In this first episode of the Edulastic Live series, we interviewed Edulastic Innovator Team member and 4th grade teacher Dena Morosin. Dena lives in Oregon and we chatted with her about how she was inspired to become a teacher, and how she uses Edulastic to help students see their progress over the year.
We hope you enjoy the interview!
Note: This interview has been edited from the original transcript for concision. We’ve included the original video interview at the bottom of the page.
Edulastic: Hi everyone, this is our first episode of talking with teachers and we’re really excited to be here with Dena Morosin from Oregon who is a 4th grade teacher. Dena has been teaching for about 18 years. She’s from Shasta elementary school and has been on the Edulastic innovator team for the last three years. She knows a lot about Edulastic, and has used it with a lot of teachers, so we’re happy to be kick off this series with her. Dena, let’s start with the basics: why did you become a teacher?
Dena: I had a Sixth grade teacher that highly motivated me, and she honestly changed my life. I want to be that for my students, I want be that for other kids, I want to be that person. I’m reading the Wild Card right now, and that has really motivated me, and reminded me that this year, no matter what gets thrown at us, whether it’s overcrowded classrooms, or very strict curriculum, or lack of funding, or lack of support, we teachers are the wild cards and we’re the ones who have to make the difference for the kids. So reading the book this year helped remind me of that. That’s why I became a teacher. I want to be the wild card and I want to be the person that helps motivate kids to learn and to want to be in school.
Edulastic: Can you tell us a bit more about that teacher who inspired you?
Dena: She was my Sixth grade teacher and she was able to just engage us and help us learn things that may not have been that engaging. It was just in her delivery and in her style that she taught. She went above and beyond the curriculum, she taught us about life and health choices that’s stuck with you. She really actually affected my life in a huge way, making me want to be healthy, be a runner, and do these things that carried through the last 20-30 years. I really strive to be that teacher for my kids. There is also something very strange: when I moved back to my hometown, she was my substitute. She would sub for me!
Edulastic: So now that you are a teacher, thanks to the inspiration of the sixth grade teacher, what is it that you love about teaching? What gets you motivated each day?
Dena: It is when kids want to be at school. When they want to be in my classroom. And when I have parents come in and say ‘you know my kid really hasn’t loved school for the last few years and you know, I had to drag them out of bed, on the bus, but now is the first time that my child gets up on their own and wants to be at school!’ Them wanting to be here is half the battle. I know that I’m engaging them, and I know that I’m having some success. They want to be there—that’s a win.
Edulastic: Sounds like you’re making a really great place and space for your students. When do you start school this year? And how you going to set the tone for this year? What are you looking forward to?
Dena: We start the Tuesday after Labor Day so I still have a few more weeks to get ready and motivated. I have super high expectations for my students so I have to set those expectations for myself as well. I know that I have to be the best I can be and I’m always striving to learn new things or relearn things. We’ve learned strategies 10 years ago and we forget about them,
so I always want to learn and relearn. Again, I expect my students to be the best, so I have to do everything I can to keep my game at the top of its level.
Edulastic: I love that idea of being the best you can be so you’re setting the tone for your students. I think that they can probably feel the energy you’re putting out and understand that you mean business and you want to see them succeed. That’s good.
So here you are chatting with us at Edulastic. What brought you to Edulastic? What’s your story and why did you consider using digital assessment? What got you started?
Dena: I went to a state technology conference about three or four years ago and they introduced Edulastic to me. It was a game-changer from that first moment. So I came back to my Classroom, and I was lucky enough to be one-to-one with Chromebooks with my students, so we just jumped right in with Edulastic. I started doing a few of my end-of-unit math assessments with it, and then it just got bigger and bigger and bigger and now I do my pretests, my post-tests, my mid module tests… Everything, all of my tests are completely done through Edulastic. I just feel like I get so much data from my students, from the Edulastic. Reference pages, resources, and also it helps so much to prepare my students for testing with all the different types of questions that are available. I also experimented a little bit with some of the science questions and science stuff.
This year we’re jumping all in with reading. We’re going to get together next week with my other fourth-grade teachers and we’re going to move all of our reading and ELA assessments into Edulastic. I’ve got my whole team on board now, and as far as advancing it, I’ve started to do my own trainings now. I lead trainings within the district. About four months ago I did a training for all the secondary math teachers and our whole district. It was about 25 teachers and they just fell in love with it and jumped in with both feet. And they have changed all of their unit tests to Edulastic for the high school level. They created all of their secondary math assessments through Edulastic.
Edulastic: What was what do you think was that one thing that made you go with Edulastic?
Dena: There’s so many benefits, but the one thing that drew me to it was the self-grading, that it grades the test for you. We teachers spend so much time at home doing extra work grading, so instant grading saves me time. But it also gives me instant data that I can use immediately. When my kids are taking a math test and I see that 18 out of 24 of them missed the same question, I know there’s a problem immediately. I don’t have to wait to the next day, I can literally stop right then and say ‘okay, let’s look at this question’ and figure out why there are missing it. After I’ve given five or six different tests, I can really look at the data: it’s such a life saver, time saver, game-changer it’s… it’s just an incredible resource.
