A Pig Don't Get Fatter The More You Weigh It: Classrooms Assessments that Work

Title: A Pig Don't Get Fatter The More You Weigh It: Classrooms Assessments that Work
Editors: P. Jones, J. Carr, R. Ataya
Publisher: Teachers College Press
Year: 2007

Apparently, data work and analogies go hand in hand. First, dancing. Now, pigs. I'll have to keep this in mind if I ever get around to writing a book. The author explains the title as an English phrase that refers to farmers repeatedly weighing their pigs "for indications of profit". I think the classroom equivalent would be "kids don't get smarter the more you test them." I apparently really liked this book. I count 9 red tags ("Wow, cool!") and 11 green tags (reference to read) and two big post-it notes to mark entire sections. I say apparently, because every time I look at the bright pink cover, I wonder how good a book can be that uses a picture of a pig in place of an apostrophe. (I'll let these guys articulate my issue with misplaced apostrophes)

Despite their disregard that the most noble of punctuation marks, the book is solid. First, I'd recommend it for anyone who works with classroom assessment, especially in diverse schools. I started to skim the chapter, "Can you listen faster?" on assessments for linguistically diverse learners (LDL) but went back and read it carefully, knowing I had never really read anything on the topic. I would like to talk to friends and colleagues that work with LDL as some of the assessment adoptions they recommend seem a little off, but I did learn a great deal from the chapter. I've read a lot on assessment for students with disabilities, but their chapter on inclusive assessment addresses the need for validity and respect for the learner through the use of portfolios that make a lot of sense. The concept might be overwhelming for a general education teacher with 25-30 students but for a resource room or consultant special ed teacher with a reasonable caseload, it is very doable. These chapter match nicely with Data-Driven Differentiation by Gregory and Kuzmich.

I didn't care much for the anecdotes they use to start each chapter but that's just personal preference. The section on learning communities covers most of the bases (they overlooked the learning community nearest and dearest to my heart) but has some good recommendations for creating and following through on assessment focused collaboration.

The section that was most heavily tagged was called "Performance Assessment in the Elementary Grades". I've been doing a great deal of work around standards alignment and moving from state assessment data to multiple measures and I've been playing around with data collection forms but wasn't happy with any of them. The authors went through the same struggles, I think, because their final product matches where I would have gotten in about three or four more rounds of fielding testing. Many thanks to them for saving me the time. Their form even matches with my color-coding system, so that makes me even happier to have found this book.

The information on rubrics leaves a little to be desired but it's not a book on rubrics, so I forgive them for that. All in all - a good solid book and a worthy addition to any professional library.

I'm now reading Using Data Analysis to Improve Student Learning by Wong - I see detailed steps on building pivot charts in Excel in a future chapter so I think I'm going to like this one, too. But really, think I'll ever meet a book on data or assesssment that I DON'T like?

Dancing with Data to Improve Learning by D. Sever

Title: Dancing with Data to Improve Learning
Publisher: ScarecrowEducation
Year: 2004

You have to admire any author that compares working with data to dancing and Sever does a solid job of stretching the analogy without breaking it. When I read books that aren't mine, meaning I can't write in them and am denied the small pleasure that highlighting provides, I code things with little tabs. Red means" oh that's cool, I need to borrow and cite that". Green means a reference that the author used that I need to investigate. Sever's book got 4 red tabs, 4 green. Not sure what the implications there are but I feel I should use some data to inform this posting.

Each chapter is set up with a dance-related concept. The chapter "Don't Fox Trot in a Disco" gives multiple examples of how data should and shouldn't be used. His ideas on how students can use data got a red tag from me but if I tagged for "ugh", his section on displaying data might have gotten one. I was so heavily influenced by Creating More Effective Graphs that I've become a bit of a data display snob. Sever proposes ways of sharing data with a school board but each slide is more chaotic than the previous. On the other hand, he does a great job of explaining the faulty logic behind comparing two groups of students by using the repeated example of Apple and Orange Elementary. He reinforces consistency, action planning, and the need for on-going professional development. I was also impressed by his presentation of multiple measures. It's the same idea as Bernhardt but his presentation is much simpler. Again, nothing earth shattering, just solid and reinforcing of data work that's been and is being done.

