Posts filed under 'Assessment'

A praise, a ponder, and a polish

Lynne Dorfman and Diane Dougherty’s new book, A Closer Look: Learning More About Our Writers with Formative Assessment arrived in our warehouse today. We thought we’d give you a quick peek inside the book and in this guest blog post Lynne and Diane talk about how they are using videos with A Closer Look and specifically how one video highlights the important role students play in their own assessment.

A praise, a ponder, and a polish
By Lynne R. Dorfman & Diane Esolen Dougherty

When we imagined our new book, A Closer Look: Learning More About Our Writers with Formative Assessment, with our editor, Bill Varner, we all agreed that it should be practical, useful, and easy to read. After all, assessment is a difficult topic to tackle, even if we focused on everyday, ongoing assessments.  Then we had an idea that changed everything: What if we could include more than a dozen short video clips that teachers could view in school, at home, or sitting on the beach?  Bill liked the idea, and with permissions from four different schools, our classroom snapshots came to life!

Goal Setting ChartWe share peer conferences, one-on-one conferences, small group, and whole group conferences in our book through descriptions in the running text and in QR codes. The one we would like to share with you today is a goal-setting conference that occurred in Kolleen Bell’s kindergarten classroom in early spring. Kolleen had spent several months looking through her students’ writing journals and taking notes about skills and strategies she felt they needed and could accomplish with some instruction and gentle nudges.  Every month or so, Kolleen would suggest three possible goals, post them on an easel, and ask her kindergarten students to write their names on sticky notes and place them next to the goal they wanted to work on for the next week or so.  We were amazed that kindergarteners knew exactly what they needed. They didn’t look to see where their best friend had placed his sticky note, they made a decision based on their own writing (See Figure 1 Goal Setting Chart).

In Harper’s conference, Kolleen offered a praise, a ponder, and a polish. Harper had written about her mom’s interview at the Intermediate School. First, Kolleen asked Harper what goal she wanted to work on and then checked for understanding. Did Harper know what adding more details to her writing really meant? She asked Harper to explain in her own words. We thought that was a great beginning.

Harper read her piece to Kolleen, and then Kolleen summarized Harper’s story after she read it aloud. Here is a chance for the student writer to say that something important was omitted or that the reader (listener) misunderstood something.  Harper did not challenge Kolleen, so Kolleen proceeded to praise Harper for her use of an exclamation mark to show excitement and then asked a question that Harper readily answered.  Harper added more details to her writing to clear up the confusion. Sometimes, the ponder really does become the polish.

Kolleen knew that Harper was an exceptional writer for her age and stage, so she offered a polish that became Harper’s new goal. Sometimes, a writer ends a piece of writing with what he (the writer) or the main character in the story is thinking and feeling. Harper added a sentence to reveal her excitement as a way to close her story. In future writing workshop sessions, Kolleen checked in with Harper to see if she could apply a sense of ending through the strategy of offering the character’s final thinking or emotion.

Goal setting conferences are a solid way to involve each student in the assessment process and differentiate instruction. It calls for the development of a writer’s identity – that is, where the student writer reflects on what he needs to do to move forward as a writer. If our students can begin to do this in kindergarten, imagine what they will be able to do by the time they are in fifth grade!


Add comment September 22nd, 2017

Six ways to motivate middle schoolers

rick“When it comes to fostering cognitive perseverance, carrots and sticks don’t work,” writes Rick Wormeli in the September issue of ASCD’s Educational Leadership. Access his article, “Motivating Young Adolescents,” for six effective motivational approaches (as well as the “Top 12 Demotivators”).

Add comment October 27th, 2014

Coming soon: Daily 5 blog tour

If you haven’t already, there is still time to get your questions ready for next week’s blog tour with Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, authors of the second edition of The Daily 5. The blog tour will stop at four blogs starting Monday, May 5. At each stop you can read reviews and an interview with The 2 Sisters. It’s also a great time to ask questions and to share your thoughts with fellow teachers. You should definitely visit each blog because the more you comment or ask a question, the better your chances to win one of five signed copies of The Daily 5. (The winners will be selected by each blog host, including the Stenhouse blog, at the end of the tour.)

Here is the schedule:

May 5: Ruminate and Invigorate

May 6: Enjoy and Embrace Learning

May 7: Reading by Example

May 8: Read, Write, and Reflect

May 9: Roundup on the Stenhouse blog

So join us next week for some great discussion! See you soon!

