Portfolios for ESL students

And that’s my new brilliant idea for the session. Of course, I can’t take full credit for the idea. I was inspired by my graduate adviser, who is also the director of an IEP, who shook up the old, boring assessment routine in her program by adding portfolios.  And my ever-helpful colleague, Robb, mentioned that self-assessment is always a good idea.  And then I had a great Twitter conversation with an educator who has found success with portfolios.

So here I am.  I’m excited about the idea, but I’ve got tons of questions.  Mainly, how do I grade these things?  I’ve got some thoughts, so I’m attaching a link to a document I’m working on if you care to look it over.  This is just the writing portfolio assignment. I’ve also got one for reading and speaking/listening classes.  Feedback is always appreciated.

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LearnBoost gradebook – my review

Since my program doesn’t have access to Blackboard, I did my own searching for a free online gradebook.  There are several options, but the one that everyone seems to go nuts about is LearnBoost.  So, I signed up.  And I liked it. Sort of.  It was better than manually calculating grades, but not as good as the various programs I’ve used through other universities.  Briefly, here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly:

The good:

The program is relatively intuitive, so it’s very easy to use.

You can sign in through your facebook account. If you don’t want to, creating an account is simple.

You can easily create multiple classes, weight grades, set a grade scale, and take attendance.

You can give your students access to their gradebook, so they can see their own grades and the class average.

You have access to a class statistics page that lets you know how your class is doing.

The bad:

(These problems may not be universal.  Perhaps I just had some bad luck.  But it sucked.)

My students could see their scores in each grade category, but they couldn’t see their overall grade.  (I, however, could.)

Because my students couldn’t see their overall grades, they were really confused.  Each grade category had 4 scores: their percentage, the class average, their weighted percentage, and the class weighted average.  They didn’t know which numbers to look at.

The letter grades were often not accurate.  My reports would show me that a student had a 78% and an A in the class.  (Refreshing the grade scale temporarily solved this problem. But that was a lot of refreshing.)

This is a minor quibble, but when teaching international students, it’s bound to be a problem: when I granted my students access to their gradebooks, they received an email from “LearnBoost.”  Even though I told them that’s who the email would come from, many of them expected an email from me and were confused when they didn’t get one.  How hard would it be for LearnBoost to use the teacher’s name as the sender on the email invite?

The verdict:

I had a lot of problems with this program, but I’m going to use it again because I don’t really have any other options at the moment.  I don’t see why teachers rave about it, but it seems that it might be very helpful for those teaching K-12.  Next time I use it, I’m going to make a short Jing video showing my students how to use the gradebook so it’s a little more user-friendly for them.

Thoughts on my first session at a new job

Yesterday was the final day of first session at my new job.  I always like to reflect at the end of every semester/session on what I liked and didn’t, what worked and didn’t, and how I can improve.  Usually I keep a little file going on my computer, but I might as well just put it on my blog.

Starting in the summer is both a blessing and a curse.  It was a little less lively than I imagine our fall session will be, and there weren’t as many people working, so I feel like I didn’t get to know my co-workers very well.  On the other hand, everyone treats the summer sessions almost like they don’t count, so I got to try a lot of fun new stuff in the classroom without any real pressure.

I may have overworked my reading students (but they actually told me they liked it).  I love teaching reading so much, and I always have so many ideas, but I need to find a balance so that my students have a reasonable amount of work to do, and I’m not buried in grading.

I’m sure I underworked my speaking/listening students (Firefox is telling me “underworked” isn’t a word).  They were much more advanced than I was expecting, and I feel sometimes with language skills, you reach a limit on how much you can actually teach your students before they really just don’t need you anymore.

I’ve got to find a better way to collect my students’ writing assignments.  I always wind up with crazy stacks of papers that get all out of order.  And then I swear I won’t accept emailed assignments, and I always do.

Here’s what went well: one thing I always strive to do as a teacher is to enjoy my students.  It’s easy to focus on what’s going wrong in the class, but I try to find what each class brings to the learning experience.  Every class, every semester, it’s something new, and the longer I teach, the more I find myself able to adapt to these changing dynamics.

This session, my writing class wanted to joke around and goof off.  So, I brought humor into the class.  If they want to laugh, let’s laugh and learn.  I came up with funny writing topics, and I used students in the class as examples (they loved laughing at each other).

My reading class was ridiculously TOEFL-driven.  So, I took TOEFL-prep exercises and created extended lessons out of them.  They felt challenged, and I didn’t spend the whole time teaching to a test.

My speaking/listening class thought they were too good to be in the program.  So, I took a backseat, and I let them run things.  I frequently found myself sitting in the back of the room, watching the students engage with each other.  They chose our discussion topics, they led discussions.

What a session. Can’t wait for the fall.

VoiceThread – more technology I need to be using?

Thanks, Robb, for sharing this with me.  Someone told me about this before, I’m sure. But for the first time, I checked it out, and this has the potential to become a big part of my speaking/listening classes.  It’s VoiceThread, and you should check it out too.  Just one more site I’ll be dragging my students to next session.  They probably get sick of all the technology I use.

I haven’t seriously checked out all the cool stuff it does yet (this is my first day of vacation, after all), but you can make videos and recordings without downloading any software.  Exactly what I’ve been looking for.  Because until I can convince my program to find some (likely nonexistent) money and build our own computer lab, I’m going to need to use programs that don’t have to be downloaded.

Assessment musings

If anyone’s out there, I would love your thoughts here. I’m in a new program that runs on 7-week sessions (I’m a little more used to semester-long programs). Students spend two sessions in each level before they (ideally) advance to the next level. They have to average a C in both sessions to move forward.

So, here’s what I’ve been struggling with: 7 weeks is short. Really short. I’m finding it very hard to figure out how to fit everything I want to teach into 7 weeks. That will come with time, I’m sure.  Assessment, however, is plaguing me.  The grades I give my students determine whether they advance in the program; therefore, these grades ought to be a fair representation of what my students have accomplished. But, how much can you accomplish in 7 weeks? And if you have one bad week, you’re in a bit of a pickle. One bad week in a semester is fine. One bad week out of seven could potentially ruin your grade.

I feel like I’ve been giving a LOT of assessment (homework, quizzes, tests, etc) so that a student’s entire grade won’t be determined by that one speaking presentation he bombed. But I also feel like I’m cramming in too much assessment into a seven-week period. Is there a balance? All this grading is wearing me out.  Is there an answer to my question?

Any advice/thoughts are welcome.