We just finished our winter benchmarking in my school district. I can't say I really enjoy doing these assessments, since they take instructional time away from my math and literacy classes, but I do think about the information I get from these assessments and consider what they say about my students' growth and my own instruction.
I don't rely only on the numbers from the benchmarking; I know kids are more than numbers. I value the information I gather in my classroom every day - the authentic assessment I get from talking to kids about their thinking in literacy and in math, looking at student work, and standing back and observing the interactions and work habits of the 18 young learners who cross my path daily.
The numbers, though, provide validation. They reinforce that something's going right in room 301.
When I sit back and think, I know that these are the things that are right:
- My students read - A LOT. Kids who at the beginning of the year did not identify themselves as readers are now begging for more time to read throughout the day. They have too many books for their book bins, so books are often stacked on top of their desks, so they always have the next book ready (they might have noticed the stacks of books on my desk and filing cabinet).
- My students read widely. At the beginning of the year, most of the kids were gravitating to my graphic novel collection. Dogman was popular, so were the Amulet books. Raina Telgemeier's graphic novels (including the graphic versions of The Babysitter's Club novels) got passed from hand to hand. Then they moved on to Diary of a Wimpy Kid to Tom Angleberger's Origami Yoda series. Now about half of them are reading their way through the Harry Potter series and a few have started on Percy Jackson. I have one girl who has read Wendy Mass's entire collection for middle graders and is now on to Sharon Draper's middle grade books and Linda Mullaly Hunt.
- My students read what they want. Students will often ask me to help them book shop. They know I love books more than just about anything else. I never tell them what to read. Instead, I ask them questions about what they're in the mood for and what kind of book they want. Then, I pull a stack of books from the baskets and bins and we talk. Most of the time, the kids will take three or four back to their reading spots and they choose from there. They also ask each other. I love hearing kids talking by the library bookshelves, making suggestions for their friends.
- My students don't do worksheets. We talk about books. They share their thinking about the books they read with me in conferences and in their weekly "write long" assignment. I know they are growing as readers by seeing how their writing and talking about reading has changed since September.
- My students write. At any given time, I have students writing a variety of different things outside of our genre studies. Kids are writing collaborative stories in GoogleDocs. Students are writing graphic novels. Students are researching and writing informational books on their own. I have two girls who have a "business" (their word - no money changes hands) called Tiny Stories by Michelle and Morgan; they write short stories for other kids in the class who commission them. They have a checklist of themes they write around. It's the cutest!
- My students see the connection between reading and writing. They know that if they want to know how to do something as a writer, the answer lives in our classroom library. They have seen me go back into a favorite text to see how an author wrote a sentence or described a character and then try it out in my own writing. They do this as well.
I do, however, think that my passion for words and books has permeated my classroom. The kids know I see them as readers and authors, and they have come to see themselves that way as well. They know words matter and that books are windows and mirrors that can help us learn to live our best lives.
Now... if only I could get this passionate about math!