Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Glimpse Inside Two ELA Classrooms

There are days that I love my job and there are days that I LOVE my job. Today is the latter. I spent some time with newer ELA teachers today in my district and got to talk about and think about some very powerful stuff!! Thought I would give you all a glimpse.

First - I was able to meet with the 7th/8th grade ELA teacher. We are lucky to have a visionary principal here who knows the value of middle level education and was able to carve a 7/8 team out of a 7-12 building. The team works well together and the kids are thriving! The NYS Assessment is looming and the teacher wanted to talk about preparing the 7th graders for the assessment. She was a little concerned about the comprehension skills of her students and we talked about the upcoming unit she has with the students reading My Brother Sam is Dead to go along with social studies. After reviewing the start of her unit with me, I asked her why we couldn't incorporate some of the test preparation strategies in with the reading of the book. I randomly flipped to a page and pointed out that we could take a paragraph from that page, insert some grammar/mechanics errors and use it as an editing passage practice. We could rewrite some of her writing questions as multiple choice following the state test format and insert them as smaller quizzes to review both content and test-taking skills. I created a sample quiz for her to use and she is going to work on some additional questions. It was very exciting to talk about a book that my students loved with someone again!! More importantly, I am excited to see how this works with the students!

Two periods later, I got to touch base with a grades 9/10 ELA teacher who wanted to go over some recent assessment results. This is an amazing teacher who has amazing rapport with his students. I have never been in an ELA classroom where I have seen boys as engaged as I see in his class!! But I digress! This teacher shared some sample papers with me and we talked about how he felt about the results. He then showed me what he did with the students after the test to help them understand their grades and what they needed to do differently. First - for each section of the writing test, he culled an example of "exemplary" writing from his classes and attributed that writing to the individual students. He then listed in 2-3 bullet points his thought about why that excerpt was exemplary. In each class, he read those pieces aloud and discussed with the students the finer points of the writing.

The students then had a "mistake manager" form in which they reflected on their individual writing and what they could do to improve it or in some instances, they were asked to actually revise it. At the end of the class, the students shared with a partner one lesson on writing they were going to take away from the activity and the partner shared that lesson aloud. Having this conversation with him really reinforced my belief that when done correctly, assessments can be used in BOTH a summative and formative manner. I can't wait to see how the students take these writing lessons and translate them into practice.

I give these teachers a great deal of credit - they shared openly and honestly about their practice. They asked questions and reflect a great deal about the choices they make and the students that sit before them. Instinctively, they are doing things that are great for kids and when they aren't sure, they ask questions and collaborate which is great for the profession. I know that not all teachers are comfortable in being this transparent (and if they don't read this blog they probably don't even realize how transparent they are!) but I think we need to share more when we see this kind of work to help break down the silos of education. And more than just share - we need to celebrate it!


Kate Ellis said...

Sounds like a great, T. I have always felt that "test prep" doesn't have to be a practice or old exam, but that parallel tasks could be made using ANY title or content...a listening passage about the author or setting, a graphic organizer paired with a small excerpt of the text, a short answer question that elicits main idea or author's purpose, and some multiple choice items based on content, meaning, contextual vocabulary, etc. Preparing kids for the test involves identifying the embedded skills and designing creative and engaing ways to embed those same skills into the content we teach. You certainly found a way to help the first teacher in this direction. In addition, test prep involves teaching kids to be critical thinkers and reflective of their work. This is clearly evident in the second teacher you speak of. Finally, you are right on the money when you say that assessments can be both formative and summative. And, more importantly, you are right that we need to take time to celebrate what we do right and the successes of our students! Nice post!

joe damato said...

Wow, this is exciting stuff. Too often we view preparing for the looming NYS Assessments by drill and kill practice.

We are now beyond getting used to the "format" of the test or even learning to take the test. I think that NYS and NCLB has taken care of seeing to it that our children know how to sit through a test.

The teachers you mentioned are rising to the occasion and have started to change the way they do business, addressing the standards and the test in meaningful ways.

The mistake manager form is really interesting to me.

Kudos to these teachers for having the courage to reflect and share.