“Assessment is today’s means of understanding how to modify
– Carol Tomlinson
Assessment drives instruction; it is a pivotal component of what is taught and how it is taught to students. Teachers of all age levels use assessment to determine the individual levels of their students and the type of instruction that they need in order to be successful learners. At the early elementary level, assessment is used to form groups of students with common needs; these groups may consists of students who are struggling, but they can also consist of students who need enrichment. Assessment comes in various forms. Assessment can be formal, such as national and local reading and writing assessments that are given to students, and assessment can be informal, such as student interviews, interest inventories, running records, and teacher observations from small groups and conferences.
According to Gretchen Owocki, author of Literacy Through Play, “developmentally appropriate practice requires that teachers have knowledge about individual children and the various contexts of their lives” (86). Therefore, teachers can also incorporate parents’ observations as part of student assessment, which will enhance teachers’ abilities to drive instruction. Owocki includes various checklists in her book that ask parents to use as a student interest survey, which can help teachers use student interest in the classroom to add to their learning. Tips for parents to continue student learning at home is also included, which is helpful for parents who are unsure of how to incorporate learning in their home.
Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell, authors of Literacy Beginnings : A Prekindergarten Handbook, insist that teachers observe their students during reading and writing in order to advance their students’ learning. Like Owocki, Fountas and Pinnell provide checklists for teachers to use when observing students participating in various tasks, such as an interactive read-aloud, shared reading, independent reading, interactive/shared writing, and independent writing. Although Fountas and Pinnell’s book is geared towards prekindergarten, these checklists can be adapted for students of all ages in order to help teachers observe and assess their students.
In the classroom, guided reading groups are always formed based on assessment. Oftentimes, these groups are formed from the data collected from DRA tests as well as other data, such as running record analysis and reading conferences. Meeting with small groups that are comprised of students with the same needs maximizes teaching time and allows teachers to reach more students at once, instead of conferring and working individually with students (although this is useful at times). The purpose of guided reading is to help students construct meaning from their reading, as well as to teach students specific print and comprehension strategies. These groups, depending on the reading and skill levels of the students, will often vary in reading materials and content, but the purpose of the groups will always be the same: to teach and enhance reading skills.
When creating guided reading groups, it is important to group students with the same needs based on their DRA level and running record analysis; this allows for the whole group to work on the same topic and skills, which also allows for the teacher to reach more students at once. These groups should also be small, with no more than six students in a group, so that the teacher can properly monitor and reach all students effectively. Guided reading groups are also flexible and they change over time; students are constantly growing and changing and their ability levels do too, thus creating opportunities for students to move out of one group and into another as they improve. Depending on the number of guided reading groups in a teacher’s classroom, the number of times a group meets will vary. If there is one guided reading group in the class, it is important that the teacher meet with the students at least four times a week. However, if there is more than one group, the teacher should devise a schedule of meeting times based on the need of the students. With more than one guided reading group in a class, there most likely will not be an equal number of meeting times for each group.
It is important that teachers keep notes on each guided reading group, as these notes will further drive a teacher’s instruction (see sample note sheet below). For each group, the notes should detail the following: the book that is being used, the objectives (skills/strategies/goals), vocabulary, introduction/preview activity, comprehension questions, observations and comments about each student in the group, and what will be worked on during the next session. Each student in the group should have a folder that these notes and assessments are placed into. If each student has a folder with the data collected on him or her, the teacher can easily access the information for a conference or a meeting. The notes and assessments collected can also help the teacher determine the path that each individual student needs to take in order to become a better reader.
Assessment is also useful with conferring with students. Conferring is when teachers “check in” with students or “pull up alongside” students, and is also known as one-to-one instruction. When conferring with students, teachers should start off by asking, “How’s it going?” in order to get a general sense of how the student is feeling while completing the task at hand. Then, the teacher and student work together to look over whatever the student is working on and the teacher finds something to teach the student. For example, if a student is working on writing a story when the teacher pulls up alongside the student to confer and the teacher notices that the student isn’t using quotation marks, the teacher could use this opportunity to teach or re-teach the student how to add dialogue and where to put quotation marks when writing. Conferring, as seen in the above example, is used to target individual students’ needs. As a teacher confers, if he or she sees a skill that is proving to be an issue for multiple students, then the teacher can pull a small group to practice the necessary skill.
When conferring, teachers also need to keep notes on each student that details the skill that was worked on and the goal for the student. There are many different ways that teachers can keep notes and records on their students when conferring; Teachers can use individual sheets of paper for each students that have many boxes for each time a conference is held (see below) or teachers can use a sheet of labels, one label for each student, and pull each label off to stick it in students’ individual files. The ways in which teachers keep and record notes is truly an individual preference and can be adapted based on the grade level and students that a teacher teaches.
There are many different types of assessments that teachers are mandated to use in order to evaluate students and their learning. It is important that teachers, of all grade levels, use these assessments to drive their instruction in order to help students grow and achieve.
While scouring the internet for resources, I came across a variety of different assessment tools, such as student and parent interest interviews, as well as ways to set up note sheets for guided reading and conferring. One site I found very useful, which details Reading Workshop using small group and instruction and conferring as well as setting up an assessment binger, can be seen below in snapshots and in more detail here: http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/top_teaching/2009/11/assessment-reading-workshop
With a focus on assessment and instruction, as a part of our Early Literacy class, I worked with Richard, a kindergarten student at Thomas Edison Elementary School in Port Chester, New York. Richard is a lively little man, who instantly seemed excited and eager to work with me and to learn. When I asked him about his class and what he liked about school, Richard told me that he LOVED center time, where he is able to choose what he wants to do. This wasn't surprising to me, as I was able to quickly tell that Richard enjoys being active and enaged. While assessing Richard's letter recognition skills, as well as phonemic awareness and concepts of print skills, I learned the following:
Letter Recognition: Richard's letter recognition skills weren't very strong. He knew some of his letters, both uppercase and lowercase, but he confused or didn't know many of them as well. He confused letters such as 'p' and 'q,' as well as 'w' and 'm,' which are common mistakes among young children. I was impressed, however, that although Richard didn't know what some letters were, he did know their sounds.
Phonemic Awareness: Richard's rhyming skills and his ability to match pictures of objects with the same beginning sounds was wonderful! He truly enjoyed these matching activities and his phonemic awareness skills were very strong.
Concepts of Print: Richard was able to respond correctly to every concepts of print questions that had to do with a sentence in front of him; he was able to identify the punctuation mark as a period, he knew that a sentence is read from left to right, he was able to identify sight words, and he was also able to identify his name (among other questions that were asked of him).
Seeing as how Richard struggled with letter recognition skills, I decided to gear my lesson for the following weak to work with him in this area. Therefore, I created an alphabet book for him, where he had to identify the uppercase and lowercase letter at the top of the page, as well as write the letters and draw a picture of an object that started with the letter. As expected, it was still hard for Richard to identify these letters, but I was impressed that he used the Word Wall in the room that we were working in as a reference tool. Although Richard and I didn't get to finish the alphabet book during our time together, I told him that he could take it home and continue to practice his letters.
It was quite enjoyable working with Richard over the course of two weeks at Thomas Edison Elementary School. I know that, with practice, Richard will continue to excel and will learn to identify ALL of his letters. He is a hardworking little man who enjoys learning.