This week and my students were wild and wet; up and down. Today, the ground is wet, but skies are clear, and I am celebrating my students with you and those who celebrate with Ruth Ayers every week. They got through some difficult spots, but came out, in my opinion, shining.
Winter Break is almost here and kids feel it. Schedules were disrupted due to practicing for the winter pageant and the rain. Even with that underlying craziness, students did as they were asked. They practiced their performance. They lined up by height, climbed up on risers, squeezed close together and sang. Fifth graders don’t like to stand close to one another, smile and sing. But they did it. Their voices rising in unison. Their faces shining. I hate the practice, but the results always get to me and I smile deep inside.
This brings me to the assessment I gave my students this week. I hate giving tests. Hate taking tests. But I have to admit, the results can be fascinating. I told my students, as I handed them the (gasp) practice language arts performance assessment from Smarter Balanced, this is to help me help you.
The content wasn’t bad, three articles about service animals. They were interesting and not too long. I knew some would struggle, some aren’t there yet, but it seemed appropriate for fifth graders in May. I figured it wouldn’t kill them, so let’s see what they can do.
They were to read the articles, answer a few opened ended questions, and then write an opinion piece using the information.
Watching them take this was painful and pleasing. Sort of like watching them line up and sing. They suffered a bit as they hunkered down to read a text that was not their choice. But they took out their notebooks and jotted their noticings and thoughts. They wrote in the margins of the text. They took their time. They worked hard. I was proud of them, and worried for them.
They read, re read, and finally got to the questions. Did they have enough left to answer the questions at the end of all that?
The following day they wrote their opinions.
After it all was over, I asked them what they thought about the work. They said it was exhausting, it was challenging, and it wasn’t what they wanted to do.
I asked them was it good to know what they would be facing in May? They all said yes, loud and clear.
Students have to take this test, for better or for worse. In all fairness to them, they need and want to know what they need to face.
I spent last night looking at their work. What I saw were big ideas from the text jotted in the margins as well as their thoughts, questions, and reactions.
That right there said they understood the text, they interacted with the text, they had comprehension and thinking that went with the text.
Their answers weren’t perfect, but the majority were getting there. From what I could see, the errors were largely due to the fact that they didn’t read the questions as thoughtfully as they read the text. In most cases it had nothing to do with their actual comprehension.
In writing, about two-thirds had written opinions and the others had written informational pieces. Were they perfect, no. Were they thoughtful, yes. The majority showed their thinking about the topic and incorporated some of their learning from reading the articles.
My students have not mastered the expectations of the common core as measured by this assessment. What they showed was that the work that we (as a school) have been doing is getting them there. And more importantly they are readers, thinkers and writers. .
Today I celebrate my fifth graders and all the teaching and learning that has happened in their elementary school careers. I celebrate the years of excellent, authentic teaching in classrooms filled with read aloud, guided and strategic reading and writing instruction, with real books and magazines, and the opportunity to read and write daily. I celebrate the opportunity I have to continue to teach and learn with my students in the months to come.