Category Archives: Assessment

Copyright and Backchanneling in the Music Classroom

This post is another one in the series of posts originating from Professional Development Framework: Documenting for Learning

Dani Aisen, a music teacher, at Mount Scopus Memorial College, was part of a small group session with Specialists (Resource teachers) during my visit at the school in Melbourne, Australia. It was an opportunity for these teachers to question and talk more in detail about the keynote presentation (Documenting FOR Learning & The Now Literacies Through the Lens of Sharing)  and for me to share examples of how to support modern literacies in their specific subject areas.

Dani and I started talking about the role of the Music teachers to raise awareness of music piracy and the possibilities of authentic work as students fulfill the need of a school community to create their own music library, licensed under Creative Commons, to be used as background music for school projects (videos, podcasts, presentations, etc.). I shared the following blog post: 3 Scenarios to Engage Students in Authentic Tasks with her and Dani asked me to visit one of her Year 4 classes to get a conversation started about copyright and music.

Below is a short summary (documentation) by Dani of the conversation in class:

I’m a music teacher in Melbourne, Australia and the use of copyright has been an issue for a very, long time. It was wonderful to have Silvia visit us with all her knowledge in so many areas and especially in the use of copyright. Silvia joined me to talk to a year 4 class as we have a few more years with them in the primary school and hopefully make then more aware of the legalities of the digital age in the ‘music world’. The needed to know that they can listen to music, they can own music, they can share music that they have bought (only by allowing someone to listen) but they can’t use songs from youtube or other sources without permission or purchase, because it is actually the same as walking into a shop and stealing.

Silvia used the example of Christina Perri’s song ‘A thousand years’. The children were told that radios stations cannot play this song unless they have paid the companies that own the rights to it every time it’s played. The lyricists should be getting royalties. Dj’s make a living out of other peoples music, they are responsible for paying royalties.

The whole idea was to impress on children that because children couldn’t use other peoples music as it is actually stealing she wanted the children to know that they can easily become creators and sharers in music. We spoke about Creative Commons and the ability to be able to share music we have found but in saying that, to be one of those that are proud to share what they have composed and always get permission in writing to use someone else’s material and acknowledge your source.

Dani was also able to observe me modeling the use of a backchannel in another class. She was immediately excited to try it out in one of her own music classes. Below, you can read Dani’s documentation of her use of a backchannel as an assessment tool, observation of the class and comparison between classes. One, without the use of backchannel and another using a backchannel as a way to document, analyze, make connections and hold a conversation as they were watching a music video.
Here is a little background of how I used my first experience in ‘Backchannel’ and the difference it made in two classes the same topic but no backchannel first session.
The year sixes went to Canberra to look at Governance. When they returned I made connections with what they were inquiring into through lyrics in songs. The first class arrived and we chatted about their trip away and eventually I then told them we would be listening to the song ‘Dear Mr President’ by Pink. The song played and the only visual they had were the words on the smart board. At the end of the song I asked what they thought the song was about, why it might be written, what did they think? We needed to hear it again. As it was the first time to hear a song, like most people you need to hear it a few times to start to understand. It also tends to be the same children who participate in the discussion.
After viewing Silvia in front of a class (sadly I could only stay ten minutes) I was already excited to try ‘backchannel with my next year six)
I set up and asked the children to log on before we started the lesson. They had a session using this the day before so I didn’t have to say too much. The same conversation took place re the trip to Canberra, but this time when I started the song ‘Dear Mr President’, even though there was silent through the song, the conversation happening on today’smeet seriously blew me away. The higher lever of chat, questions, comments from all children, including the ones that don’t often put their hand up amazed me. Even when the song had finished and we were having a discussion the backchannel was still going on.
Two different classes covering the same material with a totally different outcome. Not because the classes are different but because the means to talk had opened up creating more conversation and comments that would not have even been brought up.
 As you can see, it was an amazing thing for me to actually observe happening in my own classroom after so many years of teaching.

