Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The A Word

This fall I'm reading and reflecting on the book Teaching with Intention by Debbie Miller.

Chapter 7: Assessments, Reflections, and Next Steps

Debbie Miller mentions in this chapter--and I agree--you cannot read anything or talk about education in any way without running into the word assessment. It seems that educators nowadays are obsessed with assessing kids. Usually this means standardized tests and other measures to figure out if they are on level or have mastered content.

But Debbie Miller addresses more than that. In fact, she addresses what I've also come to realize. Assessment should be about learning and planning and helping students grow. (It should not be about labeling or judging or only about evaluating.)

That's a component that is missing from a lot of our dialogue and our assessments. We hear a lot about evaluating progress and using data to inform instruction. But that's not always what I've seen. We put up data walls to keep that information in front of us; but really we mostly do it because we've been told to do it. And often the data doesn't tell us what we really want to know. Those data walls are constructed from standardized test info or other types of measures. Debbie, in this chapter, tells me I need something different.

Ongoing feedback from students, informal and formal, should be what I'm tracking and what I'm using to inform my teaching. Listening to the conversations in the classroom - during class discussion or among students in small groups - helps me understand where kids are in their learning and understanding of the concepts. Talking to kids, examining their work (but maybe not grading it), charting their thinking and making it visible -- all these ways help me see what is being understood, misunderstood, and missed entirely.

I tried to assess and use the information to plan for next lessons. I succeeded at times. I didn't a lot of the time. I didn't know what to do, at times. I wasn't intentional.

I think that's the overall takeaway from this book. (And thus the title, I guess.) I need to be purposeful and intentional in what I do. I need to create a classroom that reflects my philosophy so I can feel comfortable doing the things I need to do. I need to use the standards and teaching guides as resources to help me meet the needs of the students I have in my classroom, taking them from where they are to where they can go next.

Sorry if this book study sounds like a confessional. Not my intent. But in reading this book, I am clarifying things that I've been wrestling with for the past few years. I am becoming a better teacher and, hopefully, my future students will become better learners.

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