Good resource for someone just beginning to explore - worth buying if you're starting to look at what "data" means at the school level. Fast, easy read for someone who has worked with data for sometime - worth borrowing from someone and reading once.

Reading Binge

During professional development sessions on using state assessment data, I often use the analogy of running a marathon as a means of explaining the concept of benchmarking state assessment data. (It took me 6 hours, 7 minutes to finish the Buffalo marathon, the woman who won finished in something like 3 hours, 2 minutes.) I always felt proud of that example because it worked for teachers and it helped us move into actual data analysis. Thus, I was mildly disappointed when I saw this in a the book Dancing with Data to Improve Learning by Dave Sever. I always thought my analogy was inspired and original, although he uses it in a slightly different way, we use it accomplish the same goal - make data more meaningful.

Every few months, I take stock of my professional library and poke my head out into the journals and other publications to see what's new or what I've overlooked. This is made much easier by the fact that I am working on my Doctorate and have access to the UB libraries and electronic databases. I read three "data" books yesterday and can conclude there isn't really anything new under the sun. Over the next few days (or as I remember or am not too distracted by the Yankees repeated humiliation of the Sox) I'll post a summary and review of the books I am reading.

No Body is as Smart as Everybody

Currently - I am sitting on my couch, dog nestled snugly at my feet as it is quite cold on this August evening, and I am doing the following:

1. Checking my bloglines and reading blogs
2. Listening to a podcast
3. TV on but muted so I can see who is the America's Got Talent winner and waiting for the Singing Bee NOTE: The mute came in handy as the Hoff began to sing!
4. Skyping with Jenn
5. Updating my Teachers Discovering Web 2.0 Tools wiki for a workshop tomorrow
6. Writing this blog

I guess in many ways - I epitomize what Kevin Kelly is talking about in the podcast I am listening to when he says"You are being defined not by the technology that you use - but rather what you don't use!" I have only scratched the surface in the past year of what is out there - both in terms of my knowing it exists and in being comfortable in not only using it, but applying it to my work and therefore, the work of teachers.

For example - my colleague was able to spend four days last week learning how to create podcasts and videocasts and I am supremely jealous. Not that I wasn't productive last week - I was able to work with a district who has implemented a K-5 writing rubric and we made wonderful progress. I posted our work on a wiki and created an Amazon Listmania resource for them. But I can't seem to get enough - enough information, enough time to "play," enough conversation about using these technologies in education. I am defined by what I don't yet know...

But I am ahead of the curve. I have a wiki workshop tomorrow in a district where I still have to send the sites I want to use along with notice of which ones I want teachers to register for so that they can be unblocked. And I have to have the number of the IT person with me because inevitably - they are not all unblocked. But Kevin Kelly has given me a new line to use when I encounter this situation:
"There is not bad technology just as there are no bad babies - there is only bad parenting...Our role is to find the home for these technologies." That is what I have been trying to do this past year - find the right fit of technology tool to classroom.

Even more interesting are the facts that Kelly puts up at the beginning of the podcast, summarized nicely by Ewan McIntosh:

The web is currently being clicked on 100 billion times per day, with over one trillion links. This is the same number as there are synapses in the human brain. Likewise, one quintillion transistors make the web go around, which is about the same as the number of neurons in the human brain. There are 20 petahertz synapse firings on the web and 20 exabytes of memory - the parameters of the web as a whole entity are very similar to the human brain. One problem: our brains are not doubling in size every 18 months.

