Replaying Student Work

With the new Assessment module in Otus, there is finally a way to authentically assess all the dynamic types of learning occurring in your classroom. The days of forcing your assessments to fit into multiple choice formats are gone.

Otus provides teachers with 60+ assessment interactive item types, including drawing, matching, fill in the blank, annotation, audio responses, image uploading, and math and chemistry formulas.

Image highlight

One of my favorite question types, Image Highlight, allow students to draw on a pre-existing image or create on a blank canvas.

A teacher might ask students to solve a math problem and show their work.

In social studies, a teacher might ask a student to draw the path Magellan took to circumnavigate the globe.

A physical education or science teacher might ask students to indicate the angle at which they’d hit a golf ball to score a hole-in-one.


Asking students to show their work is great, but it isn’t always easy to figure out where students went wrong.

With the Image Highlight questions in Otus, not only can students easily sketch out their answers, but the teachers can easily watch their progress as they worked as an animated image. They can even stop and replay the image!

One great way to use this is to have students show their work and then input or select the answer on the other side. If they get the question wrong, teachers know to go back and check the students work.

As a social studies teacher, if I see my students think Magellan went through the Arctic Circle, I know I have an opportunity to reteach a concept to those students.

What do you think?

How could you use Image Highlight questions in your classroom to allow your students to authentically demonstrate their understanding?

Post in the comments below or let us know on Twitter @Otusk12!

Identify, Deconstruct and Translate to Map Out Clear Targets

Second in a series on the keys to quality assessment.

In a previous post, Finding Purpose is Paramount for Quality Assessments, we discussed the idea of clear purpose as the first key to quality assessment. Here we will discuss the need for clear targets.

Once you have achieved clarity around the purpose of the assessment, ensure your assessment has clear targets that are appropriately determined by the format of the assessment. In an upcoming post on assessment design, I will delve deeper into the match between targets and assessment format.

Clear targets are statements defining what students should know and be able to do conveyed in student-friendly language. Student friendly = Parent friendly = Teacher friendly.

Often, the standards educators are given to guide their work are written in language designed for educators. The wording of standards can create a great deal of debate around how the standards define the expected learning. To provide students a clear picture of what you want them to learn, educators must translate these standards into clear and understandable language.

Think of the learning targets as the destination of a journey. A clear definition of where students need to travel helps teachers and students identify when students are on the right path.


Identify target type

This starts with making sure teachers understand the learning targets. Teacher understanding starts with identifying the type of target. Chappuis et al. have identified five types of learning targets: knowledge, reasoning, skill, product, and disposition.1

Understanding the type of learning intended will help the teacher stay focused on the destination. Developing a common understanding among a group of teachers will take time and discussion because the language used in learning standards is often open to interpretation.


Once teachers identify the type of learning intended, they need to deconstruct the standard. The process of deconstruction involves identifying the underlying knowledge, reasoning, and skills necessary to achieve the standard. Students need the building blocks to complete the final structure.Think of the building blocks as landmarks along the journey that will help the student confirm they are on the right route. Knowing the necessary building blocks will help the teacher and students identify gaps in learning if a student struggles with the overall target. Students can also help identify the building blocks as part of the deconstruction process. A teacher could share the final destination (target) and ask students to identify what they need to know and be able to do to arrive at that destination.


The final step in the journey toward clear targets is to translate the targets into student-friendly language. This ensures the target isn’t written in educationese and can be meaningless to students. Teachers will likely need to define key terms in student-friendly language. Defining the key terms for students is a more effective practice than replacing the terms. By defining the key terms, the students still experience and begin to learn the academic language. If teachers simply replace key terms with more simplified versions, students may struggle to make the connection between the simplified term and the term they will need to understand in the future. Having students try out the process of translating learning targets into student-friendly language can be a powerful experience. The more students understand and can articulate the learning targets, the more successful they will be.


Chappuis et al. identify the benefits of clear targets below.


Benefits of clear targets
To teachers
1. Knowing what to teach
2. Knowing what to assess
3. Knowing what instructional activities to plan
4. Avoiding “coverage” at the expense of learning
5. Ability to interpret and use assessment results
6. System for tracking and reporting information
7. Common ground for working collaboratively with other teachers
To students
1. Understand what they are responsible for learning
2. Understanding and acting on feedback
3. Being prepared to self-assess and set goals
4. Being able to track, reflect on, and share their own progress
To parents
1. Helping children at home
2. Understanding the grade report
3. Focusing discussions at conferences
1. Jan Chappuis, Rick Stiggins, Steve Chappuis, and Judith Arter, Classroom Assessment for Student Learning, Doing it Right—Using it Well, 2nd ed. (Boston: Pearson, 2012).

