Saturday, February 10, 2007

Two Heads are Better than One!!

As I look out my window, it seems that the snow will never stop. Shovel every night, wake up to a new blanket of snow the next morning. But despite Mother Nature and her lake effect, two flat tires, and white out conditions - we finally completed the scoring of the Grades 3-8 ELA assessments this week.

Not that it was without controversy!! It never fails that despite the precautions we put into place, we get complaints from teachers that "their district" was treated unfairly. And of course, the inevitable complaints about the assessment itself. But in the end - everyone is collegial and the evaluations always indicate that they have walked away learning something.

But I worry each year that this is the last time the teachers will come together collaboratively to look at student work. We have to score these assessments - but there is so much more to see than the number that has been assigned and even the final score. Are our writing programs working? What are my instructional next steps? Do I need to get out those grammar books? What happened to those graphic organizers I have been teaching for the past 4 months? Those questions aren't answered with a number!!

So the book for this week veers from the traditional picture or chapter book to a professional book that has helped open my eyes to the power of what students write. I had the privilege of attending a pre-conference session at NSDC several years ago which was facilitated by Georgea Langer and Amy Colton, who with Loretta Goff authored Collaborative Analysis of Student Work: Improving Teaching and Learning. It was during this session, and in reading the book, that I began to develop my own protocols for working with teachers to mine the rich data that comes from analysis of student work.

While I have not been able to have as sustained a project as is described in the book, the times that I have worked with teachers to analyze student work have followed essentially the same model and provided powerful information. Tapping into the wealth of experience and expertise sitting around the table discussing what we see in student work, sharing what has worked in our classrooms, bringing fresh perspectives to how we teach writing - all valuable by-product. Why by-products? Because without fail, teachers report that the most powerful result of these meetings has been the increase in student writing skills that they see!!!

So, within the next few weeks, we'll relax a bit about the assessments. That's the time to bring those student papers out again and review them with new eyes!

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