Slice of Life Day 9: Report Cards Meets the Power of Yet

11454297503_e27946e4ff_h“When do we get our report cards?” B asks.

“At the end of the day,” I tell him.


“If I get more 4s than 3s I get to go to a movie,” A says to B.

They are so excited, you’d think it was Christmas. They can’t wait.

I can.

I agonize over report cards. And I don’t mean just the tremendously long time it takes to input them. I mean giving a student a number (4 being the highest) that measures them as a reader and most upsettingly as a writer, is painful.

In the Before Common Core period we were to assign grades based on what we thought the student would score on the state standards test. In other words, if their report card said “3” the prediction was that the student would score as “proficient” on the test.  Over years of collecting state testing and reading assessment data, we had a fairly predicable correlation. Now with the new and improved testing, all bets are off. .We know itis a lot harder. We know our students have had no real experience in this kind of testing environment. We know, based on other state’s experiences (think New York), the scores will be lower. Add this into my grading angst.

Back to my classroom.

At the end of the day, I pass out the report cards. Every year I tell them to wait to open it till they get home with their parent. And every year they open them as soon as they get them, like Christmas presents, count the 2s, 3s, and 4s, and share with their neighbors.

One student has totaled the numbers up. She’s smiling. She likes the ratio.

“I love reading the comments one student says, look what I got, ‘Shows growth in reading.’ ”

These are the students I don’t worry about too much. They are the ones that love school. Generally they are pretty good at it.

My worry is for the student who got 2s in reading and writing. They are readers and writers, they just haven’t met the level of expectation yet. This is the nature of learning. Do they know that? Is the power of yet present in a student’s mind? Or is another “2” another confirmation that says- I’m not good enough, or I’m not a good reader, or worst of all I don’t like reading.

The facts are this: report cards aren’t going away and we teachers value assessment in the light of next steps. So here is my pie-in-the-sky wish: a report card that shows a progression of growth and expectation.. When a student opens up their report card, their conversation becomes:

 Here I am.
Here is my goal.
I’m getting there (or) I’m not there yet,
Where do I need to work?

This could be done. It has been done with the writing checklists from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s Units of Study. Why couldn’t we do this same thing for the Common Core Standards, at least in elementary school. Maybe I’m crazy, and I know it wouldn’t be easy, but it might make report cards something to get excited about.

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Slice of Life: Day 1 of 31!

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hToday I’m starting my first ever daily Slice of Life March Challenge.
The March Challenge is to write daily, a slice of life, everyday on my blog.
For a month, 31 days, my posts will be slices of teaching,
slices of family,
slices of my heart,
slices of my life as I know it right now.

The process of writing the weekly slice has been…important. As the day to slice approached I usually was little confused or perhaps worried about what to write, but I almost always left each slicing day wanting to write another, seeing slicing possibilities all around me. RIght now I’m wondering, as I suppose all of those who are jumping in to slice daily, how will this go?  Right now my heart is full, pounding. There is so much. When I have time and energy I suspect they will be longer, like today. And when I don’t have either, they will be shorter. That will be the trick!

Being on the West Coast many of the lovely Slicers have got their posts up and I want to read but first, first here’s my first slice of the month.

Yesterday we had weather. This is a big deal Southern California.


When it rains people have trouble. We’re not used to it. We forget how to drive, how to dress, how to live.

Children are tossed into an unexpected, unfamiliar world and it’s exciting.  There are puddles and rain boots. Going to the bathroom presents opportunities to step outside into the coolness. The gutters are filled and water drips down. Before recess the sun breaks and huge puddles, mini lakes have formed.

We can splash. We open our mouths and dip our heads back with our arms outstretched soaking up all we can. We stand under the rain gutters and collect rainwater in plastic baggies. The cool air hits us after the steamy classroom. We want to run but no, no, only walking it isn’t safe they say. 

The week was good but extremely busy. I felt like I had gotten through two weeks in two days. A parent workshop on Thursday night left me tired and a bit unplanned for Friday morning.

On our agenda I have one thing written: Vocabulary.

“That’s all we are doing Mrs. Harmatz?”

No I say. There is more. I just wasn’t sure what to do first I tell them. Truth. “How about you decide? We will vote,” I say.  Choice. Sort of. “Reading or writing first?”

