so that students can make use of those while working to solve a problem.
2) Maximize Student Voice
In my efforts to get an accurate sense of students’ understanding, the recording microphone has been my favorite avenue for student response. The microphone allows students to share their thoughts in a way that is both easily accessible and understandable.
When students can respond with voice, you, as a teacher, have significant flexibility in your questioning. I highly recommend open-ended questions.
With open-ended questions, you are much more likely to gain an accurate insight into the child’s understanding of the concept. These questions not only force students to think more deeply about the topic but allow you as the assessor to glean far more insight into the student’s actual understanding and reasoning.
Closed-end questions can be easily solved using apps like PhotoMath, or by asking a classmate or family member. Thus, you as a teacher may not obtain accurate information on your student’s independent performance.
Consider this question in which students determine the rectangle’s area but in a completely procedural manner:
3) Encourage Connection Making
We know that students learn best when they make connections across different representations and methods. When possible, encourage students to give their response in more than one way. Because choice is so powerful, you may want to include a “tool box” of items they may use to formulate their response. For example:
A student can choose from base ten blocks, ten frames, place value cards, or draw models for their response.
4) Incorporate Self-Assessment
Self-assessment is one of the most powerful tools to employ when assessing. First of all, it allows students to engage metacognitively in the learning process. They are asked to report on their own understanding which provides important insights into them as learners. Secondly, John Hattie’s research on Visible Learning determined that student self-reported grades were the number #1 influencer on student achievement. Engaging students in self-assessment has a positive impact on student learning.
If working with younger students, consider a rubric with emoji faces, rather than words. Also, remember you can record a “caption” for the page to have the text read aloud and students can record their responses with the microphone. A surprisingly simple way to self-assess is journaling. Having your students write out or draw the steps to solving the equation is very insightful.
The pandemic has impacted and interfered with our teaching in countless ways, and the media is filled with headlines prophesying the Covid math slide. I am, however, appreciative that it forced me to become more tech-savvy with my assessments. The tips and suggestions outlined here will remain in my teacher tool box long after “normal” schooling resumes.
Centering my work on specific learning targets, creating assessments that maximize student voice, encouraging connections, and incorporating self-assessment are NOT specific to teaching through a pandemic or to Seesaw, but rather these are best practices that I will continually utilize. I am grateful that the pandemic pushed me to become more familiar with Seesaw, and its practical application for good assessment practices.