Learning Profile Captures Student Interests

Every school year, teachers are introduced to a new group of students—students with individual learning styles and personalities. During this introductory phase, teachers and students must learn how to communicate with each other; additionally, teachers have to learn how to engage and design meaningful instruction to reach all students.

Students are more engaged in learning when their instructors know their interests. Many teachers are able to find and/or create ways to collect information about their students—conversations, observations, interest surveys and assessments. Then what? Student information needs to be readily available for both teachers and students. If it is not accessible, the information is not useful. Additionally, student information is not accurate if it is not easily kept up to date!

One solution Otus offers is the Learning Profile. The Learning Profile is divided into four sections in which students are able to respond about themselves:

  • Bio
  • How do I learn best?
  • What keeps me interested?
  • How am I able to express myself best?

The Learning Profile is a great opportunity for teachers and students to record and monitor individual student interests. Acknowledging students’ interests and experiences sends a powerful message—it’s empowering and promotes student ownership. When students are interested in the topic, they naturally become motivated. When we become invested in a topic of interest, we willingly spend time brainstorming ideas and engaging in conversation and are extremely motivated to produce an amazing result. Our students are no different.

Tips for using the Learning Profile

  • Provide time in class for students to enter their responses in the Learning Profile.
  • Track student behavior and engagement in class using Otus Recognitions and Otus Participation. This information can be very powerful in having Learning Profile discussions with students.
  • Comment on student entries to create the potential for ongoing and continuous dialogue.
  • Generate a bookmark/shortcut/homepage to the selected class’ Otus Class Board.
  • Create and save polls for the students to submit. Poll questions can be made in one minute or less! When students submit their response to the poll question, the feedback is received in real time. When all students submit their response, discuss the results with the whole group.
  • Link custom Social Emotional Learning Standards to poll questions.
  • Furnish sentence starters for each question to model the lesson and focus the students thinking. Add student feedback around the prompt to create a word bank. Referencing the word bank, use the sentence starters to check their sentence format and spelling in their responses for each section.
  • Use word banks created on chart paper for revising and editing Learning Profiles down the road.
  • Work in small groups to complete the process of entering responses for younger grades and for students who need more direct instruction.
    • Write prompts on sentence strips for students. When meeting with student groups, allow them to find words on the word-bank sheet to complete their sentence and write on a Post-it. The students will be able to enter their responses into Otus by referencing and tracking the sentence located directly in front of them. To not have to rewrite the sentence starters for every student in my class, Post-its are useful; they stick to the strip and can be removed when the student is finished.
  • Have students 8+ take the Thrively Strength Assessment. The assessment provides insights into what students are interested in and how they learn best. After completing the strength assessment, a summary of results will be accessible for teacher and student users in the Learning Profile.

Finding Purpose Paramount for Quality Assessments

Companies that create state or district assessments devote entire departments and immense resources into developing assessment items and connecting them to standards. When teachers and teams of educators develop assessments, they are too often left on their own. During this process, teachers need to be properly supported and have an understanding of the keys to developing a quality assessment. With this support and understanding, the time and energy teachers invest in assessment development will provide greater insight into student learning.

Rick Stiggins and Jan Chappuis1 have studied this topic for years and have developed a framework for teachers to use.

The five keys include:

  • Clear purpose
  • Clear targets
  • Sound assessment design
  • Effective communication
  • Student involvement

The first key is to ensure you have a clear understanding of the purpose of the assessment.

Some questions to ensure you have a clear purpose are:

  • Who will be using the data?
  • How will the data be used?
  • What information and level of detail are needed?

Who will be using the data?

The potential users include you as the individual teacher, other teachers on your team, special education or English language learner co-teachers, parents, students, administrators, school board, and/or the community.

If multiple types of users will be using the data from the assessment, try to understand the perspective they will bring to the analysis as you create the assessment.

The most common users of teacher-made assessments will be the individual teacher, the student, and the parent. At times, teachers don’t take into account the opportunity for students and parents to use the data from the assessment. The reality is students can be the most powerful users of the data. When students use assessment data to better understand their strengths and areas where they can grow, they become actively engaged in planning their learning.

How will the data be used?

Once you establish who is using the data, understanding how the data will be used is the next step.
If the teacher is the user, decide if the data will become part of the final grade for the student. The teacher may want to use the data to modify learning paths for students based on their performance or to determine which instructional strategies they will use in future lessons. If the teacher determines that some students haven’t performed well enough on the assessment, the next steps need to be decided. The data may also be used to determine if the student receives some type of reward.

If the student is the user of the data, they may use the information only to calculate their final grade and forget about the result afterward. Or the student could use the data to identify areas they need to review to improve their skills.

