Exploring Digital Assessments: How Teachers Improve Learning Outcomes

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

EduForum 2018 at The American University in Cairo, New Cairo, Egypt

November 3, 2018

Assessment is the fuel of learning. Confronted with mountains of data, teachers can feel overwhelmed.  Particularly frustrating, some assessments interrupt instruction and distract students. In this session, we explore how to make the climb over the data mountain manageable. We will investigate effective practices to align assessments and learning outcomes through technology-driven formative assessment. Embedding assessment directly into learning activities can help teachers adjust instruction and engage students with their learning at the same time.  Learn how to create electronic exit tickets. Make a game your students will enjoy while making real-time use of feedback based on their progress through the game environment. Assessment need not be a tedious chore. Put learning assessment in service of engaging learning environments.

As part of today’s presentation on digital tools for formative assessment, we used Survey Monkey to conduct a pre-assessment of what we know about assessments.

Formative Assessment

Next, we used Edmodo to create a short portfolio with images. Next, we explored project-based learning using an online portfolio at Dreamdo. Here is an example:  https://edu.dream.do/en/dreams/sciences/the-5th-grade-geology-unit

Games are great learning tools, but they can be very useful for assessment, as well. Three online games and assessment tools we tried out were OLogy, Sim Scientist, and Kahoot!

The power of the teacher’s human voice coupled with images of a student’s own work were the focus of our exploration of screencasting.  Cambridge English videos showed us how to use screencapture and a free screencapture program, Jing,  were demonstrated.

Online tools make generating rubrics a snap. Check these out:

*Teachnology offers rubrics at: http://www.teach-nology.com/web_tools/rubrics/ but you’ll need to register.
*Rubistar, a project of ALTEC, has a useful rubric generator available at: http://rubistar.4teachers.org/index.php
*Google add-in by dostuffgood.org Create and send customizable rubrics and scores to students by email for any assignment. https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/online-rubric/fiiglmgmcodoglllnbfebbhkfidikfbo?utm_source=permalink

Finally, we examined the role and possibilities of Big Data and educational assessment. Read more here and here.


Want to join our classroom? Navigate to classroom.google.com and enter the code in the image below. Some of the tasks have expired links, but you can see how the demonstration was set up.

Class Code

Learn more about EduForum 2018:

Link: http://eduforum-eg.com/index.php/sessions/exploring-assessments-how-teachers-improve-learning-outcomes/

Link: https://events.aucegypt.edu/?event=14151038

The Photo Essays

by Thomas DeVere Wolsey

Last month, I wrote about the tools for creating photo essays.  This month, I’ll show you a few.  The idea was to use photography as a medium for thinking about identity in my EDUC 1099 Selected Topics course.

Farida wrote about and photographed her home that she shares with her extended family. The family votes on important issues. Click the photo to see Farida’s photo essay on Tumblr.


Using Exposure.co, Salma explored her home and travels.

Salma Megahed

https://salmamegahed.exposure.co/a-photo-essay/embed/cover?embed=trueA Photo essay by Salma Megahed on Exposure

Scrolling through her photo gallery, Dinah discovered that she had many images looking skyward. With Adobe Spark, she created this essay. Dinah

Using the idea of perspectives through doors and windows, Iman shared her essay on Tumblr.


KarimKarim looked at The American University in Cairo campus from unique angles taking us at the end to his favorite place at the University.

The Photo Essay Project

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

This semester, I assigned my undergraduates to create a photo essay defining the places that have had the most impact on who they are and who they might become.  Their photo essays are due next week, so this week I am sharing some of the photo essay websites and software tools they are using.  Today, they explored the affordances of each. I provided a list of questions (you will find them below) to guide their choices.

Dear Literacy Beat readers, if you have a site or tool to share, please add it in the comments.


iPhone Photos


  1. Tumblr
  2. Instagram
  3. WordPress
  4. Spark from Adobe
  5. Exposure
  6. Ghost
  7. PowerPoint Online and Slideshare, Youtube or Vimeo (convert slide decks to video), Authorstream
  8. Prezi

Pro-Tip: What’s your statement about the photos you choose? Can you write one (or maybe two) sentences that capture the main idea of your photo essay? Is it unique enough that others will want to view your essay?


Photo Editing Tools

  1. Canva
  2. Ribbet
  3. GIMP
  4. Photo Resizer
  5. net
  6. Photoshop Express
  7. PIXLR

A note about intellectual property: Any work you use that you did not write or create must be attributed.  This includes music (and be aware that using copyrighted music could result in your project being taken down by the platform or host).

