self assessment

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?

Active Learning and Thinking: Walk and Talk Partner Discussions

Right after the first of the year, one of my favorite teachers and literacy leaders, Sarah Brown Wessling, posted this video about taking her class on the move.  Last year, I crafted and incorporated many learning activities for my high school students that involved movement, and I’ve continued that with my 8th graders during the 2018-2019 school year.  After watching that video, I decided I wanted to try the partner “walk and talk” discussion strategy soon.

Part 1:  Frontloading the Work with Individual Self-Assessment and Reflection

Flash forward to this past Friday.  On Wednesday and Thursday, my 8th graders received a copy of their December Quarter 2 benchmark essay, a writing task that asked them to read two articles and write an expository/informational/explanatory essay in response to the two articles.  We began on Wednesday with the following warm-up:

Nearly every student chose the correct answer, D, but many struggled to actually do that on the benchmark assessment even though we had deconstructed a model essay similar to the benchmark writing task prior to the benchmark assessment and engaged in several hands-on activities to review how to respond to that type of writing assessment and prompt.  In each class, we explored the reasons for the disconnect between understanding the prompt and actually executing it.  We spent the rest of the class on Wednesday and all of Thursday engaging in some self-assessment and reflection to analyze their strengths and weaknesses in their essay response:

As students completed the first reflection, they came to me for a quick 1:1 conference about their reflection work before moving on to the additional reflection activities.  All of these became part of their literacy portfolio along with the copy of their benchmark essay.  In addition, we spent the last 10 minutes of class on Thursday adding some additional pieces of student work and reflections they completed prior to the December break to the portfolio as well as an updated Lexile/SRI reading progress report.

Part 2:  From Individual Work to Collaborative Work and Discussion

On Friday, every table group arrived to find a pastel folder with a set of 2-3 student benchmark writing/essays in the folder.  All identifying information was stripped from each piece of writing and assigned a number; I also ran copies of these pieces of writing on different colors of neon paper by table or “station” group.

I did several variations of the table/station work for this blind peer review of essays.  My main goal for this activity was for students to read a range of writing from their peers and to apply the self-assessment criteria we had used for our own writing earlier in the week to these pieces of writing.  For my 1st period team taught class, students were asked to read the essays/writing pieces in the folder at their table and then use this evaluation tool to assess the writing.  For my 4th period class, students read the pieces of writing individually but to evaluate the writing collaboratively.  For both classes, table groups then voted on the best piece of writing and explained what made it the best one at their station/table group.

The activity generated great conversation within the table groups as they analyzed and shared their reflections to come to a consensus on the best pieces of writing.  It was interesting to hear students debate “top” writing choices at some of the table groups and to hear them make their case for those choices using the writing/rubric criteria.  This aspect of the activity generated the most critical thinking, and I think students benefited from it as well as the act of reading work from their peers and seeing that range of quality in the writing.

Between 4th period and my final classes (Period 5 and 6), we have a break in the day known as “War Time” (we are the War Eagles).  This is a recess period, but we also have make-up time for different subject areas each day as well as detention for students who may be struggling with points on our discipline system in our building.  As we were standing outside on Friday during War Time, I was struck by how mild the weather was (mid 50s) and what beautiful weather it was for January and better than what was forecasted for the day.  I also was pondering the fact that it was Friday afternoon and wondered if I might do yet another variation on the station activity for my final two classes of the day.  It hit me that this would be the perfect opportunity to do a partner walk and talk, but instead of staying inside the building, we would GO OUTSIDE!

When we returned indoors to begin 5th period, I asked my students if they would like a chance to go back outside  Of course, 8th graders love being outdoors and enthusiastically responded YES.  I explained to them we could do the 2nd half of class outdoors but if and only if everyone was laser focused on the first half of our indoor time work.  Talk about the ultimate carrot!  I explained they were going to read the essays and complete the evaluation sheet.  If they finished early, they could begin the “blue ribbon” best of essays reflection.  I set the countdown time clock to 20 minutes on my computer and projected it on the board, and they began.  Everyone was super focused and working intently.  Once time was up, I instructed students they would need all their evaluation forms, including the blue ribbon reflection even if it was not quite finished; they were also instructed to take their neon colored essay handout with them outside.  I repeated the same instructions and procedures for 6th, and they also jumped right into their work.


Once outside, they were directed to find a partner; it could be anyone but someone from their table group!  They quickly found partners, and I lined them up two by two.  I explained that the partner on the left would speak first as they walked and talked.  Our partner talk instructions were these:

  1.  Explain the rubric you completed for each essay you read and evaluated.
  2.  You may point at specific parts of the essay on the neon paper as you talk through the evaluation you completed in addition to anything else you feel is important for your partner to know about that piece of writing.
  3. Talk through your “blue ribbon” reflection even if not quite finished because you can talk through the unfinished parts verbally if needed.
  4. Your partner can ask questions and for clarifications as needed at any time.

