Assessment strengthens teaching too!
It was several years ago that I began to take a serious look at how I was assessing writers. It was through conversations with colleagues that I began to see the many benefits that assessment can have, not only to strengthen my writers but to strengthen me too! One of the first colleagues to really push me as a writing teacher was Geri Williams. She pushed all of us. We were so lucky to have her in our corner as we made strides toward better instruction and better assessment. It was because of Geri that many of us started looking with a critical eye to see the optimistic changes that children were making and helped us move forward as educators of craft, conventions, and writers’ work. I was lucky to have a “Geri” in my life as I made shifts in my teaching. Someone who had walked the walk and worked with the likes of Murray and Graves at her side. She held the best beliefs when it came to looking at writing and making decisions about how to teach the writers in our classroom, not just “fix” the writing. Geri is many miles away now but I know she continues to be someone I can look to when I have a question.
Geri worked in our district for a couple of years. She worked more closely with a colleague down the hall from me and I often found I was seeking out this colleague when I had ideas percolating or wanted someone to look at a student’s piece to get a different perspective. That brings me to Robin.
Robin is not only my biggest cheerleader as a teacher, she is always helping me get to the best answers to questions I have when it comes to writers and writing. Robin was the teacher down the hall who would take a stack of writing for me to look over just so I could be assured I was heading in the right direction and I always did the same for her. We would often swap student work to get suggestions from each other when it came to scoring on a rubric or making decisions about next steps. Robin isn’t down the hall from me anymore but she is certainly still a colleague I reach for when I have a question. I know she will give it to me straight with honesty and a helpful nudge. It’s colleagues like Robin that keep you going.
Some of us are lucky enough to have coaches in our building. I feel fortunate to have Kim in so many ways. Kim is one of those colleagues that you can talk through ideas with and she will add an energy to the conversation that naturally pushes you. When I talk with Kim about my writers I feel the push I need to look harder and dig deeper. I can hand her a piece of student work and she can tell me exactly where to go next if I’m unsure. She looks for the good but is always pushing teachers and kids to find the best. Kim has a way of anchoring the conversation as you talk about the needs in your room with ideas and suggestions that will have an impact. She asks to see the work and always makes time to chat about next steps for minilessons, conferring, and small group instruction.
If you have a literacy coach but don’t know how to get the conversation going, here are a few tips!
- Put a piece of writing in his/her school mailbox with a note, “What would you do next for this student?”
- Ask to sit down at the beginning or end of a unit to look at independent work and rubrics or scoring guides.
- Will your coach come teach a lesson? I always love the opportunity to watch someone else teach my students and it pushes me to think about my own next steps when I am on the outside looking in.
- Look over the rubrics you are using with your coach prior to teaching the unit.
- Once you have some student samples, ask if your coach would be willing to score a few for or with you as a way to anchor your decisions and have a sample piece to move from.
Then comes the grade level team. As a kindergarten teacher, I worked with teachers who were not afraid of change and made great strides in writing with their students. As a first grade teacher, I worked with colleagues who wanted to work together and collaborate. Once again, as a third-grade teacher these past two school years, I have been lucky to work with a crew that wants to improve and make decisions collectively. When we have questions about what to do next we can come together and look at the work to make decisions.
Even when it might feel like you are on an island, and we’ve all been there, one teacher in your building is probably seeking a pal too! Sometimes you only need that one person to push you, to talk to, to hand a piece of writing to and ask, “What do you see here?” As we really look at where our writers are in the process and on that continuum of “writer,” colleagues can offer a critical eye. Sometimes we don’t see what is right in front of us but a colleague will. Find that person, whether it be in your school, on Twitter, or a Facebook group that is willing to work through the struggle with you. Everyone wins when you collaborate with colleagues. If you haven’t already, it’s time to seek out your person and move your writers forward. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without each one of these amazing ladies.
Don’t forget, we will be hosting a Twitter Chat on Monday evening! Giveaway information is also below.
- This giveaway is for one copy of Conferring with Young Writers: What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do by Kristin Ackerman and Jennifer McDonough (https://www.stenhouse.com/content/conferring-young-writers). Many thanks to Stenhouse Publishers (https://www.stenhouse.com) for donating a copy of this book.
- For a chance to win one copy of Ackerman and McDonough’s Conferring with Young Writers: What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do (https://www.stenhouse.com/content/conferring-young-writers), please leave a reaction to any post in the blog series, including this one, by Sunday, November 6th at 11:59 p.m. ET. Dana Murphy will use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names she will announce in our blog series’ IN CASE YOU MISSED IT POST on Monday, November 7th.
- You may leave one comment on every post in our Assessment Strengthens Writers blog series.
- Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so Dana can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, our contact at Stenhouse will ship your book out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
- If you are the winner of the book, Dana will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – CONFERRING WITH YOUNG WRITERS. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
Daughter, sister, wife, mother, teacher, and writer.