Edulastic: I’m curious, how much time do you think you save each week?
Dena: I had thirty-five kids at one point, trying to grade math tests. That’s literally an hour and a half just to grade the test. And also, I would try to go through the tests and say ‘okay question number four is the standard, how many of the kids miss question number four’ and that could take hours to do, trying to make my own standards or strand data to see which strands they were struggling with. I would sit with little pieces of paper, making little tally marks to see how many kids missed a certain question—I’m talking hours of time!
Edulastic: Question from the viewers: Do you use the redirect option, like for corrections?
Dena: I do, and again I think different grade levels might vary a little bit, but with my fourth grade students, because we really are trying to focus on that growth mindset, I will do redirect. And when the kids care enough, they come to me. I don’t initiate it on my own but if the kids come to me and say ‘I really blew it, can I take that again?’ then I’ll redirect them.
Edulastic: How often do students come up to you to redirect?
Dena: Well, it’s just a class policy they know in my classroom. No matter what their assignment is, if they want a better grade they can always resubmit it. They can always turn something back in, they can always correct mistakes. I might have three to five kids after each test come and say ‘ma’am can I take that again?’ And it’s not always those eight kids that want to have a higher A. I had a group of kids who would get a C, and they’d be like ‘oh, my mom is not going to like that, I retake this?’
Edulastic: How often do you usually give assessments in your classroom?
Dena: I don’t do a pretest on every module but a mid unit test and a post-test. So a 20 question assessment, maybe twice a month, but then we’re going to transfer all of our exit tickets into Edulastic, and that’s maybe three or five questions daily.
Edulastic: So it went from just you using Edulastic to a bunch of teachers using it. How did that change things?
Dena: Again, it’s a little bit challenging because I am one-to-one with Chrome books, and not everybody in this school is. So the big resistance that I get is that they don’t have access to the Chrome books. But again it’s just a workaround, we have to find a way to work around it, and
once they see the data that I’m pulling out from my kids, and when I’m like ‘oh yeah my kids need more practice and this standard,’ they are like ‘how do you know that?’ I think just showing them the evidence… and also we have to write our own teacher goals, and I use Edulastic to write them.
So at the beginning of the year I give all of the kids a fourth grade math test, and then I give the same test mid-year, and then the same test at the end of the year. And to be able to show that growth is huge! I think in the beginning of the test my class average was like 18 percent. At the end of year, my class average was like 84 percent. To show the administrators that growth and to be able to write that, to show my other teachers and they’re like ‘where did you get that kind of data?’ Our district mandated assessments, but they don’t give us this kind of data. They’re trying to use these other district assessments and they just don’t give the same data. So it wasn’t hard to convince them to start Edulastic.
Edulastic: Yes, that concrete data makes such a difference. I’m thinking back about Chrome books and I was reminded of an interview we did it with another teacher. At some point she was saying that she dug into the graveyard of technology and computers to pull out a set for her classroom so they could use digital assessment. And that ended up leading to one-to-one adoption of technology the next couple of years. So kind of cool stories from that data that you got.
Dena: And I think even again as it gets bigger, and now that I have all of the secondary teachers using Edulastic, they’re going to be able to present that to their administrators. The administrators going to be able to present it to the school board and we’re getting data we’ve never had before. And once the school board sees that, then we get support from the school board in technology. We can say ‘hey this is why it’s so important.
Also I can truly say that my state test scores are typically higher than the other teachers. I truly believe it’s because of our ability to practice all of these tests tech questions on Edulastic. My kids are just familiar with the technology, whereas the other classes aren’t as familiar with it.
Edulastic: For the teachers tuning in and thinking it sounds really great, what tips would you give them if they were interested in adopting digital assessment?
Dena: My first reaction was jump in with both feet. You just have to do it, you have to jump in and go for it, and I know that freaks some people out, so start with baby steps. I guess I started with baby steps. I started just doing my end of unit, not assessments. And then it grew to pretest, and in grew to mid module test, and now we’re looking at doing our daily exit tickets and adding reading.
So part of me wants to say jump in and do it, but then I realize that can be overwhelming. So just pick a couple assessments through your curriculum. Depending on the curriculum that you use, a lot of the assessments are already pre-made in Edulastic so it’s not even like you have to go in and create questions. Because they know Edulastic partners with Engage New York, and a lot of different programs, so you can actually go in and find questions that match your test. Jump in, or dip your toe in first and try little things.
I would also say take the tests yourself. When I’ve created my own tests, I’ve sometimes made mistakes, selecting the wrong answer and everything. So take a few minutes and go through the test.
And also have the kids solved the problem on paper too, especially for math, so that you can see their work. I think those are kind of my big tips.
