Monday, February 15, 2016

The evolution of an assessment

Last year, my school sent me to a 2 day workshop on differentiation. It was a great workshop and I came back all fired up with ideas to try to apply in my class. One big take-away for me was the idea that I don't have to have each unit differentiated perfectly right now. In fact, the trainer suggested picking one unit and focusing on one activity or assessment to re-create, and test drive it. This dovetails nicely with Angela Watson's suggestions for planning units (scroll to number 5) without losing your mind and spending too much time planning.

One idea that I really wanted to try with a unit was a RAFT, a type of writing prompt that lets students choose their perspective or topic, and directs them on what to write. So I wrote a RAFT for a unit that I felt that my students would enjoy. The idea was that they would pick the perspective of a parent of a participant, an item of clothing, or participant in one of the human tower building teams in Tarragon, Spain.  (This is the Castellers unit from Martina Bex. It's a great unit.)  I spent a lot of time on the assessment rubric, ran it by the trainer of the workshop for a second pair of eyes, and taught it.

Big flop.

The learning that was demonstrated was...well, it showed me that even if it was fun, it wasn't a very good activity in terms of comprehensible input. For example, it's an output activity. It isn't a novice activity either. I taught it 3 times, refining it, trying to make it work if only because I put SO much time into it. It didn't really work. The students did love it and did some creative things with it, wasn't a good activity for the levels I teach.

It the whole process made me think about output, writing, and assessment in a whole different way. I got really exited about assessment and spent a lot of time thinking about what I was really trying to assess, and in that way, it was a great activity for me. I might even try to use it with my highest level the end of the year.

So this time around, I decided to take the main idea- writing from different perspectives using target vocabulary, and change it up.

I printed and found pictures to represent the different perspectives, and wrote up prompts. I posted the prompts around the room and gave each kid 5 sticky notes. They had to write one or two sentences on that sticky note and stick it up, gallery walk style.
I then led a discussion, reading their answers out loud with extreme drama and student actors, reframing their language to be correct. (I want to point out here that a year ago I would have read the previous sentence and not been able to understand it nor actually do it. So I am making some of my own progress.)

Finally, they wrote their student numbers on each sticky so I had them collect their pile at the end. Bam- super easy formative assessment. It could have been a summative, but based on the language that I saw, they have not yet internalized the target structures, so now I can give them some feedback and use their errors to hopefully inform my teaching. Since I already had a rubric that was specific (from the abandoned RAFT) to the language, it is easy to adapt it to give them specific feedback.

So, for your enjoyment, here are the prompts and rubric.  For pictures, I just used creative commons images from Google Images.  (I used search terms such as "enxaneta, castellers, tourists, scarf, and parents")

Click for downloads.
Writing prompts
Directions in English

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