When working with my students in language and literacy I am always looking for data. I don’t, however, rely much on standardized scores and summative assessments. While helpful in a very small way, those types of assessments give me information more about me, the teacher, than about the student. I look for data that I can use.
Every time I have a conversation with students I make notes about their learning, sometimes mental notes and sometimes written notes. I try to keep track of their use of language and their thinking. Every time I read student writing I make notes about their use of language, their ability to express themselves and their accuracy. This is the data that I use.
This is the real-time data that shows me what students know and can do right now. That data is then turned into large group, small group and individual instruction as needed to move all students forward. I encourage students to make mistakes, use big words, enter into debates and not be afraid. It is through making mistakes, I tell them, that I can know what the next steps are in their learning. All done in a supportive environment.
Give it a try; it’s not rocket science. When we pay attention to the students they will show us what they need. When we listen and watch, we will know what to teach.
When teaching writing in elementary and middle school, one of the challenges is how to keep moving forward with the different genre studies (narrative, expository and opinion … and don’t forget poetry!) while giving students the differentiated instruction that they need. At La Cosecha I learned of a way to do just that.
Using the units proposed by Lucy Calkins or the units created by your district (or by you) the first step is to begin each unit using a simple prompt that will let you complete a pre-assessment to find out what the students already know. You can assess their writing using the rubric to guide your instruction during the unit. My experience has been, though, that those first drafts show too many holes to be of much use; the students need instruction in many areas.
Then, after teaching the unit while referring often to the rubric and publishing a final draft, use the same prompt you used at the beginning of the unit. This time, it is important to use the rubric to deeply analyze the writing. The first thing you will most likely notice is a vast improvement over the initial use of the prompt. However, if you use the rubric and turn the information into numbers (see image to the right) you will see trends including areas that need specific attention.
This is where the differentiation can happen. Based on the needs you notice, you can form groups of students for differentiated instruction just as you would do during reader’s workshop. This small group work could happen during the first week of the next unit or you could schedule a week in between each unit for the differentiated instruction. Use the CCSS to decide which areas are of greatest need. You might also decide that a change in tier 1 instruction would be most appropriate (e.g. focus on punctuation during morning meeting). You can let this assessment guide you during the next unit of study.
One more idea that I loved: sketch the story then touch and tell. Oral rehearsal!
Have you seen this? Amazing! Let’s read more!
“Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding (1988) led one of the most extensive studies of independent reading in which they investigated the relationship of reading time to reading achievement. The study found that the amount of time students spent reading independently was the best predictor of vocabulary development and reading achievement gains.
“The research indicates that independent reading is probably the major source of vocabulary acquisition beyond the beginning stages of learning to read. Students who read more can learn the meanings of thousands of new words each year.
“The chart below shows the high impact of independent reading time to word exposure and the percentile of reading achievement.”
Below is the list that the New York City Department of Education would like to see banned from standardized testing. I found it here. I also found it ridiculous. I truly believe in the power of students to read about topics with which they disagree or find disagreeable. I believe they are able to constructively deal with those topics in an appropriate manner.
If I were a student I would feel offended at such a colossal waste of time and energy on the part of the NYC dept. of Ed. And at the lack of respect shown to students regarding their abilities to think deeply about life.
Would anyone like to create a story with all words/topics? Here they are:
Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological)
Alcohol (beer and liquor), tobacco, or drugs
Birthday celebrations (and birthdays)
Cancer (and other diseases)
Catastrophes/disasters (tsunamis and hurricanes)
Children dealing with serious issues
Cigarettes (and other smoking paraphernalia)
Computers in the home (acceptable in a school or library setting)
Death and disease
Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes
Gambling involving money
Homes with swimming pools
In-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge
Loss of employment
Occult topics (i.e. fortune-telling)
Religious holidays and festivals (including but not limited to Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan)
Television and video games (excessive use)
Traumatic material (including material that may be particularly upsetting such as animal shelters)