Hurdle #1- Getting Started

So the research is done. Now What? I took an afternoon with no students in attendance to plan my first week of Formative Assessment experimentation.  Before I explain how this went let me give you a little background.

Formative Assessment is a method of helping students be better thinkers.  A teacher should start with detailed solid planning.  The plan should include a detailed target telling students what their learning goal is, how to reach it, and where they currently are in relation to reaching it.  The plan should be to introduce this goal, model with well thought out questioning, performance of understanding (practice), feedback that feeds forward, and a golden second chance to correct themselves right then and there within the lesson.  Sounds great huh?

But as an elementary teacher I teach 8 subjects (word analysis, vocabulary, comprehension, grammar, spelling, writing, math, and social studies or science or art or music) every day. At least I’m supposed to.  So as I sat down to do this detailed planning I froze.  Am I really supposed to write a learning target with great questions, design/choose a performance of understanding for each one?!  Brick Wall!!!

So I decided to focus on one area at a time. I chose Comprehension (a great thinking subject) as my focus.  I have to get my feet wet, not necessarily jump into the middle of the ocean right??  So I examined the story and what students are expected to know by the end of the week.  I wrote 2 main goals for the students to meet by end of week.  Goals that follow this format; “I will be able to explain ____.” And then I asked myself how they would reach those goals, and how they would know they are reaching those goals. To further complicate matters, my curriculum is designed to teach reading strategies, reading skills, and analyzing what a writer does within each weekly story selection.  My learning target seems to be getting muddier and muddier rather than clearer. Should I change the goal to focus on strategies only? Skills only? Or the thinking goals I came up with that will help them on the weekly test?

So here is what I decided to do.  I hope it works(fingers crossed). With my original 2 goals in mind, I designed  sub-goals or sub targets that specifically deal with the strategies and skills for the week including a series of questions for each lesson.  Monday’s lesson will focus on my first goal using reading strategies as the tool to reach that goal.  The same will happen Tuesday with focus on the second goal.  Both days have a short written task to give me evidence of how close students are to reaching the goal. Then we will revisit the two goals and use the comprehension skill of the week to reinforce those goals Wednesday.  That is as far as I got. I have a target, a series of questions, and a short performance of understanding planned for each day. I don’t feel like it’s enough.  But that took me a few of hours. And I feel that I need clarity and/or distance before slogging any further.  Next step, revisit the research and finish next weeks plans.

This is not any easy process.  Complicated doesn’t quite describe it.  But the end product will be thinking students, who can come up with original ideas and back them up.  That will be a sweet day.  Trial and error.  This is my first try.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  It’s not the whole process of Formative Assessment, but it’s solid bite.

 

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The journey starts here

I have been an elementary teacher for 11 years.  I have struggled with my teaching potential clashing with my district’s mandates on how , when, and what I am supposed to teach each day.  I have been jaded and dispassionate about my work. I remember during one of my many professional development days in which we were being introduced to a new district adopted ( mandated)  curriculum, remarking that  I felt like I was being forced to take a drink from an open fire-hydrant.  So much information, direction, philosophy  research, rules, scripts, just too much to master and relate to my students.  7 years later, I teach my curriculum with rigor and fidelity, on the same day and the same page as everyone else.  Yet, my students average scores aren’t budging.  They are mediocre at best.  Yet I am a strong teacher and I know my students have grander potential.

I come up with new ideas to relate information but they are usually shot down because they are not in the scripted program.  I must follow the script and keep up with the pacing guide. Small adjustments okay as long as I am doing what some researcher decided is best for me to do.  Students didn’t get it?- “Sorry- use your intervention time accordingly.” Intervention time- 40 minutes 3 times a week.  Not enough.  Not good enough.

But I see a light at the end of the tunnel.  Change is coming.  Common Core is coming and a district move towards Formative Assessment techniques is coming.  Finally, I can see relief.  So I started researching   I have read several resources on how to better teach Comprehension and Formative Assessment techniques some of which directly borrowed from my principal.  But when I went in to check on these new expectations, I was told I must use the same curriculum and still do so with rigor and fidelity.   Tension returns.

But I have found a new passion and urge to teach within the research   I want to  use these new theories and make my students not better test takers, but better thinkers.  I teach multiple subjects with scripted curriculum   But I am determined to tweak them (within bounds) not to get higher test scores, but to teach my student to be better thinkers.

My intention is to record my travails and success here.  It seems a big muddy mess marrying scripted curriculum with formative assessment. My principal says it can and will be done.  I fear it will be done half-assed and unsuccessfully, unless someone takes the initiative to do a little trial and error, share what works, and find the biggest obstacles rather than just waiting to be told what to do and how.  So here I go.  On a mission to teach my students how to think. Wish me luck!