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How Technology Can Help Push Past Test Scores

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Flickr: peruisay

Anthony Armstrong is an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Del Mar Middle School in Tiburon, Calif. I’ve asked him to check in regularly about all the ways in which he uses the benefits of technology in his classroom.

By Anthony Armstrong

For the past few years, I've been using Quia ($49.99/year) for online learning activities and summative student assessments in my classroom. I’ve enjoyed the service because it's helped me to get the students their results faster, and has saved our school money it would have otherwise spent on paper and copy machine costs.

I particularly like the “Reports” function, which generates a detailed summary of the students results. It's been great in informing and improving my instruction, but it had little to no impact on how students see themselves as learners. At least not now in the current way I use it my classroom. But could it?

After each assessment or learning activity the students do, Quia generates a summary report of data that can further help me improve my effectiveness as an instructor. For example, the “Trouble Spots” feature provides me with a report that tells me which students and what questions scored below a certain specified percentage on the assessment. As a result, I am able to better target my remedial instruction, as well as get insight to where there may be areas of weakness within my curriculum instruction or just within the design of the assessment itself.


However using Quia in this manner is just another example of utilizing technology for doing things differently as opposed to using its potential to do different things. But whether the student takes the assessment on paper or online, the end result concerning how the  student sees themselves and their ability as a learner remains relatively unchanged.

One of my goals as an instructor this year is to help my students realize their potential for a “growth,” rather than a “fixed,” learning mindset.   In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck, a social psychology professor at Standford University discusses the difference between these two ways of thinking. In general, people with a “fixed” mindset believe that they are born with a limited amount of talent and ability. Therefore, their motivation and confidence for solving challenges and problems that are beyond their perceived capabilities is often at a minimum.

People with a “growth” mindset however take the opposite approach. They believe their talents and abilities can be improved upon with dedicated practice, effort, and persistence. As a result, people with a “growth” mindset don’t view challenges and problems as useless endeavors; rather they see them as beneficial opportunities.

When one thinks of how students are generally assessed (a one time exam at the end of the unit) and their grades calculated (exams weighted at 40% - 50% of their final grade) it is no wonder why so many of them come to develop a “fixed” mindset with regards to their learning capabilities. They associate not being smart with an inability to learn.

Can technology be utilized in a matter that focuses less on the students showing how smart they are and more on their abilities to grow as learners? It's in achieving this endeavor that I want to use technology such as Quia to not just do things differently, but to do different things. To help my students realize their individual ability to grow as learners.

In my upcoming posts, I plan to share my experiments in attempting to use Quia to achieve this goal.