More reading of what he wrote. pic.twitter.com/dRa2Vjtf91
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) June 22, 2017
- My teaching partner, Paula, and I read with the children on a daily basis, and knew from our ongoing assessment — including some running records — at what approximate level the children were reading.
- Paula and I observed the children carefully during play, and watched and listened to them read with others. We saw what strategies they used. We heard them decoding texts — including their own writing — and we heard them discussing texts (demonstrating comprehension skills). Observing the children in action, helped us determine mini-lessons and plan for next steps.
- Paula and I regularly connected with parents about reading. We discussed what we saw in the classroom, but we also listened to what parents saw at home. One mom even emailed us a recording of her daughter reading, so that we could provide suggestions for extensions at home. Growing Success — The Kindergarten Addendum mentions that children can demonstrate skills at home that we can use for assessment purposes. Some students feel more comfortable in a home environment, and may show some reading skills that they do not show at school. A standardized assessment may not accurately reflect these students’ skills.
More reading in Kindergarten. pic.twitter.com/Kz5AH0oV3V
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) June 28, 2017
Reading and talking about this book. pic.twitter.com/IEEp14JhOV
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) June 26, 2017
We knew that a standardized assessment would give us a reading level, but it wouldn’t tell us more than what we already knew about our students as readers. When I eventually did the assessment at the end of the year, the levels were what I anticipated, but the standardized assessment came with a drawback that I hadn’t anticipated. Many students were less confident readers because of the testing experience.
Children were all used to reading with me during play. What we read connected with what they were doing and was meaningful to them. I would often record their reading and our conversations, but I never sat next to them with a paper and pen, checking off words and noting errors. This is something that I did later … without the children sitting there. As the year came to an end, I decided that I would do a formal reading assessment on each child. This was not an easy decision for me to make. Initially, I considered doing a running record instead, but eventually, I chose the more formal assessment option. Why?
- I knew that every other teacher was doing it. (This is not necessarily a good reason, but sometimes peer pressure — even when there was no explicit pressure — is hard to ignore.)
- I knew that the Grade 1 teachers would look closely at this assessment to plan for next year, and I wanted to give them something they could use.
- I knew that reading levels often correspond with possibilities for additional support, and for the children that I thought might need this support, I wanted to make sure that I had the data that the school needed.
Since I decided to do this more formal assessment, I thought that I would also create an environment that is conducive to this type of testing. I chose to pull students individually during our morning meeting time — which Paula runs — and read with them in a quieter space. I sat beside them with the marking sheet and my pen, and together, we did the test.
I noticed the difference right away.
- Children constantly looked over at me to see what I was writing on the sheet.
- Many children found the reading level on the book right away, and they asked me, “Is this my reading level? Is this where I’m supposed to be?”
- If I corrected an error, children saw me mark this on the sheet, and some children were bothered by this. They began to tap their feet, play with their hands, put their fingers or shirts in their mouth, and pause regularly during the rest of the book, concerned that they were making more errors. You could see and feel the stress, and no amount of comfort from me, seemed to change this.
While slower, more stressful reading did not necessarily impact on the child’s reading level, it did impact on their confidence as readers. This really made me pause. Here I am working with four, five, and six-year-olds: our youngest school-age children that have just learned to read. Is it okay for any child to feel this kind of stress from a reading assessment (or any assessment for that matter)? If this assessment is not telling me more than what I already know, then is it the best option?
Contemplating now why I chose to do this formal assessment in the first place, I’m now looking at how I can make this “test” less stressful for kids.
- Maybe I need to do this assessment in the regular classroom environment where I read with them on a daily basis.
- Maybe I need to forgo the pen and paper. Yes, I will need to do the paper work afterwards, but what if I recorded the reading instead? Sitting down with me and an iPad would be something that the children are used to, and maybe this would help decrease stress.
- Maybe I need to consider the different times that work best for the different children. While I pulled everybody at the beginning of the day, some students might feel more comfortable once they’ve settled into play and even done some reading and writing of their own that day. One time might not work for everyone.
I share all of this because no matter what changes I make, one change that I will not be making is to significantly increase the number of times that I do this formal assessment for each child. Why? Because I think that there is tremendous value in our daily documentation that outlines where our students are at, what they need, and where we can go next.
The other day, Donald Ey, from the United States, tweeted me a link to this article about Kindergarten classrooms in the US.
— Donald Ey (@dey5401) July 22, 2017
— Dede Faltot Rittman (@dederittman) July 21, 2017
I was quick to reply with this.
Quite the opposite for us in Ontario. https://t.co/5fa5OsTErL
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) July 22, 2017
Our ON curriculum is as Aviva says- pretty darned good!! https://t.co/zXNN6Jf9xd
— Jill Snider (@29pussycat) July 22, 2017
I agree with Jill that our Program Document is “pretty darned good,” but then I think about standardized assessments and I worry about the role that they’ll play in the classroom environment. How do these assessments align with the play-based Program Document? How can we notice, name, and extend learning — in all grades — without the need for more formal assessments? None of us want our students to slip through the cracks. We want to see growth, and we want to do what we can to support this growth. Maybe the thinking behind more regular, formal assessments is that we’ll ensure that we are noting progress and identifying problems. But are these assessments cognitive stressors, and what impact might that have for the “whole child?” I’m curious to know how educators address these stressors, hold true to the Program Document, and still assess student growth. Maybe it’s time to continue to look even more seriously beyond formal options.