Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Plan-It School Series: Preparing for Assessment

The principal of the school where I taught always said that there are three keys to good teaching…




When I say "assessment", what is the first thing that comes to mind? A written test, right?

Multiple choice, essay, fill-in-the-blank, and even standardized tests are what most often qualify as assessment. Though it is true that these are types of assessments, evaluating what your child has learned is an on-going process. It begins with pre-assessments and continues each day through several forms of evaluation.

Pre-assessment occurs at the beginning of a new unit or before teaching a new skill. It can be formal. You give your child a work sheet of problems or questions that pertain to the material to be covered. It can also be informal… a simple discussion in which you determine what your child already understands. A KWL table is a great way to begin the assessment process. Before you begin a new unit of study, your child fills in the K column with the information he already knows. If your child can produce this information in this way, you can feel confident that he has mastered it and that you do not need to teach it.

I find questioning to be the best form of on-going assessment. It is simple yet effective. At the end of a lesson, take a minute or two to close out the lesson. In Setting the Stage, I compared the set of the lesson to an introductory paragraph of an essay. Similarly, the closure of a lesson is like the closing paragraph of an essay. After writing the body, a good writer takes one last paragraph to summarize and end his presentation or argument. In the closure of a lesson, the teacher takes a few minutes to ask questions that pertain to the lesson or reading or activity. This informal assessment lets you know what your students grasped and where they need a little more work.

Writing is another great way to assess. Remember those dreaded essay tests we took in school? That is one way to assess through writing; however, anything that you have your child write that demonstrates a knowledge of the content area can be used. If you have your child journal or notebook, allow him to write about what he is learning. Younger children may only be required to write a sentence or two. The older the child, the more he should be required to write.

Sometimes a more formal essay is appropriate. Younger students can be asked to write a few sentences on a topic. Middle aged children can be assigned a three-point essay while older students must write a research or term paper. If you assign a writing project as a means of evaluating what your child has learned in a different content area, it is advisable to give two grades… one for the writing quality and one for the content. The content grade can be averaged in with other grades in that particular subject. You would not want your child to receive a poor History grade because he failed to use commas properly. Likewise, you would not want him to receive a good History grade because his grammar was good while his content was lacking. Rubric grading is a great way to grade writing. The rubric can be generated to include both content and style or two rubrics can be used, one to assess writing quality and one to assess content.

Alternative assessments offer many options for closing out a unit of study. I love portfolio assessments. They help me stay organized during the school year and end up as keep-sakes later. They also make for a good place to keep attendance, standardized test results, and other records. You can read about how we organize a portfolio here.

Performance-based assessments ask students to put in action what they have learned. I observed a teacher once who assigned her class the task of creating a restaurant… not a pretend one, a real, functioning restaurant within their classroom. They had to seek out investors for start-up money, create a menu, hire a chef, set the classroom up to function as a restaurant, shop for food, décor, furniture and other supplies, send out invitations to the restaurant's "opening (and only) night", and serve as the restaurant's wait staff that evening. They put to use skills they had acquired in math, writing, health, economics and art. The teacher graded their performance in each of the core subject areas, and the attendees, including a restaurant reviewer for the local paper, evaluated their overall performance.

I have had my children complete a few simpler-to-pull-off performance-based assessments. They have created a grocery store which sold play food to the stuffed animals of our house. They created a society for their plush toy birds and organized the Birdieland government. They have written and performed short plays (at home with family members as the audience). All of these fall into the category of performance-based assessments because several skills from different content areas were put into practice. The success of their endeavor was measured by how well they used what they had learned.

The form of assessment I use most often is project-based. Technically, project-based learning is more of a style of teaching, and the projects are assessed with a checklist or a rubric. However, overseeing a project always gives me a clear understanding of my boys' abilities. A good project usually integrates skills from many different subject areas. It also involves organizational skills. Each time my boys complete a project, I am able to assess how well they can take a large job and break it into smaller steps. In the early years, I had to think through every project for them. Now that they are 4th and 5th graders, they can organize their work themselves and only need guidance from me. We complete so many projects that I compiled a list of 101 different project ideas.

So, let's review. What did you learn in this post? What is a portfolio assessment? What are performance-based assessments? What assessment form can you use to grade both writing and projects? Did I just make you look back over this post? Ah Ha! This, my friend, is what we call closure! :-)

Please post your answers as a comment and feel free to leave any tips you have, too!

Blessings and Happy Planning!

Return Soon for the next article in the Plan-It School Series.

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