The Frog & Toad Assessment? Maybe It’s Time To Get Creative!

In school, I think that we’re used to formal assessments. If you want to find out a student’s reading level, many educators do a DRA or try a running record. This provides an accurate starting point, and even some suggestions for next steps. But what happens in a summer program, when there are classes of 20+ students, most instructors don’t know any of them, there are only small pockets of small group and 1:1 time, and exactly 15 days to make a difference?

This is the reality for Camp Power, and now comes the need and possibility for creativity. Over the past week of training, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about assessment. While we might not need to know exact reading levels for the K-1 students, instructors need to have an approximate idea of where each child is at to plan well for them. We know that learning happens in that sweet spot just before independence, where the scaffolding and supports will allow for the most growth. Camp Power is targeted at students who just finished kindergarten and Grade 1, so in many ways, they are our first readers. When I look at supporting staff in figuring out starting points for each of their students, I think about what I might do if I was in their place.

1. I would get kids writing. Children show us a lot about their reading behaviours through their writing. Are they using letter-sounds? Are they hearing sounds at the beginning, middle, and end of words? Are they using any conventional spelling in their writing? Are they writing using predominantly scribbles and/or random letters? If students are not linking sounds to text, they are probably not decoding text yet. Figuring out if they know all of the letters and sounds could be a great starting point. If they are using some letter-sounds in their writing, I might try a simple text with them. If I added one of these texts as part of a provocation for learning, could I get them to read some of it? How is their fluency? For those using more letter-sounds and conventional spelling in their writing, I would assume that they might be a stronger reader. I would try to find some more complex words or even a slightly more challenging text to include as part of a provocation for the day. Could they read this text? Are they self-correcting their errors? Using the writing as a basis for understanding these children as readers, I could still manage to assess a lot about them, even in a larger group.

I think it’s important to remember that this writing doesn’t need to be a journal entry or a response to a picture prompt. I guess that it could be, but it could also be more than that. It could be signs for a building, labels for a LEGO creation, or a title for a drawing or a painting. Sometimes when students write outside of more conventional options, they also experiment more freely with letter-sounds than they might if doing a journal entry. This can also tell me a lot about them as writers, for their use of a few sight words in a journal could be indicative of them really knowing those words, or it could be indicative of them remembering the pattern of how they start sentences when writing at school. If these same children start to use sight words when writing their parents a note for some materials, creating a sign for their creation, or titling their artwork, I start to think that they have a better grasp of these sight words. Does this then transfer to their reading of these words?

2. I would try some unconventional assessments. Having taught kindergarten and Grade 1 for many years now, I’ve gained a further understanding of the progression of reading skills. My parents are/were both in education, so that helps a lot. My mom is a retired speech pathologist with a Masters in Language Learning Disabilities. She knows reading well. My step-dad is a teacher, and he has worked a lot with teaching struggling readers, how to read. He was the one that introduced me to an informal assessment that he created: The Frog and Toad Assessment. I think that almost all Grade 1 educators know Frog and Toad well. Why? Because a Frog and Toad text is about at an end-of-Grade-1 reading level. My step-dad once suggested to me pulling a couple of pages from one of the texts and having children read it. Their fluency and comfort with reading Frog and Toad, could help us determine if they are around a Grade 1 decoding level. Plus, it only takes a couple of minutes to do this assessment, so it could be done during one of the small group times.

A single page from Frog and Toad.

If you paired this Frog and Toad Assessment with a page of even simple word family sentences (e.g., I see the cat. The cat is big and black.), you could have an option for those students who find Frog and Toad too hard. Then depending on how they do with the word family sentences, you could see if you need to focus in on some letter and sound identification instead. Maybe this doesn’t give you an exact reading level, but it could give you a really good starting point.

3. I would make good use of our screeners. Our Board’s Reading Specialist Team has developed Kindergarten and Grade 1 Screeners that focus in on Phonological Awareness Skills. One of the greatest things about these screeners is that you don’t need to do the assessment in isolation. Educators can note what skills students are demonstrating during play, and then provide instruction around these skills also during play. In a big group, having children tell me the initial sound in the word they suggested or clapping out the syllables in one of the words in the title of a text, show me a lot about what they already know and where they might need support. I can then provide extension opportunities for them in the full group and small group instruction around these areas of need. This Early Literacy Guide For Families suggests options that could be beneficial in the classroom as well.

