Creative Formative Assessments

Hello there! It has been a minute – and a teacher post is coming your way! This post is being brought to you courtesy of my Instructional Effectiveness course that I am taking right now, as part of my M.Ed. at Clemson University.

So, what is formative assessment?

Formative assessment is an ongoing measurement of how your students are progressing toward your learning goals and objectives. Unlike summative assessment, which happens after instruction, formative assessment happens during – ideally, throughout – instruction, and is used to form your future instructional decisions (hence, formative!). My district’s goal this year is focusing on incorporating Checks for Understanding, or CFUs, every 1-3 minutes during instruction. Why so often? Think of the ever-popular exit ticket. These can give you some great information about your students… as they leave your classroom. You then need to wait until the next day to address misconceptions. By checking for understanding as instruction is occurring, teachers can make on-the-spot adjustments to instruction. The point of misunderstanding is easier to target, and students are less likely to slip through with learning gaps.

If not an exit ticket, then what?

As a teacher of the little ones, it often feels like many formative assessment ideas discussed during professional development are too advanced or complicated for younger children. However, most can be easily modified to suit any age or ability level, especially when it’s a general medium that can be easily tailored across content areas. Here, I’ll outline three that I use most often in my own classroom, and one that I plan on utilizing later on this school year.

Wikki Stix

What’s waxy, pliable, and colorful? Wikki Stix! I first heard about Wikki Stix when I started digging deeper into learning about guided reading tools. Last year, I had written a Donors Choose project that didn’t quite reach the minimum monetary amount, so I threw in a package of Wikki Stix to reach it. Since then, I have used these wonderful little gizmos at least every week, mostly during guided reading groups and math groups. Students love the colors that they come in and it provides them with a truly hands-on experience.

Here are some of my favorite uses of Wikki Stix:

  • Say a number or shape and have students build it.
  • Give a problem and have students solve and show their answer.
  • Use picture clues and have students write the initial, medial, or final sound. This can be easily differentiated depending on your level of readers.
  • Make sight words or spelling words.

Dry-Erase Boards

Another Donors Choose prize, dry-erase boards are one of my students’ favorite ways to show off their learning. Like Wikki Stix, they can truly be used across content areas. We like to call it 1,2,3…FLIP! when we use ours. Students know to hold their boards close to their chests so that they keep their answer a secret. This helps me gather a more valid picture of their understanding, and it feels like a game to them. In addition, I can quickly glance to get a quick snapshot of how we stand in our learning at that moment.

I incorporate dry-erase boards almost daily, usually in one of the following ways:

  • Say a number or shape and have students write/draw it on their boards.
  • Read a story problem and have students solve.
  • Allow all students to participate in whole-group review games by allowing them to write on their boards before answering aloud.
  • Practice letter formation, spelling words, and sight words.
  • Stop and jot periodically to check for understanding throughout lessons.

Think-Pair-Share

This one always makes my heart happy. I introduced our procedure for this at the beginning of the year, and it is one of the most low-prep yet engaging and open-ended formative assessments you can do. Having expectations on accountable talk, taking turns, and bringing it back to the whole group from the outset is key to being successful in think-pair-share, but once the groundwork is laid, it is so simple. We use hand gestures to monitor our process and stay on track. If you’re unfamiliar with think-pair-share, it has three steps.

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1. Think – The teacher poses a question and allows for think time in which student independently reflect on the question in relation to their learning. At this time, my students put a thinking finger to their temple so I know they are considering the prompt.

 

Photo on 11-15-17 at 9.59 PM #22. Pair – Students pair with a neighbor and take turns sharing ideas. Doing so gives them valuable time to re-assess their thinking and modify it if necessary. When my students have composed a thought and are ready to pair, they hold up crossed fingers. When I see everyone is ready, they then turn to a partner near them. Some teachers have assigned partners, but I prefer to keep mine fluid and let my students pick their person. This is where that positive environment is key – without it, you run the risk of students not being able to self-regulate in choosing a partner and someone getting hurt. During this time, I visit with groups and listen in to what they are saying, providing some guiding questions if needed.

3. Share – The teacher has students share what they discussed. Some modifications to this can include using popsicle sticks to call on non-volunteers and having students tell what their partner said. I do both of these often to help keep students engaged and remember that what their partner says is as important as what they are saying. I bring them back to share time from pairing by quietly counting down from five on my fingers. I do this so as to give the pairs time to wrap up their thoughts.

Not only does this method require little preparation aside from planning and timing effective questions, it allows your more shy students to practice and rehearse. All students get a chance to speak in one way or another, and it can often cause that necessary cognitive dissonance to push them further in their thinking. Connections between ideas can easily be made in these conversations, and all learners can be challenged when the questions posed are open-ended and allow for more than one right answer.

