I teach fourth grade at Alwin Holland Elementary. This blog is full of stuff I do in my classroom, and strategies that work for me. I love my job and I love sharing my ideas with other teachers and parents.
Evaluating student writing can be one of the most time consuming tasks a teacher can face. It takes time and mental energy to read 30 (or more!) unique pieces of writing. Especially when you consider the fact that each student is on their own learning journey and will likely require different feedback to help them grow to the next level in their writing ability. There are ways to streamline the process and hand some of the assessment off to the student. Here are some suggestions for methods to best assess student writing at all stages of the process.
Pick a Focus
A piece of writing filled with teacher notes, corrections and proofreading marks can be overwhelming to students. In my experience, most kids aren't capable of taking in all that feedback at once. Instead of overloading students, pick one element to focus on.
If you're working on conventions in whole-class lessons, focus solely on that. If word choice is the focus, don't worry about punctuation. Teach your students to edit their own work and how to positively do this for peers as well. Not only does it cut back your workload, but it empowers students to assess their own work, which will show greater rewards in the long run.
In the example below, I only circled spelling errors I expected the child would need support with. I wrote the correct spellings down the margin for him to correct in his next draft. It's important to respond to the needs of the individual student.
Write an End Comment
Rather than mark up the whole page, select two strengths and one area of growth and write this feedback in point form at the end of the work. As teachers, we know the power of positive words. By focusing on what a child did well they'll make an effort to repeat those positives in future writing. Again, providing one area to work on is manageable to students.
This is by far the most powerful formative assessment tool in any teacher's toolbox. I admit, it can sometimes be a struggle to fit in one-to-one conferencing. My favourite time to do this is during silent reading. Some questions to ask during the conference include:
How are you feeling about your writing so far? What are you most proud of?
Are there any points of the criteria you feel like you haven't met yet?
What can I do to support you now?
Involve Student Self-AssessmentDuring the writing process, ask your students to pause and reflect on established criteria (more on that coming) and to ensure they've included, or have plans to include, all that is required. Most children won't think to do this unless you prompt them to do so.
In my classroom, I have a board that is dedicated to writing. It houses specific anchor charts for elements we are working on at the time, as well as a year long checklist on the 6+1 Traits of Writing. As we address each trait in a mini-lesson, new criteria is added to the board. There are elements applicable to ANY piece of writing.
Students can go up to the board and mentally check off whether they've met each aspect, or not.
If you want to know more about the 6+1 Traits of Writing, or more about this board in general, head on over to this post.
Have Clearly Defined Criteria
...that you set out from the beginning.
In no world is it fair to assess a child on writing that they weren't aware of the criteria for. Be open with your expectations and the purpose of the task. No matter what task you're doing, if you're going to assess it at the end, be sure to share that with the class ahead of time. This might look like:
putting a rubric under the document camera and explaining how you'd meet each aspect
providing samples from previous students (with names removed) for each level of ability and having a discussion about the pros and cons of each
sharing a checklist of elements you expect students to discuss and then posting it on the whiteboard for their reference
establishing journal criteria and then posting it in the front of their notebooks to review each journal writing period
Looking for more writing inspiration? Check out my Pinterest board.
Go into any classroom and you'll find reluctant writers. Some will tell you writing is boring. Others will say it's too hard. Some students are afraid to begin because they don't know if their idea is good enough. So, how do we engage these reluctant writers? These 6 strategies will be sure to help you find success with any reluctant writer.
1) Talk it out
One of the reasons students can struggle with writing is because they don't know WHAT to write. Whenever we start a writing task, I have my students share their thoughts as a whole class and also with a shoulder partner.
The benefits of the whole-class talk is that it can be less daunting for some. It also provides a wide variety of learners to share their thoughts letting your reluctant kiddos hear more ideas.
Sharing with a shoulder partner can be beneficial too because letting only one person hear what you're thinking can be safer. Also, students can carry on a short conversation, letting the ideas go a little deeper.
2) Draw it
I often find that students with limited writing output can be excellent artists. Giving them some time (it doesn't need to be more than 5-10 minutes) to draw out their thinking allows them to get the creative juices flowing. Check in with your reluctant writers and help to provide some vocabulary for their image. You can leave them with a sticky note of thoughts from your conversation to get them going.
Additionally, you can have your class get up and do a gallery walk to view all the drawings in the room. This prompts learners to have even more ideas! I like to give them another few minutes to add to their drawing in pen. This allows me to see what new info was added as information from others.
