At the end of this week, the second marking period will officially come to an end for many of us, and so will the first half of our school year. This is the perfect time to pause, take a look back at the work that our students have accomplished from September to now, and look forward to the work ahead through June. Here are a few ways in which to accomplish this:
An on-demand writing piece to evaluate specific benchmarks:
‘Tis the season of colds, the flu, and snow days. This is also test-prep time for many of us, so taking twenty minutes or so for an on demand piece of writing may seem like an unwise use of time. But, here’s what I learned about my students from our recent on-demand:
- their writing confidence, stamina, and writing reflexes – using their notebooks and the class anchor charts for quick reference, for instance.
- the content of their writing – did they reach into the tool box we’ve been equipping and practicing with (thoughts and feelings, rich dialogue, meaningful leads and endings, figurative language, etc.)
As I scanned through these, I made notes in the following writing conference form which I use for individual students :
This serves as a snapshot of where we are, and allows me to plan ahead.
Flash reading through a variety of writing samples from each student:
Since we have made the move to Google docs, it has become much easier to quickly read through a variety of different types of writing each student has been working on from September to now. To make the most use of the limited amount of time I have, I read the first few Slice of Life entries and then the most recent ones, for example, just so that I have reference points for the progress each student has made. This also allows me to create small groups to work towards reinforcing skills that I can see needs further guided practice and attention in the months ahead.
The mid-year student survey:
The beginning of the year writing survey gives me a window into each writer in my class, but I am all too aware of the fact that my new students are understandably guarded in their responses: the year is new, the teacher is new, and they want to be careful. By this stage in the year, however, we are family. My kids are more than willing to be honest; plus, they know that I know their work. The mid year survey, then, becomes a wonderful way to elicit realistic feedback:
My sixth graders were clear-eyed about the progress they felt they had made, but they were also determined to get better (the student’s quote at the beginning of this post sums up his classmate’s feelings perfectly). Each of them set realistic goals, but also took pride in the improvements made, and offered useful advice:
“I always had trouble figuring out how to start my writing pieces, but all the mentor text stuff and sharing we do has helped me get much better at this. I know I can try out a bunch of things until the one that feels right comes along. That’s a relief and it makes me feel less stressed about writing. ”
“I feel that I need to improve in my work with thoughts and feelings. I think that my reader can’t really know what the main character (me!) feels because of my not working on this. I need to work on internal monologue and thought shots, I think. Like the stuff in italics. I need more of that.”
“Fiction. Could we please write fiction soon. Especially fantasy, because I have like a whole series I’m just dying to write. That would be so fun!”
“Mrs. Smith, you are just a wonderful fun-filled teacher, but something you could improve is maybe slowing down on mini lessons, it is kinda hard to write neatly and pay attention at the same time since you can sometimes talk so fast. Otherwise you’re a great teacher and keep up the good work. :)”
The first half of the year has flown by, and I know that (soon enough) we will feel the same way about second half. In September, we look ahead with questions, hopes, plans, and dreams; in June we look behind with satisfaction, knowing we have tried our best; in January, though, we are in an enviable place: we can look in both directions, and let what we’ve learned pave a better way forward.
I teach Writing Workshop, Language Arts and Social Studies to sixth graders at a middle school in suburban New Jersey. This blog is my attempt to capture all the "stuff" that goes into my teaching life - the planning, the dreaming, the reading, the preparing, the hoping and (above all) the kids.
Please note that the content of this blog is my own. It does not reflect the opinions of my employer.