Pro Tip: Create a rough draft of your essay in order to check out the features of the platform and tools you use.  Try different ways of arranging your photos, text (including captions), and titles.  Later, you can hide or delete the rough draft.

Questions / Affordances

Check out the sites and tools (software) on the first page and review a couple of examples. What affordances does each offer your project?

  • What does it cost?
  • Do you need an account?
  • Can you make the site available to anyone?
  • Does the site privilege images, text, or both?
  • What features does the site or tool have that others may not have?
  • Is the site or tool mobile friendly? Laptop friendly?
  • Does it have sharing tools (e.g., Facebook, Twitter)?
  • Are there advertisements? How intrusive are they?
  • Is the platform easy to navigate and provide tools that make it easy for you to create a photo essay?

Two notes about color:

  1. Don’t overdo it!
  2. Make sure the colors you choose for frames, text, and so on are easy to read against the backgrounds you choose

RACHEL Goes to Northwestern Guatemala

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

Try to picture yourself without access to the Internet. The web of sites and content have changed our lives dramatically. When we need to stay informed, we can just Google a topic and voila. Not everyone on Planet Earth has the luxury of Google, though.

Students at the Maya Jaguar Center for Education and Development are used to innovation. They maintain sustainable gardens and go to classes in rooms lit by solar power. The latest innovation at Maya Jaguar is the introduction of RACHEL, a Remote Area Community Hotspot for Education and Learning. Internet content difficult to access in the past is now a reality there.

RACHEL brings large but thoughtfully selected portions of the internet to regions and institutions that do not have affordable access to the internet via broadband.  I delivered a RACHEL server to Maya Jaguar early in August. Francisco Pablo is the senior technology instructor at Maya Jaguar. He and I worked together to show the other teachers how to navigate the RACHEL interface.

Maestro RACHEL screen

Francisco Demonstrates RACHEL

Teachers were encouraged to create their own sites on the server with content they upload that is specific to their classes. In the coming months, they will work on methods of helping students to be inquirers and critical users of the content they encounter on RACHEL.

Teachers Maestros Computers

Teachers Exploring RACHEL’s Possibilities

For me, it was gratifying to see the teachers’ excitement as they found materials on the server that could really enhance their teaching.  For some months, Alan Crawford, Frances Dixon, and I have been working on ways to bring simulations to the students.  Simulations provide a way to explore ideas and phenomena that can’t be visited and observed in the physical world (or at least not easily).

With content from the University of Colorado at Boulder’s PheT project installed on RACHEL, students can now explore atomic interactions,  create semi-conducting diodes, and learn the principles of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).  All of this is available in Spanish, of course.



The RACHEL server has proven so useful that Adopt-a-Village in Guatemala, the Foundation that sponsors the school and outreach programs, is now exploring the possibility of a second device. Two RACHEL servers would make it possible for each of the two main school buildings to have RACHEL availability all the time.  Want to help make that possible? Please visit https://www.adoptavillage.com/donate

Learn more about RACHEL here: https://worldpossible.org/

Adapted version cross-posted on Adopt-a-Village in Guatemala.

RACHEL is an Intranet Superhero

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

Access to the internet is almost the same as having access to air or water for students in our schools.  Often, that is the case, but not always.  What do you do if you have students who are eager to learn about the world beyond their schoolhouse doors but the internet is expensive or non-existent?

Today, as ubiquitous as internet access seems, internet penetration has not reached many parts of the planet.  Even when it is possible to access the internet via satellite connections, the cost is very high and the speed is very slow.  There is, however, a solution.

That solution is RACHEL, an acronym that stands for Remote Area Community Hotspot for Education and LearningRACHEL is a server with open-source software and content that delivers large sections of the internet to a school or other educational organization.  Schools do not need access to the internet for RACHEL to work.  Content modules from Khan Academy, Wikibooks, MedLine, and much more to the school site.  Once installed, students and teachers can access simulations, learning games, and the entire Wikipedia for a given language (as of the date it was downloaded).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Some expertise is required to install RACHEL.  Installers will need to be able to plug in the power unit to an electrical outlet and then push a button.  Yep, that’s it. Users who can connect to a wifi connection will be able to connect to RACHEL.

The RACHEL unit you see in the photo above is going to Central America next week to provide internet content to some incredibly talented students. They do have internet access, but it comes at high cost via satellite.  RACHEL will relieve the pressure on the available bandwidth so that more students can use the content.  I will post more about this project once the students meet RACHEL.