Add comment April 28th, 2014

Assessing Engagement: A Follow-Up to “Increasing Engagement”

In the midst of our Blogstitute I am going to take a moment to quickly check in with Matt Renwick, an elementary school principal in Wisconsin who first posted on the Stenhouse blog in January about his school’s efforts to revamp its reading intervention program. “Readers are created over time and do not adhere to deadlines. Where learners are heading is as important as where they have been,” Matt concludes.

Summer has arrived: Lockers have been cleared out, desks are empty, and report cards were sent home. While another school year comes to a close, ten reluctant readers are only continuing their learning.

Last fall, my school revamped our after school reading intervention program. Illustrated in our previous post, my staff and I designed a book club based on the tenets of Peter Johnston’s reflections from last summer, Reducing Instruction, Increasing Engagement. We transitioned from a computer-based reading program to an intervention that relied more on students’ interests than on their Lexiles.

Everything started strong. Kids came to book club eager to check out the new titles, selected just for them. The majority of the time was allocated to allowing students to read books, to talk about books, and to share what they read. The facilitator’s job was simply to spark their interest and gently guide.

For a while we had them – They were reading! However, interest gradually dissipated. Some students got off task. Others stopped showing up regularly. The perception was that this “book club” was just an extension of the school day. We had to rethink our approach.

We knew students were engaged by technology. But would purchasing tablets to promote reading provide too much of a distraction? We found our middle ground and purchased ten simple eReaders. These devices were unable to house games and other forms of digital media. Just books. While we waited for the eReaders to show up, students came down to my office in groups of twos and threes to request their favorite titles and authors. Once students had signed a contract and the books were loaded on the devices. we sent them on their way to read.

We quickly realized the benefits of offering eReaders to students:

  • They were more willing to pick books they could decode and understand. On one occasion, a 4th grade boy rattled off some grade level titles, then looked around and whispered, “Could I also get some Flat Stanley chapter books?” I replied, “Sure” without missing a beat. Unless his books could be hidden within an eReader, it was unlikely he would have been caught by his peers reading Flat Stanley and related titles.
  • The technology itself seemed to engage the students. I have never, as a teacher or as a principal, had students seek me out (repeatedly) to see if their new books were available and ready to read. Having kids peek their heads out of classrooms when they heard me walking the hall to ask when their books would be downloaded was a visible example of their engagement with reading.
  • The buy in from parents was impressive. One parent made a special trip to school to pick up her son’s eReader. A father, whose son was home sick on the last day and came to pick up his report card, made a point to share with me that “he has been reading on that thing every day”.

When we looked at our year-end assessments, the results were a mixed bag. Analyzing computer-based screener scores, on average our ten students’ overall literacy skills stayed the same. However, looking at district-developed assessments, the majority of the students (70%) met their grade level benchmark, and the other three students were very close. In addition, their average fluency rate increased by 27% (92 Words Correct Per Minute (WCPM) in the fall; 117 WCPM in the spring).

Beyond this promising quantitative data, did our students develop an affection toward reading? Do they better value the impact a narrative can have on a person’s life? We attempted to measure engagement with a survey given to the students themselves. They were asked specific questions about their reading dispositions and habits; you can view the results here. Here are the most revealing conclusions:

  • Students in book club read a lot more now than they did before joining book club.
  • The eReaders encouraged the students to read more.
  • Students understood what they read, whether in print or digital text format.
  • They often reread their favorite books.

These statements read like they belong in a resource titled “The Seven Habits of Highly Engaged Readers”. We hope these practices continue, as we sent them home with both print and digital texts to peruse over the summer months.

My teachers often state that teaching reading is not like baking a cake. Students aren’t “done” after a certain amount of time and attention. Maybe we should compare educators to gardeners instead of bakers; they plant the seeds for literacy engagement, to grow and eventually blossom. Readers are created over time and do not adhere to deadlines. Where learners are heading is as important as where they have been.

Special thanks to Heddi Craft and Lauren Kelley Parren for their feedback on this post.




