You can either be a victim of the world or an adventurer in search of treasure. It all depends on how you view your life.
I could almost hear the whispers coming from my school bag:
“Formative assessments should drive instruction.”
“If we took time to write, you should take time to read.”
“What’s tomorrow’s minilesson? Which students will you meet with in small group…and why? Who needs the first conference?”
I glanced at the clock. 8:00 pm. If I set the timer for 30 minutes, I could still catch half of Antiques Roadshow. “Okay, let’s do this,” I answered the whispers from my school bag.
As usual, just getting started was the worst part of the work. Once I began reading through my students’ opinion quick-writes, one glaringly obvious pattern emerged. Although most every student clearly expressed their opinion in the lead, hardly any of them were using a hook to grab their reader’s attention before they stated their opinion. Obviously, they needed more practice. When I thought back on the opinion articles I’d shared as our mentor texts, I identified five different kinds of hooks:
Ask a question to get the reader thinking.
Write the opinion in a creative way.
Believe me because I’m an expert/have experience.
Give information about the topic.
Tell both sides before you tell your opinion.
When I got to school the next morning, I could quickly make a mini anchor chart for each type to hang around the room. I would sort the students into mixed-ability small groups, and we would make our practice more like a game. I would give them an opinion and a short amount of time to work together, and we’d see if we could come up with each of the different types of hooks for each opinion.
When the timer went off at 8:30, I had silenced all of the voices coming from my school bag, and I had a plan of action for writing workshop the next day.
I hate to break it to you, but this isn’t really about teaching opinion writing. This is about time balance and management, the importance of using formative assessments to drive instruction, and trusting ourselves as professionals to create effective lessons and activities on the fly – lessons and activities that meet the specific needs of our own unique learners.
My students had spent more than half an hour completing an opinion quick-write to show me what they were doing well and what they needed more work on. I owed it to them to spend at least a half hour looking over that work and designing instructional moves around it.
I set a timer, forcing myself to be focused and efficient in my work. I didn’t spend my entire evening on schoolwork, and I made sure I had a reward waiting at the end of the 30 minutes.
I gave myself permission to save some of the preparation for this activity for the next morning when I got to school. The posters, the groups, and the list of opinions I would use as prompts could all wait.
Once I found a pattern of need in their work, I wasted no time wondering why they couldn’t do something I’d already taught repeatedly. I also didn’t spend any time assigning blame to myself for not having taught this skill better in the first place. I found the need and went right to work.
In less than 15 minutes, I designed a fun activity that would provide repeated supported practice of a weak skill. Fun is a key word to me – repeated practice should feel more like play than work. Supported is also a key word. I made mixed-ability groups so that my strongest writers could help me in supporting the writers who needed the most practice in this skill.
You can imagine the sigh of satisfaction I gave as I sank back into my pillow and waited to find out if the object on Antiques Roadshow would be trash or treasure. And I didn’t use a single minute of my precious half hour searching on Pinterest or Teachers Pay Teachers for a cute activity that might or might not work.
This week we look at smart and efficient assessments to use in the midst of teaching. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Mary Lee Hahn
Contributor, Choice Literacy
Mary Lee Hahn has been teaching 4th or 5th graders for more than 20 years. She is the author of Reconsidering Read-Aloud (Stenhouse Publishers). Mary Lee and her colleague in the Dublin City Schools, Franki Sibberson, blog about their reading lives at A Year of Reading.
Founder, Choice Literacy
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Katharine Hale has moved much of her reading response to digital boards, which are also useful tools for formative assessment:
Michelle Kelly has a unique problem: what to do with readers who already exceed the standard. She considers alternative assessments for her gifted students:
Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan share how a pre-assessment question to young readers can shape observations, conversations, and reflection for the entire workshop:
Cathy Mere tackles a crucial issue: How soon is too soon to assess? She provides a series of questions teachers can ask themselves as they get to know students to gauge incoming skills:
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Katrina Edwards looks for clues in her first-grade students’ work and conferences to help them develop more writing stamina. She analyzes her notes to develop instructional plans:
Ruth Ayres shares her Grid Notes Sheet, and takes teachers step-by-step through the process of using this assessment tool in conferences and instruction:
Melanie Meehan works with a new teacher to develop and administer a writing pre-assessment early in the school year:
New PD2Go: After examining student writing to assess needs, Aimee Buckner helps a small group of students understand how to mark dialogue in their writing:
In this encore video, Franki Sibberson explains how “reflection sheets” work as an assessment tool in her classroom, replacing detailed notes from conferences:
That’s all for this week!