Teatro de lectores | Readers’ Theatre

~Thomas DeVere Wolsey

Available in English/inglés and adapted from: 

Lapp, D., Fisher, D., & Wolsey, T. D. (2009).  Literacy growth for every child: Differentiated small-group instruction K-6. New York, NY: Guilford Publishers.

Un teatro para lectores es una actuación informal en la que los estudiantes en grupos pequeños leen un guion en voz alta. El guion puede ser preparado por adelantado por el maestro o los estudiantes pueden crear sus propios guiones. El ensayo les permite a los estudiantes practicar ante una audiencia con sus compañeros de clase. En el proceso, vuelven a leer el texto muchas veces y aumentan su fluidez de lectura.

readers' theatre

Teachers in Guatemala City demonstrate readers’ theatre.

Los puntos fuertes del lenguaje y la lectura se desarrollan a través del teatro de lectura cuando pequeños grupos de estudiantes vuelven a leer los textos en su nivel de lectura independiente y los transforman en un guion de teatro de lectores que pueden representar más tarde para sus compañeros. La relectura, que es importante para la comprensión, también proporciona la seguridad de que los estudiantes hablen públicamente durante la actuación. Todos los estudiantes, incluidos aquellos que son muy competentes, aquellos a quienes todavía les cuesta alcanzar la competencia, y los que son estudiantes de un segundo idioma tendrán un crecimiento positivo a medida que participan en las representaciones teatrales de los lectores (Goodman, 1978). En estos grupos de colaboración, todos los niños aumentan su fluidez en la lectura y el habla al compartir textos con sus compañeros (Martinez, Roser, & Strecker, 1998/1999). Estas actuaciones se pueden compartir dentro de su clase y también con otras clases. Un beneficio para la clase que se visita es que una vez que los oyentes están expuestos a nuevos libros, a menudo claman por leerlos

El énfasis en el teatro de lectores está en apoyar el crecimiento de cada niño en fluidez de lectura y lenguaje oral. Esto sucede naturalmente si los estudiantes, con la ayuda del maestro, seleccionan sus roles y tienen tiempos de relectura y de práctica adecuados. La meta del maestro debe que todos los estudiantes trabajen dentro de sus niveles de comodidad y competencia y que tengan experiencias exitosas. Todo el grupo también puede discutir cómo actuar con el uso de títeres, personajes de fieltro o programas de animación gráfica.

Las ventajas del Teatro de lectores incluyen*:

  • Promoción de la fluidez, incluida la expresión o prosodia
  • Brinda a los estudiantes la oportunidad de elegir, ensayar y presentar guiones cortos de tipo obra ante los compañeros de clase y otras personas sin el estrés de memorizar líneas o usar disfraces o accesorios elaborados
  • Proporciona oportunidades de lectura repetida a medida que los estudiantes practican antes de la actuación
  • Maximiza el compromiso de los estudiantes ya que cada estudiante en el grupo tiene un rol.
  • Aparece menos desalentador que otros textos ya que un alumno lee una parte en lugar de todo el texto solo
  • Se adapta a una amplia gama de habilidades con roles o partes de nivel de dificultad variado.

Los profesores:

  • Seleccionan los textos. Los textos narrativos con mucho diálogo funcionan mejor.
  • Preparan los guiones (las fuentes incluyen guiones preparados comercialmente, sitios web y guiones escritos por el docente o los alumnos); resaltan las partes específicas en los guiones de los estudiantes
  • Modelan leyendo el texto en voz alta
  • Asignan los estudiantes a grupos
  • Proporcionan retroalimentación y monitorean a medida que los grupos pequeños practican

Los estudiantes:

  • Leen el guion en silencio o con un compañero
  • Vuelven a leer en grupo con los estudiantes, leyendo diferentes roles, en turnos
  • Negocian y asignan roles
  • Leen y releen de forma individual, centrándose en la parte o rol asignado (pueden practicar fuera de la escuela y en casa)
  • Practica la relectura del guion con otros en grupo
  • Hacen etiquetas, tarjetas o marionetas que los estudiantes sostienen para identificar a su personaje
  • Deciden dónde se colocarán los estudiantes durante la actuación
  • Actúan con el guion en la mano

El teatro de lectores no es una gran producción y no es necesario que los estudiantes memoricen líneas, usen un micrófono o se pongan disfraces.

