I’ll freely admit that when using google docs for the formal writing assessment my primary purpose was actually to make my job a teacher a whole lot easier.
I loathe marking paper tests with the fire of a thousand suns. No matter how hard I try, I end up swimming in a sea of paper and I am overly paranoid about losing the tests. Then there’s the wasted time spent entering data into some of the world’s most user-unfriendly computer systems which I then enter into a spreadsheet so I have the information I want organised in the way I need (which is really another rant for another day).
There were some benefits for the kids from moving away from the traditional paper and pencil tests. Handwriting legibility isn’t an issue which means kids can read their work. When the students make mistakes, there is no messy crossing out and the writing still flows when they go back and correct their errors. Some kids like that they can move ideas around or go back and write an idea later.
What I was unprepared for is by using google docs for a simple writing assessment was that my students would use technology to start redefining assessment.
Even at a rudimentary level a word processor comes with a spell-check. Kids won’t be able to control themselves and will use the spell check to cheat. But here’s the thing, I used a spell check a few seconds ago because I didn’t know how to spell rudimentary. I had a guess that got me close (rudametary) but that red dotted line turned up to let me know I needed to go back and check my work.
Am I cheating or using the tools available to me?
e-asttle, New Zealand’s standardised writing assessment tool, forbids the use of dictionary and word cards on account that spelling and vocabulary are two elements of the assessment. While I agree that accurate spelling is important so that others can understand what we write, if we want to assess unassisted spelling then why not have a separate spelling test?
Moreover after two writing class-wide writing assessments, my observation is that kids with low levels of spelling are the same ones who have frequent spelling errors even when they have the option of using a spell-check. My opinion is that students with low spelling levels often don’t know have enough spelling strategies to get them ‘near enough’ for the spell check to work effectively or they select the wrong word when prompted. I’d argue that learning how to effectively use a spell-check is more important than memorising the i before e except after c rule because those spelling rules we teach have a whole raft of exceptions.
As I marked the students writing, I was surprised to see pictures and links to videos appearing in the students writing samples without any prompting from me. I worry that many teachers would see using a finding images and videos as off-task behaviour. I was concerned too but more because one of the students had used a copyrighted image in the work without any accreditation. In fact I was impressed that students had taken onboard the idea that we should use images and videos to enhance the power of their words. In every case the image or video used added another layer of communication to the students words. Yet there is no element for using visual images appropriately in the writing rubric as it currently stands.
The more conversations I have with my students, the more I’m aware that our assessment practices aren’t in line with our reality in the classroom much less the real world. I’m sure there are those that would argue that all this stuff just shows the need to go back to pencil and paper assessment in order to standardise our writing assessment. But maybe the writing assessments aren’t capturing what it means to communicate effectively through text in the 21st century.
I also learned that when you set tasks over the cloud, a whole new world opens up. While I have argued in the past that teachers shouldn’t assume that students are going to be the ones leading the way there’s something awesome when kids start using the tools available to start repurposing assessment. It’s going to make assessment more authentic but far more complicated.