Assessment is a crucial element in a teacher’s practice that can be used to gather key information about students’ literacy skills and needs. Assessment should be implemented initially to determine the baseline performance of a student and regularly to monitor their progress. Therefore, students’ assessment of literacy skills is critical to determine instructional needs and planning. Students come to the classroom with various levels of literacy skills and needs. When the teacher is knowledgeable about what her students are ready to learn or the challenges they face she is able to develop lessons that meet the needs of each individual student. Assessments not only serve as a guide for literacy instruction, but they can also be used to monitor student progress, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the strategies implemented and to identify potential areas for instructional improvement.
When connecting assessment and planning, however, it is important to remember that not every method of assessment will be appropriate for all skill levels, cultures or learning styles. Therefore, using a variety of assessment strategies to collect information on student performance will allow the teacher to make more effective instructional decisions. It is also important to choose an assessment strategy that is relevant and appropriate not only for the task assessed, but also for the student’s needs and skills. Students should have the option to demonstrate learning in ways that are consistent with their learning styles and various intelligences.
Rubrics and checklists provide students with a list of elements or requirements they must meet to complete assignments successfully. The criteria should be clearly detailed and in a language that students can easily understand. For struggling students, however, individual assessment conferences might be more beneficial as they give the teacher an opportunity to discuss directly with the student their progress, needs and future goals for improvement. Teacher-led conferences are an effective strategy to assess strengths, weaknesses and progress for students in general. When completed at the beginning of the year, this assessment tool provides crucial diagnostic information that assists the teacher in making decisions about specific learning strategies based on a student’s baseline performance. A child’s baseline performance and reading level can then be used to select appropriate level content that is difficult enough to challenge the learner, but not so difficult that would result in frustration and discouragement. During these diagnostic conferences the teacher can also use student running records. This very useful tool allows the teacher to determine what a child knows and understands about the reading process as well as the strategies and cueing systems the child is using, giving the teacher a starting point to make instructional decisions.
Portfolios offer an effective way to assess student learning as both teachers and students are able to determine growth in specific areas by collecting and selecting work for the portfolio and reflecting on the selected samples of work. Portfolios can be used as an initial assessment tool or on an ongoing basis to evaluate progress or as a final assessment. Portfolios can include a number of pieces of work such as a cover that allows students to express their creativity, reflections on their work, learning goals and samples of students’ work. A key element of portfolios is the conference which includes the participation of not only the teacher and the student, but also the parents.
Student self-assessment is another effective method to determine a student’s learning and progress. In this case, students reflect on their own learning process and the strategies used and their prior knowledge. Students also evaluate the process they have followed to learn and the quality of the resulting product and they establish their own personal learning goals. Student self-assessment can be implemented in a number of ways including journal reflections at specific times of the year, lesson reflections after a specific lesson or unit has been completed or as project self-evaluations. Self-evaluations are an effective assessment tool because students are actively involved in reflecting on their progress, weaknesses and strengths, making them more likely to engage in their future learning and work towards achieving the goals they have set for themselves.
When planning for instruction, collecting information on student performance through various assessment methods that evaluate learning for different intelligences, learning styles, cultures, and skill levels will provide the teacher with a more comprehensive picture of her students’ skills, needs, interests and performance. While initial assessments provide information about the baseline performance of a classroom, which is necessary to make initial instructional decisions, ongoing assessments may also reveal that the teacher’s instructional plan and assessment criteria requires adjustment to meet students’ weaknesses and strengths as the year progresses. Therefore, it is important to understand that the connection between assessment and instruction is dynamic and requires constant review if the teacher intends to plan lessons that help all her students achieve their learning outcomes and are appropriate to their needs and various skill levels.
I have always found that poetry is a genre within Language Arts that poses significant challenges when it comes to engaging students. Analyzing a poem, finding the meaning behind the words, and determining the subject are some of the tasks that many students do reluctantly. However, I found that the poem sorting activity completed in class is an excellent way to engage learners as it requires them to complete an analysis of the text in a more dynamic way. It gives students the opportunity to respond to the poem in a personal way. In addition, students not only have to think critically and reflectively to explore the meaning of the text in order to sort out the excerpts, but also have to communicate effectively, exchanging ideas and opinions to reach an agreement to make sense of the entire poem.
Once the pieces are all organized and sorted, students have to contribute ideas and work collaboratively to reach a consensus to give the poem a title of their own. Thus, students learn from one another by making sense of the text together and potentially helping each other figure out the meaning of new words or concepts. In the next step, they have to be able to represent text visually, whether they choose to make a poster or a tableau, which requires further communication and collaborative work. This is why the tasks involved in this activity offer an opportunity for students to actively engage in the interpretation of a text as well as to express their own ideas. Not only by having to read and write text, but also by listening to and speaking with their peers and by viewing and interpreting images or visually representing the text, learners participate actively and creatively in all six language arts. In addition, greater student engagement is achieved when there is an opportunity for learners to choose how to complete a task. Thus, allowing students to choose their own excerpts and having the option to visually represent the poem through a tableau or a poster is likely to increase their active participation.
To conclude, through the poem sorting activity as well as some of the other activities completed in class so far, I have come to understand the importance of dramatization and visual representation in Language Arts teaching. I have also gained some knowledge on how to incorporate these two arts to teach things that I never thought could be connected, for example, poems and dramatization. I am also starting to see more clearly how my own experience in Language Arts influences my teaching, that is, how my own personal interests might directly influence what and how I teach, which is something I need to be aware of when I finally become a teacher. My experiencing a student led learning environment, in which curriculum content and core competencies connect, also contributes to reinforce for me the importance of maintaining this teaching approach as much as possible in my practice. Therefore, I look forward to deepening my knowledge in all these areas, as I have realized the possibilities are endless and there is plenty of room for improvement and learning.
All images CC0 Creative Commons.