Below you will see excerpts of the backchannel (as the transcript was saved in a Google Doc to be unpacked at a later time). I used Skitch, as a screenshooting tool, to be able to highlight, blur out specific student names and  annotext the document. As Dani reflected above:

The higher lever of chat, questions, comments from all children, including the ones that don’t often put their hand up amazed me.

Going through the backchannel, a teacher with a strategic mission of finding the following within the backchannel is able to unpack the quality of the backchannel use and make it visible for themselves, their students and when shared with colleagues openly for and with the world. Take a look at the unpacking of a backchannel as a tool FOR assessment:

  • evidence of understanding
    (different levels, connections being made)
  • communication skills
    (written and “learning community awareness”(engaging in conversation, asking & answering questions) ,
  • digital citizenship skills
    (appropriate use of the backchannel as an academic platform for learning)
  • visible thinking
    I think…I see… I wonder… (make use of Visible Thinking Routines to share thinking)
  • contributions
    (added value beyond “parroting”, repetition of what was heard in the frontchannel

How could YOU imagine using such a tool in your classroom? How could you use such a tool for assessment to REPLACE other forms of assessment you currently use?

Dani_Music-backchannel-unpack Dani_Music-backchannel-unpack2 Dani_Music-backchannel-unpack3

Unpacking a Twitter Conference Feed

Twitter can be overwhelming, even for a seasoned Twitterer.

  • We use tools, such as Tweetdeck, to help us organize the tweets coming in
  • we use #hashtags to filter and connect our conversations
  • we @mention, we RT, we DM, we #FF
  • we participate in #edchats
  • we give credit where credit is due
  • we take notes
  • we disseminate interesting information to our network
  • we amplify our voices to engage in conversation with people from around the world

Yes, it can be overwhelming to follow a conference Twitter hashtag such as #AASSA15 (Association of American Schools in South America Annual Educators Conference . (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3).

Below you will find a few sample sreenshots of Tweets from the AASSA conference in Curaçao. Unpacked and annotexted  to make the value of Twitter as a Professional Development tool, a learning tool visible to the untrained eye.

As you are looking at the tweets below ask yourself:

  • How could you use Twitter as a backchannel tool for assessment (at your faculty meeting)
  • How could you use Twitter as part of your faculty sharing PD learning (accountability) with colleagues who did not travel or participate physically in PD opportunity (amplify and stretch PD money)
  • How well was the conference objective/theme (Making Connections- No Teacher is an Island) represented?
  • How could teachers and students use Twitter as a new form of assessment to demonstrate evidence of modern skills and literacies?

Documenting and showing process

aassa15-unpacking-sketchnoting aassa15-unpacking-sketchnoting2

Different additions and purpose of tweeting a single quote by the keynote speaker


Note taking strengthened by multiple people (compared to traditional solitary/individual note taking)


Visual note taking, giving followers a glimpse into multiple classrooms/presentations. Impossible to do physically (being in multiple places at the same time)

aassa15-unpacking3-1aassa15-unpacking3-2aassa15-unpacking3Using photos or visuals to personalize a Twitter message


Twitter is not only a platform to create and store your own notes in 140 characters or less. It is meant for connecting, sharing, communicating by participating in a conversation.


140 characters not enough? Link to a blog post, share your reflections, learning and further resources.



Twitter is about connecting and learning together when you can’t be in the same physical space.

aassa15-unpacking9aassa15-unpacking10aassa15-unpacking11 aassa15-unpacking12    aassa15-unpacking13 aassa15-unpacking14 aassa15-unpacking15Using Twitter as a reflective tool, exit ticket or as a Visible Thinking Routine


aassa15-unpacking17 aassa15-unpacking18 aassa15-unpacking19 aassa15-unpacking20   aassa15-unpacking21aassa15-unpacking22aassa15-unpacking23aassa15-unpacking24

Twitter is real. Twitter “can” go beyond banal sharing of what you consumed for dinner or how your dog feels on any particular day. It is up to you HOW you use the platform.

Twitter is real. The connections that are forged by communicating, sharing and learning together as teachers are real.

Twitter is real. Twitter as a platform to bring educators from around the world together to string their learning and conversations together.