What would you do if you were one of the educators here? I would love to hear more about other quick assessment options that could tell instructors a lot about where their children are at and what they need to move forward. I know that back in the classroom, we might have more time for my formal assessment options, but I keep thinking about the value in some of these informal methods. The sooner that we understand our learners, the sooner that we can best program for them and support them. Will creative problem solving this summer lead to even more creative possibilities for these educators come September? Maybe what educators used in the past will not be the only thing(s) that they continue to use.


A Change In PD … For The Better?

As I mentioned in my last blog post, this summer, I’m once again a Curriculum and Site Support Teacher for Camp Power. The other Site Lead and I have been working together with our principal, Kelly, to plan two training days. While I’ve done this training for many years now, reflecting on the virtual experience last year, we all realized that we needed to do this training differently. Once again, just like the camp, the training will all be run through MS Teams. As the three of us were discussing possibilities, we all landed on the same point: when on a virtual platform, it’s very easy to turn off your camera and microphone and walk away.

I’m not saying that this is what our instructors are going to do. Maybe they’re more focused than I am. If someone is just talking at me online, I get very easily distracted. I’ll start to …

  • scroll through a few posts on Twitter,
  • check out what people are sharing on Instagram,
  • reply to emails,
  • and even doodle.

At times, I wonder if some of these distractions actually help me focus — as I keep my fingers busy elsewhere, I listen to what others are saying (kind of like a grown-up fidget toy) — but I also wonder what I might miss. When I think back to our Online Staff Meetings this past school year, the best ones were when my teaching partner, Paula, and I were in the classroom together listening on the same device. Then as we heard information being shared, we started to discuss it.

  • What did this mean for us?
  • How might we apply these ideas in our classroom?
  • What are some different things that we need to consider, which we might not have thought about before?
  • What are some of our practices that we need to reconsider based on what’s being shared?
  • What might be holding us back and why? How might we move forward?

It was through talking and playing with the ideas aloud that we gave meaning to the content on the screen. Applying this to the Camp Power experience, I started to think more about a constructivist approach to professional development.

What really needs to be shared with staff and what can they work through together? The other Site Lead and I — with the blessing of our principal — decided to share some information with the full staff together, and then break into different sessions with smaller groups. We really pushed ourselves to consider various ways to get instructors sharing ideas and creating content in these small groups.

I’m responsible for two small group sessions: one on assessment and one on play and inquiry-based learning. It’s likely not a surprise to any of my blog readers that I’m very passionate about both topics and could probably discuss them for hours. But I’m going to resist the urge to do so. Instead, through the use of Padlets, Minds On activities, sharing opportunities, and even a playdate, my intentions are to have staff make meaning of the topics, talk about past practices, and hopefully, even inspire a few new approaches.

The sneak peek playdate invitation, as staff won’t get this until Monday.

For my session on play and inquiry, I don’t even have a PowerPoint presentation. I’m not sure that I’ve ever done a session without one, or some kind of equivalent. My hope is for two Padlets to share the same purpose, but as a co-created document. In my head, I have big dreams of how this all works out with an exchange of ideas, active participation, and even some aha moments. As for reality, I’ll know more on Thursday.

I know that there is a lot of uncertainty about what school will look like in September. Will staff meetings and PD sessions still be online? If they are, I wonder what a constructivist approach to learning might look like in these bigger groups. I know that we did a lot of breakout room discussions this past school year. What else might be possible? What have others tried? I keep thinking about this tweet that Gerry Smith shared in June of last year.

Throughout the school year, Gerry spoke a lot about how much we’ve changed as educators due to COVID. Just as there are teaching practices that we might not want to go back to, are there PD practices? What might other options be at a school and at a Board level? Right now, I might be planning for Camp Power, but I’m thinking bigger than that, and I wonder if others are as well.


How Do You “Lead?” Unpacking My #OneWordX12 For July.

