Embrace Technology for Authentic,
Superhero Assessment

At the beginning of every school year, I set a goal for my students to be knowledge "superheroes" when they leave my classroom in June. No, I don't expect them to leap tall buildings. But, I do aspire for them to meet very high expectations—to master rigorous skills and develop deeper understanding. These high expectations are consistent with those required in today's 21st Century careers and college courses, and my students need to develop their superpowers now to get ready.

If I'm going to teach and mentor superheroes, I need to step up my own game too. That means keeping my methods of instruction, assessment and parent communication up to date and relevant in a world changing at the speed of technology. So this year, I've challenged myself to add more technology to my arsenal of powerful "weapons." But trust me, my technology knowledge is not very powerful. I've just told myself that I need to start somewhere—it's time to pull up my superhero leotard, stretch that spandex and take a baby step!

I've chosen to start with assessment. Why assessment? Well, technology tools for assessment are "doable" for me (not too tough). Plus, I just abhor traditional assessment. It rarely gives me the most accurate "snapshot" of where my students are, and it certainly isn't authentic.

What I love about technology assessment tools is that they help me achieve two objectives. First, they capture real, authentic learning—learning at its best, in the moment. Secondly, they can foster higher-order thinking in my students, and that kind of thinking equals deeper understanding. I feel super about that!

Hey, do you want to take this challenge with me? Do you want to add a little technology to your assessment techniques this year, too? If so, here are a few ideas to try. No superhero cape required!

  • Begin to integrate basic (battery-operated) recording devices into your lessons. Even the youngest students can operate simple devices that require the press of only one button to both record and replay audio. This means instant self-assessment opportunities for them. They can hear themselves practice blending sounds, reciting math facts or whatever… and then students can re-record to self-correct.

  • Start making digital portfolios. It's so easy, and you don't need to have any special capability on your computer. All you do is capture audio or video recordings of students and then download them onto your computer. I just create a folder on my computer for each student, and within each folder, I put files labeled with the child's name, a short description and the date. It's cool to be able to share authentic examples with parents or other colleagues by simply attaching a file to an email. Then when you hold a parent conference, pull up a student's files from months ago and compare them to current examples to show growth of learning.

To be able to transfer the files to your computer, you do need to make sure you have the right kinds of digital tools. Invest in 2 specific items, all of which are quite economically priced these days: an easy-to-use USB recorder, and a simple document camera that takes video:

  • Have students use a USB voice recorder to capture slightly longer audio recordings as they do fluency readings, explain their thinking, dictate science inquiry during investigations, and more. To keep things simple, look for a recorder that plugs directly into the USB port on your computer/laptop.

  • Recycle that overhead projector! Ahem… you know it's time to get a basic document camera, instead, if you don't already have one. (Just make sure to get one that also records video and has a built-in microphone to pick up your students' voices.) Then, you can snap still photos of students' assignments and take video of students demonstrating and talking about what they know. Psst, speaking of recycling, a document camera will reduce paper waste too!

  • Develop your students' critical thinking skills by getting them creating. They can make their own movies or multi-media presentations. If your classroom has a Mac, students can try iMovie. For creating presentations, some students are already familiar with PowerPoint®, but have them also explore Prezi, Animoto and educreations (free versions online). Many students will soar with these ways of showing you their thinking—just be sure to provide them with a rubric up front.

  • Set up a class blog, Edmodo group or private, web-based student journals. You can assess students' writing as they explain what they have learned. (Parents love class blogs, in particular, because of their convenience. They can read their children's posts whenever they like.)

My favorite quote from the Spiderman movies is "With great power comes great responsibility." We have the responsibility to prepare our students for college and 21st Century careers. We must help our students develop deeper understanding to get ready. Assessing them along the way is a given. By using technology tools for both instruction and assessment, we take our professional methods, and our students' learning, to a whole other level… to the level of superhero staus!