So far, we have discussed informal assessments of your kids. But all of this content delivery is, of course, leading up to regular formal assessments in the form of unit tests or year-end testing.
Summative assessments count… a lot
There's one thing that you need to understand about testing in the modern teaching environment: It may be excessive, but it's also very important. Put simply, your students’ success will be gauged on how well they test, and it will eventually affect their ability to graduate from high school.
Of course, your own evaluations will rest upon the success of your students on various tests, as well. So, whether you agree or disagree with the amount of testing, I believe that it is important for teachers to support and encourage their children to do their absolute best in testing situations.
Teacher attitude = student attitude
Picture an elementary classroom getting ready to take a test. It may be a spelling quiz, a math unit assessment, or a comprehensive year-end test – it doesn't matter. In our first scenario, the teacher explains the following in a monotone, everyday voice:
“All right, everybody, do your best. Try your hardest and finish on time – we don’t want to be late to lunch.”
In the second scenario, the teacher's tone is more animated, but in a negative way:
“We’ve studied this, so everyone should know it. Don’t make those same silly mistakes we’ve been correcting over and over – you know better.”
In our last scenario, the teacher is bubbling with excitement:
“Show me what you know, people! Every one of you is TOTALLY ready for this. I can’t wait to see how smart you are!”
It’s pretty obvious which scenario will produce the best results, isn’t it? With just a few words, the third teacher has transformed her students into eager participants in the challenge of demonstrating what they have learned. More importantly, she has given them a very motivating reason to try hard: the kids want their favorite teacher to be proud of them and their work.
Remember my discussions on team-building – you are the leader and mentor and alpha of your pack. Your little cubs want your approval, and they will strive to achieve the things upon which you place importance.
A great team-building speech will not replace solid instruction, but it can move the average results up by several points.
Someday your children will (hopefully) grow into self-motivated adults who desire to excel on life’s tests for their own intrinsic reward. But, with rare exception, this will not be the case during their elementary years. Therefore, you have to give them a reason to try their very hardest – if no one else cares about the result, why should they?
And caring is infectious; once you show a student that you are excited about their scores, they will begin to generate their own internal excitement, as well.
Summative assessment prep
Up to this point, you have been using formative assessments to guide your instruction, some as informal as looking over their shoulders while they work and some a bit more formal, such as grading homework and spending one-on-one time. Of course, at the end of every unit, there will be a summative assessment. Here's how I feel about these:
You should always know exactly how your students will score on a unit assessment before you give it.
The unit test is not something that is sprung on the kids on a set date, whether they are ready or not. We aren’t teaching college courses! Rather, it is given to them when you know they are absolutely ready to ace it. You'll know this through your continuous paper-correcting feedback loop.
You'll also give them a practice test a couple of days before the final unit assessment. You'll know right away if you have more work to do to ensure that they have completely mastered the subject before giving them the assessment that goes into the grade book.
Using a checklist for informal assessments
Speaking of knowing that kids are ready, we need a way to track that so we really know and aren't just guessing.
There are few things as underappreciated in the modern classroom as the lowly checklist. I personally think that combining a checklist with a clipboard gives you a mobile assessment system that is hard to beat!
The kind of checklist I’m talking about is simple. It has student names down the left and the standard across the top. Like this:
These happen to be from my End of Year Math Review product, but you can easily create your own with some graph paper. Fill in any standard you like across the top.
You’ll notice that there are multiple chances for each student to show that they are mastering the standard; since we start assessing at the beginning of the unit and keep assessing through to the end, inevitably you will see students improve.
Then just keep your ears and eyes open as kids are working through their lessons or worksheets. You can simply peek over their shoulders or ask them a few pertinent questions to be able to assess their understanding.
Coding for understanding at a glance
I like using a numerical system rather than a simple checkmark. If I'm feeling really fancy, I'll also color code. In the example below, the “3” means that a student has fully mastered the standard. See how student progress just jumps out?
Give it a try and I think you’ll find that a checklist is a teacher’s best friend – especially when you’re focused on mastery in our standards-driven environment. Here’s a video explanation of my system.
Planning for future lessons
Now it's time to undergo your own reflection for self-improvement. Before storing your lesson plan away, consider the following and make notes:
- What questions or misconceptions did the children have about the topic before you even began teaching? Can you introduce the standard in a different way next time to clear their path to understanding?
- What were their stumbling blocks as you went through the lesson? Did they result from an unclear approach you took to teaching? What’s another way to teach the same thing?
- If the lesson was too long, why was it too long, and how can it be changed to make it shorter?
Remember, if the children didn’t get it, it’s pointless to simply repeat the same lesson.
Make notes on the original lesson plan so you have them for the following year. In my case, my lesson plans are all stored on my computer, so I make notes there. If you are sticking with paper, then use as many sticky notes as you need to be sure you don’t forget your valuable insights.