Sunday, January 18, 2015

Readers Are More Than Just a Data Point

Assessment season is in full swing in my district. During the month of January and the beginning of February students are administered the NWEA, DRA-2, and a Writing Assessment. We have also begun planning for the SBAC, which will be administered in March. RIT scores, reading levels, projected growth and district benchmarks are swimming around in everyone's minds right now. 

Sometimes, I think, that the focus on data and whether or not a student met the district benchmark leads us to forgetting that there is more to students than just a score earned on an assessment. (Looking back in my blog archive, I actually touched upon assessment in this post: Two Hour Delay Reflection) Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan, authors of Assessment in Perspective: Focusing on the Reader Behind the Numbers, practically recognizes that data can consume the minds of teachers, but present a practical and meaningful way for teachers and administrators to look beyond the data points and step into the reading lives of our students through the  authentic process of Triangulating Data.

As I read Assessment in Perspective, I couldn't help to connect their work to the work I do in my new role as the K-5 ELA Learning Initiatives Teacher in my district. On page 3, the following statements resonated with me, " Many of us have been so busy trying to implement an assessment plan that little time is left to use it to understand our students. What is worse is that the value being placed on the 'high stakes' tests has caused teachers to question how the classroom assessments we have always used to guide our instruction fits into the equation." So often in PLC discussions and in side conversations with teachers, it is quite evident to me how stressed teachers are with the data we collect. Just this past year, we have created common pre and post assessments for the units of study, common formative assessments, unpacked the reading and writing Common Core standards and created PLC goals that would support teachers' SLOs and Professional Practice Goals. While this work was meant to relieve some of the stress of assessment and grading, it seemed to create more of a focus on numbers rather than the students. I think the missing piece to the implementation of the assessments was that there wasn't a true understanding of the assessments and their purposes.  The assessments may have been looked at as unnecessary and additional tests that weren't going to yield any new information. "If we use assessment to understand, not evaluate, then it becomes the key to growth. It is how we use and talk about assessment that makes the difference in the mind set of our readers and gives us the motivation to keep trying to be the best teachers we can be." This is were triangulating the data comes in.

Clare and Tammy make an excellent point. As teachers we need to change the language we use when talking about assessments. Instead of talking in percentages, and how many students did or did not make benchmark, we should be asking more questions and building our Assessment Literacy. We should be looking at not just one, but multiple data points, both qualitative and quantitative, when reviewing assessment data. And as we build our Assessment Literacy, we can continue to build our "literacy literacy". The more we understand and learn about assessments, the more teachers can ask more questions of themselves as teachers of reading.  The common assessments, NWEA, DRA-2 and the writing assessments only give us one snapshot in time of our students. Sometimes, as we review the data, the data does not always align. A student may perform really well on the DRA-2 and fall below benchmark on the NWEA. I always ask, "Why? What further information do I need?" But after reading Assessment in Perspective, I realize I need to take my questions further and ask,  "What is my purpose? What method should I use? What type of data do I need?" Asking those questions leads to so many more questions, that when answered, give us a much better understanding of student performance and students' reading lives.  As Clare and Tammy state, "...buried within all these data points are the stories of our students as readers. Assessment is about the pursuit of understanding our readers, and what we do in that act makes a difference in the life of a reader. The greatest learning has always come from the conversations we have about readers with our colleagues."

With more and more mandates coming down on the teacher profession, it is so pertinent that we stay true to our beliefs and guiding principles as teachers. I love how Clare and Tammy list their "two or three things we know for sure": 1. Assessment is more than a number 2. Assessment and instruction are inseparable 3.Our instruction can meet high standards and still be developmentally appropriate. I whole heartedly agree with each of the above three statements. The statements also brought questions to my mind such as, Have we at PLCs and School Wide Data Teams ever talked about our beliefs as educators? Have we shared our thoughts on assessment and what it means for us and the students? Have we ever talked about ways to engage students in the assessment process? In all honesty, I think we have only brushed the surface of these questions at PLCs and School Wide Data Teams. In order for teachers and students to be invested and engaged in the assessment process we need to go deeper by asking reflective questions, analyzing student work, in not only numbers, but also in the form of notes, observations, and reading and writing notebooks. We have to trust ourselves as teachers and the knowledge we gain each and everyday as we work with our students. "While the Common Core is telling "what we need to teach our kids, it suggests that we-teachers- need to be the ones to orchestrate "how" we will teach and assess the standards. 'The Standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, how how the teachers should teach."

