In early December, I asked my 26-year-old daughter to come into school and help me file papers into student folders. After a few hours at the back table, she looked up at me and said, “Wow, you’ve really fallen apart. How’d you let this happen? I don’t ever remember you being this disorganized before.” Gotta love a daughter who tells it like it is!
For years, I was quite proud of my assessment binder. After a couple decades of teaching, I had figured out a system that worked for organizing assessments. Last year, after four years as a school librarian, I returned to a fourth-grade classroom. I went back into the classroom and organized my binder as I had before.
It wasn’t long till I realized that in the four years that I had been away from the classroom, the system that had worked so well for me in the past was no longer effective. My piles soon took on a life of their own.
In the years I worked as a school librarian, I had missed out on the massive new amount of paperwork, diagnostic tests, progress monitoring, individual plans, and other information I would be gathering and required to keep for certain students. I had also moved to a school that had more support staff. I was working with several other teachers working on goals for individual students, and we were all trying to share information on them. I couldn’t do this effectively with the assessment system I had in place.
My piles weren’t negatively impacting my teaching, but they were a frustration that became harder to correct once the year was moving along. I wasted a lot of time looking for things that I needed, and that I should have been able to put my hands on more quickly. Looking back, I realized that many of the things I struggled with were the storage and filing of the more long-term assessments that I used periodically, but didn’t need access to on a daily basis.
I know I need space for these long-term assessments, but more importantly I needed accessible locations for the daily pieces of information that inform my day-to-day decision-making, things I needed to look at on a daily basis. My old assessment system housed all of these papers in the same place. I decided I needed a place for current assessments and then a different place to file assessments and information that I might need to go back to periodically.
This school year, I am taking a multi-faceted approach to the assessment notebook:
I will set up a modified version of my traditional assessment binder as one piece of my assessment system. It works well for a few things. In it, I will house one small section for each child’s most current literacy information. This information will include each child’s reading log, current conference notes, and work samples. I will also include small group and whole group assessment notes and plans in this binder.
This year, I will add individual student binders to the mix. These one-inch binders will house more long-term assessments that I need to keep across the year. Once I am finished with the information that helps me plan on a day-to-day basis, it will be moved to the long-term binder. These binders will contain district and building assessments and forms that other staff members may need access to, or materials that will need to be passed along to next year’s teacher. Copies of individual plans and parent notes can also be housed in these binders.
I used Evernote for many of my literacy assessments last year. Although I did not use it as effectively as I could have, I see the power of having online photos, copies of book pages, writing samples, student work, and conference notes in an online notebook for each child. I will set up an electronic notebook with Evernote for each child before the school year begins, knowing that many of the anecdotal records will be more easily collected with this tool.
Students’ individual notebooks and folders are always part of any assessment plan. Their daily thinking often happens in their notebooks. Students will have a place to store these notebooks in the classroom, and they will be responsible for them. These notebooks will be collected and analyzed when needed. Samples will be copied and/or stored in Evernote based on student goals/needs.
Some student writing will be housed through blogs and websites online this year (as it was last year). This will be another piece of ongoing assessment, as this collection of student writing will live online throughout the year.
I have a plan, but if I have learned anything in my teaching life it is that I need a variety of systems in place. I know that some children will need assessment plans with more formalized components than others. I know that I will need to have informal conferences with some children on a more regular basis. Some children in my classroom will have a variety of support staff working with them, and we will all need to share goals and files. I imagine I will need to have more regular student contact with some students’ parents than others. Some children will have anecdotal notes in their binders, while I will use Evernote more often for others. My goal with this set-up is to organize both long-term and short-term assessments, and to access those things that are most important for both short-term and long-term instructional planning for individual, small-group and whole-group instruction.
The most important thing we know as literacy teachers is that no one piece of information can stand alone. For any assessment system to work, the pieces have to work seamlessly together to inform instruction daily. If I want my most important assessments to inform my instruction, I need to have those accessible to me, while also finding a place for the more formal assessments used sporadically.