ECS 410: Assessment and Evaluation in Secondary Schools: Case Studies

Abstract

This reflection looks at Case Study 2: Interim Report Card Grades, Case Study 4: Hiring a Student, and Case Study 6: All or Some. Case Study 2 highlights the effects of assigning a zero and how detrimental this practice can be to a student’s overall grade. Furthermore, zeros are misleading and do not accurately represent what a student achieved or learned during a semester. Case Study 4 analyses how grades can be misinterpreted and often do not provide a clear picture to students, employers, teachers and parents about what a student knows and can demonstrate. How teachers choose to weight assignments has an impact on the overall mark a student receives and this choice can vary from school to school and/or classroom to classroom. Case Study 6 deals with number crunching and evaluating students before they have had adequate practice time. To deconstruct these case studies, current research on high school grading trends and personal experiences will be used.

Keywords – number crunching, assessment, evaluation, grade reporting, overall achievement, feedback, gradebook, zeros

 Case Studies

Case Study 2: Interim Report Card Grade

In Case Study 2 the student received a zero on one assignment because they were absent. As a result, the report card shows that they have a 68.8 percent overall average after the first four weeks of classes. However, the lowest mark the student received was a 62.5 percent on one assignment that was weighted out of eight. The student received a 90 percent or higher on the majority of their assignments. If the zero was not reported the student would have an 81.6 percent average.

I personally would give the student the 81.6 percent because I believe it better reflects what he or she has learned and/or demonstrated. I also think the student will be more motivated to keep up the good work if they see an 81.6 percent versus a 68.8 percent. The current research suggests that zero grades are an unfair and inaccurate marking practice and this case study illustrates how misleading a zero grade can be. A 68.8 percent is not a fair representation of this student’s overall achievement, when the majority of their assignments are in the 90 percent range or higher.

What bothers me most about the student receiving the 68.8 percent is that they were absent for the test. Todd Rogers, a psychologist from University of Alberta, suggests that “a zero indicates the student knows nothing about a topic when they might actually know plenty… the mark of incomplete is more honest” (Sands, “Educators defend no-zero rule”). Based on the other marks that the student has received, I believe he or she understands the content and could do quite well on the test, if given the opportunity. I think the student should get a chance to take the test and in the meantime the assignment could register as ‘incomplete’ so that it does not skew the overall average for the first four weeks. The goal is for students to meet the curriculum outcomes; if students are not given the chance to demonstrate their knowledge then zeros are used to punish their behavior rather than representing their knowledge of an outcome (Bower, “Giving zeros a power trip”). I am just starting to grasp this concept, as I am very much imbedded in our grading system. I used to agree with the critics that the no-zero policy would not prepare kids for “the real world” and that fifties would become the new zeros. I also used to think that giving second chances or extended due dates was not fair to students who met the deadlines and were present. I am now realizing that all students have different circumstances and furthermore, giving zeros does not hold students responsible to complete their work. This case study has taught me that the zero – which actually represents that the student missed a day of classes in a four week period – not only punishes the student but disrupts the learning process. This zero does not indicate that the student does not know the content or only knows 68.8 percent of it, for that matter. Instead, the zero is used to punish a behavior that has nothing to do with the student’s overall understanding of the curricular outcomes.

This case study highlights many tensions amid our current grading system. First and foremost, it shows that zeros can be detrimental to students because they are misleading and an inaccurate representation of the acquired knowledge. Also, in this case study students are receiving grades for every assignment, including daily work. This means that their practice time is being evaluated. Davies (2011) notes that “students need a chance to practice” and she proposes that “increasing the amount of descriptive feedback, while decreasing evaluative feedback, increases student learning significantly” (p. 2-3). The numbered average does little to show how the student is doing, in regards to the curricular outcomes, whereas, feedback would be much more informative. Bower suggests that we treat assessment like “a needed conversation between a teacher and student” rather than “a spreadsheet” of misleading grades (“Giving zeros a power trip”). Giving a zero would most likely result in an unmotivated student who now has an inaccurate perception of their overall achievement. Bower notes that students who receive zeros are more likely to drop out or become unmotivated (“Giving zeros a power trip”). I would have had an emotional breakdown if this would have happened to me in high school. Thus, I do not think a grade of zero is appropriate (assuming that the student has not refused the opportunity to retake the test) and I believe that feedback after four weeks would be more beneficial and create a continuous learning process.

