Sunday, December 7, 2008

Content Assessment

Both these readings really helped me to see the full view of what content area assessment really is.

Although both readings focused on content area assessment, the Butler article focused much more on standardized assessments.

One thing that frustrates me when it comes to math, social studies and science instruction is that teachers often times don’t spend the time they should be on teaching the language associated with each of those content areas. It seems that many teachers have the attitudes that because those classes aren’t traditional reading or writing classes that it they shouldn’t be focusing on teaching the language of those classes. I feel that since the language for each class is so specific it is vital to the students' academic success to focus on the teaching language in each of these classes.

I feel that even more so than any other content area, math has really become disconnected with language teaching. It seems as if many people consider math a subject in which language play a little or no role at all. What I have discovered since teaching math is that the teaching of math language is extremely important. What I have noticed about many of my students is that they can perform the necessary math operations to pass the tests, what they are lacking in is the ability to explain their thinking, the ability to explain and reflect on the concept is important as is being able to convey what they already know about a subject or concept before I even begin teaching. Since teaching math one of my goals has been to reinforce this idea that knowing how to do the operations isn’t enough, that the students have to be able to explain their thinking and how they arrived at their final answer. When students are explaining their thinking I also require them to use the math vocabulary we have been learning for that concept in their explanation.

When it comes to teaching vocabulary I think I’m doing pretty good in my math class. I have the students create semantic maps and various graphic organizers of the vocabulary we are learning. I also have a Math Word Wall in my classroom. I would really like to improve on the amount of writing my students are doing in math class. There is just this disparity between the amount of time I can spend on one subject and the amount of time I often want to spend on one subject. Vocabulary development and language activities take time and unfortunately, I feel that the curriculum the district has set up for us doesn’t allow for lingering on one subject too long.

This past year our district adopted a new social studies curriculum and I LOVE it. The way the curriculum is set up focuses a lot on language development. It also does a great job of activating prior knowledge, having students make predictions, having students take notes in a variety of ways, and then doing various writing activities as a way of processing the information. In addition, students are also asked to analyze various graphic organizers and draw conclusions from that.

As I was reading these two articles a very vicious cycle started presenting itself. Teachers who don’t focus on teaching language in the content areas have students who, even with accommodations, don’t perform well on the standardized assessments. Students who don’t do well on standardized assessments are then sometimes put into classes that do not provide them with the instruction or support hey need and as a result continue to do poorly on the standardized assessments.

There are some teachers in our district who do a school wide test prep every Friday. Although I’m not sure exactly how this test prep goes or what the outcomes are I think about how should we preparing our children for these tests? I am a huge advocate of incorporating test prep into daily normal class activities. I feel that teaching and test taking should not be viewed as two totally different areas, but as two very closely linked areas. Test taking skills and critical thinking skills need to be taught in every content area as well as focusing closely on language teaching.

Again, I also feel that there should be guidelines developed and used by states to designate English Language Learners. Perhaps the government should develop a rubric for designating English Language Learners.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Assessment of Writing

After reading this chapter I really feel like I am on the right track in terms of writing assessment. Right now I use a writing workshop that seems to incorporate many things that this chapter deemed as important in terms of writing.

First, the writing workshop I currently use is very student centered. Students are instructed about the genre of writing and work together to formulate numerous prompts that they can turn into a written piece. During our writing workshops students spend a lot of time in peer response groups and in teacher conferences. After a student has written a first draft they bring it to the initial peer response group. Before this response group the writer formulates questions about their piece. Before the writer reads the piece they read their questions to the group. In this way, the people who are responding know what to watch out for and what the writer is looking for. After the peer response group the writer goes back and continues to revise and edit their various drafts. After each draft the writer can approach the teacher for a conference about their piece. Finally, after the writer has sufficient drafts, they come for their final conference and it is during this conference that the writer and teacher use the LKSD 6 Trait Analytical Scoring Guide to score the piece. I make it a point NEVER to write on the students’ pieces and to never tell them what to write but to offer suggestions for improvement. Most importantly, before the student comes to a teacher conference they formulate questions about their piece and what they would like me to watch out for.

One thing I feel like is improving in our district is writing across the curriculum. One of the math specialists in our district is very, very supportive of the integration of writing into the math classroom. As I know plan my math lessons I try to think of ways in which I can have students write about what they are learning. I am currently teaching about various estimation strategies in my math class and I am planning on having the students complete poems that help us to understand more about the estimation strategies. I also try to have students write weekly learning logs on our Math Wiki, but unfortunately, I often forget to have them do this and I need to get in the habit of modeling how to do this better.

I also would like students to write more in my World History class. Again, I often feel tied to the curriculum and feel that I don’t have enough time for extensive writing projects in that class. However, I do feel that writing needs to happen in every class and that the old complaint that “this isn’t writing class” is even more invalid in today’s classroom than ever before.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Chapta 10

I do have to say, this chapter was actually one of my favorites so far this year. I thought it was insightful and full of useful information that I can apply in my classroom.