The Road Ahead: Plickers

I have heard about Plickers from a colleague and plan to research and implement it later this year in my classroom. Essentially, Plickers are “paper clickers”: each student has a unique Plicker with four answer choice sides. After reading a multiple-choice question, students hold their Plicker with the correct answer choice on top. The teacher can then scan the room with a phone or tablet and get immediate feedback using the students’ unique identities. I am intrigued by this method because we are not a 1:1 technology school and also because I can quickly see which students require more support before moving on to independent practice, or which students require remediation after learning a topic. To help little learners get the hang of putting the correct side of the card on top, you can have them first put a clothespin on their answer, then turn the clothespin to the ceiling. This will be a method that I will revisit after our winter break once I have more time to set it up – each student will need his/her own unique Plicker card, and questions will need to be entered into the program before proceeding.

Collaboration: The Cornerstone to Creativity

So, how can coaches facilitate these experiences in their school? It starts with collaboration among teachers. I do not take credit for thinking of any of these ideas on my own; instead, I learned about them through collaboration with other teachers, whether at my school or teacher-bloggers across the country! Allowing teachers time to collaborate with each other is important, but an important consideration is to give teachers time to collaborate with teachers of similar age groups. What works for fifth-grade students is very different from what works for kindergarteners. Sharing how we can modify these creative assessments for different learner groups is a valuable and important conversation to have during these times.  The role of the coach here isn’t to simply schedule these meetings, but to come as a well-researched player with a host of tricks that teachers can discuss in terms of their own objectives and individual students.

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2017-2018 Classroom Tour

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Back to school always makes me feel like a little girl again – a fresh start with shiny new school supplies and a laundry list of goals and resolutions. Of course, one of the best things about being a teacher is getting my classroom set up! 

This year, I have eliminated chairs from my classroom with the exception of my computer station. Each student table has a different seating option: standing desk, stools, cubes, balance balls, or seat cushions at a low table. I’m going to integrate my behavior management and flexible seating to make it more manageable. Students will be in teams each week and will work together to earn points. On Friday, the team with the most points will get to pick their option for the next week first. 


Our school theme this year is “Learning is Our Ticket to the World.” I have decided to use an adventure spin on my door display. I’ll probably change out the pennant banners in October and do something for Halloween. 

This is the view from the door as you walk in my room. To the left are storage cubbies for backpacks and lunch boxes. 


I post any important flyers on our news board as well as our monthly newsletter and calendar, which I purchased from Learning in Wonderland. I also have my classroom information flipbook displayed for now, which I also purchased from Learning in Wonderland. 


This is our reading nook. I use Fountas and Pinnell to level my books. The bulletin board will become home for anchor charts and old morning messages. The smaller bookshelf is new this year. I will be keeping my read-aloud books in there for easy access during units. 

Something I’m really excited about is my new lightbox! I purchased a bundle of inserts for it from Learning in Wonderland (are you seeing a trend?). So far, I’ve just printed transparencies for fall, birthdays, and student of the month. I’m so excited to use it to make my kids feel special for their birthdays and behavior! 


This is my favorite place in my room and where the magic happens! Our stools are new. Right now I have things set out for Meet the Teacher. Behind the table, I keep math centers, my guided reading toolkit, Fountas and Pinnell kit, and some other literacy resources. You can also see our objectives to the left and our Waterford clip chart to the right. Students in our district spend two 20 minute sessions on the computer, and the clip chart helps me track who has and has not gotten their time in. 


Here is our writing station! I change the cards monthly. Right now, I have different writing activities in the paper trays. As students become more independent writers, I will put in different types of writing paper and move away from generated activities. 



And these are just some views from the back of our room. Only two more workdays until go time! 

Hello. It’s me.

I’m alive. For the record. Life has been rather busy since I last posted! What have I been up to?

Getting Married

bips-1387The wedding will get its own post soon, but here it is in a nutshell: Hurricane Matthew + the ultimate pre-wedding meltdown + the best day ever.

Work

IMG_6211Because ya gotta pay bills somehow, right? (Just kidding – it was a fantastic year and I’m already emotional because my babies leave me in just 8 days 😦 )

Running, Running, and More Running

18274947_10208314011519678_4194667512918776320_nSince my last post, I have run 4 more halfs and….. I AM A MARATHONER! This epic weekend will receive its own post ASAP!

