Recently I worked with a group of literacy leaders representing a number of different schools and experiences from all across the Portland, Oregon metro area. I knew they held a diverse range of beliefs about assessment, and used many different tools. What I wasn’t sure of was how I could invite them to talk about assessment without certain personalities dominating the conversation. How could I lead a conversation without it deteriorating into the quick-fire judgments that erupt surrounding assessment? What structure did I need for the conversation to go where it needed to go without it becoming polarizing?
It turns out I needed an open-ended structure where curiosity took center stage. This structure allowed even folks who believed there really is only one right way to assess to step back and expand their thinking. I also needed time to allow folks to think broadly and to talk A LOT! In fact, this protocol encourages conversation in multiple group settings.
Here is the step-by-step guide I developed:
1. Write a list of all of the tools in your assessment toolbox as a teacher/reading specialist/instructional coach. What tools help you determine what a reader knows and can do? (5 minutes)
2. Go talk to three colleagues. Compare lists. What is different? What is the same? Add what you forgot to include or what you want to add and explore based on your conversations. (15 minutes)
3. Gather as a whole group. Offering one assessment practice/tool at a time, move around the group. While you can stop after one or two times around, reading until each educator has exhausted their list offers a rich portrait of who does what in their teaching practice and exposes philosophical beliefs. (10 minutes)
4. Share out: ask for general reactions to what folks noticed or learned. You might share one question that helped prompt further reflection in your practice. How do these tools help you stay true to your beliefs and create a rich literacy program from scratch? (5 minutes)
Practices participants shared included kidwatching, Dibels, running records, spelling tests, QRI, reading/writing interviews, state tests, conferring, miscue analysis, informal conversations, sitting in on book groups/clubs, guided reading group information gathering, invented spelling strategy gathering, DRAs, Woodcock Johnson assessment, comprehension strategy share out, whole-group conversations, district kindergarten assessment tool, DSTR, student-selected writing, and E-z CBM.
What surprised people is how many different tools and practices teachers used. Each of us shared until our lists were exhausted, offering us many chances to present our assessment practices. Educational philosophies also emerged from the types of assessment tools each teacher used, which is not something I had anticipated.
In order to keep the session moving at a brisk clip, I invited folks to share out their tool title or common label only, and told them we would talk as a whole group after we created the list. Since we were all literacy leaders and knew each other, we were familiar with most of the tools and practices. The teachers kept the rhythm of label sharing going, but I was prepared to offer a gentle reminder that we were just listing tools, not discussing them, if needed to keep us from getting bogged down.
This activity exposed both our individual assessment practices as well as our beliefs about teaching children. Both energizing and surprising, this experience led everyone to confirm philosophical stances, explain assessment practices across schools and districts, and talk about the rich knowledge our community shared with respect to assessment.