With an abundance of clever crafts, cute bulletin boards, and coordinated decor, Pinterest generates much that is adorable in classrooms. But the meatier stuff is out there, too–if you dig a little deeper. Below are 10 Pins to brainstorm better self-assessments for your students.
Insufficient sleep, lack of breakfast, trouble with parents–there are a lot of reasons students may enter class with less-than-chipper attitudes in the morning. And while we should encourage them to take charge of their own mindsets, we should also consider empathy as we design the first 5 minutes of each day.
So in those first few pivotal minutes, let’s consider how we are setting the climate for the day. Do we orient the students into an atmosphere of meaningful connections? Do we remind them that their contributions matter here? Do we set the tone of shared ownership and responsibility for learning?
If a 30+ minute weekly class meeting isn’t in the cards with your schedule, consider holding condensed mini-meetings each morning, pulling out just the essentials like High-Lows, essential announcements & changes to the schedule, or a quick Talking Circle.
We are going to defy the many discussion threads on, “When is my child too old for picture books?” by declaring NEVER! No matter what grade you teach, you will not go amiss by starting class with a quality picture book. Not only are they full of essential life-lessons and values, but they’d also be a great incentive for kids to come to class on time!
Especially useful if your schedule prevents a solid wrap-up the day before. Activate the discoveries, concepts, and difficulties from yesterday by using strategies like visual thinking routines (we find “Compass Points” or “Used to Think” especially intriguing for this purpose).
• Instead of taking roll, create a check-in board where students move clothespins, magnets, or pocket chart cards labeled with their names or numbers
• Instead of calling out for hands for who is ordering hot lunch, make the check-in dual-purpose by adding lunch choices, like in the example below:
Keep it well-oiled:
• Model clear and high expectations for the start of class–if you spend the first few minutes double-checking your email or making last-minute preparations, the students will follow suit. Instead, model readiness and enthusiasm to start right away!
• Take the time to teach and then occasionally practice the morning routine expectations. For instance, you might teach them the following routine:
• Hang backpacks, make lunch choices, unstack chairs, turn in papers, and gather at the rug (if you’re doing a read aloud, start reading as soon as you have greeted each student at the door to help encourage them to join you quickly).
Prioritize and Strategize:
• Sometimes, we come across pet activities that can distract us from what will matter most for students’ present and longterm self-driven learning. We must honestly evaluate them for their authentic learning value for students, especially when placed next to other possibly more worthy ventures. Some culprits may include:
» Having students write down your entire week’s worth of plans in their planners
» Logic puzzles–especially when it’s almost always of the same variety (Pretty sure my fifth grade teacher made us to Hink-Pinks every morning of the school year)
» Arbitrary worksheets
• For those self-starters that may be completely non-negotiable, such as math fluency practice, strategize the timing. Is first thing in the morning really the optimal time for that practice, or could there be a better time when students are more alert and ready?
As we work to start each day with more purpose, we, along with our students, will more clearly glimpse the big picture of what matters most for our learning throughout each day.
What about you? What morning routines and strategies help you and your students start each day out right?
When you set up your classroom, is democracy a mindful priority?
I’ve never forgotten the story of how one of my favorite college professors was begged out of retirement to teach 2nd grade–the evening before school started. When she walked into her classroom on the first day of school, it was to bare walls, stacked desks, and puzzled students.
They sat down on the floor together. Eventually, a 7 year-old timidly shared that things felt a little off, to which the others agreed. When my professor asked them what a classroom should consist of, one girl raised her hand and said, “Well, last year, we had chairs.” They set to work arranging the furniture, and then regrouped. Then, another boy offered, “We also normally have pencils.” Together, they procured a supply. And so it went for the first part of the school year.
I’ve always remembered the ending to her story: that those students owned that classroom as none of her students had before or since. And with a wink, she added that she didn’t necessarily recommend having zero preparation before the school year started–at least for the sake of school administrators’ sanity.
The Set Up
The idea of incorporating classroom jobs centers around ownership. This is more than about classroom management or clean-up–it’s about empowering students with the understanding that the feel of their learning environment is in their hands.
Hold a class meeting early in the school year to discuss the shared nature of your classroom’s physical, emotional, and academic space. Brainstorm tasks you all feel are necessary for smooth maintenance, safety, and support. You may opt to show students your list from the previous year, and then allow them to help you modify it based on their unique needs. Or you may choose to go the way of my professor, and allow your students to start from scratch!
