Problem 4: I am struggling to assess in small groups!
This is my last and final post in the Small Group series! We have come to assessing, probably one of the more confusing and frustrating aspects of small group planning! I will admit here and now that I still have not mastered this aspect of small groups, although I felt I did a slightly better job with it in math than I did for reading. Assessing reading in small groups can be daunting, as there are so many skills under the umbrella of reading, a teacher can have a hard time knowing where to start.
p.s. If you want the "stuff" it's at the end of the post 😉
When should I assess?
Think back to the very first post in the series, and notice that it started with an assessment component as well. Imagine you have worked with your kids in small groups on the skills you assessed, and four to six weeks have passed and you feel that A) It's time to move on or B) You think a majority of the students in their groups are grasping this skill, but you need to make sure.
That is exactly what you will assess again. This is the part that can seem confusing, because Small Group is a response intervention. It can be connected to what students are learning whole group, but more often than not we are filling gaps in small group, so it seems disconnected and piece-meal, and therefore it seems wrong somehow to assess something so wildly different from what the entire class is working on.
Who should be assessed?
Ideally you should assess all groups on the main skill they have been working on so you can close the circle on this skill and start on another skill. You will also have to opportunity to shuffle your groups around for this new skill. Any student who hasn't mastered what you've been teaching needs to stay in the group (or be reordered into a different group with other students who also didn't master it) and new groups need to be formed for students who did master their skills and are ready for something new.
This would be considered your summative assessment, and it would be wise to hang on to this data in order to inform any meetings you have about students and their progress. You will now be able to clearly state that you worked with these students three times a week on R.L.2.1 using who, what, when, where, why, and how questions, and after four weeks little Bono was able to read a passage and create five out of five questions and answer them correctly. Very powerful data to have!
How should I assess?
The scenario I described is excellent when gathering data for many students at once. This is summative data that sums up what each group knows after the intervention.
However, many times in small group students will be reading or doing math and you realize that all five student just made the same math error or got stuck on the same word. You mark it down on your small group notes. You have taken a formative assessment, or an assessment in the moment. This is an added wrinkle to the whole assessment game, because you may be able to correct that right there in the moment and all your students understand and will improve from there. No other assessments needed.
Or, they may give you a deer in the headlights look and then you realize you stumbled upon a gap that all the students share. You can either decide to roll it into what they've been learning, or decide to finish the skill for this session and start on this gap on the next session.
What should I use to assess?
This depends on what you used to initially screen your students and if you have any ideas for what to work on next. If you were working on multiplication tables or phonics and you used a CORE screener for the phonics and a simple times table for the math, it's a safe bet you can re-use this screener as a post-assessment to see how they improved.
If you are doing something a little more in depth, say one step word problems with addition and no regrouping, I don't see anything wrong with using the same screener, but maybe this time you may want to add on another step in the word problem (still using addition and no regrouping) and see how they do. Maybe for the reading if you were working on R.L.2.1, give them a second passage that is a little more rigorous and see what happens. This will help you assess how deep their knowledge went, and if they can make other connections to something similar. You can also combine a post-assess with a pre-assess to inform instruction for the next session.
In general, try to use the same assessment that you used when you first screened them so you can have a true measure of how they progressed, or use something very similar. This will help put less work on you as well, because now you can just keep a stack of fresh assessments ready to go.
I assessed and now I have a group with one student, and a big group with eight, help!
This is normal and happens a lot! You may need to assess the big group again with something a little more in depth to see what differences between the groups you can find. Ideally you want each group to be like one student, no one should be higher or lower on the scale, but we all know that in the real world things don't always work out that way.
As to the group with one, I suggest leaving it that way. You will be amazed at how much you can get done with just one student, and how quickly, and before it's time to assess again they may be ready to move to another group!
My formative group notes are all over the place, this system isn't working!
I absolutely hear you, and this was my personal roadblock for a long time.
First I kept a binder of each group with little post its. I used it for two weeks and then stopped. Then I tried just using a plain Google Doc for each group, but it got messy really quickly. I tried many systems, and paper or digital I didn't seem to matter, making notes was impossible! How was I supposed to keep notes on every student everyday that I worked with them? I just didn't have enough minutes in between each group to stop and take the kind of notes I wanted.
However, I'm not everyone. Many of my colleagues keep successful notes in binders, many made Google Doc work. So, I'll tell you what I do, and then I'll describe what some of my colleagues do and let you try some out! It's all about finding a system that works FOR YOU!
Alison, from Learning at the Primary Pond, did an in-depth post about the GRO Small Group App. I have not personally tried it because my districts iPad wouldn't let me download it (😭) but I really want to try it! Be sure to check out her post here and the app website here. I believe you can use for reading or math, but I am not sure.