Inspired by Beth Lyons, I’ve decided to set a one word goal each month. Last month, “breathe” seemed like a good word, as some uncertainty on if our Board would be making one more pivot and returning in-person before June 29th, made a few extra breaths a necessity. We did remain online, but with the stress that comes from the end of the school year, I did find myself breathing a little bit deeper and even looking for an extra book or two to read as a way to escape and feel some much-needed calm. Self-Reg was certainly at play when it came to last month’s goal. Now what about this month? I contemplated a few words, but a couple of recent experiences had me landing on my new one: lead.

This summer, as I’ve done for the past four summers, I’ll be one of the Summer Curriculum and Site Support Teachers for Camp Power. This will be our second year running this program virtually, alongside a few other programs that will be offered through the Board. This year will be different.

  • We’ll have some new staff members along with some returning ones.
  • We’ll have some new Lead Teachers along with a few returning ones.
  • We’ll have some new opportunities for staff, which come more easily thanks to a greater understanding of our virtual platform: Microsoft Teams.
  • We’ll have a different level of engagement and comfort with a virtual camp program, stemming from the time that we spent on MS Teams this past school year.

With all of this in mind, leading this year is also going to be different.

  • How do we share leadership opportunities among the Site Leads as well as among the camp administrators and the instructors? What does leadership look and sound like in this model?
  • What do we do when our viewpoints vary? How do we hear different perspectives while also raising new possibilities?
  • How do we get staff more involved in the trainings? What does a constructivist approach to professional development look like?
  • How do we support and model risk-taking? How might this risk-taking vary for each of us as well as for each of the instructors and camp administrators?
  • How do we build relationships with each other and with our campers? How do we ensure that we give enough time to develop these relationships and increase comfort among staff and among families?

I’m not sure that I know the answers to any of these questions, but I know that I’ll be referring back to them often in the coming weeks as we continue to plan for camp and begin staff training.

As I’ve been contemplating these questions and this one word, I got an email from the Board. A principal that I know well and that I’ve worked with before, was just promoted. Since I’m unsure if this news is public knowledge yet, I won’t divulge his name here. I will say that he’s an outstanding leader, who has a special way of listening, making tough decisions, and engaging in important conversations … sometimes in isolation, and other times, repeatedly, to help shift practice and inspire growth. Looking to the month ahead and to my focus on leading, I think that I’ll be asking myself often, “What would [Name] do? What would he say? Is this something to address now or is it better to wait? Do we need more time? Is there something that we’re not seeing here that might be worth exploring first?” This principal has taught me, and continues to teach me, that change takes time.

  • Sometimes you have to go at it alone … at least at first. Being the lone wolf is worth it if the change matters enough.
  • Kids are always worth fighting for. Constantly reminding ourselves that we are in it for the kids has value in and outside of leadership.
  • Think about the pedagogy behind change. If we can’t link pedagogy and practice, should we be reconsidering our practice?
  • Live what you preach. Thinking about our summer program, what are we asking from staff, and how are we showing staff that we’re asking something comparable from ourselves?
  • Often times “showing” is far more powerful than “telling.” How do we make this showing happen and inspire change through what we show?
  • Stories matter. Share your school stories, your personal stories, your stories of struggle, and your stories of success. Invite others to share theirs. Storytelling is an important part of leadership and of change.

I’m grateful to have had this leadership role model, who I know will be continuing to inspire me, even in a new position and even from afar.

All year long, I come to work happy in my position working alongside Paula and teaching our fabulous group of kindergarten students. In the summer though, I appreciate a new challenge and I love that our Board supports this teacher leadership. How might July change me as a leader, and what impact will these changes have on me when I return to the classroom in September? I’m grateful to work alongside wonderful leaders, who I know will inspire and support me this summer. I’m also grateful for other leaders in our Board, such as the principal that I mentioned, who will surely make me wonder and grow from all that they’ve taught me in the past and continue to teach me now. Here’s to a month of leading and learning.


My Next 20 Years

As some of my blog readers know, I’m a big fan of country music. This song by Tim McGraw is one of my favourites, and it was the one that I was humming as I started to think about this blog post of mine.

