elementary revision

Please, Not One More Assessment

As the final weeks of school approach, teachers and students alike may feel overwhelmed with assessments. From naming letters to writing essays on state assessments, children are being asked to demonstrate what they have mastered throughout the school year.  The number of assessments continues to rise. As a result, during this busy time of year, too often assessments are given, graded and then filed away, with no thought to either their purpose or the information they provide.

Before asking students to complete an end-of-year writing assessment, pause and consider the task’s purpose.  Assessment is defined as a gathering of information about student learning. While formative assessments are given frequently and used to adjust instruction, a summative assessment is given to judge the quality of student work. This quality judgement can and should be helpful for both student and teacher.

As writing is a process, students’ progress should be assessed on the process.  Most importantly, students should be able to assess themselves on each part of the process and recognize their progress. Before giving students a final written assessment, consider these factors:

1)       What do you want students to be able to do?

Clearly define the skills you want students to exhibit:

-          Are you wanting students to write in complete sentences?

-          Are you assessing students’ ability to gather ideas and create a plan?

-          Are students expected to read a text and gather appropriate information?

 

2)      How will your students know they have met their learning goal?

Provide students clear expectations and targets.  This can be done through:

-          Complete prompts

-          Specific rubrics

-          Anchor charts

-          List of skills being assessed

 

3)      How will you help students accurately measure their own writing growth?

Encouraging students to measure their own learning growth is a powerful tool.  Provide students with their original beginning of the year writing assessment.  Identify specific writing skills for students to evaluate in their own writing.  Some possible skills include:

Primary Students

-          Are my letters formed correctly?

-          Did I put spaces between my words?

-          Did I write in complete sentences?

-          Did I plan my writing?

-          Is my writing on topic?

-          Did I choose interesting vocabulary?

Primary Writing Self-Assessment.jpg

 

Intermediate Students

-          Did I plan my writing?

-          Is my writing on topic?

-          Did I include interesting details to support my big ideas?

-          Did I use details from the text to support my writing?  (If this is a requirement.)

-          Did I vary the structure of my sentences?

-          Did I make interesting word choices?

-          Did I carefully edit my writing for conventions?

- Did I carefully edit my writing for spelling?

Intermediate Writing Self-Assessment.jpg

 

As students write their new piece, they can refer to their beginning of the year writing, looking for ways to improve.  After their writing is edited and revised, they can self-assess their end of year writing, using the same criteria they used to evaluate their beginning of the year writing.

4)       Make the writing assessment useful to you and/or next year’s teacher.

Determine which type of writing will provide you with the most useful information.

·       What personal writing goals did you have for the school year?  How can you organize the assessment to analyze those goals?  Perhaps you are wanting to use your curriculum more when teaching content material.  You may want students to respond to a prompt such as the following:

We have just finished reading the book What To Do With A Problem.  As a group, we have brainstormed various strategies people can use when they have a problem.  Write an opinion essay, stating which three strategies work best for you.  

·       Perhaps your school has a writing improvement plan for all grade levels.  This plan may include writing informational essays, writing in response to text, writing narratives, etc.  Design an end-of-year assessment which will provide the next year’s teacher important information.

Think about the information you want to gather about your students’ writing skills.  Design a prompt that will best give you that information.  Whether you want to compare writing using the same prompt from the start of the school year, determine how well students can write a narrative, or analyze your students’ ability to respond to text, create a writing task which addresses your assessment needs.

Whatever choice you make, think about ways to make the assessment manageable, informative and useful to both you and your students.

 

 

 

 

 

 






The Importance of Feedback

We all need people who will give us feedback.

That's how we improve.

- Bill Gates

 

Many of us make New Year’s Resolutions in January.  By February, some of those resolutions are beginning to wane. The difference between keeping and forgetting a resolution can often be traced to the amount of feedback we receive on our goal.  Whether it be the number on the scale, a count of books read, or the steps taken on our fitness app, timely and meaningful feedback helps all of us stay on track.

Writing and speaking in complete sentences is a classroom expectation.  Including a reason or detail within that sentence is part of our daily routine.  Imagine my chagrin when a student once asked me if that rule included me. Was I expected to write in complete sentences when I commented on their work, including a reason to justify my comment?

Not soon after, I received an appreciation note from a parent. The parent expressed specific examples of why their student enjoyed being part of our classroom community. The note meant so much more than a card that stated I was the world’s greatest teacher!

