Worried About Annual Evaluations? Utilize Media to Show Off Your Success

Rebekah Johnson taught high school Spanish for 8 years in the United States and the United Kingdom. She spent much of that time as Head of Department, training her colleagues on best practices for teaching and the incorporation of Canvas into the classroom. She earned her B.A. in Spanish and secondary education in Charlotte, NC, and she earned her M.A. in multilingualism, linguistics, and education in London, England. This year, she transitioned into her role as Educational Technology Specialist at W. W. Norton. 

Rebekah Johnson
Image Credit: Rebekah Johnson

As a Spanish teacher at the largest in-person high school in North Carolina, my administrative team was enormous: one principal, four assistant principals, and two deans. When it came time for my teacher evaluation, I had to be observed two to three times a year. It was a different administrator each time, and they would come into my classroom for about 45 minutes, just half of a lesson. Sometimes they would let me know in advance, sometimes they would pop in unannounced. I became very used to this, but I found that my evaluations felt a little skewed at the end of this experience. How can they know what I’m doing in my classroom if less than half of the administrative team sees me teach for about 45 minutes per year?

Common Evaluation Challenges

To solve this issue, they required us to submit “brag sheets” to tell them what we were doing to support students. I structured my brag sheet to address the different facets of my evaluation, but I felt like I was defending myself. It’s hard to quantify how I’m creating a safe environment for my students, but if you asked my students, they’d have told you that they looked forward to my class. Maybe they’d have mentioned that they felt comfortable telling me when they were struggling, asking questions even if they thought they may be considered “dumb,” or that sometimes I rambled on about “fun” grammar patterns for too long. (A distinct possibility.)

One of the most difficult requirements for me to explain was how I differentiated my instruction for struggling students. It can be quite the challenge to differentiate when you have 38 students in all six of your classes (228 students total), but teachers find a way. It requires time, effort, research, and, dare I say, resilience? As teachers, we are told that differentiation supports learners of all levels. It is incredibly important, but finding the time to create extra assignments for learners at different levels—new, scaffolded lessons with different activities for different students—that’s a level of challenging that few outside of our profession can understand. The time it takes is unreal. I was required to do it. I needed to do it. I attempted to do it, but I found myself struggling to challenge the high-flyers.

Another particularly challenging piece of my teacher evaluation was explaining how I provided specific feedback. I tried to incorporate as much feedback into Canvas as I could—but that wasn’t always feasible. I gave specific feedback on written assignments, but you know it was brief since I had 228 of them to grade! It was a challenge just to grade those assignments, much less give meaningful and specific feedback on every single one. But: I was required to do it. I needed to do it. I attempted to do it whenever I could.

A final piece of the teacher evaluation that I struggled to explain was how I used data to inform instruction. When I first started teaching, I tried to use Scantrons, which would give me some valuable information about which questions were most missed on a test, etc. This became obsolete over time, however, because I started to assess students on Canvas. Canvas graded it automatically; great.

Canvas would tell me which questions were most often missed; great. I used this information to help me plan after a quiz or test, but I had to go in, see which questions had the lowest success rate, go to that question to see what topic it was from, see if I had made a mistake, and go from there. It wasn’t the most efficient process, but it did require less walking than my Scantron days.

Evaluation Solutions

This year, I made the transition into my Educational Technology Specialist role at W.W. Norton. I had never heard of Norton, mostly because I was never asked to give input on textbooks or courseware. I was told to use what was given, and that’s what I did. When, on my own accord, I found something useful that would benefit my students, I paid for it with my own money. That research, however, took valuable time that I rarely had. After the planning, grading, meetings, and duties, I was often too exhausted to go search the Internet for new and exciting tools.

When I first encountered InQuizitive, however, I was floored.

InQuizitive is an adaptive learning tool with game-like features that adjusts to students’ needs and provides incredibly specific data on student performance. Teachers often assign it as a pre-class assignment, ensuring that the students have worked with the text and come to class prepared for disscussion. Other teachers prefer to assign it as homework, to practice further after some direct instruction during class.

InQuizitive offers pre-made assignments for each chapter in the textbook. I don’t have to create any of it myself. I can just assign it for students to complete and grades get sent directly to Canvas, or any supported learning management system. It automatically gives students who are doing well more-difficult questions to challenge them, while providing specific feedback and support for my strugglers. It shows me the exact learning objectives students are struggling with or excelling at and allows students to monitor their own progress on learning objectives. Students can continue working even after they have completed the requirements, which is particularly motivating for those students who want the best possible grades, or even just another opportunity to showcase their abilities.

The fact that InQuizitive integrates with several learning management systems, such as Canvas and Schoology, is a game-changer. This is a way for me to hold my students accountable, give them relevant and scaffolded work in alignment with the text, and I don’t have to grade it. Integration is quick and simple; typically involving the LMS Administrator for the school or district and the teacher. Once integration is complete, assignments are automatically created, and students can click once to access what they need. Then, those grades are directly imported into your LMS. Norton even offers Testmaker, which allows you to create tests that you can import directly into your LMS if you, like me, prefer to assess on the computer.

How had I never heard of this? Assigning InQuizitive hits several of the state requirements: specific feedback for all students, differentiated instruction based on a student’s level, the use of technology to prepare learners for the 21st century, etc. (See NC Teacher Evaluation Requirements here.) If only I had InQuizitive when I had to prove that I was doing my job as a teacher. More than just benefitting students, it also would have saved me so much time and effort! Some textbooks come with worksheets or a practice page at the end of each chapter. I know these are helpful and I know my students need them, but what’s dynamic about them? What can I write about in my brag sheet and show my administrative team? InQuizitive hits so many of my evaluation’s requirements. If I could use it now, I would brag and brag and brag.

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