This past May, in my attempt to make the most of being stuck at home, I decided to paint the kitchen. In pandemic-mode, I had already successfully reorganized two closets, so I figured this was a good next step with all that free time I anticipated having over the summer.
Well, now it’s August and the kitchen is still not finished. Not only that, but it is a huge mess. The table has been covered with a drop cloth all summer, and is piled high with supplies from the hardware store and dirty paint rags. A gigantic ladder has been a fixture in the middle of the cramped space all summer long, and the walls are only mostly painted – with just the first coat of what may end up being three.
Some days I wonder if it is worth it. Why did I need to paint the kitchen in the first place? Was the old paint really so bad? Am I sure I like this new color? Maybe I should have just paid somebody to do it.
But… I have painted many rooms before, and my experience has been that is always worth it. Sometimes you have to make a big mess and make things worse, in order to fix them and make them better (much better) in the end.
This is how it is planning for the school year right now. Right now we are in mid-kitchen paint job. The edges have been taped, the ceiling and trim are done–but the walls are not painted yet. The school year doesn’t look good right now and it’s a mess.
But maybe, just maybe… when all is said in done we will come out of this a bit better in the end?
My role as a district literacy coach this summer has been to create drafts of pandemic assessment and curriculum plans for each grade level. When I began, we didn’t know much about what the school year was going to look like — but we knew that we would need to think differently about how to get to know our kids at the start of the year. We needed to rethink how we’d been doing assessment.
This led my colleagues and I to think carefully about the role of pre-assessment. The assessment plan we need now needs to be more formative, on-the-spot, easy and quick to administer. And it needs to take into account kids’ social and emotional needs – we cannot bombard them with stressful tests.
Which brings me to Kindergarten Writing and Drawing Observations.
Administering an on-demand writing assessment before diving into Unit 1 seems obvious to me, as a way to get to know kids as writers, so I built them into our unit plans, not in the first week of school, but in Week 5, leaving the first four weeks of school for teachers to focus on social emotional learning, connecting with students, free-writing, spending time outdoors, play, and establishing a community of readers and writers. (We only have students in-person twice a week, so four weeks is really more like two weeks of face-face classroom time.)
But for kindergarten, I have long struggled with administering an on-demand assessment too early in the school year. I travel all across the US as a consultant, and I can attest that this is true of kindergarten educators all the way from Hawaii to Maine.
No matter how on-demands are presented, no matter how informal, how simple, there is something about the language that has never worked for many kindergarten classrooms. Additionally, the typical writing on-demand is more focused on genre, skipping over important early literacy behaviors, so it makes sense to me to adapt it a bit for the start of the year.
So, instead of a more traditional on-demand writing assessment early on in kindergarten this year, I drafted a Writing and Drawing Observation. This is an informal observation of children drawing and writing during their writing workshop time. Observing young children and keeping anecdotal records of their behaviors is a time-tested tradition in early childhood education.
You can design your own, if you wish. Here’s the prompt I drafted. You can adapt it and make it your own:
“Today we will have a special writing workshop. Today you will be working all by yourself to draw or write anything you want. You might write a true story from your own life, or make a book about something you know a lot about, or even make a poster or a sign. You will have this whole workshop to draw and write something. If you finish one, you may start another. I’d like you to begin by writing your name at the top of the page if you can.”
Unlike the usual on-demand assessment, which usually includes a prompt to write in a particular genre, this assessment is more open-ended. The observations themselves are less about the specific qualities of a genre, and more about early literacy behaviors in general. Three finger grip? Representational drawing? Letter-like symbols? Can they write their own name?
Here’s a draft of a checklist I created for this fall, based on the early literacy behaviors described by Katie Wood Ray and Matt Glover in their book Already Ready:
Hopefully this very kindergarten friendly pre-assessment is something good that will come out of the mess of COVID-19. Out of necessity, we needed to find a way to thoughtfully assess what our students know. Because of the pandemic we have a heightened awareness of the importance of kids’ social-emotional well-being.
Hopefully, I can also finish the kitchen before school starts. Only two more coats of paint to go.