Pass out a job application so students can list their top choices and reasons they believe they would qualify for the job.
Additional options to consider:
Interview each student before assigning jobs. I’ve had groups that enjoyed dressing up for a more formal and “official” experience.
Set aside “job time” at the end or beginning of the day for those students whose jobs require some time; you may choose to have the other students read, journal, etc., during that time.
List of Job Ideas
Whatever your approach, below are jobs that have all been tried by my fifth graders (with the exception of a “social media manager,” which I plan on trying out as soon as I resume teaching)! The number to the side is how many students I’ve typically had doing the job, but be sure to base things on your class needs and size! Also note that some are combos based on how much time some jobs took. Feel free to share these with your students to help them get inspired!
Paper Passers/Absentee Buddies:
Description: Passes out any appropriate papers daily and picks up papers from groups. During job time, they get materials gathered for any students that are absent, write down assignments for the day, and leaves them neatly on their desks. (2)
Description: Files all graded papers and handouts into each student’s file of papers that are to go home. (2)
Qualities: Memory skills, FAST
Description: Carries lunch basket daily. Also gets the room ready for projector use when needed by quickly pulling down the projector screen, turning off the lights, closing the blinds, and turning on the projector. During job time, they check all the walls for repairs & remind tables to clean up desks/floors. Takes care of all other classroom maintenance as called upon. (2)
Qualities: Strong, lines up quickly at beginning of line, tall, takes initiative
Description: Checks all planners at the end of the day during job time. They also check for completion of the homework journal/project each Friday morning, and reports and missing work to the teacher in the morning.
Qualities: Responsible, thorough, organized. (1)
Description: Makes birthday cards for each student on their birthday/half birthday, and then get signatures from everyone in the class.
Qualities: Good handwriting, artistic, thoughtful, AMAZING memory! (1)
Question of the Week Keeper
Description: Comes up with brainteaser questions and answers for the Question of the Week and lets the payroll know who gets bonuses for getting it right. (1)
Qualities: Good handwriting, likes puzzles, organized. (1)
Description: Updates the daily schedule and keeps the monthly calendar correct.
Qualities: Tall, memory skills, VERY neat handwriting (1)
Assistant Event Manager
Description: Assists the event manager with anything he/she needs help with.
Description: This person will need to erase the board after each recess and whenever else it is needed. Thoroughly cleans the board during job time. (1)
Qualities: Tall, strong, pays attention, neat
Description: Reminds all students to add their paychecks to their check registers every payday. They also check with students who have bonuses each day during job time to make sure they’ve recorded in their check registers. (1)
Qualities: listener, math money skills, honest
Description: During job time each day, they check with any students who have fines to make sure they’ve recorded them in their check registers. (1)
Qualities: organized, listener, math money skills
Description: Handles money during the class store by helping students write checks and subtract from their check registers. Assigns prices to class store items. Also stands and leads the pledge every morning. (1)
Qualities: honest, math money skills, organized, memory skills
Behavior Recorder/Assistant Room Manager
Description: Writes down daily fines and bonuses and then records them on the board during job time. Also assists the room manager with filling in for absent students. (1)
Qualities: responsible, great memory, honest
Description: Makes sure that everyone is doing their job daily. Also fills in for any job if a student is absent. (Must know responsibilities of all jobs) Takes care of all other leadership/management tasks as called upon. (1)
Qualities: Organized, attentive, fast Learner, leadership
Description: Leads the line daily. Learns assigned places to stop & keeps the class straight and quiet by giving firm reminders to students that need to stop talking or walk single file. (1)
Qualities: listener, respectful
Description: Ends the line daily to all destinations and turns off the light as class leaves. If any student has to return to the classroom to retrieve a forgotten item, the line ender is required to go with them. Keeps the class straight and quiet by giving firm reminders to students that need to stop talking or walk single file.
