Re-thinking Assessment in a Technology Rich Common Core Classroom


In a lot of recent posts, I’ve considered how my instruction will change with implementation of the common core and the introduction of new technologies into my classroom.  Today I want to think about the ways in which assessment will also see complete reformation.  I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and questions as we all tackle this education revolution together!  As you are updating your curriculum, be sure to check out Secondary Solutions guides, which are common core aligned and FULL of great assessment ideas!

Assessment Changes On the Horizon: 

1. I must stop asking google-able questions. Almost all of my students walk around with the internet in their pockets.  Instead of asking students to memorize information that could be easily answered with a simple search, I need to look at the enduring skills and information that will take them to higher order thinking.  For example, in a test about the poetry of Emily Dickinson, instead of asking about the definition of slant rhyme, I need to ask about the effect of slant rhyme in light of the poem’s content.  Instead of memorizing simple facts, it is more important that students analyze ways in which an author’s word choice shapes the meaning and tone of a piece (Common Core Anchor Standard CCRA.R.4).   This one I think is just good practice no matter what the standards say and I’ve been working on it for the last few years.  Is it as hard for you to give up control of those traditional questions as it is for me?  It sometimes kills me to press delete, even when I know it is for the best.  

2. I must allow for socially rich assessment. Students live in a world rich in social media and real time communication, which is disconnected to the practice of traditional assessment.  In traditional assessment, all students answer the same question, prompt, or problem and then the teacher evaluates answers. Social assessments allow students to evaluate each other, add depth to the answers of their peers and interact with a more varied audience.  Socratic Seminar is a great low-tech, face to face option and collaborize classroom allows for tech savvy asynchronous social assessment.  I’ve seen an improvement in the depth of assessment from both of these practices.  Do you use any other platforms for giving assessment a social, yet rigorous make-over?

3. I must explicitly teach effective communication that is relevant.  Instead of focusing solely on the five-paragraph essay, reflective writing, and research paper, I need to teach students how to effectively communicate through media they currently use and will likely use in the future.  It is important that students understand the impact their words will have through social media, online forums, and messaging.  As we see more colleges and employers checking online profiles, students should know the gravity of their voices in terms of their own futures.  On a more positive note, the power of rhetoric in social media and online discussion is also responsible for incredible growth in grass roots movements.  Students will also need to learn how to present research using new media like infographics.  Limiting formal writing instruction to traditional essay formats robs students of the potential to communicate effectively in the digital era.

4.  I must learn how to collect e-portfolios as a process of reflection and self-assessment.  I’ve traditionally kept paper portfolios for my students.  We fill them with their writing and quarterly reflect on improvements, challenges, and goals.  This staple of my class has served students well and I hate to see it go.  However, I think the writing is on the wall for my precious manilla folders.  It is time for me to find a neat and effective way to transfer this practice to a digital world.  Any suggestions for me?  I’m anxious to hear them!

Be sure to check in weekly for more tips, video tutorials, and teacher thoughts right here at!

Re-thinking assessment SS

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Arch Method to Help Students Analyze Informational Texts

As we continue to grow in our common core competencies and take on new informational texts, we need tools to help students read closely and analyze texts that may be outside of their fiction plot structure comfort zone (and ours!).  At a conference many years ago, I picked up a valuable strategy called the arch method, which I believe can do just that.  I learned it from Valerie Stevenson who is a high school English teacher from San Diego, accomplished conference speaker, and incredible fount of knowledge.  Originally, I used it as a way to help AP students answer prose analysis prompts, but with the common core emphasis on informational texts at all levels, I want to show you how it is an appropriate and valuable tool for all of our classes.

The strength of the method is that it can work for junior high and high school students at a variety of skill levels.  For grade level modifications, the teacher simply needs to ensure that the informational text and guiding question are grade level appropriate.  For emerging readers and writers in all grades, the teacher can walk students through the process with several texts over a long period of time before asking students to work independently on this type of task.  For more advanced students, one model or explanation may be enough. Even with my AP class, I like to scaffold this process a few times to make sure that I am getting my desired result by the time they work independently.