In LKSD our students are required to pass or be proficient in an informal reading inventory (RPA or DRA) in order to progress to the next phase. I have never really thought that these reading assessments were valuable. First, I have found that they take forever to teach students how to respond to the questions that are asked and how to write a summary of the text. Also, during the miscue analysis I was never really sure how to mark the mistakes that students made. I always dreaded giving the DRA to my students simply because it was almost painful to watch them pore over the text and try to decipher it.

After reading this chapter I really have found new value for the informal reading inventories that we give our students. I finally see and feel that I now understand why we give them and how they can reflect our students’ reading levels. One thing that I now have on my mind is why the reading inventories are only given up until 8th grade. In a school where all but three students are LEP I would think that we would want to keep records on students as long as possible to see their continued successes in reading. Also, just because a student has made it to the high school reading phases does not necessarily mean that they have achieved and gained all the reading skills that will help them to be successful.

Again, another Ah!Ha! moment for me was when the author mentioned the advantages of independent reading. I have really have had an internal struggle going on all year as to whether to give half my class time daily so students can read independently. As much as I would like to get through all our big units and keep my students passing phases I really do realize that students need opportunities to read things that are of interest to them and that they need to read independently.

More so, students also need guided reading instruction. One issue I agree quite strongly with from this chapter was the idea that the teachers should be addressing reading issues during mini-lessons in the classroom. I’ve had to really, really watch the amount of time I spend in front of students and I always laugh at the fact that spending 55 minutes in front of students lecturing is easier than teaching something in 15 minutes. After working with the same students for the past 4 years I now realize that there is a danger to too much teaching and “over-teaching” something. Direct instruction needs to happen, but teachers have to be careful about how much time they are spending in front of their students. Too much could be just as harmful as too little.

One thing that my students struggle on is giving textual evidence to back up their thinking. One section in our Literature Circles ask students to make and write predictions about what they think will happen in a text. I have really had to go back and help students to identify lines of actual text that led them to construct that prediction. Finding and using textual evidence to back up one’s opinion has proven quite difficult to my students and if anyone has any activities or ideas for a mini-lesson on this I would love to hear it.

Something else that spoke to me as I was reading this article was when the author said that an informal reading inventory could be used to identify errors in the students’ understanding of syntax and various word structures. What the teacher decided to do though, once she identified the errors the student was making, was to address those errors in the writing class! I think that this proves once again that there is a clear and definite relationship between reading and writing. They are not two isolated academic areas but they are deeply connected. When one becomes a better reader they become a better writer.

Again, this chapter was insightful and, I felt, deeply valuable. As I was reading this chapter, I kept thinking of various things I have already done and would like to do that I can use as artifacts for my portfolio.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Chapter 5: Reading Assessment

After reading this chapter I really felt like there were vast improvements I can make in terms of reading instruction and assessment in my classroom.

When I first began teaching I felt this huge conflict between giving time in class to read independently and teaching the curriculum. I tried everything to get kids to take books home and read independently. It just seemed like none of my students were really readers and it killed me. I eventually gave up having students read independently in class because I felt that I needed to provide more of the required curriculum.

I think what I have taken from this chapter more than anything is that reading is ANY form is hugely important for second language learners. However, not all books and text are appropriate to second language learners.

When I was in college I was assigned to tutor a young man who had recently come to Wisconsin from Rwanda. He had arrived about a month before I began working with him and his story was unbelievable. He was 15 and had spent years separated from his family and moving from refugee camp to refugee camp. His family, believing he was dead, had been sponsored to come to Wisconsin and left Rwanda immediately. About a year after their arrival in Wisconsin they received a phone call telling them that their son had been found and that they wanted to send him to join his family as soon as possible.

The young boy landed in Platteville, Wisconsin of all places. My job was to tutor him three times a week and to help him get through his English classes. I was very surprised and dismayed after our first meeting. The school had decided to put him in English classes based solely on his age and not his ability level. The book that the students in that classes were reading was To Kill a Mockingbird. I really was surprised that this student was reading the book to begin with and even more surprised when the teacher saw nothing wrong with a students, with little or no English base reading a book steeped in Southern culture and language. The student’s task was to read the chapter and then answer comprehension questions about what he read.

I wished I could transport myself back to that moment. I knew that this book was not the best book for this student but didn’t feel that I had the authority to tell the teacher how they should be handling this student or what it is they should be doing with him. The student and I struggle through an entire quarter of this book and tried quite hard to get through it.