Case Study 4: Hiring a Student

Case Study 4 illustrates what grades fail to communicate about student achievement to parents, employers, educators and students. Based on the information in Scenario A, Student 1 would get the job. They received 0/25 in practical knowledge – which makes me question if they missed the test or assignments? – and 71/75 on theory. Student 2, on the other hand, received 25/25 on practical knowledge but only 27/75 on theory. Thus, when the weights of practical and theory are rated out of 25 and 75 respectfully, Student 1 receives an overall grade of 71 percent and Student 2 receives an overall grade of 52 percent. If a manager at the local auto repair shop looked at these marks, he or she would hire Student 1 because they appear to be more competent.

However, in Scenario B Student 1 receives an overall grade of 47 percent and Student 2 receives an overall grade of 68 percent. This is because both practical and theoretical aspects were weighted equally out of 50. Student 1 receives 0/50 and 47/50 but Student 2 receives 50/50 and then 18/50. In Scenario C, the weights of practical and theoretical knowledge are weighted 75 and 25 respectively. This reverses the weights in Scenario A. Student 1 receives a 0/75 and a 24/25, resulting in an overall grade of 24 percent. Student 2 receives 75/75 and then 9/25, resulting in an overall grade of 84 percent. Therefore, if a manager was comparing marks based on Scenario B or C, Student 2 would receive the job.

This case study shows the discrepancies of grades and the effects of teacher choices on the worth of course components. Guskey (2011) notes that “what one teacher considers in determining students’ grades may differ greatly from the criteria used by other teachers… even in schools were established grading policies offer guidelines for assigning grades” (p. 85). This affects student motivation, class choices, post-secondary admissions, job choices and scholarship success. I think we need consistent assessment practices because grades determine the future for our students. I would allow students to choose how to weight their assignments and tests so that they could play to their individual strengths, yet still complete all course components. This choice could be made within assignments on the rubrics or between all of the class assignments through a student-teacher contract.

I honestly do not know what scenario I think is fair because I do not know what each component encompasses. This once again highlights how poor report cards are at communicating learning achievement and tasks. One suggestion I would have for this teacher is dropping low quiz scores or providing second chances. I used to believe that students should not all have eighties and/or get second chances but I am now realizing the purpose is for students to meet the curricular outcomes – albeit, at their own pace – and learning is not about competing for grades. As Guskey (2011) notes “grades have long been identified by those in the measurement community as prime examples of unreliable measurement” (p. 85). I think this will be one of the biggest challenges in teaching: how do you decide what learning or skills are more important than the others? Unless we create consistent guidelines to follow, grades will continue to be misleading and very few students will benefit.

Case Study 6: All or Some

Case Study 6 shows the parachute-packing test results of three students. Student 1 was above the competency/mastery level for the first five tests. However, tests six to nine are scored well below the mastery level. Student 2 started at the mastery level, scored above the mastery level on tests two, four, six, and eight, but below the mastery level on tests three, five, seven, and nine. Student 3 was well below the mastery level for the first three tests, fell just below the mastery level on tests four to six, but made improvements on each test thereafter and scored above the mastery line on tests seven to nine.

Based on these results, I would want Student 3 to pack my parachute. Student 1, although he or she started strong, is well below the mastery level on the last four tests. Student 2 has very inconsistent results. But student 3 has consistently improved since test one and has been well above the mastery line for the last three tests. This student has the most consistent and reliable results and I would feel safest with them packing my parachute. It does not matter to me that Student 1 used to be able to pack a parachute and I do not want to take a chance that Student 2 is having a good day.

If this was represented on a grade book, it would look very similar to the chart below (the grades are an estimate):

Test

Student   1

Student   2

Student   3

1

70

50

20

2

60

65

25

3

70

45

35

4

60

75

47

5

80

45

45

6

45

75

45

7

40

45

60

8

35

60

75

9

30

45

85

Total:

54.4%

56.1%

48.55%

Student 1 and 2 would pass but Student 3 would fail. However, this is contradictory to my prior answer that Student 3 is competent at parachute packing. This is because grades do not accurately show how a student is achieving the outcomes without additional feedback. Student 3 would benefit from Shepard’s idea of “replacement assignments and replacement tests or throwing out test scores when learning is verified in later assignments” (2006, p. 44). Student 3 has demonstrated that they can complete the task but he or she is being held back for learning at a slower rate.

