Tag Archives: Assessments

Integral to Instruction: Assessment

“Assessment should always have more to do with helping students grow than with cataloging their mistakes.” — Carol Tomlinson

Assessment in an integral part of instruction determining whether or not the goals of education are being met. It is used to measure the current knowledge that a student has. It meets many needs for many individuals. Through assessments we continually ask the questions,

Are we teaching what we think we are teaching?

Are students learning what they are suppose to be learning?

Is there a way to teach the subject better, therefore promoting better learning?

Assessment affects decisions about grades, placement, advancement, instructional needs, curriculum, and in some cases, school funding.

Teachers are engaged in assessment every minute they are in the classroom. As teachers, we are always observing, noting, and evaluating. Because assessment in completed integrated into the fabric of curriculum, our evaluations are just as accurate (or not) as the classroom experiences we design for our students. The learning standards and Common Core lead us to give particular kinds of assignments. The key is to offer a variety of assessments, both formative and summative, to help our students show us they are meeting the learning targets.

I am currently in the process of designing a multi genre inquiry unit on WWII and the Holocaust with a social studies teacher and amazing colleague.

The unit brings social studies and English together in order to promote coteaching and collaboration among these two content areas with a focus on building students literacy skills and historical knowledge.  Combining the new C3 social studies standards and the Common Core literacy standards promotes critical thinking, close reading and students creating their own multigenre text on a specific topic and theme about World War II.

For the final project (and summative assessment) students will create a Multi-genre blog that incorporates five different texts (fiction and nonfiction) grounded in specific historical documents to highlight a common theme prevalent in WWII.

Reading closely and writing narrative, argumentative, and informative/explanatory are core learning targets for 8th grade students as described in the CCLS. There are limitations to each of these writing genres when taught in isolation. Allowing students analyze, synthesize, and evaluate historical text (primary and secondary sources) in multigenres allows students to see the depth of history and personal accounts. This in turn builds empathy and understanding that history is living and breathing. Allowing students to be researchers and writers enables students to use higher order thinking and comprehension skills while at the same time tap into 21st Century skills as digital citizens and creators. Students will utilize technology for research and writing to produce a blog that presents their understanding and learning of this inquiry unit on WWII and the Holocaust.

Additionally, throughout this four week unit there will also be formative assessments to help teachers gauge students knowledge and understanding about historical events and the writing process. Formative assessments range in “formal and informal assessment procedures conducted by teachers during the learning process in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student attainment.”

Examples of formative assessments for the unit include:

Teacher observations

Student-teacher reading and writing conferences

Weekly Literature Circles Discussions and Reading Notes Presented on Google Slides

Weekly Articles of the Week with Written Short Response Reflections with Actively Learn

Fishbowls, Socratic Seminars, and Class Discussions

Constructive Quizzes

Graphic Organizers

Google Forms


Write Arounds



Self Assessments & Reflections




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Genius Hour Wrap-Up, Reflections, & Revisions

This is the second year that I have instituted Genius Hour in my classroom. Every Friday students have one period to explore, learn, create, discover, research a topic that interests them. The only conditions are that student’s choose a topic that is researchable and will “make an impact on the community” with their topic of choice, no matter how small the impact.

Genius Hour stems from Google’s 20% time. One of the perks employees at the Googleplex get is 20% of their time to work on a special project.  One well known product that has come out of this incentive program is Gmail.

To end Genius Hour this June I held a Genius Hour and Passion Project Expo inviting students and parents to view all the great projects students worked on during the 20 week spring semester. There are so many ways students can share what they learned: a Presentation, Prezi, Video, TED Talk, and or Booklet. I was so impressed that more than a dozen parents attended the Expo and were inspired and impressed by all the projects.

Genius Hour has inspired by students in so many ways. Some students created blogs, others started a book drive or helped those who are less fortunate, students created products and some even are pursuing trademarking their Genius Hour idea. Topics addressed music, art, writing, science, the environment, fashion, animation, and people’s prejudices. I am amazed by the hard work that my students put into their projects and yet, there are some students who did not use the time to their benefit.

