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The components can be ranked by level of importance or relevance to the subject.
Sequential Graphic Organizers: Sequential organizers allow the educator to assess the ability of the student to logically link ideas and concepts together. Cause/effect and problem/solution are common types of sequential organizers.
Cyclical Graphic Organizers: According to Struble, cyclical graphic organizers help educators evaluate the ability of students to comprehend natural cycles.
In reviewing the application of graphic organizers to the science classroom, Struble (2007) further reports that these tools can provide a clear understanding of student learning at any given point in time. In addition, these tools can be used to assess student learning over the course of a lesson or unit. Because graphic organizers allow individual assessment of student learning, Struble also argues that these tools can be effective for "assessing student with limited English skills or with learning disabilities" (p. 71). Because these tools can be adjusted to meet the unique needs of the individual learner, they provide a clear and accurate assessment that is as unique as the individual student. Thus, graphic organizers can be a valuable tool for ESL learners in the science classroom.
WebQuests have also been noted to be a viable alternative assessment to evaluate student learning. Providing a review of WebQuests, Maddux and Cummings (2007) report that, "A WebQuest is an inquiry-oriented activity in which most or all of the information used by learners is drawn from the Web. WebQuests are designed to use learners' time well, to focus on using information rather than looking for it, and to support learners' thinking at the levels of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation" (p. 117). These authors go on to note that most WebQuests fall into one of two categories: short-term WebQuests that can be completed in one to three periods and focus on knowledge acquisition and integration; and long-term WebQuests that can be completed in a week or a month and focus on extending and refining knowledge. The specific focus and length of the WebQuest will determine its overall use in the assessment of student learning and performance.
A critical review of what has been noted about the structure and purpose of WebQuests demonstrates that these tools have a number of useful purposes in facilitating education and assessment in the science classroom. Specifically, Gaskill, McNulty and Brooks (2006) report that WebQuests rely on a scaffolding structure which enables students to "transform new information and understand it better" (p. 133). These authors go on to report that WebQuests support constructivist learning principles, which "helps learners in the development of social abilities, which is an important skill for achieving goals both inside and outside of classrooms" (p. 133). Additionally, Gaskill and coworkers report that when used as assessments of student learning in the science classroom, WebQuests provide educators with a clear understanding of how student learning has occurred. Thus, data collected during WebQuests can be a valuable resource for evaluating student learning.
Rubrics have also been supported as an important alternative assessment of student learning. Gilmore (2007) in his review of rubrics argues that these tools represent formal criteria that are used to evaluate student work. Specific goals related to the completion of the project are developed and evaluated independently for each student. Reviewing some of the benefits of rubrics, Gilmore reports that these tools provide educators with a means to reduce the uncomfortable feelings associated with making subjective judgments about students' work. Additionally, Gilmore argues that rubrics "support student learning and the development of sophisticated learning skills" (p. 22). Because assessment is predicated upon individual performance and understanding of the material, rubrics represent a unique way for educators to effectively understand how student learning has taken place. Despite their benefits however, Gilmore does note that critics have argued that rubric assessment can be time consuming. With all of the challenges facing educators in the classroom, standardization of assessment has been a boon. Unfortunately rubrics do not provide this benefit.
In an effort to better understand how rubrics can be applied in the science classroom, Fitch (2007) considers the development and use of rubric for evaluating a student's ability to use a light microscope. Fitch demonstrates that by using a rubric, the science teacher can assess a number of areas of student learning. In addition to evaluating student competence with the equipment, the educator can also assess the student's ability to use the equipment for problem solving tasks. In the context of this type of assessment, Fitch argues that the specific outcomes that are achieved in the context of problem solving are not the focus of evaluation. Rather what are important in this context are the manner in which the student approaches the subject and the manner in which the student engages with the problem. Fitch argues that rubric assessment is the most pertinent means to evaluate these types of skills.
Inquiry projects also represent an alternative assessment that can be useful for evaluating ESL students in a science classroom. Singer, Marx, Krajcik, et al., (2000) review inquiry projects by first examining the definition of inquiry. Specifically, these authors report that, "inquiry refers to the diverse ways in which scientists study the natural world and propose explanations based on the evidence derived from their work" (p. 165). These authors go on to argue that by using inquiry as a central means to develop science educators are able to "to transform the very heart of students' experiences in science classrooms" (p. 165). In an effort to understand how inquiry projects facilitate education in this environment, Singer and coworkers note the following elements as essential to the inquiry process.
Driving Questions: Singer and coworkers argue that inquiry projects require students to develop driving questions that will serve as the basis for the development of investigation and inquiry. Driving questions that are appropriate for middle school science students include: "What is the quality of water in my river?," "Why do I need to wear a helmet when I ride my bike?," and "Can my friends make me sick?" (p. 168).
Foster Collaborative Learning: Inquiry projects are designed to maximize collaborative learning environments in which students must engage with others in order to garner knowledge. This process facilitates learning, which can be reflected in the outcomes achieved through the inquiry process.
Scaffolding: Inquiry projects also draw on scaffolding, which can be a valuable asset in both learning and evaluation. Singer and coworkers report that inquiry projects are often broad, requiring the student to engage with a wide range of information from a number of disciplines. This process requires the student to use scaffolding. When evaluated, these projects can demonstrate a wide range of learning and knowledge acquired by the student.
Synthesizing all of the data provided in this investigation, it becomes evident that the utilization of alternative assessments is a viable means to evaluate the performance of students in science classrooms. Further, the data collected here indicates that alternative assessments are also valuable for the assessment of ESL students. Evaluating science learning requires the implementation of new ideas and frameworks that accurately assess student learning. This coupled with the complex issues involved with accurate assessment of ESL students creates a situation in which alternative assessments can provide the most viable means for clearly and accurately evaluating student performance. Thus, given the challenges created in both educational contexts, there is a direct impetus for educators to consider the use of alterative assessments for the ESL science curriculum.
Although there is ample theoretical evidence which suggests that alternative assessments could be a boon for the evaluation of ESL students in a science classroom, the reality is that this link has only been established in theory. To date there is a paucity of empirical data which effectively elucidates the effectiveness of alternative assessments compared to more traditional assessment methods. For this reason, there is a clear need to expand research in this area such that a more integral understanding of the importance of alternative assessments can be delineated. In the end, changes in this area could markedly improve outcomes for students and ensure that educators are able to provide fair and accurate evaluations of complex student learning.
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Bybee, R.W., & Van Scotter, P. (2007). Reinventing the science curriculum. Educational Leadership, 64(4), 43-47.
Fitch, G.K. (2007). A rubric for assessing a student's ability to use the light microscope. American Biology Teacher, 69(4), 211-214.
Gaskill, M., & McNulty, a., & Brooks. D.W. (2006). Learning from WebQuests. Journal of Science Education & Technology, 15(2), 133-136.
Gibbs, H.J. (2004). Student portfolios: Documenting success. Techniques: Connecting Education & Careers, 79(5), 27-31.
Gilmore, B. (2007). Off the grid: The debate over rubrics -- and what it's mission. California English, 13(1), 22-25.
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