David pulled a toy car back and forth and as he released the car said, “Look Tyrique! The car going down the road fast. We gonna have a race.”
As I heard David refer to cars and racing, my ears perked up. I had just completed small group and was preparing to circulate our classroom’s interest areas to collect anecdotes showing the children’s progress and to seize some great teachable moments. We are currently exploring transportation, and David was incorporating ideas from class discussions and “read alouds” into his play. While I often have to refer to my individualized student action plans to remember the specific target areas for each child, David has struggled to pick up on this listening skill for some time, so I knew instantly that it was a breakthrough moment.
Last year, when I first started using the performance-based assessment system, I typically spent the first couple weeks of each collection period working with children using their individual plans, rather than taking anecdotes. As I have become more comfortable with performance-based assessments and familiar with my students’ needs, my approach has become less compartmentalized. I can now simultaneously assess progress and work with children on other skill areas. I responded to David with questions leading into an informal one-on-one lesson on print awareness and vocabulary.
Ms. Pappas: Great, David, how can we make it go faster? Is there something we can use?
David: Uhh, I don’t know.
Ms. Pappas: What if we used a ramp? Do you know where it is?
David (shrugging his shoulders): No.
Ms. Pappas: You know what, I sometimes forget where it is too. Is there something we could put on the ramp so we know it is a ramp?
David: I don’t know.
Ms. Pappas: Well, how do you know the hats go here?
David (sweeping his finger from left to right over the label for hats): Because it says “hats.” Hats, hats, /h/, /h/ hats. I see the letter h!
Ms. Pappas: So what could we do for the ramp?
David (grabbing a paper and marker): We could write it.
Ms. Pappas: Great idea. What should we write for ramp?
David (writing the letter “R”): /rr/ R! Like Ryan!
The next day David came to me briefly after entering blocks and, with a strong sense of urgency in his tone asked, “Ms. Pappas, where’s the ramp for the cars? I want to make them go fast.” The other pre-k teacher unfortunately needed to borrow the ramp, but David was able to construct his own ramp using flat boards from memory.
As I prepare for parent-teacher conferences this week, I notice dozens of other instances like this one, where a more efficient and dynamic exchange between teaching and assessing has resulted in more substantial student progress. That’s not to say that the state or district should inundate teachers with more assessments to maximize teacher quality. There is a tipping point. Yet the question I often hear at teacher workshops - “When am I going to have a chance to teach with all these anecdotal assessments?” - presents a false dichotomy between the two.