Monday, 16 February 2015

Ticking Words in My Sleep

I spent less than 5 minutes in my classroom today. For most of the day I was within ten metres of our main door but I didn't go in.  No fancy new 'hands off' teaching technique: just an assessment day. Today I ran Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessments on my kiddos.  Most of them anyway.

Prior to today I had run precisely two F&M assessments on my own, and observed two others. Today I did seventeen - many of which included two or three levelled texts. To say that my head is spinning right now is an understatement.  I think I'll be ticking words and writing SC in my sleep...  As I dream of, tomorrow, assessing the four kiddos who weren't at school today. 

These are the last assessments I have to do to complete the battery our staff agreed to perform as our baseline data for the year. As with most schools, we benchmark our reading levels a couple of times a year. Our school will, over the course of this year, be moving from using PM Benchmarking to F&P. Our literacy committee and leadership team decided that F&P was a more appropriate assessment tool for our school as it assesses right through to a reading age beyond primary school age.  (Check out the correlation between colour banded levels and F&P here.)

I was pleasantly surprised by the comprehension section of F&P.  There are no question, just a range of prompts and some some suggested key understandings.  Beyond the broader age range, this is, in my opinion, the key advantage of F&P.  Through these 'comprehension' discussions I was able to hear the reading strategies my kiddos are using - or not. One student told me that he'd made a text-to-self connection with one part of the story which helped him clarify an unfamiliar word. I nearly wept at hearing this: we've been focussing on clarifying in our reading block for the last week and a half. Another student told me that she'd used her prior knowledge to infer the feelings of a character. Still another predicted that cacophony had something to do with sounds because she knows the morpheme phone.  

Then there were the kiddos who came across an unfamiliar word and just skipped it.  And the ones who couldn't explain how the author had achieved a particular effect.  And those who couldn't retell the story. As each kiddo left me, I placed their name into the boxes on the small strategy group sheet my deputy principal had suggested I used.  It's an A4 page with 20 squares. Each has a strategy or small group focus at the top. It sounds like such a simple idea but it works brilliantly! (I'd previously used something much less formalised so I felt like a bit of dill for not thinking of it myself. (I'd scribbled areas of growth as I discovered them and added names as I went.) I've come away today with a plan.  Hooray!

I don't love spending time away from my classroom, but today the benefits far outweighed any other problems that arose. (And arose they did...  The kiddos were mostly self-regulated but not in the same way they usually are.  They were pretty engaged but not like normal.) I did love being able to spend some one-on-one time with each kiddo talking about their reading; and I loved learning about them. I can't quite say I love having a range of data on which to base my planning but I do appreciate it.

I feel the need to link this to my recent post about assessment. My take home message from that post was that my kiddos don't mind assessment if they understand its purpose. Today I made sure to explain to each of my kiddos that this assessment was for ME to learn about their reading strategies so that I could better meet THEIR needs. A couple really took this to heart and pointed out things that they don't feel confident doing: "I need help with inferring, make sure you write that down".  Now that's what I call students taking advantage of an opportunity!

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1 Know the students and how they learn
Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
Standard 5 Assess, provide feedback and report on student learning
Standard 6 Engage in professional learning

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