Qualities: Fast, good listener great memory, respectful
Class Journal Keeper
Description: Updates the class journal each day during job time with a description/illustration of the day’s events. (1)
Qualities: Artistic, neat handwriting
Description: This person must have access to a digital camera that he/she can bring to school on a regular basis. They are in charge to taking pictures of exciting experiments, debates, parties, and anything else; they then need to email pictures from home to me occasionally. (1)
Qualities: Takes initiative, very responsible, photography/technology skills
Description: Runs any notes or errands throughout building throughout the day. Collects Mrs. Wade’s mailbox items from the front office every job time. (1)
Qualities: Knows school and different teachers, communicator, fast walker, polite, honest
Description: Also, each morning makes sure all students have moved lunch magnets and then counts/writes down how many for each option. Moves the magnets back at the end of the day. (1)
Qualities: organized, memory skills, fast
Description: Using disinfectant wipes, cleans all desks, tables, (and if time), chairs at the end of each day during job time. Cleans other surfaces as needed. (2)
Qualities: Attention to detail, helpful, respectful to others’ belongings
Description: Helps keep the entire class organized; organizes the guided reading desk/teacher area as needed, helps other students with organizing their desks, organizes other things around the class when it gets cluttered. (1)
Qualities: Um, organized. 🙂 Also, takes initiative, meaning they don’t need to be asked to notice & jump in to help.
Class Medic/End of Day Caller
Description: Keeps band-aids in their desk and distributes to students. Also makes sure everyone takes home their lunch boxes/coats/backpacks.(1)
Qualities: Fast, memory skills, reliable
Description: Straightens up the clubhouse and sorts the books during job time every day. Checks for any damages to books and fixes them or reports them to the teacher as needed. Maintains all other clubhouse materials to keep things looking nice. (1)
Qualities: Organized, respectful to books
Scribe/Word Wall Attendant
Description: On Monday Meetings, this person will write down all the items of business discussed and report at the end. This person also maintains the word wall chart during job time by neatly writing great words we encounter as a class. This person will also take notes whenever we go over important things, remind the teacher of things, and advance PowerPoint presentations during lessons. (1)
B+, 4, O, 73%–these marks and the like are terrible storytellers. After all, how can one impassive mark describe a student’s chronicle of small triumphs, daily perseverance, and long-term growth? On the other hand, is it even possible to record and convey complex learning journeys in a way that isn’t cumbersome?
If any of this sounds familiar, explore Google Drive as a possible solution to strike the balance! Increase your accuracy, efficiency, and transparency by checking out some examples and tips below.
Your clipboard and pen still have a place in certain formative assessment note-taking. But for more in-depth situations, a Google Form with prefilled lists to choose from can help you generate much more comprehensive–and accessible–notes. In a recent #5thchat, @Mr_Ullman shared his forms for writing and reading conferences. We especially love his use of drop-down menus to easily select student names, writing cycle stages, and comprehension strategies, and more.
Other Accuracy Possibilities:
Use the Scale feature (ie 1 to 5) to record students’ confidence in their book selections.
Use the Checkboxes feature on which outcome(s) students are currently working toward.
Use the Grid feature for assessing progress in a class-generated science rubric.
Most schools require benchmarks assessments, typically at the beginning, middle, and end of the year. Ready-made benchmark programs often come with assessment sheets, but why not create your own multifunctional and tailored document? For example, I decided to consolidate reading, writing, math, and behavior benchmarks all into one Google Document. I also made student-friendly alterations so we could use the same sheets during our student-led parent teacher conferences (see extra resources & how-to here); I also added grade-level-specific rubrics, tables, and data.
Other Efficiency Possibilities:
Take items directly from your school’s report card (such as behavior descriptors), and turn them into a Google Form. Then, convert your quarter-long formative notes into summatives as you observe patterns and/or calculate averages in the responses spreadsheet.
Using tables to record data across the year saves you more than just time and paper–it also allows students and parents to better track and discuss growth themselves.
Share a form with students as a quick exit ticket after a lesson or unit.
Sharing assessment data with students can be accompanied with uncertainty–how much should we share? How do we keep them from becoming preoccupied with numbers? Will they feel defined by scores? However, I’ve come to realize that as long as we discuss data in the context of process over product, it can become yet another way to empower students with ownership over their learning. In addition, the share features in Google Drive are ideal for fostering communication among students, parents, and teachers. We are advocates for harnessing technology for more in-depth and authentic collaboration among all involved in student learning!
Other Transparency Possibilities:
Duplicate Google Documents like the benchmark data sheet so each student (and their parents) can access their own online version.
