Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Enhancing Learning: Collaborative Assessment with Noodle Tools

Oh, the irony!   One reason I switched from teaching English to the library was because, after 20 years,  I couldn't face grading one more badly written essay.  So here I am, about to write promoting just that: librarians need to be an integral part of assessment.

Let's be brutally honest here:  in the educational world, s/he who gives the grades gets the respect.  From kids, from parents, even from admin.  All else gets relegated to "support staff."  And as we're seeing across the country,  they're the first to go in a budget crisis.   If for no other reason--though there are plenty of others--media specialists need to collaborate not only as teachers, but also as assessors of student work. We need to show our students, our peers (and our bosses!) that we are an integral part of the team, with much to contribute beyond being a resource.

Not convinced?  Content that your co-workers already see your value and firm in your belief that you don't need the extra work load?  I was, too, until I took on assessing the  bibliographic bits of the research projects our middle schoolers are doing for science.

After resisting it for a few years (I can be stubborn), I finally broke down and subscribed to NoodleTools this year, and the students have (grudgingly!) been using that to take notes, keep track of their sources, and even write their paper (it syncs with Google Docs).  I must say, I'm sold.

 The science teacher and I agreed that he would grade for content, while I would read for how well they used and documented their sources.  We had students use the Drop Box feature to share their projects with both of us.

After initial training on how to use NoodleBib, how to take notes and paraphrase, we gave them a few weeks to research.  During that time, I would log in NoodleTools, click on their class project, and view a list of their individual work. Roll over dialogues even tell me if they've changed anything since my comments, so I don't waste time going in to look again.

I can view their bibliography and their note cards, giving  feedback on any area that needs work.
When students login and click on their dashboard, they immediately see any comments at the bottom of the page.

It would be nice if they could respond, ask questions, etc.  One hopes that option will appear in future versions, as well as the ability to save and reuse comments.  It grew a bit tedious typing the same "Check your spelling/capitalization/name your mistake here" comment over and over.

Now, the point of all of this is not to sell NoodleTools, though it's certainly an inexpensive piece to add to your pedagogical arsenal.  The point is, I learned a quite a bit from going in and digging around the students' work.

1) Thanks to the summary stating how many notecards and sources each student had, it was immediately obvious (by the 0) who needed either help finding information, or a nudge to get working.

2)  I kept a chart (since I'm grading four classes) of a) who to talk to directly,  b) the types of problems I was seeing, and c) what students seemed to do well. The 6th graders were obviously confused about what makes the title of a website, as half of them put the URL in that space.  On checking their links, I found two students using questionable sources; I was able to see the student, load the website and discuss why the website is problematic.  I also noted that most of the students used website as their source.  Very few used the databases or books. I always knew intuitively that was true;  I now have empirical evidence, and can plan accordingly to change the behavior.

3)  On looking through their rough drafts, only three of the sixth graders actually included any citations.  I talked to the teacher, and we agreed to spend another class period reviewing how to do that, using the three students who DID do it as an example. One could almost see the light bulbs clicking on as we talked.

4)  The teacher is grateful not to have to take on the part of the feedback, and, frankly, it helps establish me as the "go to" person for all things bibliographic and citational.  Especially in schools where you may be the first teaching librarian, it's just as important to train the teachers how to make use of you as it is to train the students.

Thus, the benefits for collaborating on assessment are twofold:

First,  it enables us to directly evaluate student work and intervene when necessary, rather than hearing vague feedback second-hand after the teacher marked the papers.  We can tell exactly where students are struggling, and where they succeed.

Second, if we keep records of results as we go, we have direct evidence of the impact our teaching has on student learning and achievement.

And, of course,  it never hurts to have a bevy of appreciative teachers for support!

I also gave the students a mid-project survey today, to give them a chance to self-assess, and to give me more feedback on their progress.  When I get those results back, I'll post both the survey and its effectiveness.

UPDATE:  It figures! (grin)  I just saw this post by Buffy Hamilton from a few weeks ago.  She also talks about using NoodleBib as an assessment tool.

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