In the same way, our students need and deserve specific and timely feedback from us in order to grow. An article in a 2014 issue of Edutopia lists 5 Research-Based Tips for providing students meaningful feedback.  (edutopia.org/blog/tips-providing-students-meaningful-feedback-marianne-stenger)

1. Feedback should be Specific—A star or “Good Job” on a paper does not tell a student what they have done well. Instead of “Nice Writing” on a paragraph, point out a specific strength. “You placed a transition word in every big idea sentence. These words help the reader understand your reasons in this paragraph.”

Providing students a skill to focus on and improve in their next piece of writing is also important. For example: “You did a great job writing complete sentences. Many of your sentences start with the word “I”.  Let’s work to have a variety of sentence starters in your writing next time.”

2. Feedback should be Immediate—The more immediate the feedback, the more powerful it is for student learning. Look for ways to streamline your grading process. Think about grading writing as students complete each portion of the writing process. For example, provide feedback on topic sentences as students complete them.  “This topic sentence clearly explains what the paragraph is about. I understand your topic!”

3. Feedback should reflect a student’s progress towards a Goal—Perhaps a student is working on editing their writing, including correct punctuation and capitalization in sentences. Comment on a student’s progress towards that goal.  “Wow, I can see that you worked diligently to put a punctuation mark at the end of every sentence.”

4. Feedback should be given Gently—Know your students. Feedback must be given knowing the receiver.  Choose words you would appreciate receiving if someone was giving you feedback.

5. Feedback should involve the Student– Students should be involved in choosing what is assessed. This may be as simple as asking students what writing they would like you to assess. “What would you like me to look at in this piece of writing?  We’ve been revising sentences. Put a check next to the revised sentence on which you would like me to comment.”

Feedback is essential for everyone. The growth you will see in your students is well worth the effort!

         

“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” E.L. Doctorow

For the first few weeks of school, we have been concentrating on the components of opinion paragraphs.  My students have learned to gather and categorize ideas, organize plans and write opinion paragraphs which included all the essential parts.  Now that students understood how to effectively write about their opinion, it was time to take the next step: writing opinion paragraphs in response to text.

I wanted the content to be accessible and engaging for all the students. To facilitate that goal, I decided to have students read about a topic which they would easily grasp – choosing a local attraction to take guests to visit.  We began with the following prompt:

Students highlighted the format, topic and big ideas in their prompt.

Students highlighted the format, topic and big ideas in their prompt.

You have friends travelling to Colorado Springs on vacation. You are responsible for choosing one place to take your friends to show them the sights. To help make your decision, you will choose and research an attraction in Colorado Springs to visit. After making your choice, write an opinion essay explaining the attraction you have chosen to visit. You must include three reasons why this attraction is the best location to take your friends.

The focus of this learning engagement was for students to write in response to text. With that in mind, I chose two websites for the students to use as research. The websites contained information about the local attractions using words and pictures. We discussed possible factors we might use when choosing a place to visit. Suggestions such as price, discounts, activities, food options, uniqueness to the area and being family friendly were all given.

Students were assigned the websites through their google classroom accounts. After previewing the possible choices, we selected five attractions to focus on as a class. Students then selected the attraction in which they were most interested and researched the appropriate site. Wanting the information to be accessible to all students regardless of reading ability, I wanted students to share the information they had learned. I provided students chart paper labeled with each attraction. As a group, students discussed and recorded the information they had found concerning each place to visit.

chart 1 (2).jpg

On the following day, students were asked to create their individual writing plans. Reviewing the prompt, we remembered that our writing required three big ideas. Using the chart paper, students looked for similar ideas to classify together. As they had spent time gathering and discussing ideas, the planning came easily.

Plan (2).jpg

With completed plans in hand, the students eagerly began to write. Many chose to begin their paragraphs with an “Although” topic sentence, acknowledging that other activity choices would also be enjoyable. They easily incorporated information they had learned from the text, the goal of the lesson.

The students’ engagement with their writing made it an appropriate piece to take all the way through publishing. With green and red pencils in hand, students edited their work, tracing all punctuation in red and all capitals in green. They typed their finished product, adding an image of the attraction to provide the reader with additional information.

Rough Draft.jpg

The transition to opinion writing based on text had gone seamlessly as we had the needed writing skills in place from previous lessons. The students had been interested in the topic, engaged in the research, and excited to edit their work and share it with each other!  We had definitely been exploring and learning.

Pikes Peak.jpg