Understanding how to select and use assessment strategies in the primary grades is an important aspect of Pedagogical Content Knowledge for English teachers. It will be important that you modify your assessments to account for students’ vast differences in individual development, even within a grade.
Assessment in any subject is significant as it informs future planning. In the literacy-technology integration context, assessment can be categorised in two different ways: the assessment of literacy development with ICT and the assessment of ICT capability in literacy development.
Assessment of Literacy Development with ICT
ICT can certainly assist in literacy assessment and classic examples of this include literacy specific software where it provides storage for artefacts related to student literacy progress. Perhaps one of the most common methods used, literacy specific software monitors how students progress from one stage of competence to another. An example provided by Watts-Taffe and Gwinn (2007), discusses how in reading, for example, “the teacher and students can access levelled readers online, providing an electronic record of what has been read. Students can also participate in an online conversation with others reading the same book” (p.104). Other ICT used in literacy assessment can also store observational notes taken during the delivery of instruction.
According to Watts-Taffe and Gwinn (2007) there are several approaches which you could use to examine students at work. These include using an interest inventory that provides an inside view of student’s interest, observation that allows you to discover patterns of student strength and areas in need of development, process interviews that gives you an inside view of how a student processes information, and portfolios which allow you to follow academic growth.
Another good strategy to use is the involvement of students in the assessment process. In these circumstances, it is essential that assessments are transparent and allow teachers and students to become aware of characteristics of outstanding performance (Watts Taffe & Gwinn, 2007). The below table provides examples of questions and strategies to promote student engagement in the assessment process (p. 99).
Where am I going?
1. Provide a clear and understandable vision of the learning target.
2. Use examples of strong and weak work.
Where am I now?
3. Offer regular descriptive feedback.
4. Teach students to self-assess and set goals.
How can I close the gap?
5. Design lessons to focus on one aspect of quality at a time.
6. Teach students focused revision.
7. Engage students in self-reflection and let them document and share their learning.
Assessment of ICT Capability
The many opportunities that ICT provides in literacy lessons to support its development allows you to capitalise on its use and develop student ICT capability alongside it. Despite this, the potential is only limited by the teacher’s pedagogic vision. You may need to consider how to effectively assess its use with every new approach.
Progression in any subject is about ensuring that students acquire the skills, knowledge and understanding systematically, through the use of purposeful and meaningful activities that build on previous learning and have achievable outcomes. The effective use of assessment strategies will allow you to track student progress and plan appropriately for students to achieve ICT capability. Without proper assessment and recording in a given subject, there is no real evidence or knowledge of where the children are up to, and planning becomes empty and meaningless. Determine their starting point for their journey and then given them accurate directions.
Progression in English/Literacy is to do with speaking and listening, reading and writing. Reading for information, for example, information literacy skills demands progression in ICT as well as in literacy. In addition, progression in writing is characterised by developing writing skills and increasing control of different forms of written texts. ICT provides many useful activities in which progress in this area can be assessed (Rudd & Tyldesley, 2006).
When it comes to ICT capability, progression is facilitated when the student solves “increasingly sophisticated and abstract problems, constructing an increasingly rich and viable conceptual framework and developing fluency in the use of a widening range of ICT techniques” (Kennewell, Parkinson, & Tanner, 2000, p. 39). They need to have understanding of the ICT potential of situations. An ICT capable student is someone who has the disposition to construct ICT solutions to problems appropriate to the English/literacy context and are based on the knowledge of the opportunities and limitations of the hardware and software available.
What methods can be used to capture the application of a student’s ICT capability?
Formative or ‘assessment for learning’ methods are the best way by which you can accurately determine a student’s progress in ICT capability. Start by giving them something that is interesting to do and then monitoring through observation the approaches they use to complete a task. You monitor the routines, ICT techniques, processes and higher order skills (decision-making).
Observation is the best method to be using and requires you to ask students key questions that require students to reflect on the appropriateness of their use of ICT techniques and processes. Therefore, you will need to know when it is appropriate to use ICT for an activity. Set a rule that whenever they feel they need to use a computer that they need to convince you that their argument is sound.
Here are some steps to follow:
Identify what you want the students to learn in terms of ICT capability. Set clear objectives in relation to routines, ICT techniques and concepts. For example, if they are doing branching stories, they may be required to create a page of their story using a word processor and your objectives for the end of the lesson could be that the students would achieve the following:
Routines – You would need to know and be able to describe, how ICT techniques were being executed. For example, if a student was hesitant, steady or fluent in the execution of the ICT techniques. Remember, that routines are simply ICT techniques conducted without much conscious thought. Typical routines here might include save their page or print their page.
ICT techniques – You would want to know if a student could perform an ICT technique after having seen a whole class or group demonstration. Use a recording sheet (both individual profiling and whole class snapshots) to track ICT techniques for example, enter text with a keyboard, embolden headings, import images and position them appropriately to the text, edit and format text to conform to their section of the story in this instance.
Concepts – Determine if there are any misconceptions and you can do this by noting mistakes or use of effective questioning and discussions. In this example, conceptions might include explaining how text and images can be used to communicate an episode or event in a story or describing a hyperlink (i.e. how clicking on a button can bring up a new page).
Processes and Higher order skills – It is important to consider both of these together because you will only be able to determine if a student is able to carry out a process if they can actually make decisions. Decision making can be assessed can be assessed by the extent to which scaffolding is needed.
So you would want to know if a student was able to make decisions about for example:
- Which image(s) from a limited selection could best illustrate an event;
- Choosing the most appropriate styles for text to convey meaning (e.g. bold to indicate shouting, italic for emphasis).