And tossing in one more because I think it’s important: Edulastic itself has a great support system. You guys are amazing! Reach out to someone of the Edulastic Innovator Team members. Or maybe there’s somebody in your state that’s available to help you. Find out if there’s any trainings. But you guys have so many awesome resources. So if you get stuck or you’re worried about something, seek out help.
Edulastic: One more question about Edulastic: you were saying that there are a lot of assessments online they can get started with. What is it like to make your own assessment? Is that something you do often? And if so is that easy enough to do?
Dena: I think it’s really simple, and I’ve done it both ways where I’ve actually gone in and taken my math assessment, then typed out the questions and created ones that mimic exactly what my curriculum assessment looks like. I’ve also pulled questions from the question bank.
I’ve been doing it for a while but I can create my end of unit test with 20 questions in about 10 minutes. It’s just really simple to go through. And again, because when you’re creating the test, when you go to pull from the question bank, you go in and say ‘I want a question that matches this specific standard, so when I’m looking at my end-of-unit math curriculum and think ‘they should have these five standards,’ I just go into Edulastic and pull three questions I need. I can make sure I bury them from multiple choice, drag and drop, matching, and the things that they’re going to see on the state test so there’s a variety of test tech questions that match all my standards.
Edulastic: That’s great, and there was that update recently to help people looking for standards-based assessments. And standards focused grading is a growing trend.
Dena: And our report card is completely standard based.
Edulastic: So you guys use it at your school. How long have you been using it, at your school or in your teaching?
Dena: I’ve been in this school district for four years and we’ve had it all four years.
Edulastic: How do you think that standards-based grading changes things for both the student and for the teacher?
Dena: It’s not just a grade, an A, B, C, or D, or even passing or not passing. It’s a specific standard, so if my standard is 4.12, can the student do this standard? Do they meet or exceed or not yet? And so I think it’s a safer report card. It truly gives more data, because instead of just getting an A in math, it says here’s my 10 standards, this is what they can’t do and this is what they can. So I think it just gives valuable information to parents, to the student, and to the teacher about meeting a standard.
Edulastic: That sounds a lot more meaningful because students know what they’re supposed to be achieving in a certain year. I wish I got that when I was a student. And that is what a lot of teachers are looking into these days, so I’m glad that you brought that up, that it’s something you’re doing at your school. So we talked about your favorite book, I was going to ask about it because it’s Book Lovers’ Day!
Dena: I think as my career has gone on, it has changed. My first 5 years I read The First Day of school by Harry Wong. Every year. In the middle of my career was kind of Teach
Like A Champion, because I wanted to learn new strategies and revisit others for classroom management. Now I’m reading this book, The Wild Card because I needed to be remotivated. So it’s changed as time goes.
Edulastic: I’ll ask you couple more light, fun questions. What is your tactic for getting the class’s attention, for getting them quiet?
Dena: Even though I’m in Oregon, I’m a big Denver Bronco fan! So one of my favorite things is to say ‘Denver’ and they say ‘Bronco.’ I get some boys that don’t really want to … I also like to do callbacks. I think it even helps me build relationships with some of the boys, because they’re like ‘she likes football.’ I have Denver Bronco stuff all over my classroom!
Edulastic: If we walk into your classroom, what will we see? How do you decorate your classroom?
Dena: I’m also a Donors Choose ambassador. I’ve had 30 projects funded by Donors Choose. I have flexible seating for my students. I have the yoga balls and wobble chairs, and bean bags… and like I said, I have a lot of technology: one-to-one Chromebooks, we have 3D doodle pins, we have a virtual reality headset… And like I said it’s decorated with a lot of Bronco stuff and all my anchor charts. Sometimes I feel like it’s too busy, but when people
come in they say it’s welcoming.
Edulastic: What’s your favorite time of the school year and why?
Dena: It’s actually the end of the year because it’s really exciting being able to show students our growth. And the kids make their own digital portfolios. I sit with them individually and show them whatever tests or whatever district assessment we have, or even the Edulastic data, to show them where they were at the beginning of the year and where they are you are now. And no matter what, all of them have growth. Then they do student-led conferences with their parents and get to share that with them. So think it’s such a celebration to be able to show them their growth, no matter how big or small it is.
Edulastic: I think that’s a really special way to launch them into summer as well, feeling good about the year and what they did. I think that’s a great question to end on – and a great answer!
Dena: One more thing, we talked earlier about having the ‘aha’ moments for Edulastic. I’m not kidding, but every time I give it a little test I have it! It might be like ‘they’re all missing question number 18, why?’ so I have to figure that out. It might be reflecting on me, that I didn’t do a good job teaching that, or it maybe it’s the question itself. For some of them, the kids honestly didn’t know. Like for the drag and drops, they did it in reverse order. So every time it’s an ‘AHA’ it’s like ‘I need to revisit this’ or I ‘need to teach this’ or ‘my students have a hole in this area.’
Edulastic: That’s great thing to add! I was such a pleasure talking to you, Dena. Thank you so much!