Another issue is that the initial tests are marked. As Laurie Gatzky mentioned in her presentation, we should evaluate the recent work rather than averaging the entire course work because students need learning and practice time. It is not fair to evaluate students so early. Davies (2011) also states that “when students are acquiring new skills, knowledge, and understanding, they need a chance to practice” (p. 2). When I coached basketball I did not mark students at the first practice but instead I gave them feedback throughout the season. The “test” or evaluation occurred in the final few playoff games. Noskin (2013) stated that “assessments must be formative and frequent with timely feedback; a summative assessment should follow at the unit’s end” but not before then (p. 73). If students would have been marked solely on test nine, Student 3 would receive an 85 percent, Student 2 a 45 percent and Student 1 a 30 percent. However, this would not be represented on most gradebooks. I would personally give “descriptive feedback during the learning” and evaluate tests eight and nine (Davies, 2011, p. 2).

Conclusion

In the end, all three case studies highlight the tensions and inadequacies of our current grading practices. I know evaluation will be a constant stress and concern that I have as a teacher. However, I am learning the benefits of giving more feedback and fewer grades. Furthermore, I understand that students need practice time and choice, whether it is the choice of how they demonstrate their knowledge or what their assignments are worth. Giving zeros punishes students for their behaviour or attendance issues and disrupts the learning cycle. Every student deserves a second chance, especially since learning is a lifelong process. Our goal as educators should be “to create a learning culture… instead of a grading culture” (Shepard, 2006, p. 41) and in order to do this we need to make learning an intrinsic reward rather than a competition for the best mark, which is an extrinsic motivator that poorly communicates a student’s understanding of the curricular outcomes.

Resources

Bernhardt, S. A. (1992). Teaching English: Portfolio evaluation. The Clearing House, 65(6), 333-334.

Bower, Joe. (2012). Giving zeros a power trip. Edmonton Journal, pp. A.20.

Davies, A. (2011). Making classroom assessment work. (3rd Ed.). Courtenay, British Columbia:  Connections Publishing.

Found, Rob. (2012). Not giving zeros also skews marks. Edmonton Journal, pp. A.11.

Guskey, T. R. (2011). Stability and change in high school grades. NASSP Bulletin, 95(2), 85-98. doi:10.1177/0192636511409924

Noskin, D. P. (2013). Toward a clearer picture of assessment: One teacher’s formative approach. English Journal, 103(1), 72.

Rodgers, Bob. (2012). Why giving children zeros is a “good” idea. Airdrie City View, pp. 9.

Shepard, L. A. (2006). Creating coherent formative and summative assessment practices. Orbit, 36(2), 41.

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Pattern Folders: A Literary Analysis Tool

For anyone in ELA, I would recommend using pattern folders to encourage students to find textual evidence. I found this idea on the Teaching Channel, which is an extremely practical and useful site for all educators.  The pattern folders gets students, individually or as a class, to decide on common themes in a resource text. As they read, they pick out passages that match the theme and write these on sticky notes to go inside their folders. Not only does this help with a curriculum outcome but it is also a step in the research process if they were to complete an essay at the end. These folders can help students review. My goal for my students is that they can back up their claims with proof and I think this activity encourages this. Also, the teacher in this video noted that after a quick look at their folders and she can see where her students are and what they are understanding. I would personally use this as a job description for literary circles or as a bell work activity/routine to start the day or a “reading with a focus” activity.

Trauma, Brain and Relationship: Helping Children Heal

“Early childhood trauma changes the biology of the brain. Well, early childhood support also changes the biology of the brain!”

Curriculum encompasses more than just the written documents. We cannot ignore the social curriculum that our students bring to our classrooms. This is a large part of our jobs. As someone who has not experienced trauma, I often wonder how I will reach out to students who have or are currently experiencing trauma. I think it starts out with building relationships of trust and respect and creating that inclusive and safe classroom environment. This video gave me a lot more confidence in my abilities to help students. For instance, one of the individuals suggests that students only need one person to connect with and that person does not have to be knowledgeable about trauma or healing; they just have to be willing to help and listen. This video is worth the watch and a good reminder that we need to find ways to balance the written curriculum with the social, hidden, null, etc. in order for learning to take place. Our classrooms are not separate entities and our students are not empty vessels.