I am still thinking up ways to hold students accountable to our weekly genius hour class time. Asking students to write weekly reflections, when I have 95 students is too much. I am thinking of creating a Genius Hour classroom blog and each student writes a monthly blog post reflecting on their process at that moment.

Grading is a challenge too, I do not want to grade the product, rather evaluate the process. I am rethinking the rubric to include a section on “use of class time.” 20% of student’s evaluation will focus on the use of class time. For students who use class time for socializing and do the majority of their presentation preparation at home, they could not get higher than an 80 out of 100.  But then should I be grading genius hour at all?

I did ask students to grade themselves in a written reflection on their work and successes in Genius Hour, I was so surprised how many of my students who I felt worked diligently and successfully gave themselves grades of B or lower and students who I observed doing little work during Genius Hour class time game themselves an A.

Teaching is a reflective process. From one semester to the other, one year to the next, I am always rethinking and re-examining my practices, tools, and techniques to better support my students as learners.

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What Do You Want to Be Known For? . . . An End of the Year Activity

Towards the last two months of the school year many teachers ask their students to reflect on what they learned, students begin to go through their work deciding what is their best work, what needs to be revised, and what can be recycled. Portfolios are presented and final essays are turned in. Teachers ask students to fill out questionnaires and write reflections across contents and grade levels. What if there was another way to present reflections and go beyond what was learned in the past school year?

Back in 2007 Oprah Winfrey had Dr. Randy Pausch on her show to present a lecture he gave to students and faculty at Carnegie Mellon. Dr. Pausch was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA), who was diagnosed with terminal cancer and only a few months to live. In keeping with tradition of college professors retiring, he gave his last lecture. This incredibly moving presentation was passed around the internet and later turned into a book.

If you had one last lecture to give, what would it be?

Rather than have students write a one page reflection or complete a questionnaire, what if you asked them to present their last lecture to the class sharing the most important lessons they have learned in their lifetime?

First, I show my students Dr. Pausch’s last lecture (the short version in class and if you are flipping your classroom, give them the longer version to watch at home. Have students take notes on the lecture to help them jot down key ideas and insightful comments they can share with their classmates.

Then, students reflect on the lecture. This can be completed in written or discussion format.  Guiding questions include:

· What words of wisdom will you take from Randy Pausch as you embark on a future path and life?

· Which of his “life lessons” impact you the most right now? Explain your response.

· What are your dominant personality components based on the Array Interactive Inventory* and what is your reaction to your score on the survey? How does this influence your own aspirations?

*Dr. Pausch mentions during his lecture about personality traits and asks whether a person is a Tigger, Eeyore, or Winnie the Pooh. These personality characteristics are consistent with the Array Interactive Inventory. Tigger is Connection, Winnie the Pooh is Harmony, Rabbit is Production, and Eeyore is Status Quo. The inventory is a great tool for personal reflection or even as a tool for differentiation and group work.

After students view, reflect, and discuss Dr. Pausch’s lecture as a model, they begin to craft their own.

Below are some of the Common Core Standards students are using while completing this assignment.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.2 – Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to supporting ideas; provide an objective summary of the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.3 – Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.3.A – Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.4 – Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
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Designing Writing Assignments and Prompts

I just finished Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey’s Close Reading and Writing From Sources (IRA, 2014) and there are so many great ideas for teaching reading, writing, and discussion in the classroom. The last chapter addressed designing an effect writing assignment or prompt to foster precise writing and critical thinking. The authors state the basic components of a writing assignment or prompt are:

1. The Topic

2. The Audience

3. The Rhetorical Structure or Genre to be Produced

Students should be able to determine the following when a writing prompt is clear and simply stated:

What is my purpose for writing this pieces?

Who is my audience?

What is the task?

Fisher and Frey cite The Literacy Design Collaborative for effective prefabricated task templates for teachers to customize. For example, the following argumentation task template invites students to compare two conditions:

[Insert question] After reading _____________ (literature or informational texts), write a/an __________ (essay or substitute) that compares _______________ (content) and argues ___________ (content). Be sure to support your position with evidence from the text. 