Share forms you use for formative assessments with parents to give them a clear picture of what’s happening in class.
Invite parents to leave comments for you or for their student!
How else have you used Google Documents and Forms for more accurate, efficient, and transparent assessments? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!
Have you ever felt parent teacher conferences become a blur of shallow compliments and trite suggestions? Have you ever worried about the quality of students’ involvement? Do you want parents to gain more meaningful insight on how their children spend 7 hours a day, 5 days a week? Then consider shifting to student led conferences!
After a couple years of traditional parent teacher conferences, I began to doubt their value. Attendance was patchy, and the bulk of meetings that did take place often felt inconsequential. Given the vast expenditure of time and energy in preparations, conferences generally seemed to yield trivial returns–goals quickly forgotten, behavior largely unchanged, and work samples simply discarded. All that changed when my school introduced student-led conferences.
Note that this is geared toward upper-elementary. However, it can easily be adapted for younger and older students–our entire school adopted student-led conferences.
Stage #1: Introduce Student-Led Conferences to Students (Estimated time: 30 min)
Give a labeled folder to each student to keep conference materials organized.
Give students their report cards, progress reports, and/or other records that are to be shared during conferences. Let them know they need to be familiar with everything on it, so to ask for clarification as needed.
Stage #2: Make Goals (Estimated time: 45 min.)
Brainstorm as a class possible areas for improvement in math, reading, writing, and behavior.
Teach class about writing goals according to your school or grade level standards. Our team used SMART goals (s=specific, m=measurable, a=attainable, r=relevant, t=time-bound). I also like Kath Murdoch’s idea of 1-word goal-making.
Have them write 1 goal for each subject area on the brainstorming sheet and turn them in.
Give back to students to write their final goals after you have reviewed them.
Stage #3: Meet with each student (est. time: 5 min. per student)
Make sure their conference folder has all required items in order (I gave each student this list to organize their work. I also post it on the whiteboard, and have students sign up to meet with me once their folders are completely ready).
Double-check the finalized goals.
If your grading system has a “social skills” or behavior field, consider having the student self-grade with you. Have a discussion on what each grade means (ie, 4 means “I rarely need reminders or help in this area,” 3 means “I sometimes need reminders and I could work on this area,” etc.). Not only have I found that students are often harder on themselves than I am, but the increased ownership better prepares them for sometimes tough conversations with their parents.
Go over the “During Conference” checklist together. Discuss any questions on how to present each area.
Have students practice going over their checklist with a classmate (tell them they can leave out sensitive items like their report cards). Use a stopwatch to give them a realistic idea of the timeframe.
Make copies of student goals for teacher, parents, and student
Student and Parent Response
After each conference, I surveyed parents and students. Below is some of the feedback I frequently received.
Removing the frightening anticipation of grown-ups discussing unknown issues during conferences (avoiding situations such as the one on the right).
The opportunity to “show off” some of the things they were most proud of.
How professional they felt as they took the lead.
How knowledgeable students were about their own progress and responsibilities.
Students taking the lead with the teacher helping where needed.
How students explained their report cards themselves.
The pride and ownership students took in showing their work.
Pitfalls to Avoid
Time allocations: Make sure there’s plenty of time for parents to ask questions and have further, informative discussions as needed!
Inadequate student practice: Let students practice at least 2 times in class. This will help them with both confidence and purposeful time management.
Inadequate student organization: Use the conference folder items list to go through every item as an entire class one more time right before conferences start.
Hesitation to Jump In: One parent voiced concern that problems were sugar-coated, and that she could not speak freely because of the student’s presence. Let your students know beforehand that in order for conferences to be effective, everyone needs to be 100% on the same page, and that you will redirect the conversation if necessary.
Unengaging Parent Homework: At first, we assigned parents to write a letter to their children reflecting on their feelings about the conference. However, very few parents completed the assignment. We switched to emailing a Google Form survey for them to share feedback on conferences. Some of the questions we asked included:
What made you feel proud?
Do you feel your student’s goals match the areas in which he/she can improve? If not, what are additional areas in which you feel he/she can improve?
How can you help your student remember and succeed at his/her goals at home?
When you barely have time to suck down occasional gulps of air amid swells of paperwork, it’s understandable to lose some perspective. Unfortunately, this is a condition many teachers face when it comes to approaching formative versus summative assessments.