There's a lot of power in the tried and true graphic organizer. Getting some of the work "out of the way" helps reluctant writers to feel successful right away. Webs, Venn diagrams, t-charts, and 5 finger planners are all options depending on the writing task.
Giving students the time to process their thinking through any of the top 3 strategies can be very rewarding.
4) Get them started
In my experience those who are reluctant often feel overwhelmed at the start of the task, no matter how big or small it actually is. Checking in with them, and writing a few sentences (their own words from your conversation, of course!) can boost their confidence and attitude right away. Sentence starters can also be really powerful as well.
5) Involve technology
If you're fortunate to have access to technology in your classroom - involve it! Some things I've done with reluctant writers in the past include:
allowing students to video tape themselves telling their thoughts rather than write
to use a voice to text feature
to use apps with predictive spelling such as Clicker
That being said, there is a time and place for the use of technology. I caution it's overuse as students do need still need the skill of writing with pencil and paper.
6) Don't assess
Sometimes the issue can be that students are afraid of the assessment. As much as we love to grade, it can be really powerful to turn the reigns over to the students. Ask students self-assess or to to analyze each other's work in small groups. Through these activities, students will see that they don't just write for a grade, they write to strengthen their ability and think more clearly about a topic.
There really is no need to assess EVERY piece of writing, especially if you do a weekly journal write. Let students know when pieces will be assessed (and how - with clear criteria!) and when they won't.
Need some more writing inspiration? Check out my Pinterest board.
Reading for information is a life-long skill. Students who have strong reading comprehension skills understand what they read (and know when they do not!). Learners require direct instruction of comprehension skills in order to improve. We want our students to think about their thinking before, during, and after reading. Whether you're not sure how to support your students, or you're looking for some fresh new ideas, this post is for you!
We learn best by doing. The simple act of reading with a pencil or pen in your hand and taking a few notes helps readers to better remember the text. Have your students use symbols to help trigger their memory later. For example:
Adding a checkmark to symbolize something you already knew
Writing a question mark over a word you don't understand
Placing an exclamation mark over a surprising fact
Similar to annotating, you can ask students to highlight key words or phrases. This takes some modelling and discussion around what qualifies as an important word. If done correctly, you should be able to gather all that is important to remember from the highlights. This is a great strategy to use before using strategy 7.
3) Use graphic organizers
Graphic organizers are a great way to help students visually organize new information. Maps, webs, graphs, charts, frames, and clusters are all names of common graphic organizers. They can help students to examine and show relationships in text. Graphic organizers are also a great step in having students write detailed, concise summaries of text.
4) Turn and talk
During reading, pause students and have them orally share with a neighbour. You can have them:
Question the text
Make connections to the text
Predict what comes next
Generate main ideas
State which information is unnecessary
Recall 3 interesting facts
Orally sharing comprehension is not only a great assessment piece for you, but it also takes the pressure off for those with lower writing output. Strategy 5 provides a natural place for students to turn and talk!
5) Read in chunks
Talk to your students about how text is structured. Work with them to find natural breaks in the text. Teach them to pause at each chunk and mentally summarize what they read. If they can't do it, they need to go back and reread. As time goes on, they should be able to independently break the text apart into chunks.
6) Preview vocabulary
Especially with content area reading, students need to have pre-exposure to vocabulary words. The article may contain words they don't know, or words that are used in a different context than they are used to. In my experience, if they don't know them they will choose to glaze right over. One of my favourite tasks for this is something I call "Word Graffiti". I've already written a blog post specifically on this topic. Click here or on the image below.
7) Summarize the text
Summarizing is an essential skill for having students determine what's most important in a text. If your students are new to summarizing, it's best to provide them with a framework. Ask:
What's most important to remember in this text?
What vocabulary is essential for readers to understand?
Is there anything in this text that is irrelevant or unnecessary?
Are there any supporting details readers need to know to better understand the main idea?
One of the pieces of feedback I often get is that teachers struggle to find meaningful ways to integrate hands-on or real-life experiences in their Science lessons. Teachers say that they don't have the time to plan these experiences, or that they are too costly. I'm going to dispel those ideas and have 4 easy ways for you to add hands-on to your next Science lesson regardless of your curricular content.
1) Make Theoretical Ideas Tangible
Often times, Science curriculum calls for teaching theoretical ideas. These concepts are often perceived as complex and abstract, especially for children. It doesn't have to be difficult for students to grasp concepts such as the difference between rotate and revolve or how Bohr's Atomic Model works. By creating moments where students can stimulate an interest they are more likely to engage and interact. Hands-on models, foldables, or moveable diagrams are all ways to make theoretical ideas tangible for learners.
