In the beginning of the year, you spend time setting up your classroom culture, talking with your students about the books they’re reading, and taking time to read to them to build their oral language around books. You spend time planting seeds in your writer’s notebooks and generating excitement and anticipation as you think about how those seeds might bloom. Through all of this, you assess in informal ways. You notice how your students respond in talk and in writing to powerful books during interactive read-aloud and independent reading. You listen to and observe oral reading behaviors during reading conferences. You think about how they view themselves as writers and the kind of writing they engage in.
How does all of the information we gather about our students translate into meaningful conversations about assessment and instruction during team meetings? Do our assessments match our instruction? How do we effectively capture observational information about students? How will it impact our state assessment results?
Many schools operate as professional learning communities with teams meeting regularly to look at student data and discuss classroom instruction. State standardized tests carry weight, whether we want them to or not. You’ve probably spent time analyzing test data, reviewing the standards, and thinking about the demands on students.
Using collaborative team meetings to discuss the multiple and varied assessments, especially the authentic assessments you do on a daily and weekly basis, is an important component in furthering our students’ growth as readers and writers. Applying what you know about the state tests from your initial analysis as you assess your students with the Benchmark Assessment System and looking at their beginning of year writing will help you compare what your students are doing in the classroom with demands of the test. Documenting what students can and can’t do is helpful when meeting with a team, grounding discussions in evidence rather than assumptions.
Here are a few tips for getting started:
Ask the following questions to get a better understanding your students as readers:
Making a note of these responses and sharing them with your team at your next meeting highlights the progress each child is making. As a team, you can think about how to support those students who struggle with book choice and independence as well as extending those who flourish in readers' workshop.
Throughout the year, you’ll see changes in your students’ ability to talk about books. Discussing what you notice as a team will help you get a better sense of your overall expectations for students as readers as well as note each student’s individual progress. Using this information along with Fountas and Pinnell's The Continuum of Literacy Learning focuses the team on what students are doing and helps in designing possible next steps. Over time, you’ll probably notice shifts in how your team observes and talks about student progress and the effect that has on student learning.
Just as in readers’ workshop, there are many opportunities for teaching and learning during the writers’ workshop. Conferences provide a window into what a student understands about writing and what he or she is ready to take on next. In writers’ workshop you have the option of collecting student writing done during the day so you can examine it later with your teams. This, in conjunction with your conference notes, will be a valuable source of information about your students and will ground your team discussions in student data.
In Assessing Writers, Carl Anderson thinks about students in different domains, one of which is students as “initiators of writing.” He provides a checklist that narrows the lens of your assessments. Having a conversation about one of the checklists Carl uses or creating one with your team about what you’re looking for will begin to develop a common understanding of expectations for students as writers. These discussions are rich and meaningful and can only propel student achievement forward.
As a team think about the following questions:
The Continuum of Literacy Learning is also helpful for teams looking at students as writers because it narrows the focus of your thinking about what students control, almost control, and what isn’t yet within reach, and in addition broadens your understanding of the proficiencies expected at each grade level. You can use the resource to think about immediate next steps and project what your students will need to accomplish throughout the year.
Collaborative conversations focused on students provide teachers and teams time to become more strategic when looking at authentic forms of student data and planning for impactful teaching. Working together in this task raises expectations for student learning and supports individual teachers and teams in formulating strong instructional plans for students to grow and achieve at high levels throughout the year. It also develops team cohesiveness around consistently looking at student data in order to make instructional decisions.