* Adaptado de los materiales proporcionados por la Universidad de Texas en Austin. https://buildingrti.utexas.org/instructional-materials/fluency-fourth-grade

Recursos y ejemplos:

Teatro de lectores- 02 La Honestidad


University of Texas at Austin Resources in Spanish and English


Tareas del teatro de lectores

Readers’ Theatre Tasks en-es (descargar PDF)

El coyote y el conejo







Goodman, J. A. (1978).  Teaching the total language with readers’ theatre.  [ERIC document number ED 191321].

Martinez, M., Roser, N. L., & Strecker, S. (1998/1999). I never thought I could be a star: A readers’ theatre ticket to fluency. The Reading Teacher, 52, 326-333.



Readers’ Theatre | Teatro de lectores

by Thomas DeVere Wolsey

This post is available in Spanish/español.

Adapted from

Lapp, D., Fisher, D., & Wolsey, T. D. (2009).  Literacy growth for every child: Differentiated small-group instruction K-6. New York, NY: Guilford Publishers.

A readers’ theatre is an informal performance as students in small groups read a script aloud.  The script may be prepared in advance by the teacher or the students may create their own scripts from narrative texts they have read. Rehearsal permits students to practice in advance for an audience of their classmates. In the process, they reread the text many times and increase their reading fluency.  In this post, a rationale and online resources are shared.

Readers' Theatre Teatro de lectores

Screencapture source: https://youtu.be/bgd0ieZx4RU

Language and reading strengths are developed through reader’s theatre as small groups of students re-read texts at their independent reading level and transform them into a readers’ theater script that they can perform at a later time for their classmates.  Rereading, which is important for comprehension, also provides the security for students to speak publicly during the performance. All students including those who are very proficient, those who are struggling toward proficiency, and second language learners will have positive growth as they engage in readers theatre performances. In these collaborative groups, all children increase their reading and speaking fluency as they share texts with their peers. These performances can be shared within your class and also with other classes. A benefit for the class being visited is that once listeners are exposed to new books they often clamor to read them.

The emphasis in readers’ theatre is on supporting each child’s growth in reading fluency and oral language. This happens naturally if students, with the aid of the teacher, select their roles and have adequate rereading and practice time. The teacher’s goal should be that all students work within their comfort and proficiency levels and have successful experiences. The entire group can also discuss how to perform it themselves with the use of puppets, felt board characters, or graphic animation programs.

The advantages of Readers’ Theatre include*:

  • Promotes fluency, including expression or prosody
  • Affords students the opportunity to choose, rehearse, and present short play-like scripts to classmates and others without the stress of memorizing lines or using elaborate costumes and props
  • Provides opportunities for repeated reading as students practice before the performance
  • Maximizes students’ engagement as every student in the group has a part
  • Appears less daunting than other texts since a student reads one part rather than the entire text alone
  • Accommodates a wide range of reading abilities with roles or parts of varying difficulty


  • Select texts. Narrative texts with much dialog work best.
  • Prepare scripts (sources include commercially prepared scripts, Web sites, and scripts written by teacher or students); highlight specific parts on students’ scripts
  • Model by reading text aloud
  • Assign students to groups
  • Provide feedback and monitor as small groups practice


  • Read script silently or with a partner
  • Reread in group with students taking turns reading different roles
  • Negotiate and assign roles or parts
  • Read and reread individually, focusing on assigned part or role (can practice outside of school and at home)
  • Practice rereading script with others in group
  • Make labels, cards, or puppets that students hold to identify their character
  • Decide where students will be positioned during performance
  • Perform with script in hand

Readers’ Theatre is not a big production, and students are not required to memorize lines, use a microphone, or wear costumes.

*Adapted from materials provided by the University of Texas at Austin. https://buildingrti.utexas.org/instructional-materials/fluency-fourth-grade

Resources and examples:

Teatro de lectores


University of Texas at Austin Resources in Spanish and English


Readers’ Theatre Tasks en-es (download PDF)

El coyote y el conejo


Examples on YouTube:




Anticipation Guides | Guías de Anticipación

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

In this post, we share downloadable resources for creating anticipation guides in English and in Spanish.

En esta publicación, compartimos recursos descargables para crear guías de anticipación en inglés y en español.

Anticipation Guides

Anticipation Guides are instructional routines to activate prior knowledge, encourage predictions, and stimulate curiosity about a topic (Head & Readence, 1986). The teacher prepares a list of five to ten statements related to a text. They are designed as true/false or agree/disagree statements to engage students to think and make connections actively before reading. This strategy is useful because students purposefully read the text to prove or disprove their responses to the statements. They are encouraged to change their responses on the basis of newly acquired information. A discussion about the statements, questions, and new inquiries should follow the reading (Fisher & Frey, 2004).