Then there's my way, I shared a picture of this in Part 2 I believe. Now, this is not my original idea and I've scoured the internet trying to find the original post I came across five years ago, but of course I can't. Just know the idea isn't mine!
Anywho! The idea is to create a Google Doc with a table of all your kids. Then create a separate document for each student with a table in the document for the date and notes. Take the link from each student's own Google Doc and hyperlink it to their name on the original table of all the students. That way you can have the original Doc up, click on the name to open their page, and take your notes. This is what I currently do now, and I update it once a week, usually on Fridays. That way I have a record of every skill every student has ever worked on and their progress for the whole year.
You can also see that I link other things for their lessons, standards, skills etc. This is easily adapted for reading or math! This is my Holy Grail right now! If you want a tutorial on how to set this up you can comment below or on my IG for this post!
If you're a paper and pencil kinda person, then I have two methods for you to try. The first is from one of my all-time favorite teacher bloggers, Michael from The Thinker Builder. I have used many of his resources, and they have never let me down! This post on tracking readers could easily be adapted for math as well. He has many versions of this resource he created, for tracking individual students, and tracking groups. Be sure to check out his post here.
The last resource I have is a freebie from Jennifer Findley, and is probably one of the simplest methods I have seen. If you're not sure where to start, you have nothing to lose starting here because she is giving this resource away, and it is an amazingly simple system! This worked for me for a long time before I decided to jump to digital, and I still use her simple layout of Date and Notes. Be sure to check out her post here, and grab your freebie!
The last resource I have is an idea I got from LaTawnya of SmartieStyle. I remember awhile back she posted on her Instagram that she was getting a special planner from Erin Condren just for small group planning and anecdotal notes. I mean, who wouldn't love a gorgeous planner just for small group? You can find the different planners here.
How organize your reading groups; Michael Friermood The Thinker Builder
Guided math set up and organization, Tina's Teaching Treasures
Thanks for all your support for my Small Group Series and I hope you found it helpful! 😁
My very first year of teaching was the first year we switched from AIMS to AZMERIT here in Arizona. I had no idea what to expect or how to prep my little third graders. The first day they sat down to take the writing portion on Day 1 they all looked up at me with scared faces, clearly not understanding what to do.
I went home crying that day. I felt like a horrible teacher for two reasons. One, I don't believe in standardized testing. I have come to terms with being able to live with the fact that it is a necessary evil of teaching, but in the big picture there are so many other worthwhile ways to assess children. For now, I just deal. Two, I honestly did not understand how to prep my kids with what they were being asked to do! I couldn't really ask for help because this was the first year we were giving this test for everyone.
During my second year I vowed my kids would be prepared no matter what, but the way I approached it was overkill, and I definitely sucked the spirit out of my classroom. In years following I finally came up with fun ways to get students prepped, without sacrificing regular curriculum time, or making it super intensive so it freaked the kids out. Essentially, its a fine balance.
2. Spice up direct instruction by using cooperative learning structures.
To teach test prep strategy (not necessarily content), use whole class cooperative learning structures to help students recognize and dig deeper into questions and strategy.
3. Teach mindfulness strategies for test anxiety.
We all know there are highly intelligent students out there who cannot take a test to save their lives. I was one of them, every time I took a math test I psyched myself out and basically felt like a failure before I even began. Tests can be long, and a test a will power to keep going versus how much content they know. Be sure to go over Universal Testing Accommodations like asking for water and stretch breaks, using a fidget, and asking for scratch paper.
4. Confidence with testing tools is key!
There are lots of online sample tests for students to use to get familiar with testing tools. If they can be confident in navigating the online test, they can can focus on content and test strategy.
Good luck to you and your students during this time of year!
The first time a parent walked angrily out of a parent teacher conference because of some concerns I had about their child's reading level, I was taken aback and had no idea how to respond. The first time I needed to call home about a student I was sweating so much I could barely hold the phone steady. Speaking with parents, about concerns or positive anecdotes, can be nerve wracking.
Parent communication is undoubtedly important, but it can be a tenuous relationship if both parties don't really understand what the other is going through. Teachers can blame parents for behavior, homework not being done, missing appointments; while parents can blame teachers for recess scuffles, low grades, and homework not being done! It can turn into a vicious and unproductive cycle where the poor student is left in the middle to fend for themselves.
My first year of teaching I only called when I had a concern, and the only way for parents to reach me was through my classroom phone, which doesn't ring during school hours, so I had to remember to check my messages at the end of every day. Needless to say, building parent relationships my first and second years wasn't my forte.