One thing I also took from this chapter is that it is okay to change up the reading activities in a class. Right now I do Literature Circles in my class and the response has ranged from positive to negative. I do feel that the Literature Circles are extremely valuable in my classroom. The required journal entries ask for a personal reaction, prediction and reflection on the discussion. In addition to the journal responses, students are asked to complete a job that focuses on one particular aspect of reading. Although I really like Literature Circles I realize now that there are a many more ways I can approach reading in my classroom and provide students with an opportunity to discover books more.

I really want to take a couple of steps back in my reading classroom and begin by giving students a self-assessment. I never really have done this and I’m kind of kicking myself right now that I have no idea what types of books some of my students like. I have one student, in particular, who never really seems to like ANYTHING we read in class. A self-assessment seems to be such an easy way to find this out about him.

I also have gotten so many other ideas for integrating independent reading into my classroom. Students need to have an opportunity to talk, in some fashion, about what they are reading. Literature Circles accomplish that but I also see the importance of personal choice in reading material. Since we have just finished up our first whole Literature Circle book I am going to allow students the time and space to read more independently.

I realize now that when my students lay around on the floor reading that there is something important happening. What we need to do as teachers is to find ways and opportunities for students to talk about what they are reading and to respond to the text.

I also really like the idea of reading portfolios in my classroom. I would love students to have a way to showcase what it is they are reading and to give them an opportunity to showcase their reading for others.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Hey Everyone! In my search for a way to create ePortfolios to use in my classroom I came across this information. I thought it would be helpful for anyone interested in creating an ePortfolio for this class. Although I haven't had time to read it in depth yet it looked promising.

I'm going to play around with this a bit and let everyone know how it goes.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


My first encounter with portfolios happened in my sixth grade Language Arts class. Mrs. Marsh was my teacher. What I remember about our portfolios then was that we did not have access to them. Mrs. Marsh was afraid we would lose the pieces. Portfolios were these coveted manila folders that each of our Language Arts teachers seemed to get year after year. I hated writing with a passion in middle school. I never felt like I was a good writer and I was that student in the class doodling or staring at the paper not knowing what to write. Mrs. Marsh would come over at the end of the hour and would look at my blank paper and me and just sigh. Sometimes I think back to myself in Mrs. Marsh’s class when I have a bad day with students and I hear the old adage “what goes around come around”. Sometimes I think God has pointed me on the teacher path just because He knew it was the only way to get back at me and make me pay.

Back to portfolios. So, we would write in Mrs. Marsh’s class and then every once in a while she would hand out “reflection” sheets. She would then pass out the manila folders with our work for that quarter or grading period and our job was to reflect on which one we liked the best and why and which one we liked the least and why. I remember hating these activities. I knew I had to pick one to be the “best” and another to be the “worst” when I knew that all of them were fairly atrocious. I knew the quality of my work was poor and yet I felt like I was phoning it in just to be done with the activity.

My next big encounter with portfolios was in college. We had to create a portfolio that would be reviewed by the School of Ed people. If they deemed it quality enough they would admit us to the School of Ed. If it wasn’t good enough they would ask you to revise it and set up another interview. For weeks before the interviews and the portfolio presentations every student hoping to get in the School of Ed. was in a flurry. People were printing, cutting, pasting, drawing and printing. Advisors were booked solid and the library was in tatters as the students hoping to get into the School of Ed. prepared their portfolios. The day of the interviews came. We all dressed up. I probably even wore a skirt. We were armed with the portfolios that would show the evaluators that were READY to be teachers. One by one people were called in and a few minutes later they would come back out. Those of us standing in line were starting to feel a bit nervous. Why was the line moving so fast? Soon it was my turn and I walked into the room and sat down. I then noticed something strange about my evaluators. They were all professors, but only one was a professor from the School of Ed. They took my portfolio that I had so laboriously prepared, flipped through it quickly to make sure it had all the required items. Asked me a few questions about why I should be admitted to the School of Ed. and then said “congratulations”. I felt cheated. I was angry. I walked out of there with this huge portfolio that I had really worked to showcase my worth as a future teacher and all I got was a 5 minute audience with the basketball coach. I didn’t have the heart to throw my portfolio away. I still have it in the back of a closet at my mom’s house.

The point I’m trying to make is that just because we use portfolios doesn’t mean that they are effective. In the first instance, I was unmotivated to write and the reflection aspect of the portfolio felt forced and fake. I did not see an improvement in my writing. It had all seemed the same to me. I did the reflection activity, the “biggest” activity associated with the portfolio not because I really wanted to explore the areas I had improved on but because Mrs. Marsh was requiring it for the class and if I came home with any more bad grades my dad would be M-A-D! In the second instance I had put a lot of time and effort into creating the portfolio only to find that the evaluators weren’t even interested in examining the portfolio or asking me any questions related to the portfolio. I felt I had invested a lot of time and the final evaluation was a let down.

