Thursday, December 30, 2010

Common Assessments: Too Common and Not Truly Assessing

I've questioned the ideas behind PLCs for some time. Currently I've been mulling over the idea of common assessments. This year our school has a focus on common assessments and my team has been using them in math once a quarter. It's got me thinking about the purpose of these assessments.

Unless I am mistaken, common assessments are often used for assessing students. As surprising as it may sound, I don't think that's an appropriate use for them.

A lot can be learned from a common assessment, but it should not be used to judge the students. Assuming that every student in a grade level is ready for an assessment at the same time, or that they should all be assessed in exactly the same way, makes no sense. At least not if we really want to assess their understanding.

When we look at our common assessments we learn about misconceptions or language gaps our students have that we can address to help them understand the concept. We identify flaws in the assessment in order to improve it for the future. Sometimes we find that one teacher was really successful with a concept and should share his/her strategies.

But we don't learn much about what our students understand. There are infinitely better ways to do that than a common assessment.

It's possible I am completely misunderstanding the intention of common assessments or how they are frequently used.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

I have been a super cranky, Grinch of a teacher lately. I have a lot of excuses, but it always comes back to me. In the moments of crankiness I can feel how awful it is but I can't seem to handle things in a better way.

So, I'm hoping the break will help me get rejuvenated and start fresh in January. My resolution is to stop reacting to my students and start reflecting more. I hope that if I can step back to reflect I will be in better shape to respond well.

This week my first graders created resolutions (we called them goals for the new year). They wrote their goal in Pixie and then illustrated it. I was amazed at how thoughtful and hard-working they were during our 45 minutes in the computer lab.

This is why my resolution is important to me. Kids who can create these goals deserve a patient, thoughtful, respectful teacher.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Edublog Award Thoughts

I didn't pay too much attention to the Edublog Awards this year. Actually, I don't ever. It comes when I'm much too busy to give it much attention. I do enjoy seeing the results, however. Just as I enjoy the results of the Oscars or the Tonys or the Pulitzers. I don't follow any closely, but I like to see who won.

Some blogs I enjoy and respect won Edublog Awards. But the results got me thinking about what the edublogosphere (defined by those who nominated and voted) is looking for in blogs. Richard Byrne's Free Technology for Teachers won three awards, Best Individual Blog, Best Resource Sharing Blog, and Best Ed Tech Support Blog. Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day was a runner-up in Best Individual Blog.

First off, I have immense respect for both of those men. I can't imagine how they manage to be aware of all those resources, knowledgeable about them, and able to share them so thoughtfully. I greatly appreciate them doing so.

That said, I found seeing both their names in the Best Individual Blog category surprising. The category Best Resource Sharing Blog seemed made for them. Their wins in the Best Individual Blog category suggests to me that many, many people are looking for resource sharing blogs and that those blogs are of critical importance to them. I found it a little disappointing that the Best Individual Blog was not a blog that makes me think. The blogs that sit in my reader until I have the time to sit with them, think about them, post comments - those are the types of blogs I expected to see win.

Am I alone in this? Am I off base? Am I not giving enough credit to these resource sharing blogs? Am I missing something (certainly possible!)?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Assessment vs. Kids

As the federal government requires that we give standardized reading and math tests to students from grade three on, our fabulous district has decided we should do the same for kindergarten through second grade. For reading, this is actually no change. We give the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) to every child in elementary school twice a year, at least. For math, our district created a standardized assessment for the youngest kids. So we know give a multiple choice and short answer Mathematical Reasoning Assessment (MRA) twice a year.

Recently our first grade team met together with our math coach to look at our results. We had a pretty good discussion about the data, identifying areas in which we need to think about our instruction and analyzing questions we thought they should know but didn't. Sometimes it's simply a matter of language (when it asks which fraction is shaded, it helps if our kids know the word shaded).

Several folks brought up the idea that our students, as first graders, don't do a lot of paper and pencil tasks and so had trouble with this. The reaction, immediately, was that we need to do more paper and pencil tasks.

I wanted to cry. Why isn't the reaction that we should work for an assessment that better fits our kids' needs. Why should they change to meet the assessment?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Posts by Kids

As I try to hand responsibility over to the first graders for their learning and choices, I decided they could take over our class blog. I'm not convinced this will be less work for me, in fact I think it will likely be more work. But worth it, I hope.

Today, during our free choice time, two girls chose to join me and compose their first blog post. They picked the topic, pictures, and composed the post. I did the actual typing, but nothing else. For the moment, I'm going to allow them to chose to work with me rather than require it of anyone. I'm also sticking with two kids at a time. We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Last year I tried something new at the beginning of the year. As many of our first graders are only beginning to read and write in September I wanted to support their independent reading as much as possible. So, I collected multiple copies of books and read aloud as many as I could in the first couple of weeks. Books in series are great for this too. I read the various Betsy Lewin and Doreen Cronin books about Duck, some Elephant and Piggie and some Pigeon books by Mo Willems, and some Froggy books. (There were many others but these are favorites for this year's class.) Then, because I have multiple copies these are the books they are 'reading' at the start of the year.

I have found this to be a fabulous way to start the year and, as long as I am choosing books I think are good, I love that the kids come back to these books again and again. By this point in the year they all have lots of books from guided reading as well as access to our full classroom library. But these books are still very popular.

I noticed this little guy reading a Froggy book during independent reading last week. Later, when we had a few minutes, I asked him to read it to me in the hallway. He is still very much a beginning reader and this book is too difficult for him to read independently. But he loves it and the other books in the series. He remembers them and knows the repeating patterns (the mom or dad calling Frrrrrrooooooooogggggggyyyyyyy! and Froggy answering Wwwwwhhhhhhhaaaaaattttttt?). Listening to him 'read' this book made my morning.

I hope this is a sign that he sees himself as a reader as much as I do.

Monday, December 06, 2010

When You Assume...

It is so easy to make assumptions about what students know and understand. We do it all the time. Often, it goes completely unnoticed by us, but every once in a while something happens to make these assumptions shine.

I teach in a significantly low-income school. Many of our families receive financial and/or other support from various groups, especially at the holiday season.

Here's a story one child wrote about his family getting presents from the Salvation Army.

My mom is going to the Salvation Army in Dec 21. In 21 my mom is going to the Salvation Army and it has airplanes and helicopters. And no kids allowed so my only my should go and my dad is taking care of us. (The next page with the pictures show the kids at home with dad on one side and mom at the Salvation Army on the other side.) Then mom came home with the presents and we open the presents.