Anticipation Guides are an instructional routine that provides students with an opportunity to activate prior knowledge, make predictions, actively think about what they will learn, and set a purpose for reading while they develop a natural curiosity about the text.  Download anticipation guide templates in English and Spanish and watch a video demonstrating how to use the guides on The Teacher Toolkit website.


Students | Estudiantes

Guías de anticipación

Las guías de anticipación son rutinas de instrucción para activar el conocimiento previo, fomentar las predicciones y estimular la curiosidad sobre un tema (Head y Readence, 1986). El maestro prepara una lista de cinco a diez declaraciones relacionadas con un texto. Se diseñan como declaraciones de tipo verdadero/falso o de acuerdo/en desacuerdo para llevar a los alumnos a pensar y a hacer conexiones activamente antes de leer. Esta estrategia es útil porque los alumnos leen el texto con propósito, para probar o refutar sus respuestas a las declaraciones. Se les anima a cambiar sus respuestas de acuerdo con información recién adquirida. Una discusión acerca de las declaraciones, preguntas y nuevas indagaciones debe venir después de la lectura (Fisher y Frey, 2004).

Las guías de anticipación son una rutina de enseñanza que les ofrecen a los alumnos una oportunidad para activar el conocimiento previo, hacer predicciones, pensar activamente acerca de lo que aprenderán, y fijar un propósito para leer mientras desarrollan una curiosidad natural acerca del texto. Descargue plantillas de guía de anticipación en inglés y español y vea un video que demuestra cómo usar las guías en el sitio web de The Teacher Toolkit.


Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2004). Improving adolescent literacy: Strategies at work. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Head, M. H., & Readence, J.E. (1986). Anticipation guides: Meaning through prediction. In E. K. Dishner, T.W. Bean, J.E. Readence, & D.W. Moore (Eds.). Reading in the content areas (2nd ed.). (pp. 229-234). Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt.

28 Boring Words and What to Use Instead

Guest Post by Jack Milgram
Jack Milgram is a freelance writer and editor who agreed to share his words and an infographic about words with Literacy Beat. I hope you enjoy this vocabulary challenge!

Find your own vocabulary subpar? Can’t keep your audience listening to you with interest for more than two minutes? Do you use words like “nice,” “good” and “new” way too often?

Well, we might have a solution for you.

Make your first step toward improving your speech by replacing some of the words that are responsible for very boring conversations.

And you know what?

We have exactly what you need: an infographic with some super helpful synonyms to 28 dull words that overpopulate our conversations. It’s time to realize that these words have overstayed their welcome in everyday use.

Moreover, when you vary your speech, you improve your thinking. Words are our most frequently used mental tools, and the more of those you have in your vocabulary, the quicker your thinking will become.

Everything’s quite obvious when you think about it.

All those common, dull, and boring words just sit on the tip of our tongues, and using them requires no effort whatsoever. On the contrast, bringing something new into your vocabulary involves thinking quite a bit harder.

That’s another reason we’ve made this infographic. The most difficult part has already been done. All you have to do is to start including these word alternatives in your everyday life.

Scroll down and see how you can give your vocabulary a significant boost!

28 boring words

28 Boring Words and What to Use Instead

Meet Jack:
Jack Milgram is a writer at Custom-Writing.org. He started his freelance career when he was a student. Jack has been interested in writing since he first took pen and paper in his hands. And he never stopped writing ever after. He loves combining his job with traveling around the world.

Jack Milgram

Jack Milgram


Preserving Indigenous Language

Cultivating home languages in the classroom. 

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey, Alan N. Crawford, and Frances Dixon

On a mountaintop surrounded by clouds and rainforest, students gather for classes. The students here all came from the surrounding villages where Q’anjob’al, a Mayan language, is spoken.  The school serves students aged 12 to 18, and many go on to university. At times, students have even been known to inflate their ages so they can attend; the desire to learn is that great.



The students at Maya Jaguar come to preserve their heritage as Mayans, to learn Spanish, and to bring the best of the world beyond their villages back home. Alumni from Maya Jaguar return to the villages as nurses and teachers.  Most of the teachers at the school speak Q’anjob’al and Spanish.

To read the entire article, please download Preserving Indigenous Language (click the link) or join the International Literacy Association to stay current with literacy topics and issues all year long.



%d bloggers like this: