For all the negative press that assessment in school gets, and for all the heated rhetoric used, I, as an educator, cannot avoid this one very simple point: there is simply no way I can teach without assessing. If I don’t know what my students know, how will I know what to teach in the first place? If I don’t know what they have learned, how will I know if they are ready to move on to new topics? If I don’t know how well they can do something, how will I be able to give them appropriately challenging material?
Now, some may argue that all of the negativity about assessing is actually directed toward high-stakes, one-time standardised testing. I can accept that there are probably better ways to collect large-scale data than what has been used for many years, but I also recognise that large-scale data is important for informing education policy. I am excited about the upcoming changes that are on the horizon, as I believe they will begin to provide better options for such assessment.
Because I understand the need for appropriate assessment so that I can better plan my teaching, I know that there will be times during the year when I will have to more assessment than other times. Today was one of those times. It was the last day of the third quarter, which means we have just a couple of months left before the end of school. I worked with my grade-level partner to develop some math and literacy assessments that we wanted to use with both of our classes to give an idea of where our students are at and where we need to go during the last quarter.
My students took the literacy assessment on Tuesday while I was serving as an election judge. They had to read a couple of short passages and answer questions to show comprehension, understanding of main idea, sentence structure, and grammatical elements. I had them take the math assessment today. It covered the wide range of math concepts and skills expected of fourth graders, such as operations, base-ten, fractions, decimals, measurement, data, and geometry. On top of these broad-range assessments, we also finished a unit on division of multi-digit whole numbers by a single-digit divisor, so I gave my students a quiz on this skill in the morning.
The results of these assessments will be used as I plan for the fourth quarter over the coming week. As the quarter gets underway, I will continue to monitor my students’ progress, assess them at appropriate intervals, and find as many ways as possible for them to demonstrate their understanding. Assessments are not the purpose of teaching, nor are they the final word in determining where a student is in their learning, but they are important tools to guide planning and provide snapshots of what the students are doing, both as a whole and as an individual.
While I am planning for the fourth quarter, I hope everyone takes time to enjoy the warm weather during Spring Break! I will certainly be doing more than lesson planning! I hope to get out of doors as often as possible and encourage everyone else to do the same!
My fourth grade teaching partner is also the girls’ volleyball coach at Urbana Middle School, so when it comes to physical education, she is much more of an expert than myself. While our classes do not combine for P.E. (fifty students in the gym with just two adults would be a bit much), we often collaborate on plans for what we will have the students work on. So when she told me earlier this week about a plan to have the students work on being able to run a mile, I quickly jumped on board with the idea!
There is a large grassy field in front of our school building that is crisscrossed with sidewalks. It turns out that a particular circuitous path is pretty close to being a quarter-mile. (It isn’t exactly, though. The path we use for the annual walkathon fundraiser, incidentally, is about a third of a mile.) This morning we had P.E. and it was just warm enough to be able to go outside for it so the students could get a feel for what our cardiovascular unit would feel like.
Before going out, though, we talked about safety, especially not pushing oneself too hard the first time doing a specific task. I told the students that I did not want anyone to try to sprint the four laps they were going to do, but to try alternately running, jogging, or walking. We also talked about what could be expected during such physical exertion, such as elevated heart rate and quickened breathing.
Once we got outside, I led the students in some warm-up stretches and then let them start their laps. Some decided to walk all four laps, others alternated their activity. A few boys tried sprinting, despite my caution, and quickly learned that sprinting a mile was not going to work out for them and they ended up walking toward the end. There were quite a few students who complained of breathing quickly and I explained that that is normal after physical exertion, especially running!
After we came in, we took some deep breaths to calm down and settle our heart rates. We also had a short discussion about aerobic exercise, how muscle tissue responds to increased activity, and the common experience of slight pain, or a “stitch” in one’s side after running. While a few students insisted that their hearts were going to explode and they would need to go to the hospital, this didn’t happen for anyone!
We will continue to do this activity after Spring Break. My goal is for the students to start setting goals for their time and learn what they have to do to reach those goals. I will also do some more collaboration with my grade level partner to see what other activities we can do with our classes. And since we will be outside, I am certain that at least some of them will be combined!
I am so glad that the weather is finally warming up with the arrival of spring! After a long, cold, often miserable winter, it is nice to get outside and take advantage of the open space and the fresh air!
Following what I hope will be an annual tradition, the entire student body at Wiley today was given a special concert by the Urbana Middle School music program. Featuring the 8th grade ensembles for strings, choir, and band, we were able to listen to a wide variety of music and enjoy a break in the middle of the week as we lead up to the final days before Spring Break.
I love it when the middle school and high school music programs visit. It was always a highlight of the week when the high school in my community growing up visited our school. I still remember the time in grade school when the high school madrigals program visited and gave a silly rendition of The 12 Days of Christmas. When I was in high school, I got to visit the grade schools in the community with the jazz ensembles and the show choirs. (I was in the jazz ensemble my freshman year and then served as their chief sound engineer for the following three; I was also the sound engineer for the show choir.) The jazz ensembles and show choir also went on performance tours together around the community, which was always a wonderful experience!
So I love it when my students now get to have similar experiences. Even if they do not decide to play a musical instrument, join a choir, or get involved in theater, I want them to know that they can. I want my students to consider the wide range of possibilities available to them. I also want to expose them to everything the fine arts have to offer. I know that they know about popular music; they sing it and dance to it every day. I want them to know what else is out there.
My class really enjoyed the performances from the eighth graders they saw today! It was also great that the music directors identified those students who had gone to Wiley in the past. I hope that I will see my own students up there on the stage and on the concert floor in a few short years. I also hope that any students who are currently playing an instrument, singing in a choir, or competing in an athletic competition will let me know. While I can’t always make it to performances or games, I would love to go if I can!
Head colds are awful. They are just bad enough to make you feel miserable, but not quite so bad as to justify staying home to rest. Getting a head cold over the weekend is even worse, though, because you know that even if you were to call in sick, you’d have to go in to work anyway to write up sub plans and make sure everything is ready for the day.
I can usually combat the symptoms of a head cold with regular cold medicine, but late at night I realised that the only medicine I had available at home was some night-time gel caps. I really, really, really hate medicines like that because they seem to leave my head in a fog all day long. But since I needed something to relieve the symptoms so I could at least sleep, I took some before going to bed. I was able to sleep through the night and woke up on time, but it sure was a struggle to make it through the first part of my day!
Even though I felt awful and I was still feeling the side effects of the cold medicine, I was determined to make sure that our day went about as usual! We went to the gym for P.E., several more students shared their colony research reports, we went outside for recess, and we continued to review how to divide multi-digit numbers by a single-digit divisor. And that was just in the morning! The afternoon saw our mix-up math groups also working on division, then my class went to Music. The end of the day was full of reading: another chapter of Bridge to Terabithia, Today’s Topics, and SOAR.
It was a good day, other than the awful head cold! I will not be with my class tomorrow, though, because I will be serving as an Election Judge for Champaign County during the Primary Elections tomorrow. I was hoping to be placed in the precinct that includes Wiley, but my assignment is in Savoy. I am confident that my students will have a fantastic day tomorrow while I am performing my civic duty!