Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Reflection as a Parent and a Teacher

A Problem

My youngest daughter, a senior in high school, recently brought home an “F” on a semester exam. She carries a cum well above 3.8, and her quizzes and tests in this class had all been A’s or B’s. That all changed when she took the semester exam, which was supposed to be a common assessment for the three high schools in our district based on state standards.

My first reaction when talking with her was a very normal, “What happened??!!” After a lengthy conversation, I discovered that half of her class failed this exam, also. That certainly doesn’t justify her bad grade, but it made me wonder how well this teacher really knew his students, including my daughter.

Being a teacher, I continued to ponder this situation for days and weeks – how can a teacher be at the end of a semester and just find out that the students’ learning was not where it needed to be? In my reflections, I realized that this is not an issue that my daughter’s teacher has alone. I can think of several colleagues, as well as myself, through the years, that were surprised at the end of a quarter by how low a student performed on an assessment

There has to be a better way to gauge a student’s growth.

A Solution

When I thought of a possible solution, it came to me in phrases. One word – workshop. Another word – conferring. Two more words – strategy groups. Two more words – ongoing assessment.

In my school district, we have a literacy workshop model. This is the structure through which literacy instruction happens on a daily basis. In broad terms, I think of it in 3 parts: 1) the focus lesson, 2) the “work”shop, and 3) sharing. The second part of the model is where I’d like to focus for the purposes of my problem.

During the workshop time, while the students are engaged in a book or writing piece of their choice, or a book club discussion, or doing partner reading/writing, I am quite busy as well. This is the time I check my students’ progress, and see where they are as readers or writers.

One of the ways I stay current with my students is individually conferring with each of them. Sometimes the conference is just a way of “checking in” to see how they are doing. Other times, my conference has a specific purpose based on what I’ve observed before, This conference is a great one-on-one opportunity to check on students’ learning, and to help guide them to the next level.

A key to all my progress monitoring of students is ongoing assessment. Rather it’s administering and interpreting DRAs (Developmental Reading Assessments), OR observing reading and writing behaviors, OR taking a reading/writing status of the class to see where each child is in his/her book or own writing, OR grading a quick check assessment of a strategy to see who understood the comprehension strategy we worked on and who still needs some more support, OR observing students in our read alouds and whole group lessons, I continually gather information about each individual student. This information is what then guides my instruction.

If, through my ongoing assessment, I discover that multiple students are having the same misunderstandings in reading or writing, I utilize my time as wisely as possible, and form strategy groups for additional focused instruction. A small group of students can usually grasp a concept easier than they did when it was presented whole group. This is a time for them to have my attention, and it allows them to really focus on the learning at hand.

I don’t know if my solution would have changed my daughter’s exam grade or not, but I strongly believe in this workshop model. I believe that it is what is in the best interest of our students. It helps both the student and the teacher gauge growth, and if the growth isn’t happening, we, as teachers, can step in and intervene immediately. Not at the end of the semester.


  1. I'm a teacher and the mom of a high school freshman. This year has been very, very rough. My son attends what is supposed to be the top high school in our district. The school seems to work very well for upper middle class, highly motivated learners. The fact that over half the student body is failing miserably does not seem to disturb anyone. There seems to be no consideration that something might be wrong with the teaching. Thanks much for this post.