On Your Mark (Post 1)


After reading On Your Mark, there is so much information and so many thoughts running through my head.  I have decided to share some of my notes on the first two chapters.  Then, I will share one way I have adjusted my grading/reporting practice based on my reading.

We are giving our students more chances to fail than succeed. The first time I saw this visual, a giant light bulb appeared! I had never looked at percentage grades like this before and I was sold on standards based grading.
This makes so much sense!


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In a week long fables unit, our third grade readers were learning three things:  identify characteristics of fables, sequence events in a story, and infer the moral of a fable.

We created a summative assessment.  In the past, each question would have a correct answer, a percentage would be found, and then that percentage would be recorded in the grade book.  The end.

However, we graded each of the three sections separately.  Parents were then given a letter informing them if their child was able to do each independently, with prompting, or not yet.

Because we still need to report letter grades, we had to convert each section into a percentage to enter into the grade book.  However, each was a separate score and can/will be updated as reteaching and continued learning occurs.

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This makes so much more sense to me.  A student can master sequencing events independently, while only being able to infer a moral with teacher support.  Why would we ever lump all of this together, assign a percentage correct, plug it into the grade book, and move on?  Because that is the way it has always been done?  Well, it doesn’t work for me anymore.  I want more for my students.

When Do I Get to Teach?!


When do I get to teach?!



When do I get to teach?!

Discovery assessments

Reading assessments

When do I get to teach?!

Day after day of PARCC testing

Changes in schedules

When do I get to teach?!

No Substitutes

Guess that means us

When do I get to teach?!


It’s Raining Assessments

Lately, it seems like we test, with a little teaching in between.  It has so overwhelmed education that it keeps popping up in children’s and young adult literature I have been reading/listening to lately, so I needed to share a few examples I have come across lately.


Let me just say I LOVED listening to this a  few weeks ago  on my way to school.  It is about this boy who moves into a purple mansion when his dad remarried.  He starts having these horrible nightmares and travels into this “Netherworld” where nightmares live.

So one of his friends has this reoccurring nightmare where he can’t pass a test.   And so he gets a reminder…

                “Most tests don’t measure how smart you are,” he proclaimed.  “They just measure how good you are at taking tests.”


So in the fourth book of the series, the demigods are talking to a Sphinx.  They need to answer ‘riddles’ to pass through unharmed,but it turns out that the “riddles” are actually questions about random facts.

“This test material is specially designed.”

“Think?  How am I supposed to test whether you can think?  That’s ridiculous!”

Once the grading machine is broken by a member of group, the Sphinx is infuriated:

“I can’t be exemplary without my test scores!”

I disagree Sphinx – we can be exemplary without constant assessments!

Formative Assessment in Math

We teach in a time of assessment overload.  I feel like half of the time spent in school, especially this beginning month, is spent assessing.  My son, also a third grader, was just telling me that he always has tests:  math, reading, spelling, writing.  So, in an effort to see what our students have learned in order to inform our instruction and take as little time as possible, we use sticky notes.

At the end of our math mini-lesson we give the kids one or two problems they answer on stickies and we collect.  As students move to their math rotations we sort the stickies into three categories:  got it, sort of, not at all.  Then one of us (I co-teach) takes the “sort of” pile and the other takes the “nope” pile.  As students work in workstations we pull kids to reteach or reinforce the mini-lesson.  It just takes a minute or two and then we can target the students who need help, without reteaching students that already get it.Image 9-20-14 at 5.54 PMAs you can see from the size of the “got it” pile, rounding was hard this week.  I made a screen-cast of a rounding practice problem and included a link to it and some rounding games in our biweekly newsletter to parents.

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The progress students are making isn’t always obvious day to day, but looking back at the work students completed at the beginning of the year makes the progress clear.  We had a grand plan that the students would keep portfolios that we would add work to throughout the year.  Unfortunately, after the first few items, the portfolios were forgotten.  (New plan for next year!)  However, we did have a few things including on demand writing assessments from the beginning of the year and end of the year.

This was our first year of using Lucy Calkins Units of Study for Writing Workshop.  Look at these differences in just one year!  Regardless of their ability at the beginning of the year, the students learned and improved their writing abilities.  Using writing workshop and Lucy as our guide, we were able to differentiate for all learners!


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Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 7.38.27 PMInstead of lists and individual sentences, he wrote in a paragraph, focusing on one specific event.


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Wow!  In August, what she did write was done with a teacher sitting right next to her.  In June she wrote in sentences, albeit run-ons, without any teacher assistance.  She also focused on only one event.


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Again he focused on one specific slice of time – the first day of school.  He writes with such a strong voice!  If only he had time to finish!

My favorite line:  “This was one weird classroom.”

I can only imagine what will happen next  year when we actually know what we are doing!


Character Traits and Stone Fox

To review inferring character traits we used Stone Fox as a read aloud. This was the second time we focused on character traits.  The first was earlier in the year with The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and a Lucy Calkin’s Reading Workshop Unit.

We modeled finding character traits for a few days and then asked students to participate.  You can find my lesson plans here.  On day 4, as an assessment, we asked students to write a character, character trait, and evidence.  This was a quick way to assess students without taking half an hour on a pencil/paper assessment.

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