Monday, July 7, 2014

To Pre-Assess or NOT to Pre-Assess???

I have pondered this question throughout my teaching career, filled with various concerns and inquiries:  Is pre-assessing really worth my time?  Won't my students just feel stressed and overwhelmed being tested on material they weren't taught yet?  Are my pre-assessments REALLY going to alter my instructional decisions anyhow?!  After a LOT of trial and error, I realized that pre-assessments can be tremendously effective OR tremendously ineffective... depending on how they are used.  After years of using pre-assessments INEFFECTIVELY, I finally learned how to use them effectively...and understand all the hype there is around pre-assessing.  As I reflect on my journey so far as an educator, I'm realizing how many mistakes I have made...*DON'T JUDGE!* :-)  I know I can't be the only one!!!

LESSON #1:  
Students need to see the purpose of a pre-assessment.

  • BEFORE I...
    • ...gave pre-assessments because I learned in college that we are supposed to give pre-assessments before each unit.  I would have my students take the pre-assessment, they would stress out taking it because they didn't know all the answers, then the next day they would start the unit--never thinking about the pre-assessment again! 
  • NOW I...
    • ...FOCUS ON THE CONCEPT OF LEARNING & "GROWTH".  This shift of mindset has made a tremendous difference in all areas of my teaching for both my students and myself.  My students now look at their pre-assessments as a starting point--NOT as a judgement of their intelligence.  After returning their pre-assessment to my students, they record their results in their Student Data Notebooks where they also track their progress throughout the unit.  Finally, after taking their post-assessment, my students see how far they have come and CELEBRATE their success and growth!  {TOTAL MARZANO TEACHER EVALUATION MODEL DQ1 STUFF RIGHT THERE...just an added bonus!!!} 

I have these Common Core Math Student Data Notebooks in my TpT Store for 4th & 5th Grades!  

LESSON #2:  
There is no point of giving a pre-assessment if the data is not used to guide instruction in some way. 

  • BEFORE I...
    • ...would develop my lesson plans BEFORE I gave the pre-assessment, and no matter what results I found from the pre-test, never changed my plans. 
  • NOW I...
    • ...USE MY PRE-ASSESSMENTS TO CREATE FLEXIBLE GROUPINGS AND TO FIGURE OUT WHAT I NEED TO TEACH AND TO WHAT EXTENT.  I use a "MATH WORKSHOP" structure, so my pre-assessments for each unit help me make my flexible guided math groups.  I say "flexible" because I never allow my groups to be set in stone--students may be switched around at any time based on my observations or other formative assessments throughout the units.  I also use my pre-assessments to determine which standards I need to focus most on, and which standards--if any--I can merely quickly review.  My workshop structure allows me also to differentiate my instruction based on my pre-assessment results.  One of my groups may know most of the material in the unit, and therefore need more enrichment or accelerated activities; while another group may need much more instruction.  I was actually able to arrange my groups so I spent DOUBLE the amount of focused instructional time with my group that had the highest needs than my other two groups.  Check out my MATH WORKSHOP PAGE of my Wiki if you are interested in learning more about my Math Workshop structure and how I use pre-assessments to guide my instruction.  
LESSON #3:  
Pre-Assessments aren't ALWAYS necessary in EVERY SUBJECT for EVERY UNIT. 

  • BEFORE I...
    • ...would give pre-assessments in all of my science and social studies units, even though 99% of the time my students had never been exposed to ANY of the content or academic vocabulary on the assessment. 
  • NOW I...
    • ...GIVE PRE-ASSESSMENTS ONLY WHEN MY STUDENTS COME TO ME WITH A VARYING RANGE OF PRIOR KNOWLEDGE IN THE UNIT.  I consistently use pre-assessments in math since it builds so much on the year before; and therefore, students have a varying range of knowledge retained.  However, I rarely pre-assess for science or social studies (at my grade level), since my units generally have very specific academic content that most students have not yet been exposed to.  I DO, however, still differentiate my science and social studies instruction based on their needs throughout the unit.  (I will get more into differentiation at another day and time!)  As for ELA, I don't give pre-assessments for EACH UNIT; but rather I use my Fall Writing Prompt to help get a feel for the needs of each of my students as a writer and our district one-on-one reading assessments (we use Fountas & Pinnell) to help me create flexible groupings and guide my reading instruction.  Then, for my ELA units, I have students working on the strategy at their own "just-right" reading level.  
INTERESTED IN MY COMMON CORE MATH PRE- & POST- ASSESSMENTS?!  I have them for all of 4th & 5th grades at my TpT store.  Click on the links below:

*NOTE:  The 5th grade Pre- & Post- Assessment Pack is my BEST SELLER at my TpT store!!!  I had received requests to make this pack aligned with the 4th grade standards, and I just finished yesterday and it is finally up at my store!

I would L-O-V-E, LOVE to hear about how you use pre-assessments in your classroom, what works or doesn't work for you, and any way you are going to try out pre-assessments differently in your class next year. COMMENT BELOW!!!

~Keep Calm & Branke Bunch On~

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I have made the same mistakes. I am using your "Now I" advice to help me prepare for next year.