Once the partner on the left completed these talking and sharing tasks, the partner on the right would then become the lead in the discussion.  I let them know I would be walking along side and moving about to make mental notes and video notes with my iPhone, so all conversation needed to be on point.  Once we had finished our first round, we swapped partners and did a second round of conversation.  Each round of conversation took about 1.5 to 2 laps around our grassy area in front of the school we have War Time.  My 5th period started and finished strong!


Sixth period did a fabulous job with the partner walk and talk as well though we did have to pause after the first 90 seconds to redirect and make sure everyone understood our purpose and instructions.  Once we did that quick “reset”, my 6th period students were on fire with their thinking and sharing as walked along and discussed our work.

We returned inside after about 15-20 minutes outside, and students had the chance to finish up any written work or to add to before turning in all their written components.  Students commented and shared in their written reflections they enjoyed talking with a partner from another group about the essays they read; several commented this activity also forced them to work with someone they normally would not choose, and they enjoyed that aspect of the activity!

I was so impressed with the quality of discussions from my students in both classes!  Everyone stepped up and really put themselves into the conversations.  Though the elements of being outdoors and movement could have been distracting, I think they actually enhanced the conversation and discussion experience for each round of partner walk and talk.   I hope we will have some milder days ahead in the mornings so that I can give my 1st and 4th periods this kind of learning experience soon though we could certainly adapt and do it indoors in the hallways.  I definitely recommend this activity for any teacher, and you can easily adapt it for any subject area and age group.  This by far was one of my favorite activities I’ve ever done with students and so much fun!

A heartfelt thank you to Sarah Brown Wessling, a master teacher, for so generously sharing her experiences and ideas from the trenches of real world teaching in a public school!  In addition to the links I shared earlier to her Facebook page as well as her website, you can also learn more about her over here at the Teaching Channel and see more videos of her in action.

Supporting Student Book Clubs with Scaffolding Structures: Senior Book Club Meetings 2 and 3

Earlier this month, I shared the “glows” and “grows” of our first 12th ELA student book club meeting.   Building on the glows and grows of that meeting, I wanted to share some learning tools and structures I incorporated into the second book club meeting to help support student talk.

Support/Scaffold Structure 1:  Kickoff Quotes

To give students a tangible starting point for conversation, each student was asked to prepare a passage for discussion along with questions or talking points they wanted to share with the group.

For students who came prepared, this was an easy task to complete to get ready for the meeting of the day.   Those who did not hastily selected passages that did not provide the richness or depth of text to discuss as did the passages that had been selected with forethought.

Support/Scaffold Structure 2:  A Working Conversation Structure

I provided a loose conversation frame for all groups, but it was especially designed for two of my four groups that were struggling to sustain a meaningful conversation during the first meeting.  When I reviewed the conversation structure with the students, I told them they had flexibility with the framework, but it was there to help them make sure they were hitting all the conversation elements we were aiming for in our talk.  This tool, along with some better preparation by more students from week 1, was very successful as nearly every group had sustained and rich conversation in meeting 2 for nearly 40 minutes.   I didn’t see it being quite as successful for our third meeting this past Friday, March 16 as at least two groups (one that has struggled each week and one that had previously been very strong) simply read their passages and didn’t have much of any discussion about the how/why they chose the passage or why it was meaningful; fellow members didn’t speak up to ask questions or respond.  Right now I don’t know if the fact prom was 24 hours away was a factor, or if perhaps these two groups had just hit a little bit of a rough patch in their efforts.

Scaffold /Scaffold Structure 3:  Hard Copies of Conversation Stems and Conversation Ideas on Neon Paper

Though students had received a copy of the conversation stems and ideas for discussion on Monday, March 5, I printed up new copies on neon paper for the third meeting this past Friday (March 16).   Everyone received a copy to use for reference as needed during the meeting.

Scaffold /Scaffold Structure 4:  Modifying the Visual  Notetaking Medium

Though the visual notes were richer in meeting 2 compared to meeting 1 (see the exemplars below) I still found that there was uneven participation and contributions to the visual notetaking on butcher paper from group to another.  As you can see below, some groups had rich contributions from nearly every group member.

I wondered if perhaps modifying the visual notetaking medium might invite more active participation on this front from every student.  For the third meeting, I provided personalized “notetaking placemats” with the student name and his/her role for the week.  I included a placeholder for their “kickoff quote” and then plenty of space on the front and back for notetaking and drawing.  Like previous  weeks, each group received a supply caddy full of various Sharpies and markers.