Be The Change: #nicenominations #raknominations

If you have been alive in the 21st century and do not live in a cave, then you have probably noticed the neknomination craze that has infiltrated social media. Yes, infiltrated. For those who do live in a cave, a neknomination involves young adults, often teens, who record a video of themselves drinking and then nominate two others to “up the ante” within the next 24 hours. Neknominations have led to many deaths, whether because of alcohol poisoning or poor decisions after the fact (http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/deadly-online-neknomination-drinking-game-has-officials-concerned-1.1673468; http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/neknomination-craze-claims-fifth-victim-as-20yearold-bradley-eames-is-found-dead-after-downing-two-pints-of-gin-9131987.html). Furthermore, they are a desperate cry for attention and shine a light on how we glorify binge drinking in our society even though it poses a major issue in all aspects of our society: health care systems, families, unplanned children, mental health issues, crime rates, etc. Adults over 18, although legally allowed to consume beverages, should reconsider their decision to participate in neknominations. Although it seems like “just a fun thing to do” it can have large consequences on future generations and those that take it too far. And if they think it doesn’t impact the future generations of underage children, they are wrong. About 11% of alcohol is consumed by underage teens. Furthermore, about 40% of underage children binge drink regularly making them more susceptible to alcohol dependence. Drinking also impacts memory and learning development in teens (http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/underage-drinking.htm). The neknomination trend is now in our high schools and our students will face peer pressure to participate. There is nothing to be proved by chugging a beer and so I wonder why are people participating in this like a herd of mindless sheep? I miss the days when the internet was about cat videos. If we could bring back that cat videos, that would be great – or people could go get a hobby!

However, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. What started as a terrible cry for Facebook likes was turned into raknominations (random acts of kindness nominations) or nicenominations by Mr. Lindeque of South Africa (http://www.news.com.au/technology/online/south-african-man-brent-lindeque-turns-neknominate-on-its-head/story-fnjwmwrh-1226818264791). Since then, people have started to pay it forward (http://globalnews.ca/news/1136156/online-drinking-game-neknominations-inspiring-canadians-to-pay-it-forward/). I think as educators we need to promote what we love and make our own raknominations or nicenominations. Bashing what we hate will not work but educators and adults can be leaders who steer kids in the right direction. My attempt at a nicenomination was made for just that purpose: to get students to do something positive with their time. Children are the next generation in this world and I want it to be a happy future, where kindness is the only thing people binge on. This video also highlights how easy it is to do nice things. My best friend and I simply cleared out our closets and donated to Carmichael Outreach. It was easy! But it felt great (a level of greatness that cannot be accomplished by chugging a few beer).

There is always a way to make things better and I think nicenominations do just that. I do not have a classroom currently, but I would invite teachers to do nicenominations with their students, as it ties into the cross curricular competency of becoming responsible citizens and relates to their daily lives. Furthermore, I think it is important to get students to be themselves and not follow the crowd of “mindless sheep.” Be the change!

Toward a Clearer Picture of Assessment: One Teacher’s Formative Approach by David Peter Noskin (2013)

David Peter Noskin’s article “Assessment: One Teacher’s Formative Approach” (2013) provides a wonderful English-based example of a unit with a formative assessment focus. Noskin used Hawthorne’s text to discuss big questions and accomplish curriculum outcomes. Within the unit, assessment was “formative and frequent with timely feedback” and students were evaluated at the end of the unit after they were given ample practice time (Noskin, 2013, p. 73). Noskin talks about the importance of letting students know the purpose of the learning but he created the rubrics on his own, something I think his students would have benefited from. However, I loved that the initial pre-assessment of a journal response was the basis of the final essay. Students engaged in journal responses, short essay responses and grammar lessons that focused on student areas of need, like inserting textual evidence, until their final essay was created. Activities built off each other and students received ample feedback instead of just receiving an essay topic and being told to do their best.

One thing I really took to heart is the idea that “the text is not the unit” (Noskin, 2013, p. 72). I think as English teachers we often forget this but we need to consider why we are studying a text and how it relates to the curriculum outcomes and our big questions. I also like Noskin’s honesty when he says he now realizes “that using an activity because it is fun ought not to be my sole or even main criterion: it must foremost align with one of my learning objectives. Then, I can determine how to make it fun and engaging” (2013, p. 74). In the age of Pinterest, this is something all teachers need to be cautious of.