Adulting

18404046_10208329051575670_8793015558423701217_oI’m headed back to school, y’all! In a few weeks, I will start my M.Ed. in Teaching and Learning with a focus in Instructional Coaching at Clemson University. I am beyond excited and also kinda freaking out about juggling everything, but we will make it work!

Stay tuned for more details about wife life/bridezilla mode/tears at mile 23!

XX

Julia

Teacher Appreciation, Progress vs. Perfection, and Other Rest Week Reflections

Hey there! Happy Friday! This week, I won’t be recapping any workouts because guess what — I don’t have any to recap! That’s right. I have been taking recovery to heart this week and aside from working–HARD–on the yard and herding six-year-olds all day, I haven’t been doing much physical activity. I’ll spare you a photo of my feet, but I have my first real runner’s toe. The Brooks are about to be retired, but I would really love to not have a blood blister pop all over them before that. Plus, I’ve been catching up on some wedding planning (the most bittersweet, yet summative sentence of my existence lately). Since I’ve had plenty of time (maybe too much) on my hands this week, here’s some other musing.

Teacher Appreciation Week

I feel like I don’t deserve this week. Seriously. We give our veterans A DAY but I get a whole week. I thought about this one morning this week after walking in to work to our PTO’s latest surprise (more on that in a bit). I love what I do. I love spending time with my students. I love seeing them grow, hearing their ideas, and being their confidante. I get home before Jeff does, and I’ll have this summer to work on house projects, finalize wedding details, and go on vacation. Yes, I do have a lot of paperwork and meetings. No, I don’t get paid huge wads of cash. But, I see my family when I want to. I can take off when I’m sick. I laugh daily and not one day is the same. I’m thankful for this week, but I also think there are others who are much more deserving of a week of recognition, praise, and a heartfelt “you inspire me.”

However, on the same token, I have been enjoying the extra spice at work this week. Our PTO rocks. 🙂

 

Podcasts

I started listening to Serial: Season 1 last spring when I had a longer commute to work and was instantly hooked. I listened to it nonstop for about a week. I didn’t listen much to podcasts over the summer, since I had plenty of time to read, but I recently started back up on my long runs and longer trips. Some favorites:

  • Serial: Season 2. While I’m not as into this season as I was with Adnan’s, it’s still intriguing. I haven’t finished this season yet, as I usually pull it up while on the elliptical or stair climber (i.e. not often).
  • NPR’s Ask Me Another: I know. I’m a nerd. I have never denied this. If you’re a fellow nerd, closet or proud, you’re nodding your head in agreement. YAS. AMA’s like trivia at your favorite bar, except you can listen to it in your pajamas, petting your dog, obnoxiously yelling out (often-incorrect) answers. If you have not sipped from the AMA fountain yet, you need to, my friend. Ophira Eisenberg could be my best friend and I’d be totally fine with it. This podcast is great for long runs because it’s like having a crowd of funny people to entertain you while you’re pounding the pavement.
  • Mojo for Running: This is my new commute podcast. The episodes are almost always under 20 minutes and have given me so much helpful information, and I’ve only listened to about 10 episodes in the past few weeks. When actual running takes up so much of your free time, it’s hard to find time to read running blogs, magazines, etc. for tips and ideas. With Mojo for Running, I can learn a ton of new things and actually have time to apply it!

Progress vs. Perfection

Practice makes perfect. We’ve all heard it. But this week, in my recovery-fueled pensiveness, I’ve been thinking a lot about that short but loaded sentence. I’m about to get all philosophical here. Pardon me. I’ve been thinking about this sentence in terms of two very different, but key parts of my life:

1.) running

2.) teaching (specifically, reading)

Perfection in Running

Is there such a thing? Like many other runners, I am on a quest to become faster and go further. I do not have one end goal in my mind, and to me, that is what perfection is: an end. To imply that practice will end in perfection also implies that that practice will one day be no longer. So, why would I want to be a “perfect” runner (not like that would happen, anyway)? Aside from becoming injured during training and not getting to complete a race, I don’t think I could feel truly let down by running, because I know I will never be perfect. There will always be a new record to set, a new goal to achieve, a new process to master. It’s exhausting, but also exhilarating.

Perfection in Teaching

NO. I am not perfect. NO. My students are not perfect. So again, I ask, is there such a thing as perfection? How can you define the perfect reader? Unless if the next Shakespeare walks out of my apple-bordered classroom door one day, I don’t think I could define it. I don’t focus on perfect readers, because again, to imply that there is a perfect ideal implies that once you have reached that ideal, you’re done. There’s no more point to reading.

I’m sorry–NO. Reading is, in itself, a practice, and a life-long one. In that sense, it’s a lot like running. One reads, runs, or does both not to become perfect, but because it’s a practice that relaxes the mind, invigorates the body, and opens doors for the soul.

