Have some fun with beginning-of-year baseline assessment! (1) Choose a lively format. (2) Keep it active. (3) Get kids involved. (4) Use to inform instruction. Your teaching will improve. And you will establish a positive classroom environment.
Ms. Sneed Explains Fun Baseline Assessment
Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, sat down with her student teacher, Mr. Grow. “Let’s talk about our back-to-school math plans,” she said. “First on our agenda is whole numbers. We need to make sure kids can read and write whole numbers, as well as add and subtract. In addition, we need to know how much multiplication and division they can handle. Later in the year, we’ll tackle stuff like fractions and geometry. But for now, it’s all about whole numbers.”
Checklists Keep Track of Learning
“Okay,” replied Mr. Grow. “Where do we begin?”
“First, we figure out what kids need to know.” Ms. Sneed pulled out a copy of the fourth grade math standards. Both teachers studied the standards for numbers in base ten.
“Incoming fourth grade math students should know basic numeration and operations with whole numbers. By the end of the first nine weeks, I’d like them to be fluent with numbers to 999,999, know their multiplication facts, conquer subtracting across zeros, multiply and divide four-digit by one-digit numbers.”
“Wow,” said Mr. Grow. “That sounds like a lot.”
“It’s not as bad as it sounds,” smiled Ms. Sneed. She pulled out a checklist and handed it to Mr. Grow. “I’ve pulled out twenty specific skills with multi-digit numbers that fourth graders must know. Those became my first-quarter targets. Then I created a checklist that guides instruction for the beginning of the school year.”
Mr. Grow nodded. “I see. They talked about this in my courses at the university. Is this backward design?”
Ms. Sneed’s eyes lit up. “Sure is!”
Choose a Lively Format for Baseline Assessment
“I hate to mention it, but we’ll need to perform a baseline assessment.”
“What does that mean?” asked Mr. Grow.
“Well, we need to get a quick peek into what students already know. That way, we can choose starting points.”
“Wow,” said Mr. Grow. “A test on the first day of school.”
“I know. Awful. But we can make it fun.” Mr. Grow did not look convinced.
“Instead of a piece of paper with TEST on the top, we’ll use twenty task cards. Each card covers one of the skills from the checklist.”
Keep It Active
“What’s a task card?” asked Mr. Grow.
“Instead of a worksheet or test, task cards get kids up and moving.” She handed some papers to him. “As you can see, we’ll give the kids 20 problems, but each is on a separate card.”
Ms. Sneed walked to the cabinet and pulled out a blue card holder. “We’ll hang this on the wall and place the task cards in it. Kids walk up and take a card or two, return to their desks, and work the problems. When they finish, they go back for more. Again, up and moving.”
Mr. Grow grinned. “Very tricky. But what if they cheat?”
“Hmm, yes. That’s always a possibility. God forbid if they helped one another. My assessment might be skewed. And, oh my, they might actually learn something.” Ms. Sneed chuckled.
“We’ll be using formative assessment all the time. This assessment is only one piece of the puzzle. And over the years, I’ve learned not to take everything – or myself – too seriously. Instead, I focus on what keeps kids engaged and learning. I can’t emphasize that enough.”
Mr. Grow saw intensity in Ms. Sneed’s eyes – and softness in her face. Wow. He was already learning a lot about teaching.
Get the Kids Involved
The first day of school arrived. Ms. Sneed addressed her brand-new math students. “Hey, this set of task cards will let me know what you know and what you don’t know. I’ll be using this to figure out what I need to teach a little and what I need to teach a lot.”
As the kids raced to get their first set of cards, Ms. Sneed whispered to Mr. Grow: “This baseline assessment helps me create the goal-oriented, let’s-see-where-you-are, we’re-in-this-together type of atmosphere I want for my classroom.”
She pulled out a stack of checklists. “When they finish, we’ll let the kids keep track of their own learning. That way, they focus on what they need to learn – and feel good about what they already know.”
Use Results to Inform Instruction
A few days later, Ms. Sneed and Mr. Grow again sat at the table. “So,” said Ms. Sneed, “what’s a teacher to do with this data? I look at my checklist horizontally, vertically, and in spots.” She pulled out a teacher checklist with names listed on the left-hand side and standards listed across the top.
“Let me explain how I read this little puppy:
- Horizontally – Looking horizontally tells me who’s already mastered everything (or nearly everything) and who hasn’t. If the divide is large, I’ll definitely be grouping for math (at least for now).
- Vertically – Vertical gaps uncover skills that require some TLC. This tells me where I need to slow down. On the other hand, if everyone already knows a skill or two, can’t I in all good conscience skip those?
- Spots – Little spots tell me where someone has missed a skill. Maybe they were absent, or they didn’t feel well the day that skill was taught. In my grade, I always have spots for subtracting across zeros. Those little spots indicate the need for small group remediation. I find time to pull those kids to a table and work with them until they’ve got it.”
Mr. Grow’s eyes opened wide. His supervising teacher sure was thorough.
“The checklist stays on my desk until everyone has reached mastery of these concepts,” said Ms. Sneed. “Truth be told, that can be far into the year, long past the time that formal instruction of these skills has ended. And that’s okay. We just keep plugging away. After all, learning is hard business.”
But Mr. Grow saw something else. In this classroom, the hard business of learning was something else: fun.
Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.