1 comment July 9th, 2013

Blogstitute Week 3: Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan on creating a culture of meaningful assessment

At the end of each year we take time to reflect on the things that went well and the things that we want to change the following year. This reflection helps us think about the classroom community we want to establish in the year ahead and prepare for implementing these changes in the first six weeks of school. We find the first six weeks of school to be pivotal in creating the systems and structures that will support our instructional models all year. We establish the culture and climate for our classroom community. In Reading with Meaning, Debbie Miller says, “When our vision of community expands to create a culture and climate for thinking (Perkins 1993)—when rigor, inquiry, and intimacy become key components of our definition—it’s essential that we work first to build genuine relationships, establish mutual trust, and create working literate environments” (2013, 21). We believe we need to use these first six weeks to set the tone for assessment in our classrooms. Assessment is key to rigor and inquiry, and it can only be used productively if it is part of a trusting, authentic, literate environment. Assessment needs to part of this vision of community. How do we define assessment for our students so that they do not see it as evaluative? How do we help students understand their role in the process of assessment? How do we show students that we believe that assessment is inseparable from instruction?

For us, the first step is taking the time to think about why we assess and how we view the role of assessment in our classroom community. We think it is important to share these reasons with our students so they know why we are assessing and how this process will help us as teachers and them as learners. We assess for a variety of reasons: to establish a beginning benchmark for each student; to identify students who may need additional support in reading; to understand the strengths and learning needs of our readers; to learn about the passions, interests, and frustrations of our readers; and to plan whole-class, small-group, and individual instruction. For us, assessment is more than a number. It is the information we need to get to know our readers and to create a climate of learning that will engage each of them.

In the past, we did not “go public” with our beliefs around assessment with our students. In fact, we may have even tried to sneak the assessments in, hoping not to stress our students out. This ran contrary to how we established all other aspects of our learning community in the first six weeks of school. Now we open the dialogue about assessment right away and establish a different tone. We take the time to listen to our students’ thoughts and questions about the assessment process. This gives us the opportunity to discuss their past experiences with the assessment process, clear up any misconceptions, and alleviate any worries they may have. We hope that by listening and talking with our readers, we will help them understand their role in assessment and the importance of the insightful information they share with us.

As we sit down with students to begin administering an assessment, we pay attention to their questions, comments, and even body language (shoulder shrugs, mumbled answers, or silent stares) to learn how they are feeling about the process. When we ask them about their thoughts on assessment, we hear a range of responses:

Why are we doing this?

I already know all of this.

Why did I have to leave the block area?

Why doesn’t Suzy have to do this?

Are you going to do this with everyone?

What is the timer for?

When will I be done?

What are you writing?

We think it is important to let the students know what they will be doing during the assessment and why they will be doing these things:

We are going to work together for the next twenty minutes so that I can get to know you a little better as a reader. You will read a text aloud, and then we will talk about the text and you will write about it. When you are reading, I will be listening to help determine some good next steps for you.

This assessment will help me support you in choosing books that will be interesting and will help you meet your goals. I will be taking notes during this process so that I can remember the things you share with me and the things I notice about you as a reader. This assessment isn’t about you getting things right or wrong. It is about us working together to figure out our jobs: my job as a teacher and your job as a learner.

After we are done I am going to ask you what you think would help you as a reader. We will look at the assessment together and choose some goals for us to work on together. Are you ready to begin?

Assessment is the heart of our instruction. We need our students to understand that assessment is more than one test or a few formal cycles per year. Assessment is what happens every day when we listen to our students and watch them as they learn. Peter Johnston reminds us that “Formative assessment isn’t only the teacher’s responsibility . . . [h]owever, it is the teacher’s responsibility to ensure that the students know how and are disposed to take up their responsibilities for formative assessment” (2012, 49–50). When we include the role of assessment in our culture of thinking and learning, our students understand why we are assessing and how it will help them set goals and grow as readers.


Johnston, Peter. 2012. Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Miller, Debbie. 2013. Reading with Meaning: Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades. 2nd edition. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Tammy and Clare are the authors of Assessment in Perspective: Focusing on the Reader Behind the Numbers. Be sure to leave a comment or ask a question. Last week’s winner of a free book is Lori Napier.

14 comments July 2nd, 2013

Assessment in Perspective Blog Tour: Wrap Up

We hope you had a chance to follow our blog tour for Assessment in Perspective: Focusing on the Reader Behind the Numbers by Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan.

The tour kicked off on Monday at A Year of Reading, where author and blogger Franki wrote this about the book in her recent review:

“This is a book that speaks to teachers today. It reminds us to keep our eye on the reader but it does not discount the tremendous stress and mandates we are all dealing with when it comes to assessment. Tammy and Clare have figured out how to help teachers stay grounded with good literacy practice through this time.  In this book, they share their story.”

