Starting the Year With Adaptable Literacy Preassessments
Planning to assess literacy skills in formats that work in either live or remote instruction will help middle school teachers meet students where they are.
At the beginning of each school year, my eighth-grade English students arrive with varying levels of proficiency in reading, writing, grammar, speaking, and listening. Especially after we ended the previous school year in emergency remote learning, it will be essential to assess students’ skills quickly and effectively to meet them where they are and differentiate instruction as needed.
Some preassessments I plan to use this year are adaptations of ones I have done in the past; others are ones I’ll be administering for the first time this year. Due to the uncertainty brought about by Covid-19, I’m making plans that can be carried out in person or remotely.
Over the summer, I reached out to my school’s seventh-grade teachers to find out what gaps they anticipated for this year’s rising eighth graders. I was specifically interested in any concepts that they hadn’t been able to teach completely, as well as the skills and concepts that seemed to be a challenge for students during remote learning.
Once I receive my class rosters, I will inquire about the last piece of formal writing that students did before we shifted to remote learning. I want to examine what their writing was like before pandemic-related stress and limitations impacted their performance, looking specifically at skills such as applying grammatical concepts, using transitions to connect ideas, supporting a thesis with examples, and organizing ideas logically.
Within the first two weeks of school, I always give students a grammar preassessment that tests discrete individual concepts such as subject-verb agreement, punctuation with commas, and differentiating between types of clauses.
The results of this preassessment help me understand whole-class trends and plan a differentiated curriculum. Students also view their own results and set individual goals based on their performance. For example, if a student missed most of the questions regarding punctuation with commas, they might decide to focus on that in their writing.
At the end of the year, I administer the same test in order to collect data on individual student growth and overall trends in student mastery.
This fall, I will build on my standard preassessment and add some more questions to address gaps that the seventh-grade teachers are predicting. This year, students will take their test through the website Socrative.com, which provides instant results and is available for either in-person or distance learning.
Writing Sprint Assignment
Within the first few days of school, I will give students a “writing sprint” assignment in which they will have seven minutes to write as continuously as possible. I will provide a list of topics they can write about—such as their experience with remote learning, their goals for the year, and their extracurricular activities—but they will also be free to share anything else with me that they would like. I will have students turn the assignment in on Google Classroom and use the comments feature to provide feedback.
This assignment showcases their writing skills at the same time that it reveals their mindset and how they see themselves. Before I assign it to my students, I will model this activity by responding to one of the prompts for 1.5 minutes and think aloud as I write. I will also share my own version of the assignment, which serves as a model and as an introduction to me.
Short Story Preassessment
I will begin the year with a short story unit to introduce our yearlong focus on the following essential questions: “What can we learn about humanity from literature?” and “How does contemporary society impact individuals?” The students will read the story, answer comprehension and analytical questions, and then participate in a discussion focused on our essential questions.
Students will participate in a written digital discussion thread and a live discussion, either in person or through Zoom. During this discussion, I will look for evidence of reading comprehension, use of details from the text to support ideas, and application of concepts from the text to our world. Students will complete the assignments for the first short story with little to no instruction, which will help me determine where students are in terms of reading comprehension, writing, analytical skills, and applying grammatical concepts.