For more information: Noskin, D. P. (2013). Toward a clearer picture of assessment: One teacher’s formative approach. English Journal, 103(1), 72.

Creating Coherent Formative and Summative Assessment Practices

Lorrie A. Shepard’s article “Creating Coherent Formative and Summative Assessment Practices” outlines formative assessment practices that are more effective than exams. When students are faced with exams, or one time to shine, they are more worried “about what will be on the test rather than thinking about learning” (Shepard, 2006, p. 41). Grades, which are extrinsic rewards, “can reduce intrinsic motivation” (Shepard, 2006, p. 42). Thus, we need to create a learning culture instead of a grading culture, where students guide instruction and make connections to their interests and prior knowledge (Shepard, 2006, p. 41). Shepard suggests that teachers use pre-assessment, such as KWL charts, provide feedback that relates to the outcomes, allow students to self-assess, and plan with the end goal in mind (2006, p. 42-4). Furthermore, students need time to make changes based on feedback and apply knowledge to new skills and understandings (transfer knowledge) (Shepard, 2006, p. 44).

Shepard (2006) suggested that “replacement assignments and replacement tests or throwing out test scores when learning is verified in later assignments,” allows students to be evaluated fairly (p. 44). I never thought of this but really like the idea; everyone deserves a second chance and some students will take longer to complete an outcome but the goal is simply to complete the outcome, not necessarily all at the same time.

One thing that I have heard often but think is easier said than done, is creating “formative and summative assignments” that are “conceptually aligned” (Shepard, 2006, p. 43). Furthermore, I wonder how much time proper, fair and accurate assessment and evaluation takes. I think it would be best for me to start small and try to implement two proven researched assessment/evaluation practices at a time. I also have to accept that I will get better with practice and time but may need administrative and collegial support at the start.

For more information: Shepard, L. A. (2006). Creating coherent formative and summative assessment practices. Orbit, 36(2), 41.

Teaching English: Portfolio Evaluation by STEPHEN A. BERNHARDT (1992)

Although this article is older, I found it worth the read since I want to use portfolios to assess and evaluate my students in the future. However, the word assessment is often used to mean evaluation. In the article Bernhardt (1992) states “that it is unreliable to base [evaluation] on a single sample of student writing” (p. 333). Thus, it is also unfair to evaluate students on “a single sit-down test” (Bernhardt, 1992, p. 333). This is especially true in English classes, where the very nature of the discipline is reliant on the writing process and conferencing. Bernhardt suggests that utilizing portfolio assessment allows students to reflect what they can do for a variety of texts, audiences and purposes (1992, p. 334). Students can show their writing process and get the choice/freedom to control what goes into their portfolio. They also get to spend the needed time on each piece of work and portfolios will mean more to parents than a single exam (Bernhardt, 1992, p. 334).

In my own classroom, I hope to get students to blog their work under each outcome (in student/parent friendly ‘I Can Statements’). Students would then write a letter to their teacher at the end of the year that outlines one piece of work from each outcome to be evaluated, but all of their work would be included. They would receive feedback on all work and teachers, students and parents could all have a say about what work should be evaluated. Students could monitor their growth between school years and have the chance to revisit their work. I would also have “author’s chair” be a weekly routine in my class, where students can help each other, conference their work and showcase their talents. The one downside I see would be making a rubric for each of the outcomes, especially when students may use various indicators for each outcome. Therefore, making the rubrics with the students for each outcome at the start of the year would be important so that students could guide their work from there.

I think portfolios in English are practical and if they foster technology, they better prepare students for the future.

For more information: Bernhardt, S. A. (1992). Teaching English: Portfolio evaluation. The Clearing House, 65(6), 333-334.