Here's one of my favourite labs from my matter unit, Expanding Matter.
3) Allow For Inquiry
Personal inquiry (Passion Projects, Genius Hour...) and Science Fair are two ways to allow for individualized scientific inquiry in your classroom. It's a wonderful opportunity for self directed study into an area they care about. (How many times have you heard "why do we have to learn this?"). When incorporating personalized learning into your days, remember that students still require guidance through whole-class and one-to-one check-ins, opportunities for self-reflection, flexibility, and, above all else, purpose.
The image below shows just a few recent personalized scientific inquiries in my classroom:
Which glue makes the best slime?
How does weight affect aerodynamics?
What's the best way to ripen bananas?
How does sugar and sodium effect the evaporation rate of water?
Do essential oils improve or hinder memory recall?
4) Get Outdoors
Kids flourish when they are removed from a regular classroom setting and brought into an alternate environment. Kids are naturally curious and enjoy a hands-on approach. When you take learners outside to touch, feel, smell, and see the experiences stay in their mind a lot longer than if they read about it in a book.
In this image, we took students to a nearby lake to complete a pond study. They (and their parents!) loved wading in the water, getting wet, and examining little creatures up close.
Holidays are a great time to implement STEM activities. Teach your students some of the history of the day by learning about cupid and then challenge them to create a cupids bow using this resource from Jennifer Findlay.
Schedule some time with your little buddies on Valentine's day. Go through a simplistic version of the scientific method with this resource from Curriculum Castle. All you need is a box of candy hearts!
These writing prompts are perfect for your Language Arts time. Their creative juices will be flowing when they read these cute Valentine prompts and pictures.
During math time, students can work with fractions and deepen their logic skills with this resource from Games for Gains.
Looking for more free ideas? Click on "Freebies" in the top right hand corner of this page and gain access to my subscriber free resource library.
Standards based assessment is a method teachers can use to report student mastery of learning outcomes. Rather than accumulate point scores, teachers gather evidence of student learning through a variety of formal and informal activities. Students are able to practice skills multiple times, which allows teachers the opportunity to provide specific strength-based feedback and suggestions for growth.
What does standards based assessment look like?
Percentages and letter grades have no place in standards based grading. Instead, teachers will assess based on levels of mastery. There are many different verbiages possible, but it may look like:
Emerging: With help, the student demonstrates partial success with developing or proficient content.
Developing: Basic or simple content that need to be in place first before students can be proficient.
Proficient: Target content.
Extending: Complex, in-depth applications of the target content.
What beliefs and practices do teachers need to let go of?
Everything needs a grade
Students won't work without letter grades
What steps do teachers need to make to reform their grading style?
Take non-academic factors out of the grade
Eliminate extra credit unless it demonstrates mastery
Take homework out of the grade
Empower students with more self-assessment
What are the benefits of standards based assessment?
Helps to take the subjective nature out of assessment
Prioritizes outcomes in each subject area
Clearly communicates learning outcomes to students and parents
Helps teachers to provide meaningful feedback
Allows teachers the ability to differentiate instruction
Clearly communicates to students strategies/methods needed for achieving next levels of mastery
A quick example of a proficiency scale might look like this:
Want to know more? Get my step-by-step guide to creating proficiency scales here:
November 11, Remembrance Day, is an important day to recognize at school. It’s a time to both reflect on the past and also consider the present and future. It can also be an excellent day to have thoughtful discussions with your students, not only about the sacrifices made by others, but also about the concepts of conflict and peace.
Conversations about big topics like this can be tricky. Picture books are a great way to start the conversation. There are many amazing books that can help students understand the significance of Remembrance Day. I've compiled a list of six teacher-tested picture books perfect for a wide range of learners and a variety of Remembrance Day experience levels.
A Poppy is to Remember
Written by Heather Patterson Illustrated by Ron Lightburn
This is a great story, especially for younger learners or those new to Canada. It explains quite clearly why we have poppies as a symbol honouring those who fought for us using simple language. The poem "In Flander's Fields" is also included.