Ironically, though some students did show more active participation with the visual notetaking and mindmapping of the group discussion, the majority of the student work fell flat with very few visual or written notes.  Again, I don’t know whether to attribute this unexpected outcome to the fact prom was less than 24 hours away, the fact that the same one who have come unprepared to every minute and not fully participated were the very same ones who struggled again in meeting 3, a combination of both factors, or perhaps some other variable I’m not aware of at this time.  I’m deciding right now if we should take a second pass with this medium or return to the butcher paper for the final meeting.  I wanted to use the visual notes as a visual record of meeting ideas for each group and put them on display, but this learning task is an area of struggle for most of my seniors even after showing them models prior to the first meeting and models from their classmates after the first meeting.  This aspect of book club meeting will be something for me to consider with more thought over the summer as to how to get more student engagement on this front and to help them better understand the purpose of the visual notes.  I’ve seen other students of a younger age do amazing work with visual notes of book club meetings in the moment, so I know what is possible, but I also must consider that this kind of learning task is new for most of these students.

One immediate intervention I WILL do this week prior to our last meeting:  I’m going to ask my exemplar group to talk to the class about how they go about their work and talk the class through their work—I think it will be powerful for students to hear tips from their peers in their own words, and I’m interested to see if this student led modeling/mini-lesson makes a difference whether we are doing visual notes and mindmapping the meeting ideas on butcher paper or individually.

Modified Self-Assessment

One final thing I did differently for the third book club meeting was to change up the format of the self-assessment.  Instead of a series of numbered questions, I presented the self-reflections in this format:


Interestingly enough, some students shared they found this format less “intimidating”, and some had more concrete talking points with this format.

Final Reflections and Next Steps

I felt most students really stepped up in terms of preparation and participation for the second book club meeting. As I mentioned earlier, the energy levels were up across the board and I could see more engagement from a larger number of students in the second meetings.

I was a little disappointed that some students seemed to take a step backward, though, for our third meeting this past Friday.  While students were participating, many were not as prepared as the previous week or two, and the energy level seemed lower compared to the last meeting.  I honestly think the impending prom was a factor, so I am hoping we will make our final and fourth book club meeting this Friday, March 23, our best yet.  I’m going to give students some extra prep time in class on Wednesday and forego our day of work with argumentative writing.  I also have some library time scheduled for students to do a little research on their book author and their social media presence to see if that adds to their understanding of the writer’s purpose with the book and any material to add to the conversation since one student had explored this angle and shared it with her group this past Friday.

What kinds of scaffolding or supports do you provide students to help them grow their student book club conversations?   What strategies do you like to help students grow their conversation and interaction skills with each other?

Deconstructing Argumentative Texts from the Wild: From Small Group Analysis to Making Our Thinking Public with Our Peers


At the end of February, we began a gentle entry into a study of argumentative writing.  Though seniors have theoretically had instruction in this kind of writing the previous three years, it is part of our 12th ELA district ELA standards, and more importantly, I know a focal point of entry level English courses in most Georgia universities.  Students first began by reading and taking notes on the opening chapter of Everything’s an Argument; I chose this text since it is one frequently used in English 1101 courses.

Small Group Analysis

Our next step was to work in small groups of three that I organized and to analyze a piece of real world argumentative writing.  Each group received one of the three mentor texts:

I chose newspaper editorials as a logical starting point for a mentor text, but I also felt the reading level would be accessible though I discovered quickly that assumption was wrong since the texts included concepts new to many students.  However, this provided students an opportunity to do some informal research to help them fill in gaps of background knowledge.

Students had several analytical tasks; while some of the tasks were open-ended, I provided scaffolding to support them in their deconstruction of the text:

Task 1:  Outline or Mindmap Your Article

Students worked together to identify the structure of the article.  Some groups began by partner reading and mapping the structure as they worked through the text; other groups read silently and independently before coming back together to collaborate on the task.  Groups could present or formal outline or mindmap their work in a way that made sense for them.  It was fascinating to see the different approaches and how detail oriented some groups were while others were not.

Task 2:  Claims and Counterclaims

Next, I used a graphic organizer to help students identify a claim in the essay and a counterclaim.  If the writer did not present a counterclaim, I asked students to come up with one they would compose if they were writing or co-writing the essay with the author.

