(During March, I am blogging daily as a part of the Slice of Life Story Challenge!)
Picture a workshop setting in a convention center (non-school environment) and 35 third grade teachers and administrators spending a day discussing and increasing their knowledge of standards-based reading, writing, speaking, listening and language as well as instruction and assessment. Folks are literally out of their work space as the participants come from multiple districts.
The first very specific task: Read the assigned standard, Writing Anchor 1, the expanded description and one piece of student work. Suspending judgement based on your own knowledge of third grade writers, how well does this piece represent understanding of the standards? What would be strengths? What would be areas to work on? The participants were asked to do this individually and then as a table group of four or five.
This was a hard task. Questions immediately bubbled up.
“Did the student have help?” “Was this at the beginning of the year?” “Was there a prompt?”
Sometimes with writing conversations/assessments there may be too much concern about the “back story” of the task. Work with it. List your questions. Consider whether they really must be answered to complete the task. Are they “need to know?” or “want to know?” questions that need answered before continuing the work?
The second part of the task was to consider additional standards beyond standard 1 that could be assessed with this piece of student work. We were looking for “multiplicity” or “bundling” of standards in order to have a broader view of the writing piece. During writing instruction, formative assessment, conferences and mini-lessons would have provided additional information about the specifics of the students’ improvement. Teachers were urged to consider all of the third grade ELA standards: reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language.
The conversations were rich. Highlighted words and phrases in the student work matched the highlighted sections in the standards document (color coding!). Some annotated the student work. The level of care and attention given to this student’s work was exactly what I would want for my child, grandchild, and all children!
The Pièce de résistance: Three table groups met together in the foyer to discuss their conversations and findings. There was a lot of agreement in the group of approximately 15. But what was most memorable to me was this report to the entire group at the conclusion of this work: “These folks discussed this writing piece for approximately 30 minutes. Not once in the 30 minutes did a teacher mention spelling or handwriting. That is important to note. Kudos to these teachers.” Wow! What is most important in student writing? It’s easy to get sidetracked with the cosmetic appearance. It is much harder to dig into quality instruction that gets at the heart of the claim, evidence (facts, details, reasons) and development of the ideas.
(And of course, the group did have wonderful ideas about additional standards that could be reviewed in addition to Writing Anchor 1.)