In the hope that you won’t see this tool as something too easy or too difficult for your students, I decided to include an example from a junior high curriculum and a 12th grade college prep curriculum.  If you teach AP language and composition, leave me a comment or question about using this strategy in conjunction with prose analysis questions!

Teachers from every level- please feel free to leave questions or comments!  I’d love to hear from you.

 The Strategy (See picture below):

  • For any given informational text, the teacher asks a guided question.  The question must focus on BOTH the main idea and persuasive techniques.  This type of analysis focuses heavily on author’s purpose and style. The questions can vary in complexity for different levels.
  • Students draw an arch in their notes and write the question on that arch.
  • As they read (directed or independently) students look for the SOAPS (speaker, occasion, audience, purpose, and situation), as well as persuasive language.  The use of rhetoric (or persuasive language) is recorded under the arch.
  • Then, based on the language, students write the answer to the big picture question above the arch.
  • Once this is complete, teachers can assign a variety of extension assignments like writing an analysis essay, writing a persuasive essay or speech using similar techniques, or participating in a class discussion about the themes or persuasiveness of the piece.
  • After students have gone through this method a few times, they begin to understand close reading and can apply it across the curriculum.  I’ve found that it is very helpful for students who struggle with finding textual evidence to support their gut feelings.

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Analyze Informational Texts 2

Junior High Example:

  •  Junior High students could read and analyze Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech as part of a nonfiction unit or as a companion to novels like Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry or The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963.  This could also be part of a history unit about The Civil Rights Movement or a look at how leaders across time have dealt with discrimination.
  • Here is a link to download an excerpt of the “I Have a Dream” speech.
  • Here is a sample annotation that students could do with teacher scaffolding.
  • Extension activities may include writing a speech about a subject students feel passionate about, writing a speech from the perspective of a character in a novel, or writing a paragraph explaining why the “I Have a Dream” speech was such a powerful moment in American history.
  • In addition to other common core standards, this activity supports the following CCS for grade 6 informational texts: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and explain how it is conveyed in the text.

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Analyze Informational Texts 3

High School Example:

  • Senior students could read and analyze an excerpt from Mary Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” to go along with their study of Frankenstein, or as a comparison piece across time to the poem “Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women” by Lanyer.   
  • Here is a link to download the excerpt of “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”.
  • Here is a sample annotation that students could do individually or with teacher direction.
  • Extension activities may include writing a vindication of the rights of teenagers, writing a prose analysis essay, or conducting a class debate about the current state of gender equality.
  • In addition to other common core standards, this activity supports the following CCS for grades 11-12 informational texts: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness or beauty of the text.

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Analyze Informational Texts 1

What do you think about the arch method? Would you use it? Do you have other go-to strategies for teaching informational texts?

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Annotated Common Core ELA Standards – Grade 4

Due to popular demand, I have now written the Annotated Common Core Standards for English Language Arts – Grade 4!  This is a FREE download on TeachersPayTeachers, so please take a moment to rate and leave feedback…it is truly appreciated!

If you’re feeling confused or overwhelmed by the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts, you’re not alone. I have taken some time to annotate (explain, simplify, break down) the Common Core standards for English Language Arts Grade 4. These documents are designed to you feel, well…not so overwhelmed, or lost, or alone! Some of the standards were already pretty self-explanatory so I left those alone, but wherever you see the arrow is where I have tried to explain or articulate the expectation(s) of the standard. If you find something particularly confusing, please message me and I will be happy to explain or articulate better, or add an explanation where there was none. Hope it helps…please be sure to leave feedback–I would love to hear your thoughts!

For other grades, click the links below:

Annotated Common Core Standards for English Language Arts – Grade 5
Annotated Common Core Standards for English Language Arts – Grade 6
Annotated Common Core Standards for English Language Arts – Grade 7
Annotated Common Core Standards for English Language Arts – Grade 8
Annotated Common Core Standards for English Language Arts – Grades 9-10
 Annotated Common Core Standards for English Language Arts – Grades 11-12

Note: This project is in no way affiliated with the Common Core Initiative. The Common Core Initiative was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, these guidelines.

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