Stability and Change in High School Grades by Thomas R. Guskey (2011)

I was interested in looking at current grading practices and came across the article “Stability and Change in High School Grades” by Thomas R. Guskey (2011). The study looks at the inconsistency and subjectivity associated with grades. Guskey notes that “what one teacher considers in determining students’ grades may differ greatly from the criteria used by other teachers… even in schools where established grading policies offer guidelines for assigning grades” (2011, p. 85). This can be detrimental to Grade 11 and 12 students who are competing for scholarships and admission into post-secondary institutions. Initial marks also impact what classes Grades 9 and 10 students choose to enroll in. Guskey (2011) notes that initial grades have an impact “on students’ attitudes, behaviors, and motivation” and can also lead to student drop-outs (p. 85-6). The study looked at over 1000 high school students and considered gender, socio-economic background, native language, and ability. Across the board, “these first grades set the stage for all that is to come,” and placed students in categories that are almost impossible to alter because of student and teacher perceptions (Guskey, 2011, p. 86). Females also received higher marks than boys and similarly, students in higher socio-economic classes received higher marks than those students from less privileged backgrounds (Guskey, 2011, p. 91). In the end, the study showed that we can “predict high school students’ final course grades based on evidence gather during the second week of the academic term” and based on their gender, ability, financial circumstance, etc. (Guskey, 2011, p. 95). Therefore, grades are a hindrance to the learning process, rather than a benefit since they can inaccurately be allotted and define students in rigid categories.

This study makes me wonder why girls often receive higher marks than boys? Furthermore, why do students get stuck in a grade category? Is it because of teacher practices or student motivation or both? What can we do to close the achievement gap? Why do students in different economic and cultural groups get placed in different grade categories? When should we mark students first? What method can be used to replace grading students? How can we create a consistent grading system that provides all students an equal opportunity, regardless of where they live?

I do not think there are any easy answers. But on the bright side, Guskey notes that when feedback is given with grades, students’ “grades on subsequent assessments significantly improved” (2011, p. 86). Some other interesting ideas to get students beyond their initial grade category was to ignore “low quiz scores,” allow for re-dos, consider marks “from a previous marking period,” or weight course material differently (2011, p. 87-8). These are just some of the ways that initial grades can be overcome. In the end, I think we need to stop pretending that a single grade can tell us what students are capable of and we need to practice other ways to monitor and report progress.

For further information: Guskey, T. R. (2011). Stability and change in high school grades. NASSP Bulletin, 95(2), 85-98. doi:10.1177/0192636511409924

Campus For All

I have had the privilege to be part of the Campus for All program at the University of Regina for the last two years – my only regret is that I did not join earlier. Campus for All is an inclusive post-secondary education program for people with intellectual disabilities.  The program allows students to develop academic skills, participate in lifelong learning, explore their interests and interact with others. In my time with the program, I have been able to become a friend, a classmate and a peer. Campus for All has been one of the most valuable university experiences I have had to date.

I am very proud to be part of this inclusive program because it is a positive step towards a more inclusive society.  This experience has proven to be very beneficial, as I am studying to be an inclusive educator.  I feel that my own creativity and confidence towards differentiating assignments and presenting subject matter in unique ways has improved.  I learned how to teach the writing process, the reading process and be a guide on the side. My student has also shared her passion of history with me. Her various life experiences challenge my assumptions and perceptions on a daily basis. No matter how hectic my week is, she shows me the value of appreciating the small things in life and stopping to smell the roses. Furthermore, I leave every session with a smile on my face because of how much she has accomplished.

There are not too many things that are better than teaching someone to read and watching their eyes light up as they soar through the passages with ease, but building a relationship of upmost trust and understanding “takes the cake.” Over the last two years, my student and I have become very close. Sometimes I think we only work so hard so that we can celebrate over a spinach bowl at the Owl or a cup of coffee at “Timmies.” As I teach her how to write a research paper, she teaches me even more about working with individuals with varying needs and it is this support system and co-operation that makes being part of the Campus for All program a blessing.

I am proud to be a part of the Campus for All program, as I believe it will bridge the gap between our reality and the ideal. My student is gaining a positive self-image through the inclusive, caring atmosphere. After completing her first essay in 2012 she told me, “I never have written an essay before. I was never taught. But I’m pretty good!” and it is moments like this when I am proud of what I do and the opportunities that Campus for All provides all learners. There is an anonymous quote that says, “if you give people a chance, everyone has something amazing to offer;” Campus for All provides all learners a chance to be a friend, a classmate and a peer and most importantly, everyone involved is given the opportunity to shine. You too, will only regret that you did not join earlier!

