Celebrating: Students

This week and my students were wild and wet; up and down.  Today, the ground is wet, but skies are clear, and I am celebrating my students with you and those who celebrate with Ruth Ayers every week.  They got through some difficult spots, but came out, in my opinion, shining.

Winter Break is almost here and kids feel it. Schedules were disrupted due to practicing for the winter pageant and the rain. Even with that underlying craziness, students did as they were asked. They practiced their performance. They lined up by height, climbed up on risers, squeezed close together and sang.  Fifth graders don’t like to stand close to one another, smile and sing. But they did it. Their voices rising in unison. Their faces shining. I hate the practice, but the results always  get to me and I smile deep inside.

This brings me to the assessment  I gave my students this week. I hate giving tests. Hate taking tests.  But I have to admit, the results can be fascinating. I told my students, as I handed them the (gasp) practice language arts performance assessment from Smarter Balanced,  this is to help me help you.

The content wasn’t bad, three articles about service animals. They were interesting and not too long. I knew some would struggle, some aren’t there yet, but it seemed appropriate for fifth graders in May. I figured it wouldn’t kill them, so let’s see what they can do.

They were to read the articles, answer a few opened ended questions, and then write an opinion piece using the information.

Watching them take this was painful and pleasing. Sort of like watching them line up and sing. They suffered a bit as they hunkered down to read a text that was not their choice. But they took out their notebooks and jotted their noticings and thoughts. They wrote in the margins of the text. They took their time. They worked hard. I was proud of them, and worried for them.

They read, re read, and finally got to the questions. Did they have enough left to answer the questions at the end of all that?

The following day they wrote their opinions.

After it all was over, I asked them what they thought about the work. They said it was exhausting, it was challenging, and it wasn’t what they wanted to do.

I asked them was it good to know what they would be facing in May? They all said yes, loud and clear.


Students have to take this test, for better or for worse.  In all fairness to them, they need and want to know what they need to face.

I spent last night looking at their work. What I saw were big ideas from the text jotted in the margins as well as their thoughts, questions, and reactions.

2014-12-13 10.40.192014-12-13 10.35.25

That right there said they understood the text, they interacted with the text, they had comprehension and thinking that went with the text.

Their answers weren’t perfect, but the majority were getting there. From what I could see, the errors were largely due to the fact that they didn’t read the questions as thoughtfully as they read the text. In most cases it had nothing to do with their actual comprehension.

In writing, about two-thirds had written opinions and the others had written informational pieces. Were they perfect, no. Were they thoughtful, yes. The majority showed their thinking about the topic and incorporated some of their learning from reading the articles.

My students have not mastered the expectations of the common core as measured by this assessment. What they showed was that the work that we (as a school) have been doing is getting them there. And more importantly they are readers, thinkers and writers. .

Today I celebrate my fifth graders and all the teaching and learning that has happened in their elementary school careers. I celebrate the years of excellent, authentic teaching in classrooms filled with read aloud, guided and strategic reading and writing instruction, with real books and magazines, and the opportunity to read and write daily.  I celebrate the opportunity I have to continue to teach and learn with my students in the months to come.

celebrate link up


18 thoughts on “Celebrating: Students

  1. This time of year seems like the worst time to practice assessment. Your students deserve a big party and you deserve a break! Great work happening here.

  2. I think they were great to hunker down & ‘sing’ (test), Julieanne. I enjoyed your analogy & the description of what happened. It will give you much to think about in the weeks coming after break. Love “And more importantly they are readers, thinkers and writers.”

  3. Fascinating post, Julieanne! I love reading your reflections about your classroom and your students’ learning. I am always amazed by how much you can glean from your observations. I also love the way you hack this assessment and use it for your own purposes to learn about where your students are at and what they need going forward.

  4. It sounds like you really know your students – I love to hear that. And isn’t it fun that we have almost the same name? Most folks put an e on the end of my name 🙂

  5. Oh I can’t imagine giving a practice assessment at this time of year. I have TWO observations this week. YIKES!! Your students deserve BIG congrats!!!! I love how you see them. I love how you have them look at themselves and think about the whys and the hows. Thinking of you as you get through this week. Wish me luck too! 🙂

    • I know these weeks are so crazy… I wouldn’t have attempted this except for the fact that I was out of the classroom in PD! They all deserve a party as Margret said for working so hard at this time of year!

  6. Julieanne,

    I celebrate the beautiful acknowledgment I hear again and again from you of the brilliance of your very normal students who do incredible thinking work and your ability to SEE and HEAR it from them. This is the first lass of students you’ve had for some time that I didn’t get to teach in earlier years. I agree – the students in “our” school benefit so much from all the good work done by so many there. They are lucky and so are you. Thank you for this reflection.

  7. Hi Julieanne, I share your dislike of tests and understand your mixed feelings in giving your students this practice run. If they are not sitting the ‘real’ thing until May, then they will probably be ready by then. What a shame the learning isn’t more authentic for them but while this type of assessment is required there is no avoiding it and better to be prepared than not.
    I especially love that you value and have shown appreciation for the contribution of previous teachers to your students’ learning. That doesn’t happen often enough. ❤

  8. Congratulations to your students for their grit and ability to go with the flow of the demands of testing especially when they are thinking of holiday time. We do not use Smarter Balance in NYS. If you have a copy of the 5th grade assessments I would love to see it to show the 5th grade teachers I work with. Enjoy the break.

    • Carol,
      Click the link in the post and you should get to the performance assessment. The funny thing is, I found this hard copy document on a New Jersey school’s website. I don’t want to encourage too much of this work, but it is worth looking at so teachers and students are aware of what they will be required to do.

  9. Julieanne,
    Taking the “fear of the unknown” out of the assessment mania is a valid reason to approach this task just as you did. Two thirds of your students ended up with the appropriate “opinion piece.” I wonder why the other 1/3 wrote informational pieces? Was it because they were reading informational text and they equated reading informational text with a need to write informational text???

    Some good info and data here for you and your students!!! Happy Holidays to all of you!

    • Thanks Fran! I felt a bit guilty about giving them this work right before the holidays! I wondered about that 1/3 that wrote informational. One reason it could be and that seems to be resonating in a lot of classrooms, is that students don’t read questions or directions well. They get an idea of what they think is wanted and then don’t break down the task. Our students have been schooled in reading text, but task analysis, not so much. The other possible reason is as you said they were reading informational and felt that is what they should write. I know they all can write opinion pieces so it’s not about ability. Happy Holidays to you too!!

      • I would feel worse about starting the year with this task. Their volume and stamina is probably at a peak for most kids. No children were harmed in this task; some were helped through “fear removal”!

        The key will be in how the students figure out a way to pay more attention to the task!

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