Friday, September 18, 2015

The Perils of Assessment

Planning, I love.

Teaching, I really like.

Assessment -- which is a necessary step in both planning and teaching -- I sometimes shy away from, besides monitoring active and thoughtful participation in a discussion. But I'm trying to be more systematic in my assessment procedures. This MLB (Geometry for Natalie, Measurement for Leah) I'm having the children do exit slips at the end of our morning lesson. This is simply a slip of paper on which they write the date and a question they still have. We put them in a low chunky vase. I have kept all the slips for the unit (3 weeks) so that I can refer back to them and be sure they were answered or addressed in some way. It's been VERY interesting!

Yesterday Leah had her introductory lesson to the metric system. Her story was "The Professor Who Did Not Know," the chapter about Joseph Louis Lagrange from Mathematicians Are People, Too: Stories from the Lives of Great Mathematicians

We reviewed the metric stair (which was her illus. in her MLB, as well as the nifty little chart from how to measure your knitting needles without a gauge) and this went along beautifully with the lesson we had just done about the numbers in Latin. I left the lesson convinced that she understood the idea of determining a base unit (gram, liter, meter) and, when needed, creating new units and identifying them with a prefix which indicates how many steps up (x 10) or down (/ 10) the ladder you've gone.

Her exit slip from yesterday reads, "Who invented the original metric stair before Lagrange changed it?"

OH. So she didn't get the idea that he was in on the ORIGINAL concept of a metric system. There was no metric stair before that time. So I need to reteach and simply explain. Easy.

It's not always that easy to check a misconception at the door and address it. Today we did the third part of our Truisms lesson from Reviving The Essay: How To Teach Structure Without Formula

This lesson suggested that you read a piece of literature with your students, or have them read it independently (she gives the example of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Crybut I used "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" by Rudyard Kipling. I was searching for a story they hadn't read before, not so easy in our house.

When it came to Truisms, both girls did great. Natalie's was "Not every battle fought is won." Leah's was "The battle's not over till it's over." But they had to choose a graphic that they thought related to the book and write a paragraph how they chose that truism and that graphic and how they related to the book. Basically, can the child identify one of the major themes of the story? I gave them a pile of Smithsonianwhich is an interesting and well-written magazine with gorgeous images.

I was so excited to see what they would come up with!

Well, the children took the assignment very literally. Leah cut out two woodpeckers, which she said reminded her of the birds in the story. And Natalie cut out a vole to represent the mongoose main character. Their paragraphs clearly showed that they were FAR from identifying the story's theme:

    Leah: I chose this picture because it reminded me of Dorsey and his wife. Even though Dorsey is not a woodpecker I still thought the picture would suit my needs. I couldn't find something that looked like Rikki-Tikki-Tavi so I though about doing Teddy but I couldn't find a good picture for him. I also did Dorsey's wife because I thought she would complete the picture. I also added in colored pencil so that their background was not blank.

    Natalie: I chose this vole because it looked like what I depicted Rikki-Tikki-Tavi to look like.

So... this shows me a bunch of things. It makes me wonder whether their truisms were so spot on from coincidence, or if they really understood the theme but didn't know how to find a graphic that would suggest it? First, I need to work with my children on finding the theme of a story. Second, they need to practice imagery. Third, Leah needs the lessons on Dogberry Logic and Throwaway Writing (also from Reviving the Essay). I think that it's great that we are about to do a Language block next, and Natalie (Beowulf) and Leah (Tall Tales & Personal Narratives) will have a chance to explore a lot of new lessons.

Assessment tools like this are also nice because you can use them for a before & after. I'll be interested to watch their skills progress. Glad Gretchen Bernabei is around to write such useful books! I also have Why We Must Run With Scissors: Voice Lesson in Persuasive Writing

Just in case you are curious, here are all the exit slips in our vase as of this moment:

How did they know that the knots [on Ancient Egyptian surveying ropes] were evenly spaced out? Did they use a different measuring tool?

What does each of the stages [of candy-making] look like and taste like in real life?

Who named the Celsius and Fahrenheit scales?

Did the Pythagoreans have a name for their secret brotherhood?

How does Geometry relate to other forms of math and why?

What time is it really according to the atomic clock?

What made the Mesopotamians think the year had to be 360 days?

If they had [social] classes back then, what class was Thales in?

Natalie's question about the 360 days in a year was interesting to me, because I had read her The Story of Clocks and Calendars : Marking a Millenniumand I thought she understood it.

But I can see -- and my Montessori students never understood this either when I did it as part of the Fifth Great Lesson -- that she doesn't understand how the lunar cycles could have led to the creation of the first calendar AND why a calendar based on the moon will never EVER be right and why you need a solar calendar. I have thought and thought about this. Finally I decided that I needed to create a new classroom material, so I am working on one right now and if it works out and it helps my kids understand this, I will post it!

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