Bunny the Brave War Horse
Written by Elizabeth MacLeod Illustrated by Marie Lafrance
This book is based on the true story of a police horse named Bunny and his riders, brothers Bud and Thomas Dundas. They were sent to the European front as part of the 9th Battery Canadian Field Artillery. Students will learn about the hardships WWI soldiers endured, including a gas attack, wounded and killed comrades, exploding bombs and episodes of severe hunger. This story is a lot gentler for young readers because it focuses on the relation ship between horse and rider. There is also a brief historical recap at the end that provides more background information about the real-life Bunny, Tom and Bud, with dates and specifics about WWI.
World War Won
Written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey
This is the first book from author of kid's favourite, Captain Underpants. He wrote this book as a youth for a contest and won. Told in rhyme, this book is the story of two kings, a fox and a raccoon, who race to build the highest stockpile of weapons. A strong wind threatens to topple the piles and makes them both fearful of the consequences. Students of all ages can take a message from this story, whether it be about disagreements on the playground or arguing government officials. It's out of print, so a bit difficult to find, but still made the list due to being such a great read.
Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion
Written by Jane Barclay Illustrated by Renne Benoit
This is an amazing story for focusing similes as well as on the skill of visualizing. As questions come from a young grandchild, his grandpa talks about how, as a very young man, he was as proud as a peacock in uniform, busy as a beaver on his Atlantic crossing, and brave as a lion charging into battle. Soon, the old man’s room is filled with an imaginary menagerie as the child thinks about different aspects of wartime. But as he pins medals on his grandpa’s blazer and receives his own red poppy in return, the mood becomes more somber. The importance of remembering is made very clear in this picture book.
The Little Yellow Bottle
Written by Angèle Delaunois Illustrated by Christine Delezenne
This story is relevant wars going on in present time. Marwa and Ahmad live in an unnamed country that could be any one of dozens touched by war. While they know that there is a war going on, life in their village goes on largely as normal. Marwa is the narrator of the story, and she tells of a day when planes flew over their village "like a cloud of angry wasps". They are warned that these planes dropped bombs, but after being frightened for a few days they forget of the danger. Until a day when the two are playing and Ahmad finds a small yellow bottle and out of curiosity picks it up.
Written by Ruth Vander Zee Illustrated by Roberto Innocenti
Erika's Story is a more sensitive picture book. I wouldn't recommend it for students younger than Grade 4. (Be warned: I cry whenever I read this story aloud.) It is set in the winter of 1944. In Nazi-occupied Europe, a Jewish couple realize their fate is sealed and make a heart-wrenching decision so that their infant daughter might live. The narration and illustrations combine to capture the fear, love, and sadness of a Holocaust survivor's story.
Interested in some blackline masters you can use with any of the books above? Click the image or button below to get your copies.
As teachers, we get to decide how our students learn content. We know the value of written tasks, but we also know the power of engagement through games. Incorporating fun classroom games into your lesson plan offers a simple way to motivate your students, and encourage them to draw on their creativity and imagination. Games are an easy way to boost participation from reluctant or shy learners too!
Games can be incorporated into any subject area, at any grade level. These game ideas will allow your students to have fun, without perhaps even realizing that they're learning too! Be sure to stick around to the bottom for a freebie game you can add into your classroom rotation.
Having to answer questions on a worksheet can be stressful for many kiddos. Games can be used as a less stressful way for students to demonstrate their knowledge, skill and understanding of a topic. You'll be able to assess a more accurate understanding of student knowledge when that stress is eliminated.
Gold Fever is a gold rush themed board game that can complement any gold rush lesson. It has been carefully designed to keep the students engaged. There are 5 different action spaces the board. Students are challenged to collect the most gold nuggets while learning about the life of a miner. The game can be used for test review, small group work, or additional after school support.
Scoot is an engaging and fun game that can be used to review or reinforce any concept in any subject area. There are many variations, but they all work from the same idea.
The teacher places question cards around the classroom. Students will move from one card to another, answering the questions. After a certain amount of time (varies depending on question complexity) the teacher will say "Scoot!" and students rotate in the same direction to a new question card.
Before playing a game of Scoot it is important to practice the rotating aspect and ensure students know which direction they will be rotating. Each time I play Scoot in my classroom, I like to set up the rotation similarly to reduce confusion.
Help your students to read clocks and tell time with these fun and engaging task cards. This bundle contains four sets of task cards to reinforce time telling skills. Students will practice:
telling time to the hour
telling time in 5 minute intervals
quarter to, half past, quarter after
Each set is colour coded, so they don't get mixed up. You can print them with or without QR codes, so students can self-check their work if you wish.
