toolbox.jpg Below are some tools you can use to figure out what your students need ..............

Assessment for Learning

Here is an article that defines assessment for learning (formative assessment).

Assessment of Reading

One of the best ways to assess reading is, of course, to have students read. The running record is a method for systematically recording a student's oral reading and analyzing that student's reading. above links give you details on how to do a running record. This is a great one on one assessment form because through it you get a lot of details about a student's reading technique.
The following pdf provides a set of questions to ask about a student's reading. This set of questions includes comprehension and other more global characteristics of reading.

Information about assessing phonemic awareness:
There are many forms of assessment. One challenge to teachers is to identify the specific difficulties students have when reading. Some students may have a high ability to read high-frequency words, for example, but not be able to decode words using phonics. One method to assess the specific phonics abilities is to use the "Names Test" available in the book, Sound Systems, by Anna Lyon and Paula Moore. The benefit of using the names test is that all the names can be read phonetically. The teacher records how the student reads the names, and identifies the phonetic difficulties. When the teacher has evaluated all the students in the class, she can then create reading groups based on the abilities of the students in the classroom. The book provides wonderful guides for record keeping and ongoing assessment.

Here is a website that has a number of assessments for things such as alphabet knowledge, sight words, etc.
Here is a comprehension assessment:
Another great resource--has videos of assessments being used.

Assessing reading involves working individually with each student. While it seems overwhelming to do this with 25 students in the room, doing this is the only way to really know what is going on with a student in his or her reading practice, since language use is a highly personal issue.

For many reasons, it is important to teach students to work independently while you are interacting with a single student or a small group. Once you teach the procedures for working independently, which include techniques for staying focused, what to do when you have a question, what to do when finished, and so forth, you will be able to spend some time with each student individually. If you manage three students per day, in a little over a week you will have given a thorough, systematic, and reasonable assessment for your whole class.

Of course, once you assess, then the next step is to instruct.

Assessment of Writing

When we think of assessing writing, we may think of the old red pen and mysterious markings such as "awk" in the margin.

First off, the purpose of assessing writing is to help students become stronger writers. But assessment has to be done with the understanding of the writing process as well as the understanding that meaning counts more than conventionality.

Writing is fundamentally a meaning-making act. There are some students who can write the typical five paragraph essay as a writing exercise, using a topic given by a teacher or a test. Other students have a harder time doing the writing exercise approach--that is, the equivalent of doing scales and etudes in music. As teachers, we will be more successful if we have students do meaningful writing for a real purpose because more students can succeed at that and because this is the type of writing adulthood demands.

Having students write for audiences other than ourselves puts us in the position of being advocates instead of judges. I have taught a lot of grammar while helping students draft cover letters and resumes for job applications. At that point, the conventions of writing become important to the student and I am able to help them with their specific issues.

Some writing assessment resources:

Assessment as Reverse Engineering

Reverse engineering is a process of taking an item and figuring out how it was made. There are two types: white box reverse engineering where you take apart the item in question and use that information as part of the figuring out process, and black box reverse engineering where you cannot take the item apart and you have to guess its components based on how it functions. If you have ever taken apart a clock or appliance as a kid, that is white box reverse engineering--or it could be, if you used the information you found so you could create your own clock.

Obviously, we cannot open our students' skulls up to find out what is inside, so we use the black box form of reverse engineering in teaching.

Students create things. For example, when I did Carnivale poetry (need link here) where you get to break the rules, based on the rules students mentioned in our initial discussion and the rules they chose to break as they created their poems, I can reverse engineer to figure out their schemas about poetry. Here are the rules of poetry that came up in our discussion:

Carnivale includes breaking the rules. Here are the poetry rules we can break in writing Carnivale poems:
It has to rhyme
Stanzas consistent in length
Has to be about a coherent topic
Has to have metrical patterns
Has to have metaphors
Deep philosophical meaning
Poetic devices

Based on this list, I can infer that as a group my students know something about poetic form (stanzas); something about poetic devices such as rhyme, meter and metaphors; and something about how poems make meaning. I also know from reverse engineering this list that students' definition of poetry may be too rigid because of the rules about stanzas and rhyming. I know from the way in which they discussed "deep philosophical meaning" that they feel intimidated by poetry.

From reverse engineering this list, I have the possibility of creating some learning experiences that add to students' knowledge in critical ways and that also give students successful experiences with reading and writing poetry so their level of intimidation decreases.

At the point, it would be good to quote from a FAQ about reverse engineering in relation to objects and computer programs:

Question: What are the different uses of reverse engineering?
Answer: A common misperception regarding reverse engineering is that it is used for the sake of stealing or copying someone else's work. Reverse engineering is not only used to figure out how something works, but also the ways in which it does not work.
Some examples of the different uses of reverse engineering include:

  • Understanding how a product works more comprehensively than by merely observing it

  • Investigating and correcting errors and limitations in existing programs

  • Studying the design principles of a product as part of an education in engineering

  • Making products and systems compatible so they can work together or share data

  • Evaluating one's own product to understand its limitations

  • Determining whether someone else has literally copied elements of one's own technology

  • Creating documentation for the operation of a product whose manufacturer is unresponsive to customer service requests

If we bring these items into the world of assessment, we get:

  • Understand what a student knows more comprehensively than by merely observing him or her
  • Investigating and correcting errors and limitations the student might have (we would tend to be more positive in wording this, but the point here is to see the analogy between reverse engineering in technology and reverse engineering in education)
  • Studying how students learn as a part of the pre-service teacher program (What Difference Does Instruction Make project)
  • Helping students work constructively together
  • Evaluating one's own teaching to understand its strengths and limitations

Reverse engineering's advantage as a way of thinking about assessment is that it gets us beyond the idea of tests and into the idea that we can analyze anything a student puts out and make some conclusions about what that student understands. In this way, any student artifact becomes a data source and we do not have to subject students to artificial forms of assessment.

Finally, the idea of teacher as engineer suggests that the teacher is a highly skilled person who can think through what is going on in the classroom with each student and put together learning experiences that benefit students individually and as a whole. This moves way away from scripted teaching which places the teacher in the position of technician (or robot).