Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Balancing Assessment in the First Weeks

The first six weeks of school are among my favorite.  It's the time we get to weave our communities together with strong thread to support our work across the year.  It's the time we can get to know each one of the children who walks through our door.  It's the time that we can celebrate what our learners already know.  It's a time to observe what makes each of them tick.

In the first six weeks of school, we start to learn what matters to each of our students.  We get to know their families and their preferences.  We also begin to get to know them as learners.  For me, I like to take the first two weeks to just get to know them.  I'm focused on relationship and building a strong community.  At the end of the two weeks, I often begin to take a look at spring assessment information for my students.  Then I like to spend the next weeks determining if students are in about the same place they ended the previous year, if they've continued to build on their learning across the summer, or if they might need a bit of support to get them back to where they ended the year (this doesn't usually take long).  In these first weeks, I work to help students become solid in what it is they know so we can use those foundational strengths to grow as the year continues.

The beginning of the year also brings time for more formal assessment.  Our districts often have assessments that are required for all students.  Additionally, we often have assessments we like to use alongside our daily observations to learn more information about what our learners know.  It becomes easy to look at the list of assessments and want to get them checked off.  It is during these first busy weeks that I push myself to keep THE WHY in front of assessments.  Over the years, I found some ways to help to manage assessment alongside the important first steps I want our community to take together.

Managing the Busyness of Assessment 
  • Weave Assessment into Our Workshop:  Learning to weave assessment into my workshop was a game changer for me.  In the first weeks, our learning community works to establish routines that will free us up to do important work.  While this is my priority, it is easy to weave a few assessments into each day's workshop.  For example, our district asks that we give our students Hearing and Recording Sounds in Words.  In most cases, this assessment takes 3-5 minutes with a student, but I can learn a lot sitting beside them.  After our writing workshop begins, I confer with a few students and as students settle into their writing, I stop by a few students to complete this assessment.  It's easy to move between assessing and conferring while still helping to set the tone for the work we will do in workshop.  
  • Plan:  It's easy to feel a bit overwhelmed by all that is to be done, but I've found that keeping my eye on the WHY and my focus on learning about my students helps.  Instead of feeling like I have to get all of the assessments done in a day, I plan out the time I will take to complete them.  For example, if I do about 3 Hearing and Recording Sounds in Words for four days a week, I can have my class done in two-three weeks.  The beauty of doing them in small numbers is I always feel like I learn so much about students if I take some time to digest the time sitting beside them.  
  • Start Where You're Curious:  Typically I begin with the students that make me curious.  Maybe I've noticed a child seems to have grown a lot over the summer or maybe I notice some disconnect between a child's reading and writing.  If I've started to notice some areas of concern for a student, I will often begin with them early in the assessment cycle so that I can use the information to begin lifting their learning immediately.  
  • Complete My Own Assessment:  It can be easy to allow support teams to complete assessments for me, but personally I always wanted to do my own assessments.  It helps me to better support my learners if I have done them myself.  Often my reading support teacher wanted to assess readers she was considering.  I could understand the necessity of this so I would let her complete the assessment, but I would often find a similar text do read with the student to get a true sense of their strengths and next steps.  
It can be hard to take a breath with so much on our to-do lists, but the more we slow down to get to know our students in those first six weeks of school the stronger the year seems to be.  As you look at all the assessments on your list, I hope you'll take a breath and begin a plan.  Give yourself grace to take the time to really get to know those new learners who will be counting on you.

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