formative assessment

Reading Workout with Literary Nonfiction and Memoir Book Clubs

Inspired by the always innovative Sarah Brown Wessling, I adapted an activity she shared this past December that she calls Reading Workouts for independent reading time.  I made a few modifcations to account for a shorter literacy block of time and the needs of my 8th grade learners, but here is my version that was a great success this past Friday.

My 4th period (the class I take to lunch) was the only class that completed this activity as a warm-up because we had extra class time, and I didn’t want to jump into the activity with only 15 minutes before our scheduled lunch time.  If time had permitted, I would have done the “warm-up/stretch” with all classes; this was a great way to get them thinking before reading time.

For all other classes, we began with a quick review of concepts we had worked on the previous day:

We then began the first formal part of our workout!  Our focus was on reading; I told students to NOT take notes at this point or to annotate, but they could use the “baby” size sticky notes to quickly flag passages of interest.  I provided baskets of the sticky notes needed for the day at every table to save time and provide ease of access to the materials.

We then moved to the second part of our workout.  Students could choose any partner they wanted; it did not have to be someone from their book club.  We lined up 2×2 outside the room and began our walking reps.  One partner led the conversation for the first rep/lap; the second partner led on the second rep/lap.  This “walk and talk” part of the workout is another idea I’ve adapted previously from Wessling.  For our reading workout, we did a modified/shorter version to fit the reading workout structure.

We then moved to the next part of our reading workout:

We then ended/cooled down with this graffiti wall/parking lot activity for our books:

This work was a great formative assessment to see how well (or not so well) students were understanding themes and issues in their books as well as the concepts/terms  of theme and issues themselves.  I created the gallery of book graffiti walls/parking lots with chart paper and signage I crafted in Word.  You can see the gallery and student work samples in the slideshow below.  We’ll get into the parking lots/graffiti walls for a gallery walk activity later this week and then continue adding our thinking about themes and issues as we get deeper into our books this month.

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You can see, hear, and learn more about the design of this activity in the video I made after school this past Friday.  I love this learning structure and plan to use it again later this year!  A big thank you to Sarah Brown Wessling for always generously sharing her ideas for the rest of us to use as they are or to adapt for our learners!  In my next post, I’ll share how we are moving forward with our book club thinking work this week, including choices for gentle note-taking strategies as we read.

A Unique Twist on Formative Assessment: “Give Me All You Got!”

At the end of November, I stumbled upon this great idea from English teacher Kelly Culp:

The basic premise is that students do a “brain dump” of sorts about a specific reading and share everything they know about it with you through text and images.   I decided to utilize this strategize to do a formative assessment with student independent reading about 10 days ago after giving students a day of reading time in class.  Here is my version (you can make a copy of the Word document):

Students jumped in and began working hard on the task right away:

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Below are some of the finished products:

As you can see, many students were creative in how they shared their understandings and what information they felt was most important as well as questions, connections, and ideas they were thinking about related to the text.  Several also incorporated their TQE thinking from their TQE annotations the previous day.  What I love about this form of assessment is the variety of responses and the built in choice factor for the assessment.  It can also be used with a wide range of tasks, including an assigned reading.  You can also adapt and use this across multiple grades in middle and high school; I think it would also be adaptable for upper elementary.  In addition, I think teachers and librarians could even modify this to assess students’ understanding of an article they are reading for research.  I am indebted to teacher Kelly Culp for sharing this idea on Twitter and inspiring my classroom practice.

In addition to this task, students also had time to complete this activity as well.  Many students liked the “chunked” aspect of this learning task for their reading they completed in class December 5 and at home that evening.  I highly recommend this resource for assessing assigned or independent reading.



Student Self-Assessment, Scaffolding, and Seesaw

Now that Seesaw is Chromebook friendly, I am incorporating it as a digital portfolio and space for reflection/self-assessment with my 8th graders.   Earlier in the school year, I walked students through signing up with their class code through their district Google accounts.  For our first entry in October, students captured and recorded their reflections on their best Quickwrite for Writing Cycle 2.

This year I have implemented a modified version of Sarah Donovan’s interpretation of Quickwrites.  Some days they truly are brief pieces of writing, but other days, they may be a little more structured and time-intensive.  I try to provide students choices with prompts and various types of writing purposes (argumentative, analytical, informational, descriptive) to grow their writing skills and to infuse meaningful opportunities to compose constructed responses.  A writing cycle may be anywhere from 4-7 weeks; sometimes the cycle stretches a bit longer because our literacy block is only about 50 minutes per day, and it is sometimes challenging to incorporate as many writing opportunities as I’d like.