[Insert optional question] After reading ________ (literature or informational texts), write ________ (an essay or substitute) in which you address the question and argue_______(content). Support your position with evidence from the text(s). (Argumentation/Analysis)

It is important to remember that the writing assignment or prompt should not be an afterthought, rather all reading and discussion tasks should be aligned with the culminating task so students can engage in critical inquiry and investigation throughout the unit. The Common Core Learning Standards have drawn teachers’ attention to how to read closely. At the same time, teachers need to develop strong text-dependent questions that guide students’ thinking while their reading closely and write using evidence from the text they’ve read to show their reading and writing capabilities. 

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Tunnel Books: Book Report Alternative

Early this school year, I came across a tunnel book* on Pinterest that caught my attention. I pinned it thinking I have to do something like it with my students.  As the last outside reading project approached, I decided to offer a tunnel book as a choice assessment project instead of the traditional book report, poster, or essay. I gave my students a link to a “How to create a Tunnel Book” video and the end projects my students turned in last week are amazing to say the least.

*What is a tunnel book you ask? Wonderopolis has a great definition and description:

Tunnel books are made up of a series of pages that are held together by folded strips of paper on each side. In fact, the sides of a tunnel book might make you think of an accordion. The overall effect of a tunnel book is to create the illusion of depth and perspective.

Tunnel books are “read” through a hole in the cover. Each page features openings that allow the reader to see through the entire book to the back cover. The images on each page work together to form a three-dimensional scene inside the book that helps to tell the story. 

Here are a few of the finished projects:

Hiroshima Tunnel Book




Minori’s Tunnel book based on Hiroshima by John Hershey





Hiroshima Tunnel Book







Hiroshima Tunnel Book



There were a series of pictures that could be interchanged to see the impact of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and its people.





Hiroshima Tunnel Book



She included a summary on both of the outside pages of the tunnel book to frame the images she created.





Anne Frank Tunnel Box (Inside)



Katie created a tunnel box that had a collage of images of Anne Frank on the inside and outside of the box.








Anne Frank Tunnel Box (looking inside)

 Looking down into the tunnel box you can see the layers of the story that she included with inspiring quotes from Anne Frank pasted on the inside and outside of the box. There was a large part of the box cut open to see inside, as if one was watching a 3D television.
Navajo Code Talkers Tunnel Book
 Shota read The Navajo Code Talkers and used paper cutting to create a layered image of the soldiers during combat in WWII writing and deciphering Navajo code which some people argue helped American win the war.
To make your own tunnel book, you can find directions here.
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Are We Asking the Right Questions? Common Core Aligned Questions

This school year I have been spending time studying the most recent New York State ELA assessment that was created to align with the Common Core.  Looking at the question stems for the multiple choice, short answer, and extended responses, it is obvious that the assessment is not asking basic comprehension questions. Rather, students are expected to read for understanding and answer questions related to vocabulary in context, inference, figurative language, and author’s purpose.

Questions like:

Which detail would be most important to include in a summary of . . .

The author uses the simile in the passage below to emphasize . . .

This passage is an example of what literary device?

What effect does this sentence provide the reader as the story develops?

Based on the passage, what is the meaning of the word . . .

Based on the passage, it can be inferred that . . .

All of the assessments that I create for my students include these question stems so that my students are familiar with the vocabulary on these assessments.  Students are required to go back to the passages selected and read around the text in order to make inferences and understand vocabulary in context. Many of the questions focus on the author’s craft and utilizing context clues.

I do not believe in workbooks for test preparation. If we want to prepare students to succeed on these tests, we need to embed the test vocabulary and question stems into our daily lessons.   Since September I have been utilizing these questioning techniques and teaching close reading strategies so that students are able to read, understand, and respond to complex text.

Click here to see a sample of the most recent reading quiz I created for To Kill a Mockingbird and align with the Common Core.

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