How do you unpack our Twitter feed and make learning and connections visible to others?

crossposted to AASSA Blog

Transfer of Modern Skills, Literacies, Fluency & Independence 4th Grade Style

I am currently in Argentina getting ready to work with a cohort of teachers at a German school here in Buenos Aires.
Andrea Hernandez, a former colleague of mine and current 4th and 5th grade Language Arts teacher from the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, in Florida has traveled with me.

Her current students (some of them my former students) have been following her travels by staying in contact via email and their classroom Twitter accounts (4thMJGDS / 5thMJGDS).

This post is a documentation of a Twitter conversation and a Skype call and our reflection of authentic assessment of these 9/10 year olds in the area of modern skills and literacies.

What a pleasant surprise this afternoon when the student in charge of being the Twitterer (Global Connector) of the week, tweeted me asking if we could connect via Skype. [Reminder: These students were with a substitute teacher, as their teacher Andrea was here in Argentina with me!]
Tweeter-4thMJGDS-conversation4I immediately responded with a Twitter reply and a conversation started.

Skills & literacies observed:

  • awareness of global connectedness
  • network literacy: what type of platform is best suited for what type of conversation or connection
  • communication skills: Twitter grammar, syntax, etiquette
  • critical thinking: problem solving of fluently and quickly switching to new Skype account when the teacher one was not available, then searching for and finding my Skype username to send a connection request. [ Again… student driven]
  • digital citizenship: following school guidelines in not using last names in social media



Within a few minutes, my Skype account rang and we connected with their class, who had a wonderful day celebrating “hat day” at their school.


skype-w-4thmjgds2The kids were excited when we took the webcam outside to show the summer blue skies over Buenos Aires. We quickly talked about Argentina’s geographic location and reverse seasons, compared temperatures (38 F in Florida vs 95 F in Buenos Aires). We gave them a quick challenge when we asked what the time difference was between our two locations. Their time was 3:35 pm while we gave the clue of 17:35 as our time. Not a problem for these information literate students as they quickly googled the time in BSAS and converted military time to am/pm to know that we were 2 hours apart.

It was not a long Skype call, but reassured their teacher Andrea, that her students were able to transfer skills learned with her in the classroom to fluently and independently take advantage of authentic opportunities when they presented themselves.

This fluency of modern skills and literacies did not happen overnight or come naturally to these students. They have been blogging for a minimum of 4 years. Their teachers have strategically been bringing in Skypportunities, and starting in 4th grade they earn the right to ownership of a classroom Twitter account to make global connection and build a learning network. [With teacher supervision… with embedded digital citizenship lessons throughout the year as well as taking advantage of every teachable moment…with trust relationshop between the teacher and her students]

Take a look at the Twitter profile of 4th and 5th grade.

4th grade students using Twitter to thin the classroom walls. This Twitter account is 100% student owned and operated


We are a 5th grade class interested in sharing our learning & connecting with other clases. This Twitter account is 100% student owned & operated.











Students are learning to reach out and make connections with other classroom Twitter accounts.



Rethink How We Assess Group Research

My brilliant colleague from Brazil, Silvana Meneghini, was wrapping her mind around group research at the high school level. In a FaceTime call she expressed her frustration of traditional assessment methods, Assessing a final product, a group presentation, or via a peer evaluation of “how much did your classmate contribute?” did not do the necessary skills of modern research collaboration via social bookmarking, network or other web2.0/3.0 tools justice. In her guest post below, you will not only find a great documentation of her process, but she also shares an infographic making different levels of student participation visible from cooperation to collaboration and makes her own collaborative research process (search, share, feedback, revision) visible.
I would highly suggest adding Silvana’s blog Comundo to your RSS reader.

Rethink How We Assess Group Research
A guest post by Dr. Silvana Meneghini.
Cross posted from Comundo

Group work is typically very difficult for students. It is time for us to really open up the group research “black box” and assess the “process” of individual participation in group research. That will help students learn how to collaborate and grow with others.