We first focused on organizing our four Quickwrites and then writing a reflection about how that piece of writing showed growth in some way.  I crafted “I can” statements based on the writing and/or reading standards embedded in each Quickwrite:

Once students selected their best Quickwrite, they received a copy of the “I can” standards statements for that particular Quickwrite.  Next, I scaffolded their reflection by providing them a drafting template/graphic organizer model because students need support in articulating how they are growing as writers, especially if they are not accustomed to engaging in self-assessment.

Students composed their reflection drafts and then shared their written or typed drafts with me.  Once I checked their completed drafts, students were “cleared” to photograph or video their work and then record the reflection.  Students could capture their work in one of three ways in Seesaw:

  1.  Snap a photo of your best Quickwrite (the actual piece of writing) and record an audio note of their reflection “script” they composed with the drafting template.
  2. Video the work and read aloud the reflection script.
  3. Upload the typed copy of the best Quickwrite draft from Google Docs and then record the audio note of the reflection.

I modeled these processes for students and also provided a Google Slideshow for students to use for reference outside of class:

It took us about four days of class time to complete all of our work; a few students were given extended time if needed.  Students who wanted to use their phones and had parent permission to install the free app were allowed to use their devices if they preferred that method over a Chromebook; about 25% of my students chose this option.


I do think it is easier for students to use their smartphones with Seesaw, but the Chromebook option is still a good option.  Our biggest challenge was getting good photographs of their work with the Chromebook if students wanted to use that option with an audio note.  Aside from that issue, the Chromebooks were great for recording and for students who wanted to incorporate text labels and some of the other features students can use in Seesaw when posting their work.  As I’ve shared in the past, I love Seesaw as a formative and summative assessment platform, and there is something very powerful about hearing students discuss their work.  In addition, Seesaw is yet another way for students to practice their speaking skills.

I’ll continue to share how we are using Seesaw as we move through the school year.  If you are using Seesaw in your classroom, how do you incorporate into your instruction and assessment practices?

Revising at Points of Need: Narrative Revision Stations

One of my goals this year as a teacher is to make room for revision stations and alternative ways of tackling revision.  I am proactive in providing ongoing feedback in real time through Google Documents, but toward the end of the year, I honestly felt I needed additional ways to help my students take more ownership of their revision AND editing work.  I wanted to do revision stations last year, but time always seemed to be the enemy, so I was determined to MAKE time for them in the 2019-2020 academic year.

I originally purchased a narrative writing revision station set of TPT, but after purchasing it and looking at the activities more closely, I realized it really was not a good fit for my kids, so I wound up designing my own.  Here are the stations I crafted:

  • Station 1: Dialogue Den, Part 1--finding and counting our number of beginning, ending, and middle dialogue tags.  We also formulated revisions to make sure we have a balance of each kind of required tag.
  • Station 2: Dialogue Den, Part 2–making sure we have opening and closing quotation marks around each piece of quoted speech and looking for errors with our dialogue with capitalization and punctuation.
  • Station 3: DIY Revision–Explode the Moment—taking a scene that is underdeveloped or rushed and revising for more detail and to really develop the moment in depth.
  • Station 4: STEAL Analysis–reading our draft and seeing where/how we are developing a character and showing a character trait through each part of the STEAL method.
  • Station 5: PQP (Praise, Question, Polish):  Exchanging drafts and providing feedback with PQP tickets (see photos below).
  • Station 6: Teacher Conference/Help–get 1:1 help with your draft from Ms. Hamilton

If students somehow finished early, they could work on their NoRedInk module on Formatting Dialogue and Flow Quotes + Capitalizing Quotes Mastery Practice.  

Getting Ready

The first step was to have students print hard copies of their drafts in our 8th grade computer lab since we do not have printing capabilities from our Chromebooks.  Last year, we could print from the desktops in the lab, but it wasn’t until last Tuesday I discovered student rights to printing had been removed as a money saving measure for ink and paper.  Students had to share their documents, and I had to print every single draft myself.  Obviously, this solution is not realistic for the long term, but I did it because students needed a hard copy for their revision stations.  I will say more about the importance of having a hard copy of drafts at the end of this post.

The other prep piece was setting up stations in my favorite new classroom purchase this fall, my plastic Target paper trays.   I also had to craft station instructions, make copies, and set up supplies in bins/baskets as needed for each station.  I came in early and stayed late to organize everything by table/seating area.

Day 1

I allotted two days for the activities and planned carefully.  However, I realized quickly after my first class that TIMED station rotations were not going to be a good fit.  Here is how I punted and tweaked the activity period by period on Day 1.

Period 8-1

We completed two TIMED station rotations in which students were engaged in various revision tasks.   Unfortunately, excessive talking and not following instructions were problematic today for several students, and War Eagle points were deducted for those who could not stay on task after being redirected.

Period 8-4:

Students were given starting stations and groups; they then worked at their pace and moved on to another station.  Most students completed two stations.  We will finish remaining stations tomorrow.