Starting in my third year I made it a goal to improve on parent relationships. My theory was that if I knew about all my students; their backgrounds, what their parents did for a living, who was related to whom, what kind of food they liked, what they did on the weekends; and coupled that with frequent communications of pictures, updates, newsletters, and invitations to visit; that magically a bridge would be built.
It worked. My third year I felt 80% less anxiety about calling with concerns, because I felt like I already knew the family. They didn't feel like I was just calling with bad news all the time, that my concern was coming from a place of caring and compassion.
Here are some guidelines for building relationships with parents/families!
I've had many teachers ask me "What about the invisible parents?" That can be a tough nut to crack, but always approach with compassion and NEVER GIVE UP. I had a mom one year that I had deemed "invisible" because I had never met her and wasn't able to reach her on the phone. Nevertheless, I sent texts, pictures, invites, and newsletters. I always asked the student "Hey, how's your Mom been doing?" The student would tell me she was working a lot and tired. Made sense.
Then, at our end of school party, she showed up. She thanked me for all the things I had been sending home and texting that let her see into her child's world at school. She apologized that she didn't respond, she felt so bad. Turned out she was a single mom who worked graveyard! I had no idea! One year I had a mom that I never got to meet in person, but we talked on the phone all the time. She was another parent who thanked me for my constant updates and flexibility in not requiring face-to-face meetings.
We never know what our parents or guardians are going through. Some are sick, some are single parents, some work two or three jobs. But just because they are invisible doesn't mean they don't care and it doesn't mean they want out of the loop!
I hope you had a wonderful and restful Winter Break! The New Year is a great time to re-dedicate yourself to building parents relationships!
See you next week!
Burn out can happen to anyone. Let's get that out of the way right now! Yes, even "that teacher" who looks like she has it all together, even the teacher who's been working at your school for 20 years, even the cheerful teacher who seems like he never has a bad day. They have all experienced being burned out.
The problem is that most of us (even me!) don't realize we are burned out until we are already burned to a crisp. So, before I go over some strategies on dealing with burn out as an educator, I want to outline the symptoms of burn out. *I will be discussing some physical and mental symptoms, and I am not a doctor nor am I giving medical advice. Please see you regular care physician as part of your self-care strategy!*
Symptoms of Burn Out
If you have any combination of the following symptoms, you are probably experiencing burn out.
Burn Out Strategies
Consider joining the 40 Hour Teacher Work Week from Angela Watson. Burn out can happen when we use our time ineffectively, but aren't sure what is or isn't effective, this club is for you. New cohort starts January, with early bird access December 10th!
Western Governors University: The Signs of Teacher Burnout and How to Prevent it by Fiona Tapp
Learners Edge: Warning Signs of Teacher Burnout
Education Week Teacher: Six Signs of-and Solutions for-Teacher Burn Out by Wendi Pillars
The holidays can be a time of joy and celebration, but for many students it can be a time of awkwardness and exclusion. Imagine being a student who isn't Christian and doesn't celebrate Christmas having an Elf on the Shelf in their classroom. Imagine being a student who isn't allowed to participate in holiday activities coming in and seeing Christmas decor and having to skirt around holiday activities for the next month.
I am choosing to write about this now for two reasons: I am seeing a lot of Elf on the Shelf, Christmas trees, and Santa's popping up on my Instagram feed from classrooms all over the US; and that I am not a Christian and I do not celebrate any holidays during this time of year. I become acutely aware of how our students may be feeling during this time of year, because I felt the same way when I was a child and did not have the mature language skills I needed to express my feelings to my teacher. I always felt that "This is the way it is, and it isn't changing."
Last year I had a student who was a practicing Jehovah's Witness. During Meet the Teacher Night her mother was very concerned about holidays, but seemed apologetic when speaking to me about her concerns. I told her not to worry, that I rarely celebrated any holidays in my classroom, and I would run any planned activities by her. In October, we celebrated Fall. When Halloween rolled around we continued with lessons as usual. During November I taught my normal historically accurate history with articles from Newsela. During December we worked on Compliment Presents and Joy Books, both from The Thinker Builder blog. Our party was also a "Hard Work Celebration" rather than a Christmas party. In February we celebrated love rather than Saint Valentine, and I gave out non-Valentine activities. At the end of the year my student and her mother thanked me for being inclusive. My student told me every year during Halloween, December, and Valentine's Day she had to leave her other classrooms because her past teachers hadn't been inclusive.
I understand that if you are Christian being disappointed or even angry about the thought of not being able to share the joy of the season with your students, but that is NOT what I am suggesting at all! Let's discuss some alternatives to celebrating the season with your students in a way that is inclusive and fun for all!
Thank you for opening your minds and hearts to our students, and working towards being the best educators we can!