Below you will see the results of students’ feedback on group research in a small Grade 10 classroom. You can say that half of the groups relied on a single student to do the research, either because that was the hard working student, the smart student or because others were working only on technical details like finding images and creating a nice looking presentation. There were groups that seem to have split the research work to get organised and others that seemed to have a more organic type of work. You can also see below, students’ suggestions on how to improve individual participation in group order to help students self-assess their contribution to group research, I created the following rubric. This rubric is based on my experience on Sophomore research projects. As part of my own collaborative work, as I created this first draft of the rubric, I shared on my Twitter for feedback and also met with the Librarians in my school so we could align language. In fact, the rubric below already has modifications in language from this meeting with the Librarians, as in our school the research process involves steps like Think, Create, Share, Grow. You will see some of our comments on the side of the Google Doc. You can click on the image to see it

group-assessment4As part of collaborative work on this rubric, I had a Facetime conversation with Silvia Tolisano (@langwitches). As always,  Silvia was able to synthesise what I was saying and not only provide feedback but also come up with some really good terminology to capture the main ideas. She then created the awesome sketchnote below with those terms, for which I just added the idea of “self-adjusting”. Thank you Silvia for the amazing feedback! WE CANNOT MOVE FAR IF WE WORK ALONE!group-assessment5

So based on Silvia’s sketchnote, I revised my Rubric, so it became a description of the terminology: Curate, Share, Sel-Adjust, Feedback, Add

The following Infographic provides a visual for the different Levels of individual participation in group research, and how students can move from “cooperation” to true “collaboration”.group-assessment-infographic-by-smenegh


Student Led Conferences: Sick and Tired of Blogs & Reflection?


Our students just finished a second round of Student Led Conferences (SLC) this school year (one in Semester 1 and another in Semester 2).

SLCs are a formal opportunity for students to present to their parents about the state of their learning. The students’ advisor (a teacher responsible for a specific group of students during the school year) serves as a facilitator to prompt and guide the students if needed, but is a silent presence as the students share their learning with their parents. SLCs are not a time to talk about grades, student behavior, but about learning habits, process, improvements and goals.

Although there was emphasis placed on an ongoing documentation of each subject area as learning and reflection happened throughout the school year, a significant amount of time was dedicated to prepare for the SLCs

Preparation for Student Led Conferences

Each subject area had to be represented with at least one blog post. Each SLC blog post was to contain a title, an artifact, a reflection and be properly labeled.


Min Kyung’s Blog



Karin’s Blog


Juan Carlos’Blog





Ji Won’s Blog


Using the documentation posted to their blogfolios (process and showcase items), they select posts and artifacts that best demonstrated improvement or mastery of a learning target. Students connected their learning to specific school identified Core Values.

The slides below were shared with students to guide them through the process of preparing for the SLC. (Thank you Claire Arcenas for written directions as well as Visible Thinking Routines)









 Student Led Conference

Students and parents gathered with the advisor for up to 30 minutes in a classroom setting. The student’s blog site was projected to the screen and students used the artifacts as a trigger to talk about their learning. They spoke about their challenges, successes and areas of growth in relationship to the Core Values. Parents were encouraged to ask clarifying questions at any time. To wrap the SLC up, students spoke about the learning that occurred by going though the process of preparing for the conference and their learning goals for the last quarter.

Notes and Reflections

There was a loud rumbling noise among students in the days that lead up to the SLC.

Comments such as the ones below were expressed by many:

  • “We are tired of writing reflections”
  • “I am sick of having to write a blog post in EVERY SINGLE CLASS!”
  •  “Why do I have to do this?”
  • “I am writing what my teachers want to hear, but not really what I think.”

I seriously started to doubt the approach to support Blogging Beyond One Classroom. Was it inevitable, if students were expected to “learn, reflect, share”for all their classes  (from Math, Humanities, Science to Orchestra to Physical Education), that they were going to burn out? Could the “exponential explosion” of reflective blog posts  clumped together in the immediate days before the SLC be blamed for it?

reflective school culture

Was “too much of a good thing”…. well simply too much?