Tasks 3 and 4:  SOAPS

Using the same graphic organizer, students were asked to analyze the SOAPS of the essay:  Subject, Occasion, Audience, Purpose, and Speaker.  In addition, I asked students to go back into Chapter 1  of Everything’s an Argument and identify some specific information for:

  • Purpose–they were to identify which purpose they felt was the dominant one and why using the definition from Chapter 1 of Everything’s an Argument.
  • Occasion:  students were asked to identify which occasion for argument best fit the essay and why, again using the definition from our text.

Task 5:  What’s the Word? or Word Wheel

Using this tool from the graphic organizer pack, this task asked students to think about diction and choose 8 words that stood out from the essay.  I also asked students to be prepared to explain their choices and how they felt it impacted the argument presented by the writer.

Task 6:  Analyzing Logos, Pathos and Ethos

We used another graphic organizer help us identify textual evidence for each rhetorical appeal and explain language used to create logos, pathos, and ethos in the essay.

The small group work took students most of our 90 minute block last week.  Nearly every group spent the majority of their time on the comprehension aspect of their articles, something I didn’t anticipate as I thought I had selected texts at an accessible reading level, but I realize now I underestimated their background knowledge of the topics of each of the three essays.

Making Our Thinking Public

One thing I have done regularly this year with all my classes–juniors and seniors–is to give them low stakes opportunities to speak in front of their peers.  Though some students sometimes chafe—some because they are shy, some because this activity forces them to be accountable for critical thinking—I think this experience is important for many reasons, but I especially see value in students being able to articulate their ideas to their fellow students, and for students to practice their listening skills and to learn from their peers.  Today groups got together and took about 12-15 minutes to revisit last week’s work and to plan how and what they wanted to share from their work.  Each group then presented using our new document camera.   The document camera was especially helpful today as students presented (each group took about 10-12 minutes to share) since their work was so visual, so they could SHOW as they told us their thinking.  Here are some screenshot of their work I captured easily with the document camera software:

As groups presented, the rest of the class took notes with this graphic organizer.

Not only do these low-stakes presentations give students an opportunity to practice speaking skills and sharing their ideas publicly with their peers, but these presentations also provide me an opportunity to engage in formative assessment to see patterns of understandings as well as gaps.  After listening to all my groups today, I know we need to revisit the types of purposes for argument as well as the occasions for argument.  In addition, I can see students understand ethos and logos fairly well, but they need help articulating how and why language can serve as pathos.  Students can also engage in informal self-assessment; as they listen to their peers, they can easily see if their work had more or less depth.  In addition, they can see and hear ideas, argumentative elements, details, and noticings that they missed OR that they saw that others didn’t.

At the end of the presentations, students had a chance to do a short written reflection and share which group best enhanced their understanding of argumentative writing structures and elements and why.  Moving forward, we’ll now do some targeted inquiry, analysis, and writing of argumentative texts to develop our understanding of elements that need additional study and revisiting.

Visualizing Our Research with Sticky Notes

My seniors, who have been researching  their self-selected topics under the umbrella of “The Future of Work,” have completed their first round of research.  We had roughly four days (we meet for 90 minute blocks) to delve into our research guide.   Students formed Birds of Feather groups by interest and designed their research questions as well as inquiry project jobs for each member.

This past Wednesday I felt students needed an opportunity to assess the information they had collected so that they could see what information they had (or didn’t have!) and what they still needed, especially since roughly 1/4 of the class has struggled to use class time given for taking notes. We have used a range of notetaking tools:  an assortment of graphic organizers and even Google Forms (I ran a mail merge and printed these out for students).  After returning all notes to students, we used this past Wednesday to look at our work and break out each note onto an individual sticky note.

Once students had completed compiling their notes onto the sticky notes, I asked them to look at their work and group “like” ideas together. They then were asked to come up with a label or category for the notes.   Students then received a large oversize poster sticky note and did the following steps:

  • Wrote their research question and name at the top.
  • Drew a t-square grid.
  • Wrote each category of notes.
  • Taped/stuck the notes into the appropriate square on the grid.

Once the posters were completed, we hung them together by groups; I created colorful placeholders for each group along with a copy of their research plan to anchor each gallery of work.

Once students finished this part of the activity, they completed a self-assessment of their progress on their inquiry so far:  Post Research Round 1 Reflect and Assess September 20 2017 Period 1B 12th ELA Honors .

As part of the self-assessment, students were asked to reflect on what information they had and what they still needed after they had reviewed their visual poster of their notes.  This part of the activity was helpful because I was extremely impressed by students’ assessments of their progress and next steps for finding the information they still needed.  In addition to being a meaningful and reflective exercise, this activity  has generated interest from students and teachers traveling in our hallway!  How do you build in self-assessment opportunities into your inquiry projects?  How do you help students reflect on the information they are gathering and then determine what they still need and how to move forward?