If the parent is using the data, the parent may use the scores to reward or punish their child. The parent could also use the data to determine if their child needs extra help in a given area.

What information and level of detail are needed?

Once you identify who is using the data and how it will be used, you can ensure the appropriate information and level of detail is provided to the users. Different users with different planned uses will likely need different information and detail. Be careful you don’t try to take a one-size-fits-all approach because that may not meet the needs of all the intended users. Remember to also provide background and context to the information so the users have the full picture they need.

Can the assessment accomplish the purpose intended?

Clarity on who will use the data and how the information will be used can drive what level of detail is generated by the assessment. The more focused the information, the more likely the assessment will accomplish the intended purpose. If one assessment is trying to accomplish too many purposes, the likelihood that all purposes are served equally and are served well is slim. An assessment cannot achieve all goals for all people. A clear purpose for an assessment is a key first step in the process of developing effective assessments.


Jan Chappuis, Rick Stiggins, Steve Chappuis, and Judith Arter, Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: Doing it Right—Using it Well, 2nd ed. (Boston: Pearson, 2012).

Transform the Writing Process with Google Docs

Writing is essential in our classrooms, providing a window into what our students are thinking and learning.

One of the most transformative tools for writing in our classrooms is G Suite for Education, specifically Google Docs.

Through an integration between Otus and G Suite for Education, teachers are able to harness the power of Google Docs, providing students with targeted feedback as they work while also allowing teachers to record and track student growth throughout the year.

Immediate, Individualized Feedback

Traditionally, students write a paper, submit their work for feedback, and then make edits before submitting again.

The student doesn’t know if he or she is making mistakes until the teacher looks at their work and provides them feedback after the fact. So, while he or she is working, they might continue to make the same mistakes over and over again, wasting a great deal of effort on a single correctable error.

Students making mistakes is important, but turnaround has been so slow students forget what mistakes they made and why they made them by the time the teacher provides feedback.

With Google Docs, however, the teacher is able to work with students throughout their draft to target a student’s strengths and areas of potential growth through the collaborative online document shared between student and teacher. This is different from the traditional word processing platform where documents are traded back and forth and teachers take a “reactive” approach, telling students what needs to be changed after the fact.

Using the tools in Google Docs, educators are able to immediately provide students with more impactful feedback.

This feedback can be provided in a number of ways.

1. Suggesting Mode

With Suggesting Mode, a teacher or peer editor is able to make changes to the doc that aren’t permanent. As the name suggests, they’re just suggestions. The student can read the suggestions and decide to accept them in whole or make their own changes based upon the feedback.


screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-11-02-44-am2. Comments

By highlighting certain parts of the text, the teacher is able to add a comment, which a student can reply to, asking for clarification, or “Mark as Resolved.”

Typing + and the student’s name (or the more Twittery @ and the student’s name), you can direct your comment at that specific student and make sure they get a notification.


3. Chat

Another option is to initiate a real-time chat with your student. This can help the teacher provide scaffolding and ask questions about the student’s writing and thought process.

Google Docs can be used for many other types of formative assessment, too. Be creative. Think bell ringers, exit tickets, quick writes, or any idea you have!

Give Google Docs a try and fundamentally change the way you give students feedback and encourage student growth in your classroom.


Otus and Thrively Team Up to Create Complete Student Learning Profile

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an architect when I grew up. Or a police officer. Or a ninja. My choice depended on the day of the week, really.

What do your students want to be?

You have future leaders in your classroom—doctors, performers, teachers, maybe even the next Steve Jobs!

But how do we know? And how do we foster and encourage our students’ strengths and interests?

With Otus, teachers can see learning data from third-party assessment and content providers combined with real-time, in-classroom data, providing a holistic learning profile for each students.

But, as teachers, we want to see our students beyond points of data; we want to also know their interests and passions. With this information, we can better tailor their instructional experience within our classroom.

Now we can—with Otus’ new partnership with Thrively.

This union will help your students find their passion in life and help you facilitate learning that directs them on the path to success.

What is Thrively?

Thrively is a hands-on, interest-based learning platform that helps teachers understand their students’ strengths and boost their engagement, developing the whole child.

Students take a kid-friendly strength assessment that pinpoints their individual strengths across 23 factors, creating a personalized profile that celebrates their unique talents.

Using these unique learning profiles, teachers can differentiate instruction for students by their strengths and engage them instructionally from a new perspective.

Student exploration

Students can continue to explore their passions, broadening their understanding of themselves and their world.

Thrively recommends personalized content, career pathways, and enrichment activities for each student based on his or her unique strengths and interests.

Learning profile

With the Otus and Thrively partnership, students strengthen their metacognitive awareness, learn what motivates them, and demonstrate how they are learning and growing.

