Grade Contracts are a strategy I use to assess my students' progress towards mastery of defined sets of content and skill objectives and to provide feedback on their development at the end of each level in my blended learning class. Students review the mastery requirements for each level and decide whether they will pursue an "A," "B," "C," or "D" contract; in so doing, they understand and commit to what they must know and be able to do in order to earn the letter grade of the contracts they have chosen. Grade Contracts eliminate the superficiality of number grades on individual assignments and focus my students' attention on authentic demonstrations of mastery over time. This strategy also empowers my students to challenge themselves and to monitor and take responsibility for their own learning, which is an essential mindset shift in my largely self-paced class.
I formatively assess students through digital technology like Plickers, Kahoot, and Poll Everywhere. Plickers (Paper clickers) is a free software tool designed like QR codes to collect students’ answers to questions. I create questions on the Plickers website (www.plickers.com) and assign each student a card number. I will read and display the question on the SmartBoard and scan the room to determine students’ answers. The answers are displayed on my device in two colors (incorrect/correct) and in graphical form. This gives me a good visual of where students excel in the curriculum and where they struggle. I also use Kahoot (www.getkahoot.com) as a whole group assessment of students’ understanding. Kahoot allows me to write questions, allows for an allotted amount of time for each question to be answered, and for students to be ranked on time and the correctness of their answer. The students are fully engaged in this activity because it’s over material they’ve all covered, there is music that is aligned with the timer, and they get instant feedback. I also get a report showing their answers to the questions at the end of the game. I use this report, which uses conditional formatting, to show me which answers are correct and which are incorrect. I love how the visual gives me feedback on what students still need to master. I’ve also found Poll Everywhere (polleverywhere.com) to be a great way to formally assess my students. For instance, I asked my students to give me an example of something that is within the hydrosphere. They messaged their answers to our classroom code. It was then displayed on our SmartBoard as a word cloud. I’ve also used Poll Everywhere in conjunction with small group discussion groups with a checklist of skills and standards students need to achieve. For instance, I first used Poll Everywhere to check to see if students understood what objects would be in the hydrosphere, atmosphere, geosphere, and biosphere. I wanted to see if they understood the definitions before we moved onto more complex tasks. The word cloud created a list of all the objects in each sphere. I then had students take words from the word cloud and create drawings showing how the four spheres would interact. The students then shared their drawings via Apple TV and the SmartBoard in small groups. I gave verbal feedback in front of the group as well as asked probing questions if I needed to.
I use a variety of tools to help my students authenticate their learning. From blogging to social media and connecting with other classes across the country via Google Hangouts, my students use digital technology to reach learners just like them. To enhance our Genius Hour projects this year, we connnected with classrooms in Toronto. My students shared every aspect of their projects via Edublogs, as well as learned about and critiqued their virtual partners' projects. We also have a class Twitter page where we share our Instagram and Vine posts, as well as Tweets about what is happening in our classroom. To give the world a first-person view of our classroom, we also have a Google Glass blog that students document learning on via video and pictures from Glass.
In order to track students' progress, along with goal sheets, I make one sweep of the classroom at the beginning of class to check to make sure students know what they are working during the class period. Sometimes I write it on an online spreadsheet. Other times, I track it using a paper spreadsheet and clipboard to make sure they have started working on what they need to be working on. This gives me a chance to talk to all of my students and help motivate those students who are slowly getting to work. I particularly like rounds because it helps me gauge students' emotions for the day. This gives me an idea of how far I can push them academically during the period.