Assessment in Perspective has given me a fresh look at assessment. I am excited to bring this new knowledge and fresh outlook back to the teachers I work with. For most of this school year, I felt like I was fighting an uphill battle with the administration of assessments and trying to build everyone's knowledge of the assessments and the purpose's behind them.  I realize, now more than ever, how important it is to validate and value the teaching that is happening in each and everyday in classrooms. Students and TEACHERS are more than just data points. I want to thank Clare and Tammy for writing such a thought provoking professional book. It was the kick in the pants I needed to start fresh in 2015. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

#Nerdlution15- Keep calm and read a book (or two!)

Over the last few days of my winter break, I have been lurking on Twitter and reading everyone's #nerdlution15 posts. Last year, joining nerdlution opened up a new professional door for me as I joined more twitter chats, and created an inspiring PLN.

I want to keep my #nerdlution15 simple and attainable this year. My goal over the next 50 days is to read as many books as I can. I don't want to set a specific goal of how many books I will read, but rather a goal of getting lost in as many books as possible. I love when I meet characters in books I connect with and have them linger with me long after I have finished the book. For instance, one book I cannot get out of my mind right now is Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Each of her books connects with me on a level I never thought possible. Fangirl brought me back to college experiences and feelings I seem to have forgotten: the nervousness of the first day of classes, meeting a new roommate, and the most poignant, dating and falling in love in college. It seemed every page I read, I found myself saying, "No way! I remember that feeling! Oh my god- I have been there." Rainbow Rowell is magical as she develops her characters and their relationships. I found myself reliving so much of my college and even high school years through her writing. That is the epitome of powerful and remarkable writing.

“That moment," she told Cath, "when you realize that a guy's looking at you differently—that you're taking up more space in his field of vision. That moment when you know he can't see past you anymore.” 
― Rainbow RowellFangirl

I am not limiting myself to just one type of genre or age group. My purpose in choosing this goal is not just for enjoyment, but to also use it as an opportunity to explore different styles of writing that I can use for my own personal writing as well as with improving my abilities to coach teachers in writing instruction and writing process in classrooms. Writing, in our school community, is an area we all want to grow in! Lucky for me, I have teamed up with Suzanne Gibbs to write collaboratively together and I am hoping my goal of wide reading will us both grow as writers and readers as we work together. I am very thankful I met her at NCTE14. (And insanely jealous of all those attending NerdampMI this summer!)

So without further ado, here is my list of books for #nerdlution15:

(After each book, my plan is to post my thoughts about the book. I find it incredibly helpful to read the posts about books I have already read or plan to read. I want to pay it forward by doing the same for other avid readers. I find inspiration is never ending on Twitter!)

Introduced to this author at the Scholastic Brunch at NCTE14

I had the honor of presenting with Lynda at NCTE14. Her passion about this book was evident. Anyone who has posted about this book gives it rave reviews for its message and characters. 

Introduced to this author at the Scholastic Brunch at NCTE14. I loved Esperanza Rising and cannot wait to get into this book!

I met Kate Messner at NCTE14. This is a must read! 

Read The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska- enough said! 

All of her work is amazing. This book keeps popping up on my Goodreads, and Amazon accounts as well as on nerdybookclub posts. I cannot pass it up!

I met Ann M. Martin at NCTE14. She is one of my all time favorite authors and read every single on of her Babysitter Club books! 

I was very fortunate enough of hearing Dan speak at the Scholastic Brunch at NCTE14. His description of the story and the reason he wrote this book has stuck with me ever since. 
My friend Elaine recommended A Snickey of Magic. As her reading buddy, I cannot turn away from her recommendations. 
My fellow presenter, Melissa, raved about this book. I scored a free copy through NCTE14! Cannot wait to talk to her about Absolutely Almost! 

And last but not least, I plan to join #vbcbooks. What could be better than talking about books we have all enjoyed? 
Happy Reading and #nerdlution15 to all! And please don't hesitate to throw any other book titles my way!! Picture books, nonfiction, fantasy- I will read it all!