Click here to learn more about Thrively.

Data Analysis Helps Set Goals at School or District Level

The beginning of the school year brings excited students, teachers and administrators back to the building, and relieved parents. The start of the school year also signals the fall testing window is fast approaching. Students will soon take beginning-of-the-year standardized tests, district-developed benchmark assessments, reading inventories, and other teacher-made assessments.

Once testing is complete, administrators will need to decide how to use this data to determine where to focus for the year.

What questions should you ask about your fall data? How do you begin to dig into the data and plan for your teacher and leadership teams to help them have an effective year? The graphic below can walk you through getting started.

This process will clarify the steps to address the needs of current students and to adjust the program for the students to follow.

Identify summer learning loss

Other questions educators can ask after the fall window relate to students who demonstrate significant summer loss.

For example, to determine this using Northwest Evaluation Association’s Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) Test, you can compare the spring score for each student to their new fall score. A drop of 5 or more RIT (Rasch unit) points warrants a discussion about how to get the student caught back up and on the same path they were on last spring.

Another discussion stemming from this information can be what can be done to prevent this type of loss over the next summer. Solutions could include a jump-start tutorial program late in the summer or encouraging other learning activities over the break.

Benchmark assessments

If you administer district benchmark assessments that are tied to standards, you can review the results by standard to identify areas of strength and weakness for the group. Again, this can lead to targeting work with students in certain areas to shore up these weaknesses.

This overall approach can be applied at the district, school, or classroom level. The key is to review the data you have to identify areas of weakness within a group and to provide targeted support in these areas to improve overall performance.
The data does not give us the answers; the information helps us ask better questions. Being able to focus on certain areas will help our teams be more effective and, in the overall picture, improve student learning.

Customizable Assessment Module Latest in Otus Teacher Tools

The recent Otus design update includes a completely redesigned and re-imagined Assessment module. We did this to encourage and support teachers who are creating differentiated assessments to meet the needs of diverse students. We wanted to make this process easier, enabling teachers to quickly create assessments, connect assessment questions to standards, and assign assessments to an entire class or specific student groups.

New assessment types

Gone are the days when assessments are only multiple choice and true/false. We have added features that allow you as the teacher to attach images, audio, video, Google Drive files or URLs directly to individual items in your assessment. You can embed videos from YouTube or another source or even record your own video within the application. You have the ability to create different versions of your assessment for different groups of students to give them an assessment that fits your needs. The possibilities are endless.

Added rubric support

Rubrics are instrumental for teachers and students to have a mutual understanding of expectations. Otus makes creating rubrics as efficient as possible. Whether you are using a writing rubric or a rubric for a project, you can define the grading scale and grade the assessment using the rubric right within the system. Once created, a rubric can easily be duplicated or amended for future use.

More student submission types

Students now have the ability to share multiple forms of evidence as part of a formative or summative assessment. Students can submit images, audio, video, PDFs, Google Drive files, or URLs as part of their responses to items. Students can demonstrate their learning in the manner that best fits the learning objective.

We are excited about the assessment opportunities this opens up for teachers and students! As you explore the new features, please share your experience with us. We are eager to hear about your successes and your struggles with the platform.

Families Benefit from Transparency About Student Growth

Families with children have a lot on their plates these days. Soccer practice, homework help, dinner, etc. Parents are expected to be more involved with their children's education than ever, but often times lack the necessary information to do so. Fortunately, some schools are shifting to a student growth mindset that could have a positive impact for families.

Fear not, dear reader! We are here to help you understand what student growth means for you and your family.

What is Student Growth?

First thing’s first. What the heck is student growth, anyway?

Student growth shows you how your child is learning. The information will highlight the amount that your child has grown between two points in time. For example, the data might show how much your child has grown between the fall and spring of the same academic year.

Why is my school talking about Student Growth?

In December of 2015, the Federal Government signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law, replacing the No Child Left Behind Act.

The new law requires states to develop accountability systems to measure how well schools are serving our students. These systems focus on criteria such as proficiency on state tests, English-language proficiency, and can also include growth on standardized local tests.

As a result of the law, throughout the nation, states such as Illinois have begun incorporating student growth data into teacher and principal evaluation systems.

The new federal law recognizes that student growth is what is important for our children and emphasizes that accordingly.

Wasn’t my child always learning? Why is there such an emphasis now?

You are absolutely right. Measuring growth is about measuring student learning. Educators are continuing to focus on that learning, but now that learning can be quantified in an attempt to make student growth more transparent. This new information will allow your family's teachers to focus their efforts on the specific areas where your child needs them the most.

As schools move to make learning more transparent, families should benefit by being able to better understand where their child needs to focus to continue learning and growing.