Opportunity for impact?
But how important is it, really, to keep track of such minute details on student progress? Well, Google defines formative as, “serving to form something, especially having a profound and lasting influence on a person’s development.” Black and Wiliam found “that innovations which include strengthening the practice of formative assessment produce significant, and often substantial, learning gains.” And we have discovered teacher-student relationships become elevated as students recognize just how invested teachers are in their daily progress–not just in what they produce at the end of units.
The nature of the beast
Formative assessments do not cast the intimidating shadow of their summative counterparts. They are so authentically woven into the day, it can feel almost spontaneous as you uncover quiet learning moments, pinpointing students’ true understanding. Meanwhile, summatives are not only highly concrete and measurable, but they’re also accompanied by pressure for results–pressure that may come from administrators, parents, politicians, and even sometimes teachers themselves.
Educator’s catch 22
And so, we run into the classic teacher dilemma: on the one hand, we know part of the value of formative assessments lies their authentic, unassuming quality; on the other, it is precisely that quality that makes it easy for them to slip under the radar. The key is to make a plan for a record-keeping strategy that works for you. This sounds easy enough, but it does take a little trial and error as you find one or more methods that feel comfortable and easily accessible in the flow of your classroom. Below are a few personal favorites, all of which have functioned well in various contexts.
This is the Mary Poppins carpet bag of education apps. No matter how full I’d pack in anecdotal notes for each student, it stayed organized and easy to navigate. It was also easy to share with parents during parent-teacher conferences. Some details I appreciated include:
The option to sort notes in practical ways, including by student names, groups, and feedback.
A design in that’s conducive to appropriate feedback with fields like “strength,” “teaching point,” and “next step”–great to remind teachers to look for what’s going well along with what needs work.
The ability to apply one note to multiple students simultaneously–and the fact that it saves a previously-used note so you don’t have to type out the same phrase again.
The color coded flags to remind you who currently needs some extra support.
Note: At first, some students were unsure about my typing on my phone during our discussions–they worried I was texting, or otherwise distracted. Be sure to introduce this method of note-taking to your whole class, telling them exactly how you are using your phone during your conferences.
2. Notecard Waterfalls
This one is a bit old-school, but I found it especially handy for reading groups. I would write each student’s name on one notecard, sort them into their groups, and then tape them into a waterfall on half a piece of laminated cardstock per group. (see photos below) I found this to be the perfect place to keep tallies for simplified running records and reading notes. After a student would read aloud, I would say something like this:
“Ok, I’m writing that you are rocking your punctuation expression. You paused appropriately at every comma and period! I’m also writing that we’re working on paying attention to the endings of words, since you left off -ing and -s a couple times as you read. Do you want me to add anything else for us to remember next time we work on reading together?”
This kind of feedback was quick and simple, but extremely effective as it kept us both on the same page. Another bonus: when a card would fill up, I could easily throw it in the student’s file and pop in another one.
3. Status of the Class
Status of the Class is the perfect tool to keep track of student-driven projects or independent work time. Simply call out each student’s name, and then jot down their selected task on a class list. This works well for long-term processes involving steps, stages, or centers with which the students are already familiar, such as the Writer’s Workshop, the scientific method, or math or literacy stations. Some advantages include:
Stay informed of where you can coach students in their individual processes.
Teach students metacognition as you require them to give a brief statement explaining both the what and the why of their choice. (I would periodically model how that would sound right before taking Status of the Class to remind them how to explain their choice. For example: “I’m working on illustrating because I want to better visualize how to describe my characters,” or “I’m going to read to myself because I just got to a cliff-hanger in my book.”
Keep track of students who seem to be stuck in one place.
Maintain accountability for students who may get off-task during independent learning time.
If appropriate, give on-the-spot feedback as you help students learn to spend independent time wisely (ie, “I see you’ve chosen that 3 times in a row here. How else could you spend your time to help you grow?”)
Tips: Use wet-erase marker to write on a laminated class list chart, such as the one pictured, and keep it posted in the room so students can also keep track of how they’ve been spending their time. Make a key for your abbreviations on the bottom.
What are some of your favorite methods for practical formative assessments?
Featured Image: Elli Pálma via Flickr Creative Commons