Sunday, May 19, 2013

Assessment Transformations: Going Digital

How do you document the learning happening in your classroom each day?  How do you capture the stories of the readers, writers, scientists, mathematicians, you sit beside as you confer in your workshops?  Finding workable systems for capturing, reflecting, and utilizing information to plan instruction is essential in classrooms with a variety of types of learners.  As Donalyn Miller recently reminded us in her Columbus visit to the Literacy Connection, "The best record keeping systems we can put in place are those we can maintain."  Can I get a big AMEN?

Assessment in Perspective:  Using Displays 
I just finished reading Assessment in Perspective:  Focusing on the Reader Behind the Numbers (stop by the final Stenhouse blog tour site:  Reflect and Refine on Wednesday, May 22nd for a conversation with the authors, Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan).  The book provided a smart discussion of types of assessments, purpose for assessment, and practical ways to capture the stories of readers within the busy days of learning in our classrooms.  The authors shared ways to balance summative assessments required by districts, states, and federal mandates, with the formative assessments we value in our daily work with children.

I found the book to be very applicable to classroom practice, but I must admit when I first saw the title for chapter 4, Triangulating Assessment, I felt my heart race and tension begin to rise within me.  However, when I went to read this chapter I found it not to be about looking at three types of formal assessments and averaging the numbers to make an instructional decision.  Instead, the authors talked about formulating our questions about readers, determining the ways to find out more (making assessment decisions), and then gathering a variety of information to begin to shape the stories of learners.  In this conversation they shared ways to display the information in order to think more deeply about it.

For the authors, triangulating assessment is about "analyzing, questioning, and assessing."  It's about asking big questions and finding what's next for learners.  In talking about using displays, Tammy and Clare shared bar graphs, stem-and-leaf graphs, data walls, line graphs, conferring notes, "messy sheets," picture graphs and other ways we can display information to begin to make instructional decisions.  I loved the way they showed examples that easily work within our day to day classroom practices and the conversations we have about the learners in our classrooms with our instructional teams.  Putting a name to many of the assessment techniques we use helped me to think about them more deeply.

Capturing the Stories of Learners 
This conversation also caused me to pause to consider the way collecting assessment information in my classroom as transformed since I have moved from a notebook to my iPad.  It's been a little more than a year since I packed my paper notebook away and went digital.  The transformation has been freeing and helped me to be so much more effective.  Here are a few "must haves" for finding the stories of learners in my classroom:

Evernote!:  Evernote has set me free.  It is the number one application I want to use for assessment as it allows me to flexibly gather information about learners.  I can take pictures of student work, record conversations, write notes, link to student digital writing, and tag it all in ways to easily group and locate it for reflection and planning.  It has really helped organize all the little pieces of information I collect to tell the stories of the children in my classroom.  It's easy to get started and use.  Here's a page I created to collect resources for Evernote.

Google Forms:  Evernote is perfect for collecting individual information.  Google forms is perfect for collecting group information.  With Google Forms I can create forms to collect, sort, and reflect on information collected in more formal assessments (in our district the Fountas and Pinnell Reading Assessments, Developmental Spelling Assessments, and Developmental Math Assessments are among some of the formal assessments I like to be able to work flexibly with information collected) and in informal conversations across our day (by determining key understandings  students need to have about a particular topic of study and turning them into a form to use as I work alongside students).  Google Forms allows me to create checklists, multiple choice response, short text information, paragraph information and much more.  I can then view as a form to quickly record or as a spreadsheet to use the information to plan whole class, small group, and individual instruction.  Linking the form to Evernote allows me to quickly access within Evernote and snapping a screenshot of completed spreadsheets allows me to add these documents within Evernote for greater organization.

Ghostwriter:  Ghostwriter, part of the Evernote trunk, is one of the newer applications I've added to my list (thanks, Marie!).  I like Ghostwriter because it allows me to collect information about individuals (perfect for intervention plans), small groups, or the entire class.  I can create a form or table to collect information, snap a picture of it, and make it the "paper" for a notebook.  Then I am able to type or write directly on the document.  Every day I can turn the page to get a new piece of paper already dated and can easily send this information to Evernote, parents, or team members.  Ghostwriter has its glitches, but they are well worth it.  I'm sure it will continue to improve.

These are a few of my "must haves" for going digital in capturing the stories of learners within my classroom.  What are your favorites?  I'd love to hear more.


  1. Cathy,
    Thanks to you, I use these tools, and now I need to check out Ghost Writer. It's a new one. I have found Evernote to be very useful this year. Google forms has been great too, because I can access it anywhere. I always appreciate your sharing of your great ideas. Good luck with the end of the school year!

  2. Thank you for such a valuable post, Cathy, all rolled into one! I bookmarked it, & will study more closely. I'm on my way for a trip with students this week, am so-o busy, but I will look at this again!

  3. Great post, Cathy. I look forward to reading your blog entry on Stenhouse. A few of my teachers are trying this out in their classrooms, like you are. I also appreciate the Assessment in Perspective book recommendation. I have been looking for a title to use as a primary resource next year, as my staff and I embark on a three study of formative assessment. We plan to use the Regie Routman in Residence PD series for Reading. From just the little I read of it online, I can see it being very helpful. Thanks again for sharing your innovative ideas.

  4. I love learning from you! Haven't looked at Ghostwriter...but will add that to the to-do list now.

  5. Cathy - thanks for sharing your thoughts on our book. We are learning so much from hearing from teachers after they read the book. We love all of your digital ideas for keeping and organizing your notes. We have used google forms and they do work well for sharing. We are looking forward to trying Evernote and Ghost Writer. Thanks for sharing these resources.

    Clare and Tammy

  6. A WONDERFUL wealth of resources! One stop shopping for keeping it all in check in a busy and purposeful classroom!

  7. Cathy, thanks for all the resources. Will be so helpful as I take the Evernote plunge next year!