Others listed by Potter & Darbyshire (2005) may include:
- Which media to combine, and in what way, in order to present some particular information to a specific audience;
- Which series of ICT techniques to use in order to follow a line of enquiry to prove or disprove an hypothesis and;
- Which ICT techniques to use in a graphics program in order to produce a portrait that visually represents feelings.
Decide what evidence you need. For example, in the branching stories activity, it may be the following (Bennett, Hamill, & Pickford, 2007, p. 70):
Routines - expected outcomes demonstrating successful learning will include: the page saved successfully to the correct network folder; a file correctly labelled; the page printed successfully;
ICT techniques - images imported and positioned appropriately in the text; text entered, formatted with a range of styles (i.e. bold, italic and indent) to make the story easy to read;
Concepts - clear explanations as to how text and images can be used to communicate an episode or event in a story and reasoned justifications for the layout of their page; an accurate description of a hyperlink (e.g. how pages can be linked by buttons or hotspots);
Higher order skills - appropriate image(s) selected for a page; appropriate styles used to convey meaning with explanations as to why the styles have been chosen.
Whilst you are planning, consider too, how the students will produce evidence. For example, Bennett et al. (2007, p.70) suggests that:
“If you are trying to assess the extent to which the children can edit text independently for a given purpose, giving them a highly structured writing frame could prevent them from demonstrating this capability. Modifying the task, to one where the children are provided with a skeleton text and/or word bank, could shift the emphasis from entering text to using editing and formatting tools. Children could then concentrate not on the time consuming task of keying in words but on improving the appearance — and consequently the readability — of their text. Using the same skeleton text as a starting point for all children will provide you with considerable evidence of the differences in your children's capabilities in editing.”
Gather evidence in the form of saved or print documents at very stages of completion, asking students to log their decision making at key points in the ICT activity, using photographic evidence, informal observation and structured observation.
It will be vital that you keep precise track of a student’s progress in ICT capability, so recording evidence of attainment. The records need to show overall coverage of ICT use and the progression that is initially planned for. You should know at the start of the year the aspects of learning in ICT that you are intending to cover.
Student profiles is one method in which you can assess ICT capability. A regular note of the date, some indication of the literacy context being used and the evidence that has been witnessed must be attached to the student’s profile. You could use a coding system that correlates with the ICT capability learning continuum such as the following:
- Investigating with ICT – I
- Creating with ICT – C
- Managing and operating ICT – M
- Communicating with ICT - Co
An example of what you might write would include the following:
Sam used the word-processor to redraft the notes he made on life in his grandparents’ time (C). He said it was lucky that he could use his notes which he had saved before, otherwise he would have to start all over again.
Other Information that can contribute to the assessment of ICT capability
In addition to the above information, you may also want to determine if students have access to a computer at home. This could help you gauge the impact that home use is having on ICT capability along with setting more challenging work at school.
There is also there attitude and confidence in ICT. Asking questions such as whether they dominate group ICT activities or are they reticent can assist you in setting up the makeup of groups for ICT activities. Their level of perseverance can also play a role in your decision making.
Teacher ICT capability plays a big role in whether or not students pick up the correct ICT vocabulary. Ensure that you are using the correct terms when introducing new ones in lessons.
Finally, investigate their level of awareness of the uses of ICT inside and outside of school as this could help you to identify the need to plan more opportunities for students to reflect on what it means to live and work in a ICT-integrated society.
Sharing perspectives of ICT capability across the school
It will important for you to promote continuity and progression across your school. Whether you work at a P-12 or just an individual primary school, in a school where everyone shares the same perspectives about ICT capability, is essential. If every teacher uses the same pedagogic method, then students won’t have to get confused with new ways of teaching and learning.
Once you have assessed a student’s ICT capability, then this information can be shared with other teachers. However, remember not to simply report that a student is functioning at Level 3, for example, as this is just a ‘best fit’ and that student may in fact be functioning above or below Level 3 in learning continuum. Provide more information such as which they had experience in using ICT to generate, develop and present their work. Consider questions such as ‘was it with text as in a word processor, with text and graphics as with a DTP package, with an image manipulation program?’ Mention as well the program they had used.
Reporting to Parents
Currently, it is only a requirement of Victorian teachers to report on the progress of students in relation to this general capability. Annual reports needs to be written in a way that considers the needs of the parents. There also must be a balance between being informative and being brief. Here are some other factors to consider when writing a report on student ICT capability.
- What can the child do? Set this in the context of the experiences that the student has had over a period of time.
- Are there any special accomplishments and what difficulties have been encountered?
- What is the level of attainment in terms of the National Curriculum? It is a good idea to discuss the student’s level in relation to other students of the same age group throughout the country rather than their position within the class. It is important that if this comparison is to be meaningful, you need to have background information about the overall ability of the class itself.
- Identify how the student can improve making reference to future topics and activities as well as more specific advice on ways in which the child could be assisted to improve.
- Never place pressure on parents to spend money on software or a computer for example, in order the student to improve their expertise.
- Rephrase your information as you would with teachers for parents to understand.
- Keep information about the student’s ICT capability, in some sense related to the attainment level descriptions, if they do not actually a level to a student.
- For each student, review your task based assessments and refer to the complete folder of the student’s work.
- Summarise the comments made about the student’s ICT capability during the term/semester/year.
One last point to remember and that is the key to progression and continuity in student ICT capability is effective development. From this you can proficiently write on their capabilities and this information is then great to use for future planning.