At Our Camp Read-A-Lot teacher and blogger Laura Komos asked Tammy and Clare about how teachers — and students — can deal with so many required tests. “How much is too much?” she wondered. Here is what the authors said:

“This is the rule we try to live by:  If it is not informing instruction or lifting the quality of instruction then stop doing it.  We realize this rule assumes we have control over the tests we use and we know that is not always the case.  Our next rule is that if we give an assessment we use it.  It is better than not using it.  We do think that we are over-assessing some students and not assessing other students enough.  When it comes to assessment we think fair is not equal.  Our at-risk readers need more diagnostic assessments that help us pinpoint what they need and monitor their progress.”

Finally Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine asked Tammy and Clare how teachers can advocate for assessment that matches what they value in educating children.

“When we authentically assess every day we think it is the opposite – what we teach is what we assess which informs what we need to teach next.  We recognize that districts are mandating the use of some common assessments, but that does take away from how we assess every day.  We have the power to assess as part of our instruction and to notice how our students are learning.  When we use these assessments and show how they help us target our instruction we are advocating for assessments that match what we value.  If we lose sight of what we do have the power to impact in assessment because we are frustrated with what we do not have the power to control in assessment we end up giving up the best tools we have to inform our instruction – on-going, informal, formative assessment.”

Visit all three blogs for the full interviews. Today is the last day to leave a comment on any of the blogs for a chance to win a free copy of the book!

1 comment May 24th, 2013

Assessment in Perspective Blog Tour Day 3

The last stop on our blog tour for Assessment in Perspective takes us to Cathy Mere’s blog, Reflect and Refine.  In her interview authors Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan talk about combining formal assessment and classroom observations, triangulating assessment, and advocating for assessment that matches what teachers value in educating children.

” We have the power to assess as part of our instruction and to notice how our students are learning.  When we use these assessments and show how they help us target our instruction we are advocating for assessments that match what we value.  If we lose sight of what we do have the power to impact in assessment because we are frustrated with what we do not have the power to control in assessment we end up giving up the best tools we have to inform our instruction – on-going, informal, formative assessment.”

This is your last chance to leave a comment on any of the blog tour stops for a chance to win a free copy of the book! A winner will be chosen on each blog.

Add comment May 22nd, 2013

Assessment in Perspective Blog Tour Day 2

“I’ll admit it. I typically cringe when I think about or hear about testing, assessment, and data. I may have even uttered the phrase “data schmata” once or twice (thanks to a brilliant Twitter friend for coining the phrase!) But I can honestly say that I enjoyed reading Assessment in Perspective and know it has already started impacting my thinking.”

Join day 2 of our blog tour for Assessment in Perspective over at Our Camp Read-A-Lot, where teacher blogger Laura Komos reviews the book and shares an insightful Q&A with the authors, Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan.

1 comment May 21st, 2013

Assessment in Perspective Blog Tour Day 1

Our blog tour for Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan’s new book Assessment in Perspective: Focusing on the Readers Behind the Numbers gets into gear today with an interview by Franki Sibberson over at A Year of Reading. The authors tell Franki about the inspiration for the book, share advice on staying grounded in the face of testing pressures, and the important role students play in assessment.

Head over to A Year of Reading to read the full interview. The blog tour continues tomorrow at Our Camp Read-A-Lot.
Be sure to leave a comment for a chance to win a free copy of the book!

Add comment May 20th, 2013

Assessment in Perspective blog tour kicks off today!

We are excited to kick off our blog tour for Assessment in Perspective with this welcome from The Sisters, Gail Boushey and Joan Moser. In their foreword for the book, they write: “We believe this book is a must-have for all educators. It is the perfect guide to maximize the benefit of assessments. It will help us to truly know, understand, and teach all of our children.

You can preview the book online, order your own copy, and join the conversation with the authors next week on the following blogs:

Monday, May 20:  A Year of Reading (check out their recent review of the book)
Tuesday, May 21: Our Camp Read-A-Lot
Wednesday, May 22: Reflect and Refine

Check back on the Stenhouse blog on Friday, May 24 for a wrap-up of the discussion. The more you comment, the more chances you have to win a free copy of the book! We will select one winner from each blog!

So let’s kick off this blog tour and see you on Monday!

5 comments May 17th, 2013

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