Summer school ended in New York last week, which means the August Regents Exams are being administered this week. I’m betting there are few things teachers dread more than proctoring state exams. I would prefer to do SPED testing, write IEPs, and sit through both Pre-CSE and CSE meetings than proctor. At least that way I am doing something. And I have more than a fighting shot of doing it successfully. As a special education teacher, I proctor exams that are given in separate locations, away from the main body of students. Some of these assignments require me to read the exam to the students. I’m pretty sure those frustrate me the most. Reading an algebra exam to a group of eight or so students is an exercise in futility. No one works at the same speed, so how in the heck do I read this exam? I try to shoot for the middle of the pack, but then I have the handful that is way ahead of me, that I know didn’t understand the question and the group that got stuck a couple of pages back so are no longer listening to me. I’ve tried reading the first question and then having students raise their hands when they are ready for the next one. Guess what. No one raises their hands. I’ve tried walking around the room, asking, no begging, to read questions to my students. No one wants me to. I’ve even started the session by taking a poll to see how they would like me to read to them. In ten years of administering high school math exams, I have not found a strategy that works. Since my district went 1:1 last fall, I wonder why we don’t use technology?
Last year I was introduced to VoiceThread. VoiceThread is a cloud-based application that lets you upload and comment on lots of different things like slideshows, documents, audio and video, and images. My grad classes use it a lot to share introduction presentations or to collaborate and present group assignments. It allows me to narrate anything, and I can leave comments on other peoples’ work, in written, video or audio format. This is important to me because my students all have Chromebooks. While PowerPoint will let me narrate slides, it doesn’t work on a Chromebook. Google Slides does not include that feature. Do you see where I am going here?
This year I will be creating tests using VoiceThread, narrating them and administering them on the Chromebooks. Each student will have a set of headphones, and a written copy of the test. They will now be able to click through the test slide by slide and have each question read to them, as many times as they want; as fast, or as slow, as they want. I created a tutorial if you are curious.
My only concern is preventing students from using Google to find answers. Luckily my district subscribes to GoGuardian, a service that allows teachers to monitor what websites students are using during class. After creating a class and having students join it, whenever I start a session, all of my students’ screens show up on my computer. That makes it super easy for me to see who is watching dog videos on YouTube and who is using RegentsPrep.org to find answers! They know I can see them too. While there are always those students who try to push the envelope, it usually only happens once or twice before they realize I am serious.
My hope is that the state will catch up with us at some point, and start providing these exams in a narrated form. That idea has the potential to eliminate some frustration for both the student and the teacher, and level the playing field for these students. And isn’t that what we are trying to do?