​This High School Teacher Gave Up on Traditional Flashcards—Here’s What Happened Next

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Image Credit: Johanna Goodyear / Shutterstock

High school teacher MJ Linane used to describe his social studies class at Old Rochester Regional School in Mattapoisett, MA as “traditional.” There were worksheets, multiple choice tests, and lectures in front of the classroom. He would encourage his students to bring flashcards to use during multiple choice tests, and while students would indeed make the flashcards, they “didn’t actually use them,” Linane recalls.

That realization prompted some big shifts in Linane’s classroom—he started making use of tools like StudyBlue (an online study tool that allows teachers and students to create and share materials), which led to changes in the way he approached assessments altogether. Summative vocabulary quizzes were ushered out and replaced by highly integrated, engaging projects.

Linane's story is one of many educators’ stories that will be part of the next chapter of our year-long “State of Edtech” series, out in September. We’re exploring how real educators are using technology in their classrooms. Check out the full scoop below.

Have your own story about how math, ELA, or assessment tools have impacted your instructional practice? Get in touch with us by filling out this short survey, or contacting Jess Zhao us at jess@edsurge.com.

Instructional need(s) MJ Linane was looking for a way to help students study better. Back in 2013, “I would give my students extra credit if they made flashcards and brought them to class during multiple choice tests. I found that students would make the flashcards but didn’t actually use them,” Linane recalls. That was a real turning point.
Previous solution(s) “I was operating a pretty traditional classroom,” says Linane, who highlighted handing out worksheets and giving a multiple choice test after every unit.
New solution(s) Linane started using StudyBlue (an online study tool where teachers and students can create materials to share), which allowed him to track how frequently students were studying, what questions they were incorrectly memorizing, and most dramatically: it prompted his shift to mastery-based instruction. “I realized I had the whole thing reversed. I was giving a vocabulary quiz as a summative assessment instead of it being formative,” says Linane.
Results StudyBlue was just one tool in an ecosystem of tools which supported Linane’s transition to new approaches in teaching. While he still uses vocabulary quizzes, it’s to build familiarity as opposed to a final assessment. “Everything we do in a unit, instead of being a singular assessment, builds to something [students] need to produce,” Linane continued. For example, this past May, instead of assigning the usual essay to wrap up a unit on communism, Linane’s students “split into small groups to design cartoons about the story of communism, using Powtoon (a platform for creating animated videos and presentations). And what they made was amazing,” Linane says. When considering how his new approach to assessments has worked out, MJ points to a few factors. First, “because I use a set of standards, I can measure learning in many different mediums easily.” Second, “it’s a lot more fun for me!” And third, students are gaining exposure to new skills and mediums.
Advice “Don’t assume that students are necessarily comfortable using technology. And if you ask students to use technology, make sure you’ve done it yourself first.”
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