Posted by: jwhiff | July 4, 2018

Investigating What Students Bring

I don’t even want to call this assessment, although really this is what investigating means.  Formative investigation.  Investigation for learning.

I don’t want to call it assessment, because beginning of the year assessments look an awful lot like tests in my opinion.  I understand that these tests are simple to administer, but they don’t give kids much of a chance to explain to you what they actually bring with them to your class.  And what do they actually show you?  That Jimmy doesn’t know how to subtract 1.447 from 2? Maybe Jimmy does, but the test doesn’t give him room to use a strategy he learned last year.  Or maybe he knows he has a good strategy, but the stress of a beginning of the year test has made it hard for him to recall it.  Maybe he doesn’t even get to share his greatest strength in math because there are no questions that allow him to show this to you.

How can you find out what students bring with them?  One way is to  ask them, one at a time.

When on earth can you find the time for this?  This may seem a bit simplistic, but I ask them at silent reading.  I spend the first couple of weeks at school setting a rock-solid silent reading routine.  It is a very serious routine in my class.  All kids must read.  I set up reading expectations and kids document with a reading log.  Anyone who can’t focus during reading time gets extra reading coaching from me before being allowed out for lunch.  I help anyone who can’t find a good book find one.  They figure expectations out pretty quickly: they must be silent and they must read.  Then I introduce the “one math question a day” routine.

If I want to investigate their subtraction skills, I get give them a few questions to choose from.  I show them in different ways.  For example, one question will show numbers lined up, one over the other.  Another will show numbers side by side.  I even have one with words (If I spent $14.58 on books, and I started with $20, how much do I have left over?).  They choose one and try it out in their planner.  I then visit and ask questions:

I see you have come up with a pretty reasonable answer here.  Can you show me your strategy?

I see you crossed out your work.  Why?  Ah.  You can’t quite remember. Can I show you a few ways to try this?  You tell me which way looks familiar to you.

Are all of these too easy?  Wow!  How about this one? 

I can actually visit quite a number of students during one silent reading period, especially with no serious distractions.  I then repeat the process with slightly different questions the next day.  I keep this up for the entire year.  Yep.  The whole year.

It works incredibly well for me.  I find out what they are interested in learning, what they know and what they need more practice with.  It is a daily, one-on-one tutoring session for students who need it.  These students range from the mathematically motivated kids who really want to learn something new to the kids that need extra time with multiplication.  It is a perfect time to set goals and to check in to see how those goals are coming along.

I can’t imagine not doing this in my class.  I find it simple and incredibly valuable.  No students complain about this extra one question at planner/silent reading time.

There are other ways to find out what students bring, too.  I’ll share another way next post.


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