Read: Campus for All Fosters Inclusive Post-Secondary Education

“Digital Divide among Youth: Socio-Cultural Factors and Implications”

Technology is a very integral part to our instruction and is fundamental for a well-rounded education. It is relevant to our 21st century youth and prepares students for a working world that revolves around technology. Technology is not going away; we need to prepare students for jobs that have not even been invented yet and technology is the key ingredient. I believe our society is going to become more dependent on technology and it is crucial that we give our students the skills to “use internet resources in specific contexts” and understand “how to evaluate online content” in this globally competitive market (Parucek et al., 169).

This article by Peter Parucek, Michael Sachs and Judith Schossbock outlines a study on the digital divide based on gender, socio-economic background and culture between fourteen-year-old youth in Austria. It is interesting to look at results from other places because we can compare and contrast our experiences. The findings were “that eLiteracy must be improved by the educational system, because social constraints can otherwise hardly be overcome” (Parucek et al., 163). Furthermore, we need to try to close the gap between people of different “socio-demographic differences such as gender, social status and educational level” (Parucek et al., 163). In today’s global market, eLiteracy is as important as reading and writing.

To close the digital gap, students rely “on the equal distribution of digital literacy in society” (Parucek et al., 169). Parucek, Sachs and Schossbock express the need that “young people both have access to new services as well as the necessary cognitive capabilities to use them” (161). I thoroughly agree with this solution, as it is very practical and straightforward. However, I do not think resources are evenly distributed between schools and divisions. When I taught at a school for an ECS class there was not an IPad or computer in sight. A chalkboard hung in the very place where SmartBoards could be found in most schools. In another school, software changes resulted in over three months of computer issues making them inaccessible to students. This greatly impacted many students’ IIP goals and ability to be successful in the general education classroom. Some schools are now requiring students to bring tablets to school but this is only possible and fair if everyone can afford this expensive technology. The authors suggest promoting more female role-models in the technical field (Parucek et al., 169) and I believe this coupled with an equal access to technology would promote students to pursue and technological field. Too often, however, resources distribution is far from fair.

In order to improve eLiteracy we must change our instruction as teachers. Technology should be incorporated in our lessons and modeled for our students. My favorite part about this article was the recognition that there is “a severe lack of media competence… among the Digital Native” (Parucek et al., 169). It bothers me when people assume young adults do not require explicit instruction to use technology. If I had a dime for every time this happened to me in university I could retire tomorrow. Young people may be more proficient with technology than their grandparents but there are far too many tools and applications to be an expert in all areas and explicit instruction is still a requirement for success. Furthermore, students need to be explicitly taught how to use technology appropriately. Many teachers have posted pictures of themselves online to show their students how quickly a picture can be seen by millions of individuals all over the world and cyberbullying is also a topic that needs to be discussed.

Although explicit instruction should remain, student focus changes when we incorporate technology in our classroom. I thoroughly believe that making students remember random facts is a waste of time. Unless their goal is to win every game of Trivial Pursuit, students do not need to regurgitate information commonly found on Google. Parucek, Sachs and Schossbock note that “today’s young people grow up connected with peers and they make use of the possibilities offered by the web. To deal with questions and problems, they no longer turn to explanations offered by institutions, but rather look for support from peers on web sites” or turn to search engines (169). This makes it all the more pertinent that we not only show students how to use technology but how to critically examine what they are being told. If they do not critically look at what they read and watch, students will run the risk of being manipulated by large corporations, peers, and politicians. Students need to realize that not everything they read on the internet is true and they need to be explicitly taught how to find and identify credible sources. Teaching students to identify the intended audience and purpose – which is a major part of the English curriculum – can help students make an educated decision.

Beyond audience and purpose there are many ways we can use technology in our English classrooms: assess students online, write blogs, create online portfolios, search for resources, etc. However, this requires every student to have access to the technology used in class. As English teachers we also have to be aware of copyright laws. These laws are infuriating to me because I am from the generation that “steals” our music online and streams our movies “illegally.” It just seems like in a world where knowledge is at our fingertips, nothing should hold us back. But alas, we must follow the copyright laws if we plan to keep our jobs.

Technology is a fundamental component to a well-rounded and relevant education. We need to adapt our teaching strategies to reflect the world that our students live in. Most importantly, we cannot assume that students know how to successfully utilize all technology and critically examine what they are hearing.