Spins on Traditional GamesPictionary
Pictionary is a word guessing game. You can vary from the original game by replacing the pre-printed drawing prompts with classroom word work lists. All you need is word lists, something to draw on, and a timer. If you wish, you could also keep track of score. Students will take turns picking a word from the pile and quick-drawing it for other players to guess. Teamwork games such as Pictionary help to increase class cooperation, which spreads to all other aspects of the classroom.
Headbandz is an excellent game to modify to any content area! It's perfect for test review! You can create your own cards to fit the content you're teaching. If you don't have the game, cheap headbands from a dollar store will work just as well.
Playing a range of content specific games can increase memory. As they play a game, students need to remember important details about a topic but also use their working memory to think and act quickly. Here's an example from my Motions of the Earth and Moon unit:
Everyone loves a good game of Bingo! Getting to call out "Bingo" is a good thrill for any kid! Bingo games are low prep, easy to play, and perfect for any subject area. I've created a 3D shapes bingo for you to use in your classroom. Just click on the image or link below!
Even scarier than Halloween itself is... THE DAY AFTER! It's likely that your kiddos are going to stay up too late Wednesday night. It's likely that they'll have snuck some Halloween candy for breakfast Thursday morning, and probably have a few pieces in their lunch kit too.
I've rounded up a series of ideas for you to get through the day after Halloween, while still covering some meaningful learning outcomes. Best of all, they're FREE!
This morning work freebie from Rachel Lamb (The Tattooed Teacher) will give kiddos something to focus on as they enter the classroom. This reflection piece can also serve as talking points for your morning meeting!
If you're teaching averages (mean, median, mode) this is a great task for you! You need a few small pumpkins (one per group of kiddos), but otherwise the prep is pretty minimal. A fun hands-on activity for math!
When your kids start getting restless, it's time to pull out this freebie! Students can wander around and interview each other to find a friend that meets each of the pieces on this survey.
No need to feel guilty about eating Halloween candy as you hand it out! Save the wrappers and use them for this fun task. ABC order with candy wrappers!
Get your students motivated to write descriptive paragraphs or essays by having them use their senses to describe a piece of candy. A great one to use now, or save until Valentine's Day!
Looking for even more? Check out my "Sort Your Loot" resource - it's a perfect activity to include some graphing on the day after Halloween.
Today I'm sharing one of my favourite tasks for building community in the classroom. Students are able to share an important aspect of themselves (the story of their name) with the class and with me, their teacher. Through this task we are also working on important skills, like reading comprehension, writing, and reflection.
To begin, I asked my students to write any name they wish they had on a sticky note. They then placed it in a mason jar.
I read my class the story "The Name Jar" by Yansook Choi.
We stopped at several points in the story to predict, make connections, infer, and ask questions. At one point, we paused in the story so that students could journal about the name they wrote down on the sticky note earlier: - Did they choose their own name? Or another? - Why? - If you chose another name, where did you hear that name before?
At the end of Day 1, students were given homework.
(Stick around to the bottom of this post for a chance to get your own copy of this sheet.)
I make it very clear, that while names all have meanings, your family may not have chosen your name for that reason. They might not know the meaning, and you can choose to look it up with your family if you wish. I also focus a lot on nicknames and your own feelings about your name. While I've never taught a student in foster care, or one who was adopted, I do think it's important to mention that this could be a touchy task in those situations, so be sure to know your students first, and modify as needed.
Students use the homework task, and the journal write from the previous day, to write "The Story of their Name". Some possible options to include are: - who you are named after - the meaning of your name - a name you'd rather have - your feelings toward your name - nicknames you may have - the person (or people) who chose your name - how your name was chosen
This piece of writing is then self, peer, and teacher edited, and a "good" copy is made.
I found this excellent step-by-step self-portrait from "Art Projects for Kids". I modified the task so that instead of drawing the left or right side of their face, they would draw the top half.
Students find that folding their page into quadrants as she suggests is very helpful. Under the document camera I demonstrate each step, and students copy, adapting to their own facial features. Each student gets a mirror to look in to help them personalize.
The final pieces are put on a bulletin board for display. Students also coloured in a bubble letter version of their names to complete the display. (I used the font KG Red Hands Outline for this.)
Once we've completed the task, the last job is to reflect on our work. I pulled some elements from our Arts Education curriculum (very relevant regardless of where you teach) for students to self-assess on. I've used the proficiency scale language our school has moved to for all reporting.
A few students found it helpful to complete their reflection while looking at the finished product on their bulletin board, but most didn't need this.
Want a copy of both my homework and reflection pages? Follow the image or button below to grab your copy.