The collective power of the web bypassing the power of the individual mind is an incredible concept to get a hold of...but I have been chewing on it consciously for the past hour and subconsciously a bit longer than that. I see incredible power with the tools available to us - the ability to learn about, and more importantly from, people around the world in real time. My nieces and nephew will experience a life I can only dream about and will forget more than I could ever possibly know. So how do we in education grab hold of this and ride the wave instead of putting gum over the crack in the dam?


Nights like tonight, I'm reminded that you really do surf the web. This wave leads to that wave and the next thing you know, you're watching JAM videos on YouTube. Perhaps that's just me. . . in any event, as often happens, Theresa and I were both working on our computers tonight. This typically involves an e-mail or two and an open Skype chat. A series of waves and recommendations from her led me to this blog: ELA Deep Curriculum Alignment. I worked for the same organization as Angela, the author, though never had a chance to work with her in-depth. She did though, cite some of my work as an influence on her personal blog (that was a very cool thing for me to read - Thanks, Angela!). What's compelling about the Deep Curriculum blog is that each entry is written by a different author as a means of setting the foundation for a face-to-face conversation. Each piece presents a sound summary of the article but I struggled to infer the author's opinions on the piece they read. Like? Didn't like? Agreed with? Disagreed? I'm sure the ensuing conversation was very powerful and provocative. I'm curious now - is it possible to have a deep conversation about a text without that face to face interaction? What might we be sacrificing in the learning experience by engaging via a keyboard? What is gained?

I'm looking forward to exploring Diigo with Theresa and seeing what possibility that holds. In the meantime, check out this video. I laughed so hard I fell off my surfboard.

Hot Topic: Social Networking

Through David Warlick's blog, I read the National School Board Association's report on Creating and Connecting (pdf). In the interest of full disclosure, I have not read the entire report quite yet - but I did skim to read the highlights. And the first line of the summary of the report over at Tech Blorge certainly catches the eye:

"The internet isn't as dangerous as people think, and teachers should let students use social networks at school."

In the words of a recent car commercial: Duh!!

Now - I am the first to admit that I am a relative newbie to this entire social networking thing. I don't have a FaceBook or MySpace account - mostly because I am old (or at least feel like it) and because I maintain several blogs. I network and connect through those. I also am concentrating on tools that I think I can help teachers translate into practice - ones that are worth their time learning. I have to confess - I just don't get the Twitter craze. Who cares what I am doing RIGHT NOW?

And while I find the report (at least at first glance) helpful - I still need to email districts sites that I would like unblocked before I can do the tech workshops they request. And we still run into glitches and very upset IT guys when I ask for teachers to be able to register and use the sites. And teachers still say this is great but if the districts block the site, why would I bother?

I am also struggling with the best way to present these new tools to teachers. The ones who are relatively tech savvy and who can see the big picture catch on pretty quick. I am inspired by the teachers like the one I posted about on Writing Frameworks who can pick up the ball and run.

But I also need to reach those who struggle with the technology and might not have the courage to stray from the traditional. To admit that we are now teaching in a very different world from that which taught us. How do I slow it down and make it more comfortable for them?

I had some success this week in working with teachers on using del.icio.us tags. Even the one person in the room who admitted he was there "for the course hours" was collecting sites and tagging them. As the workshop progressed and they learned to network and subscribe and send links - I think the teachers could see the power of the tech tool. One small step for teachers, one giant step for students. Of course, Diigo was blocked because I did not seek prior permission but I was able to share one of my marked sites and I am pretty sure at least one of the teachers is already doin' the Diigo!

Blogging in the afternoon didn't go as smoothly - but it really never does. And in my own workspace, after setting up a Google Group for my team, one member got blocked in the course of the day. I'll be making yet another IT phone call soon! But I am choosing not to dwell on the steps backward and want to celebrate the baby steps forward. I had an AMAZING Skype chat with Fellows from Communities For Learning last night as we struggled with sending a large file and with our Google Group.

So as David Warlick says, "getting it is only step one." Now we all have to use it!