Period 8-5:

Students who were behind on the story writing assignment worked in a small group with Ms. Moore, my co-teacher, to get caught up today.  Those who worked with me completed Station 4 and Station 1.

Period 8-6:

Students worked on Station 1 today.  Most finished, but a few will need to finish tonight because they were having difficulty identifying their dialogue tags and/or following the instructions.  If your child did not finish Station 1 work today, that needs to be completed tonight.  Several students moved on to Station 4; a few are behind on drafting and were asked to work on the draft.

Day 2 and Cumulative Teacher Reflections/Observations/Takeaways

While these adjustments worked better than the way I tried implementing them in Period 8-1, something still felt a bit off.  I decided to put all the station materials at the center table, Table 6, and let students choose the remaining stations they felt would best help them revise their draft.  This adjustment sounds simple, but it proved to be extremely effective.  Students in every class were deeply engaged in their work and asking thoughtful questions as they worked through their station revisions.

Even my struggling students were giving 150% effort, and one even asked to stay inside at recess with me to work on her draft!  While Day 1 was not terrible, the energy and intention I saw students putting into their work on Day 2 was like night and day.  I think building in the choice element was essential, and this change gives me much to think about when I design revision and editing stations again.  I was impressed by the thought I saw students making into their station selections, and they are now acting on those revisions as we are engaged in polishing and revising today (Monday, 9/16) and tomorrow to get a solid final draft.  Most importantly, students were taking ownership of their revision and editing work and choices—the locus of control did not lie with me, the teacher, but instead, it was squarely on the shoulders of the writers.

One other observation I think is important to share, and that is the importance of having HARD paper copies for this kind of station work however you choose to approach it.   I noticed that many of my students do not spot errors or mistakes working online, but when they have a hard copy—especially one that is double spaced and printed in a slightly larger font–their eyes quickly discover careless typos and errors.

In addition, I am noticing that this year’s 8th graders seem to respond to written feedback on their hard copies of their drafts as opposed to the Google Docs comments even though I am writing the same thing.  I think there is something of value for them when I can draw areas and mark up a section of their draft in a 1:1 teacher conference that doesn’t translate to a Google Docs comment.  I purchased this feedback tool last year, but wound up never fully utilizing it; I would like to revisit it this year since my students seem to respond to the written feedback and markups a little better than digital feedback.  I’ll have to think more about this endeavor since printing student drafts is a bit problematic for now.

Last but not least, this method gave me the ability to spot patterns of student mistakes (primarily with placement of quotation marks, punctuating dialogue and dialogue tags, and capitalization errors with dialogue) very quickly so that I could provide some intensive and targeted help when students were ready to conference with me 1:1.  We will definitely continue to work on growing our skill level in this area.  I feel that these revision stations are an impactful and insightful means of formative assessment.

In my next post, I’ll share how we are wrapping up our draft, reflecting on our work, and sharing our stories.

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Exploring Characterization in “Raymond’s Run” with Playlist Stations

After our reading of “Raymond’s Run”, I wanted to find a way to engage students in thinking about character that would also get them up and moving since they had been sitting and doing some quiet thinking/reading work for a few days.  I decided to craft a new playlist station activity with a focus on character, and I crafted stations that included:

  1.  Station 1:  Notice and Note Signpost “Contrasts and Contradictions”
  2.  Station 2:  Choose your best HOTS questions from your reading reflections without repeating one that has already been posted on the dry erase board.
  3. Station 3:  Character Focus STEAL–Speech
  4. Station 4: Character Focus STEAL–Thoughts
  5. Station 5: Character Focus STEAL-Effect on Others
  6. Station 6: Character Focus STEAL-Actions
  7. Station 7: Character Focus STEAL-Looks/Physical Appearance
  8. Station 8: Character Continuum Activity
  9. Station 9:  Silent Table Talk (looking at Squeaky through a feminist lens)

I used this blank station template to design my station signs; I also purchased and used these marvelous STEAL thinking prompts to go with stations 3-7.    You can access my playlist handout for students by clicking here.

I gave students a starting point for their stations, and then they could move on as they saw fit and choose their next station.  I let them work at their own pace, and we completed the activity in two days.   Students could work alone or with a partner; best of all, I could quickly see if students were struggling with their understanding of a concept because of the “checkpoints” built into each station with the playlist concept.

On Day 3, I used a variety of methods to bring it all together, including small group or partner talk to highlight what they felt were the most interesting insightful responses from each station across classes.  We also followed up our discussion with a Kahoot story review before taking an open note, open story quiz in Canvas.

Students who finished early on Day 2 could work on Membean or read their library book.  Though I have other fun and meaningful learning activities I’ve used in the past for generating thinking and discussion about characterization, this activity I designed seemed to be a good fit for where we were last week.