I might not have another 20 — or 30 — years in education (or maybe I will), but no matter what the number, I’d like to reflect on what I’ve learned in the past. I just finished my 20th year of teaching, and with two big pivots online and a socially distanced kindergarten class, it might have been one of the most challenging years of my career. But with a fantastic teaching partner by my side, Paula and I came out smiling, and we hope that our kids and families did as well.

Thinking then about the past 20 years and my time going forward, what are my five big takeaways?

  • Be authentic. Kids know when you are, and they know when you’re not. I really saw this as I listened in on some conversations online. Many of these conversations evolved because of the comments that Paula made to our students. It was the questions that she asked and the anecdotes that she shared. Giving children a chance to talk, but also nodding along, making eye contact with them, and varying pitch to show excitement and interest, made big differences. I have to wonder if we would have had such a strong community of learners without this authenticity.
  • Prioritize relationships. I know that I’ve heard this advice for 20 years, but I’m not sure that I actually made this a priority until I started working with Paula five years ago. She does this very naturally. She takes time to find out what matters to kids and to their families. Not only does she know the students that are in hockey, baseball, dancing, and gymnastics, but she knows about what all of their siblings are also doing. I remember back at our last school — pre-COVID — where we would have students visit our classroom years later because of their relationship with Paula. Sometimes lunchtime and class time involved these visits because this is what these kids truly needed. I realize that COVID restrictions make these visits harder, but I have to wonder if a Teams drop-in might work for some students, or even a socially distanced visit outside. I’ve started to notice that when time is invested in these relationships, the interest in connecting goes well beyond the school year … and that’s truly a wonderful thing.
  • Make the environment responsive to kids. I remember when I used to keep the classroom environment and the seating arrangements the same for the entire school year. I thought that I was giving children what they needed with consistency, and there is value in consistency, but as I read more about the environment as the third teacher, I realize that my thinking was flawed. Making changes with kids, to be responsive to kids, has value. While there were fewer changes that we could make this past year due to COVID restrictions, sometimes moving spots, adding materials to spaces, or varying heights (from sitting on a chair to lying on the floor), had value. Maybe COVID has forced us to be more creative with these environmental considerations.
  • Develop strong connections with families. In my first year of teaching, my step-dad suggested that I call parents on a regular basis to connect with them, share some good news stories, and find out what they were thinking and feeling. With his advice, I began to call parents once a week. Over time, and in response to a wonderful conversation that I had with Aaron Puley about different ways that families might like to communicate, I began to offer phone call and email check-ins to interested parents. I moved from doing this once a week to every other week, as then we had more to talk about. Twenty years. Eight schools. Seven grades. This remains one of the best choices that I ever made, and has helped me develop great relationships with families.
  • Never underestimate students. I mean this when it comes to all children of all ages. This is largely the reason that I am reluctant to use worksheets with children, as I think that kids can do so much more — and go so much deeper — than they can with a worksheet. I love that our Kindergarten Program Document emphasizes the need to provide real world problems to kids. It also makes me realize though that Paula and I can do even more than what we have done in the past. My last blog post started this conversation, and a recent professional read of mine continues it, but in a different area. Learn more. Do better. That definitely applies here.

What would be your list of five takeaways? Looking back at this post years from now, I wonder what takeaways I might add to this list. Will any of them change? For those that are looking for a new country ear worm, here are my takeaways as verses in a modified Tim McGraw song.

In My Next 20 Years

In my next 20 years,

I’ll be the best of me.

I will show kids that I care

About what they do, say, and see.

In my next 20 years,

I’ll learn much more.

About the kids I teach

And the families they adore.

In my next 20 years,

I’ll take a look around.

How do kids use the space,

And how does it sound?

In my next 20 years,

Home and school will be one.

I’ll really listen to parents

As they share what they have done.

In my next 20 years,

I’ll remember what kids can do.

Big topics and new learning

Will be in store for me and you.

I might not be the next country star πŸ™‚ , but thankfully I still have teaching, and am still loving it as much — maybe more — than I did twenty years ago. Here’s to a wonderful summer and another year of joy and learning ahead … hopefully with a few less pivots!