Shouts erupt. They have opinions.

We settle and take a quick, silent, yet visible vote. The readers win. The writers are a bit peeved. Interesting I think.

After Read Aloud we start our Reader’s Workshop with a quick inquiry on main idea and Scholastic Magazine. The cover: 2014-03-01 10.41.59

Read the cover story I tell them and see what the rest of the world deals with weather wise. After reading this kind of text we typically would break up into groups or partnerships to discuss, but today I wanted a little fun in the formative assessing.

I gave groups a chart sized paper with a circle drawn in the middle. Each student got a different colored marker. Right there they were in heaven. COLORED MARKERS and A BIG WHITE PIECE OF PAPER!!! Their mission was to huddle around the paper and silently, individually write their thoughts about this question — What is the main idea the author wants you to learn from the article? Then after all were done they were to share, compare, and come to a consensus.

The outcomes were hugely instructive. Watching them write their initial thinking and then listening to their discussion and where they took it was fascinating. Did they see differences or commonalities in thinking? What did they do after that?

Some could see their differences and wondered why. “Mrs Harmatz I think this is about cold temperatures and he thinks its about warm temperatures. How do we agree?”

I ask the time old: What is the article mostly about?


Perfect a topic to build on, I think. “And what about the that topic,” I ask.

Thinking…. “The weather is crazy,”

“Ok so why is that?” I ask.

They pause. Look at each other.

I point to the article, why don’t you look back at the article and ask that question I say and walk away.

They went back to the text and discussed, that was the idea.

In the end I got big evidence of their thinking and something to study this weekend.

Those that got it.2014-03-01 09.54.11

Those that were starting to get it.
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Those that are not there, YET.
2014-03-01 09.56.25

Weather. It’s different for us and it brought out a lot of different things yesterday. The wet heads, clothes and umbrellas. The passionate readers, writers, and the thinking amidst the colored markers.

Assessment: Letting the Students Drive the Data

After reading Jennifer Brittin’s great post on the NCTE’s position paper on formative assessment and her struggles with data, I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring and fess up: I am drowning in data. Post its trail me. I find them in bags and books. Notebooks are filled with data creation, collection and interpretation that leads hopefully to next steps for nearly 60 students. Frankly even when I analyze and categorize the data, then group students, feedback seems no where near what John Hattie calls “timely.”  Superhuman powers seem necessary. An all-knowing great and powerful Oz of a teacher…or is that just that man behind the curtain?

Due to my lack of super powers, I am looking to students to learn what they need to do and then approximate their success along the way. Their approximations of success may be slightly off, but their misinterpretations of the expectation is easier for me to lean into than me  letting them know “where they stand.” It is a work in progress, but so far this is how reading is looking. I have based these “ladders” on Jennifer Serravallo’s work with an eye toward growing student thinking and writing about reading in the areas of setting, plot and character.

2014-01-17 17.14.39
Setting: Writing about Reading Using Ladder to Grow Thinking
2014-01-22 18.50.26
Plot – Writing About Reading Addressing Character’s Problems
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Character: Writing About Reading Using a Post it Ladder

I have students use their self-selected club books and write about their reading (click here for sheet)  weekly using the ladders to assess their thinking. They work independently, then go to their groups to revise and hopefully refine/upgrade their thinking during club talk. Each week I look at their assessment of their work. and then group for instruction the following week. Needs fluctuate based on the type and level book.

A group of readers who tested out as “T/U” did exceptional work in Tale of Desperaux a “Q” level book that had been read aloud to them in third grade. It was some of the best work I’d seen. They got it!  And more importantly, they know how it feels to get it. As they move on, they should have a model of success to work from.  

I’ve also seen the opposite. Students not being able to do the work, and more importantly they are starting to see where they are. I’m hearing more, “Ohhh that’s what that means,” versus, me saying this is what it means. Shockingly some are still discovering that setting refers to a place and or time not a character’s clothing. Shocking that I thought they knew what setting was, after all, hadn’t I told them many times.

I’m so thankful for the voices such as those in the NCTE twitter chat on Sunday night (read the Storify here) that are solidly behind the work of goal-oriented, student-driven assessment or as Kristi Mraz (@mrazkristine)  termed “successment!”  Here’s to a lot more of doing that work together.