But I digress. I need to run to let these thoughts out, instead of unleashing them on some unsuspecting Internet bystander.

Confidence

I would once define myself as a girly-girl. I would gladly spend more money on clothes, cosmetics, shoes, or my hair than any other item (including food, in college :)). However, I posted this picture as my Facebook profile picture earlier this week and (once again), I got to thinking.

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There is no head-tilt in this picture. There’s no eye contact, let alone a sassy gaze. There isn’t a skinny-arm pose, or a popped knee (at least, not an intentional one :)), or a duck face, or a filter.

Nope. Instead, there’s sweat. There’s a gigantic frizzy “ponytail” that was tame when I set out. There’s visible dirt. Thank god technology geniuses haven’t figured out how to emit smells from computers, because then I really wouldn’t have any followers on here.

However, I think I look beautiful here. Someone might be reading this and thinking “Wow. I might not be able to smell her sweat, but I can smell her cockiness. UNFOLLOW.” And to that… I am not sorry. I know that I am not the only woman on the planet who has, at one time or another, felt too skinny, too chubby, too intense, too sensitive, too indecisive, too decisive, too curly, too straight, too made-up, too natural, too feminine, too tomboy, too high-maintenance, too frumpy.

When I look at this picture, I see my best self. I see someone who knows where she’s going. I see someone who is strong–and that’s a word I never would have used to describe myself before. I see someone I would have looked up to when I was younger. Wearing pink and glitter doesn’t make you weak. Having muscles and outrunning boys doesn’t make you aggressive or manly. I’m so happy I learned that. It took 24 years, but I learned it. Making time to run does not make you selfish. Going to the store with wet hair does not mean the world is ending. It means you’re making a choice: Be a nutcase or contain that stuff with some endorphins (just kidding…. kind of).

As you can see, my mind is itching to get back into training (Peachtree Road Race, I’m coming for ya!). But I’ll close with this: I will not apologize for prioritizing my health, or liking myself. And you shouldn’t either. Because, after all….

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A Major Award

major2baward

While not frag-ee-lay, I did receive a major award this week, and my head is still spinning from it.

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I am officially Aiken County’s First Year Teacher of the Year for 2015-2016! I know, let’s rewind for a moment. Back in February, I learned I was my school’s First Year TOTY, and then went on to the district level. On Wednesday, we had our county-wide induction meeting/FYTOTY banquet. I was excited for it, but I had no idea I would play any important role in the reception. Earlier last week, our Superintendent walked into my classroom while I was wearing a coffee-stained floppy hat and [attempting] to teach double-digit addition to a small group. I about melted into the chair on the spot when he asked me how my Spring Break was. I think I mumbled something about getting to visit my mom [which was fun! Yay for girl time].

Fast forward to this Wednesday, when I was sitting at the reception with my principal and guidance counselor, listening to speeches from our Super, the current FYTOTY, and our induction coordinator. I felt a little nervous, but more anxious to find out if I had made it to the honor court. I did! As we stood there on stage, I felt kind of really awkward. I am used to having fourteen pairs of non-judgemental, innocent eyes on me, not a room full of adult eyes. While it sounds cliche, the next few moments passed in a blur. There were words about passion, children, and the future, and the next thing I knew, my name was announced, and the speaker thanked my fiance and family for being there.

Sorry–WHAT? I turned around and saw Jeff, my Mom, and John behind me. And I cried a little bit. Aside from getting engaged, it was one of the most overwhelming days of my life. I made the front page of the newspaper! I also was videotaped while still in shock, and gave some truly articulate answers to the questions (LOL JK!!).

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So, needless to say, I skipped my run that day. The immense honor of this award is starting to truly sink in, and it’s making me so appreciative of the support that Jeff and my family have given me this year. It also doesn’t hurt to have such a sweet group of little people to tackle each day with. 🙂

Googling myself now leads to something more than my family history project from college. It now leads to the Superintendent’s TWITTER?! I feel like a celeb. Don’t worry, this won’t go to my head, because I have a bunch of six year olds to keep me grounded by reminding me of my permanent hair flyaways, occasional coffee dribbles, and other embarrassing/awkward/etc. things that regular humans don’t mention in polite conversation (such as the fact that it is weird that I have eggs in my salad at lunch or that I drink an entire Yeti cup –AND REFILL IT–daily). I will say, though, that there is nothing more precious than having a munchkin ask for your autograph to add to her princess collection. Who needs pretty dresses and Prince Charming when you can have good books and problem solving?

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