Annotation: MOOCs in K-12

Locke, M. (2013). MOOC: Will these four letters change K-12? Scholastic Adminstr@tor, Summer 2013. Retrieved December 8, 2013, from

This article describes the potential of MOOCs, or massive open online courses, being used in K-12 education They could be used for SAT prep or for schools that struggle to find instructors to lead an advanced course like AP Calculus. Unfortunately, cheating is hard to regulate and MOOCs also lack the relationship/teacher contact element that can be so important to younger learners. The author reviews advantages and disadvantages of the tool, but largely concludes that MOOCs could be useful as a supplement to the structures already in place. The article provides a succinct review of the possible impact and development of MOOCs in K-12 education and references a couple innovators in the field worth investigating.

Annotation: Instructional Strategies and Questioning Techniques

Fries-Gaither, J. (2008). Questioning Techniques: Research-Based Strategies for Teachers. Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears. Retrieved November, 3, 2013, from

This article examines how teachers can more effectively use questioning techniques based on education research. The author reviews the use of lower- and higher-cognitive questions as well as the utility of frequent questioning at different age levels. While these two sections were interesting reminders, I found the most valuable part of this article to be the discussion of wait time, especially in conjunction with lower- and higher-cognitive questioning. By avoiding the common habit of waiting less than a second before asking another question, teachers have the power to increase student achievement and confidence just by considering how much time it should actually take their learner to respond. Teachers can improve their instruction by planning the questions (and types of questions) they ask, anticipating student responses and giving appropriate feedback when students answer correctly or incorrectly. At the bottom of this article, the author has also listed several links to other resources on questioning techniques, as well as two additional video explanations. I thought the formatting of the article was a little messy (poor paragraph divisions), but the content was worth considering.

Qualifying good work: the rubric

The first time I ever NOTICED a teacher using a rubric for grading was my sophomore year of high school. I was working on a late assignment for my art class during a study hall (typical of me–I had no urgency with art; perfection took time as far as I was concerned) and my teacher was co-creating a rubric with her freshmen on how they would be assessed for their upcoming project. I had no idea what a rubric was then, and I don’t really have any recollection of being grading that way any time before that. (This was probably around 1995, if you were wondering.) I liked that it seemed more fair to have a break-down of what the teacher was looking for instead of just receiving a B+ at the end, especially if your project was complex… but apparently, I never noticed any of my other teachers thinking this way before that day.

Rubrics are great for communicating to learners what exactly is expected of them AND for keeping instructors consistent and focused in their assessment of student work. (Believe me, it is easy to get cranky and mark things harshly because you’ve had a bad day!) However, it sometimes takes a try or two to get a rubric that works and focuses on the most important parts of an assignment. Sometimes you realize too late that you focused too on one component and missed something else. I have redone rubrics mid-grading because I didn’t think they were fair or right.

Personally, I prefer to use rubrics in a holistic sense, where you “eye up” student performance instead of adding up points. The whole idea of a rubric is to qualify what good work is for a task that isn’t really quantifiable. After all, if it were quantifiable, you would be counting up the right and wrong answers and assigning a percent–so adding up points on a rubric doesn’t make sense to me. Besides, points get skewed easily (simply because you think, “Well, this wasn’t perfect” and circle the “good” column instead of “excellent”) and suddenly you realize that everyone is earning Cs–yet the majority of students actually did meet the objectives and achieved what was asked. Yet, the break-down of individual parts nitpicked their grades away.

As for other handy assessment tools for grading projects, I am fond of using self-assessment, where the learner fills out a rubric or survey on their own learning. I agree with the University of Minnesota’s analysis of grading systems that said learners may initially score themselves too generously if they are inexperienced with self-assessment or do not really know what you are looking for, but much of the data out there indicates that about 80% of self-assessment matches what the instructor thought. I have even noticed that sometimes kids are harder on themselves than I would be, especially if they had an especially challenging task.

Related confession: I have used self-assessment in the past to speed along my grading process so that I wouldn’t have to read/grade as closely… I know that’s bad, but sometimes we all go into survival mode. Eek!