As I was reading this chapter I kept envisioning myself implementing portfolios in my classroom. They are a great idea but in all honesty, seems like it will take a lot of work and dedication to put into effect into my classroom. The benefits of portfolios greatly outweigh the work and I am convinced that I need to focus more effort on developing portfolios in my classroom.

I currently use a writing workshop that I found randomly online. I chose that particular format because it was designed to be a 10 day workshop. I know, I know, I know. I should have researched more formats and given more time to choosing the one that I thought would work the best with my learners. The “10-day” portion of the title flashed before me like a neon sign and since the greatest need at that time was to get students through writing pieces as quickly as possible. After using the writing workshop though I really, really found out how much I had lucked out.

This particular writing workshop sets up guidelines and criteria for each piece the student writes, has students set goals, asks students to respond to each other in a peer group and uses mini-lessons to help students achieve the goals that they have set for themselves. The whole purpose of the writing workshop is that students were taking ownership for their writing and moving themselves through the writing process.

As I continued to read this chapter it became evident to me that I already have the structure for using portfolios in place in my classroom. The students have already become accustomed to the format of the writing workshop and at this point I could introduce portfolios into the mix without it being too much.

There are so many different ways that teachers can implement portfolios in their class. I love that this chapter highlighted ways to use the portfolios in math and science classes as well. As a math teacher I often struggle to show my students of the progress they have made. A portfolio would be a perfect way to do this.

I am particularly interested in creating ePortfolios. I have done some research on this subject and would like to begin using them. Since most of my students’ parents have internet access I think this would be a perfect way to showcase what we are doing in school and get parents involved more. It would also allow students an opportunity to readily go back through their pieces and reflect on their writing. If anyone has any ideas or websites they would like to share for ePortfolios I would be happy to have them!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Big Blog About Both Readings

I have a ton of thoughts about the two readings for today. I decided to try to write one big blog instead of two shorter ones.

First though...some news from Oscarville.

The river has officially been deemed frozen enough for travel and we received mail yesterday. It was the first time in almost a month.

My mom sent four packages and inside one was this...which I put on Macy as soon as possible. Here she is in all her misery.

After the thrill of dressing my dog up wore off I decided it was time to complete my homework for the day.

I began with the Solon-Flores article.


There are so many issues with testing of English Language Learners. Just within the "who" section I realized how deep that idea of "who" goes. We are so accustomed to throwing and group students in neat little categories that we overlook all those things that differentiate our learners. The idea that ELLs are overrepresented in Special Education programs and underrepresented in gifted and talented programs really hit me hard. I get so frustrated with the teachers who constantly bag on their students in terms of what they "can't do" and totally ignore their areas of strength. I think educators really need to support and encourage each other not to look at what ELLs "can't do" but how they "can do it" and differentiate their programs to fit their learner's strengths.

According to Solano-Flores ELLs don't fit nicely into a one size fits all category. There are many different cultural nuances and specifics that are gravely overlooked in tests. Solano-Flores continues to say that language carries many social connotations in it and that the tests we give many ELLs don't address the social aspects or cultural aspects of language.

Also of concern are the accommodations we give ELLs. Again it is dangerous to lump ELLs into the same category and to just say that they all have the same needs. What test givers often don't realize is that not all our students benefit from the same accommodations. It also infuriates me that many ELLs are simply given SpEd accommodations.

So, I felt a little...well, I don't know...pessimistic about the whole idea of testing and kept thinking of my students and having to watch them take those horrible tests. I think of the kids who fulfill graduation requirements but don't receive a diploma because they cannot pass a high-stakes tests and I get emotional when I think of that. What kind of life are we leaving our students with if at the age of 18 or 19 they already have "failed". What kind of message is that sending this generation of youth?

Then I read the next article and got a little more pumped up. Yeah! I was so happy to see that research had been done in this area in rural Alaska! Finally something that hits home and makes me feel like the students up here aren't being ignored and that this population is being taken in to consideration.

It seems that the there are so many hypocrisies in regards to education. When I first began teaching here I was given advice on how to make my lessons more culturally based and how to integrate culture more into the classroom. Then we give our students high stakes tests that totally disregard culture and the students cultural beliefs and backgrounds. Sometimes I feel teachers are torn between culturally appropriate lessons and lessons that will help them to achieve on the tests and meet AYP. As stated in the article, what usually happens is that culturally appropriate curriculum gets abandoned in favor of test prep. This seems to start a downward cycle of students more and more separated from their culture and given a curriculum they feel more and more unsuccessful with.

Another thing that I connected with in this article was the idea of silence. When I first arrived in my village I was stunned by how quiet my students were. It took me a long time to be able to change my way of thinking and to be okay with walking into a classroom that wasn't overflowing with loud noises and conversations. Also, I've learned to listen more in other ways...that sometimes responses don't have to be verbal to be accurate.

The picture of elders coming into the classroom and working with students is something that I believe should be happening in all cultures but especially with our students.