In its keys for educating young adolescents, AMLE calls for educators to use a variety of assessments in an effort to both advance and measure student learning. Daily, teachers are using assessment to guide instruction and to provide data about student achievement. In a teacher's busy day of balancing teaching loads, meetings, and managerial tasks, it is sometimes difficult to provide students with timely feedback on assessments, yet tech for quick learning checks can assist.
Assessment technology has the capability of providing teachers and students with instant results and feedback.
Technology also has the power to increase engagement in the learning process. In order to connect with students, it is important for middle school teachers to find meaningful ways to incorporate elements of the outside world within the context of modern-day standards and curricula.
Technology and digital resources are a part of the landscape of millennial life. According to the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, "to be effective in the 21st century, citizens and workers must be able to create, evaluate, and effectively utilize information, media, and technology." Also, as Marc Prensky notes in Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, "today's learners have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, video games, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age." For many 21st century learners, it would seem that the use of technology is as natural as breathing, walking, text talk, or instantly posting one's thoughts to social media.
Making Decisions about Classroom Technology
Technology and digital literacy are important facets of authentic learning, yet some teachers find themselves questioning the amount of technology that is appropriate in the classroom and the role tech tools should play in their students' learning. Will these tools be supplements to a primarily hard copy, print-based lesson, or will teachers choose for tech tools to be constants that are integrated regularly into students' learning cycles?
One way to respond to these questions is to focus in on key areas of learning that naturally align with the use of tech tools. Assessment—specifically formative assessment—is one such area of opportunity.
Tech Tools for Formative Assessment
In looking to incorporate tech tools for formative assessment, a number of questions will arise. Where does one find them? How does one choose them? Which ones are most effective? The truth is, there are endless digital tools available to the classroom teacher who is seeking to integrate technology and formative assessment. Many are user friendly. Many are free and easily accessible. Finding the right tools requires a combination of trial and error coupled with tuning into available resources and student needs.
Below are descriptions of a few formative assessment tech tool standouts that are especially classroom friendly for the middle grades classroom.
Kahoot is a game-based formative assessment tool. Its colorful graphics and playful music and sound effects make it a perfect choice to engage middle school learners. Teachers can load quizzes and invite students to join a virtual classroom using a game PIN. There are options for multiple-choice and other response formats. Data is collected on student responses and displayable in bar graph format after each question.
Plickers is another tool that classroom teachers can use for quick check formative assessments. Unlike Kahoot, Plickers does not require students to have their own devices. Rather, students have scannable response images that a teacher can access from a single device. Teachers tailor the formative assessments, launch them, and collect real time data that can transform instruction.
Today's Meet is a back channel platform that teachers can use to allow students to ask questions and to carry on topic-specific discussions in the background of other learning. Teachers create a virtual chat room and allow students to sign in. The teacher can act as chat room moderator and participate in the back channel discussion. This is an effective tool to help teachers quickly respond to pop-up questions that students may have during a lesson. It is also useful for helping teachers to identify learning gaps sooner rather than later.
The Fear Factors
While there are many options for formative tech-based assessment tools in today's middle school classroom, for some teachers there is still a lingering fear factor with the prospect of using tech tools.
Some teachers shy away from the use of technology because they worry about issues of equity—What if all students don't have access? This is certainly a real issue. However, there are many options. In many cases, district, government, and private grants might be available toward the purchase of school-based digital devices. A little research in this direction could go a long way for the teacher seeking technology options. In some cases tech tools allow for multiple students to share one device, which can also help to alleviate concerns in this area.
Additionally, many teachers worry about how the use of tech tools can become a distraction for already highly distractible middle grades learners. While many of the Generation Z cohort are intimately familiar with the use of technology tools for recreational purposes, it takes the touch of the 21st century teacher to move this appreciation for technology's possibilities into the classroom.
The Final Case for Tech
The goal of a relevant and integrative classroom is good teaching and engaged learning. Along the way, an effective teacher should check for progress and understanding as an indicator of instructional changes needed. There are many ways to do this, but using tech tools to do so is one way to reach the 21st century learner.
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital (Digital Immigrants, Part 1) On The Horizon, 9(5), 1. doi:10.1108/10748120110424816.
Framework for 21st Century Learning–P21. (2015). Retrieved August 17, 2016, from http://www.p21.org/about-us/p21-framework.
Kristie Smith, Ph.D., is a literacy instructional specialist for Gwinnett county public schools in Gwinnett County, Georgia. She is also an adjunct professor for Mercer University's Atlanta Tift College of Education.
Kristina N. Falbe, PH.D., is an instructor of middle grades education at Georgia College in Milledgeville, Georgia.
Published in AMLE Magazine
, November 2016.