  • Did we need to be more selective with WHAT types of reflections we asked students to make their learning visible? (Not every assignment, project or activity needs to be documented and reflected on?)
  • Did we need to adjust our language to not bunch everything under an umbrella of “Please write a reflection on your blog”.
  • I am reminded that “It’s one thing for us as teachers to articulate the kinds of thinking we are seeking to promote; it is another for students to develop a greater awareness of the significant role that thinking plays in cultivating their own understanding.” ( Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhard, Mark Curch and Karen Morrison). Do we need to double our efforts in helping students develop that awareness and continue to give them the why behind maintaining a blog (learning, reflecting and sharing as part of an overall process)?
  • Did we need to change/alter/modify the routine of adding the reflection as a separate piece, tagged on the end of a assignment, project or activity?

Despite the fact that students openly did not seem to “enjoy” the process  of  blogging and reflecting as it was happening in the days before the SLC (among my advisory students), it was unanimous (again informal survey from among my advisory students) that the process of reflecting, thinking about one’s learning and going back to re-read/watch/look at previous posts and artifacts  to identify areas of growth HAS helped and they are glad to have gone through the process.  Students also recognized and articulated in their SLC specific learning opportunities and teaching methods from many of their classes that inspired and supported them in their learning process.

SLCs are an opportunity for:

  • Authentic opportunity to showcase skills in information literacy (organizing, categorizing and archiving of information created and published)
  • Building blocks of a positive digital footprint (How do we support and guide our students to positive online publishing? What does it mean to be “googlable?” How do we not only build, but also maintain a positive digital footprint?) 
  • Digital citizen issues come to surface (What is shared? Why should we share? Observance of copyright. How do we keep ourselves safe? )
  • Evidence of using technology to demonstrate learning (Technology is not only about Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or video games. “Digital natives might be wizards in using technology in other domains, but need guidance for using it for learning)
  • Resource or non-academic subjects are given time in conference and equally contribute to the students’ learning profile
  • Advisors have a chance to step outside of their own classrooms and learn about their colleagues’ work

As compared to first semester’s SLC:

  • Overall blog quality has improved (communication through a variety of media forms, logistics of inserting & embedding different media, beginning of hyperlinked writing, advantages of writing  in digital spaces became evident)
  • As blogfolios are continued being  maintained, it is possible to track learning over time
  • The connections to the Core Values seemed much more natural and not an add-on
  • Student (oral and visual) presentation skills were practiced  in a supportive environment
  • Students and parents focused less on academic grades and more on learning habits and process
  • SLC served and supported parent education in terms of modern skills, literacies and learning pedagogies

Juan Carlos‘ Blog:

“I used to think my learning was accomplished by simple things such as paying attention , doing my work and taking it seriously but now I know that learning has more than those things , you need to be reflective , critical thinker and also a communicator. You need to apply all the core values to able to learn in an effective way.”

Kari’s Blog

“In which of the core values did you show the most progress or growth?  What makes you say that? 
I am getting better at communication.  I am learning more Portuguese and improving with my blog and other technologies.  This is very important in terms of communication.  Balanced says that you can communicate in multiple languages.  Improving in Portuguese means that I can communicate more to people who do not speak English.  Also, I am getting better at using my blog which is another form of communication.  People can come on and see my work and how I use my Blog.”

“I used to think my learning was mostly about critical thinking, but now I think my learning is more about being reflective.  Sometimes you cannot really grasp what you have learned unless you reflect on what you have done.  This is an important part of learning and changing your learning habits and becoming better at something.  If you just do something once and then never again, you don’t really learn anything .  Reflection makes you rethink again and understand better. “

Now what?

Where do we go from here? My hope is to continue:

Where are you in your journey of student digital portfolios/blogfolios? How do you prepare, run and learn from Student Led Conferences?  Contribute to the exchange of ideas, thoughts, experiences, doubts, failures and successes? We are all pioneers. No one has done this for years and is an expert. We are all learning along the way. Let’s help each other. Leave a comment or connect on Twitter, but don’t keep your observations and perspectives on the topic to yourself.