Thanksgiving is a favored time of year in America. I remember learning about it myself in school. Pilgrims from the United Kingdom sailed to the Americas in search of freedom, and found Native Peoples already living and thriving in America. Facing a harsh winter, many Pilgrims died. Starving, they reached out to the Native Peoples for food and help. Native Peoples taught the Pilgrims how to hunt, farm, and survive. In gratitude, the Pilgrims and Natives sat down together for the very first Thanksgiving feast.
The problem with this narrative is...well there are lots of problems! I am not going to go into all the problems of this tale, you can do some Googling on your own to find out where the holes are in this story, and ask people from the Tribal Nations their opinion on it.
The point of this post is to say that as educators we have a greater responsibility to our students to put forth information that is accurate and correct. Retelling this narrative time and time again, year after year, recycling the same old "Pilgrim N' Indian" craftivities (ugh hurts my heart to even type it) and sending students home with this fairytale in their minds is doing no one any good.
Before I get a bunch of angry comments and emails about the importance of this holiday, let me remind my dear readers and followers that I am an enrolled member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and my point of view and opinion is just as valid, if not more so. I myself was taught this is school, year after year, and never questioned it until I was an adult! I really reflected on why I should be celebrating a holiday that brought death and misery to my ancestral peoples? Sorry to get deep, but it weighed on my heart. As a family, we decided to change the holiday into something that fit us.
Then I had to think about my students! As a teacher I never taught about Thanksgiving. I just avoided the holiday completely. I feel that many educators, regardless of their race and culture, feel uncomfortable teaching something that has the potential to land them in hot water.
So without further ado, some DO's and DON'Ts for this time of year!
*All ideas presented are my own, I have not been paid by anyone to make this post about Thinking Maps, I truly just think they rock!
Are you Thinking Maps trained? Because if you're not, I highly suggest you bring it to the attention of your leadership team because it is AMAZING! I have been loosely using Thinking Maps for the past year and half in my Shared Reading block. I had gotten a hold of a popular Thinking Maps graphic off of Pinterest, and tried implementing the maps on my own. Back then I thought, hey no big deal what's to know?
Well, how wrong I was! This past Wednesday during Professional Development I got my coveted Thinking Maps binder and I was SO excited! The training itself was very intense, going over each map in detail, including how to troubleshoot certain roadblocks with students.
The following Wednesday we finished up our training with concrete ideas on how to roll out the maps for the first eight weeks of school for 2018-2019. This was helpful to see exactly how each map could be utilized, so that by the end of September every student in our school will be very familiar with the Maps.
So, you might be asking yourself, what is so great about Thinking Maps? Why should I bring this idea to my leadership team? The entire idea behind Thinking Maps is to give students predictable tools that create patterns in their brains. The most brilliant aspect of Thinking Maps for me as an elementary instructor is that I can use them for any topic or subject. That's right, ANY! They can be used for Art, Music, P.E., Social Studies, Science, Math, English Language Arts, Spanish, and the list truly goes on. They can be used for any grade level, any age level. From itty bitty Kinders, to big high schoolers, and even adults.
Be sure to check out my Instagram for Thinking Maps ideas, because since I have gotten trained I have been using them for everything! My latest project was using them for Earth Day, which accumulated into our Earth Day Collage on Friday. Check out the Home Page for pictures from that day, as well as Mae's Faves for the book I read aloud to them!
Do you want to be Thinking Maps trained? Are you already trained? What are your thoughts?
Until next time...
Knowing that I had had meetings all week, and had been routinely getting home by 7 pm, that I was exhausted, the march loomed closer. I finally made the decision that morning, pulling on my red shirt, that I would go. As soon as school ended, and after my meetings, the art teacher and I made two signs and drove over to the meeting spot.
If you joined me on Instagram March 28 you would have seen thousands of Arizona teachers descending on the State Capital to protest low teacher pay, large class sizes, and low student spending. I felt exhiliarated by the movement and solidarity with other teachers I met at the march.
Then, Thursday came around, and I started reading the comments on KTAR, NBC News, and AZCental. We made national news and I was reading comments like "They knew what they were getting into when they took the job" and "If you can't make it on 35K a year in Arizona there's something wrong with you!" and my favorite, "Summer off and you want more?!"
I was irate, shocked, angry, and saddened by these comments. These were Arizona citizens, most of them, and they just didn't understand. This blog and brand are mostly geared towards teachers, but if you happen to stumble across my humble site, here are some facts about the #redfored movement:
Please share and comment below and stay in Solidarity with the states that are fighting for better teacher salaries.
I'm Mae and I am an instructional Coach, 5th Grade ELA teacher, and Thinking Maps trained.