Ways to Conquer Three Types of Assessments (So, I'm Not Taking Papers Home)

Mission: Minimize the Paper Load Coming Home By Changing My Assessment Mindset

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The secret behind our workload is our mindset. While I named my blog and place of reflection “writing mindset,” it really means teacher mindset regarding the job we are doing each day. I just so happen to love teaching reading and writing. The way we think about assessment leads us to take papers home. We believe that we have to take stacks home to provide effective feedback in our English Language Arts classrooms because that has been the tradition. However, a change in mindset can cause us to sway in our thinking; teachers can become flexible in how and why they assess materials in the classroom. Simply, We can minimize the paper load coming home each time we hand out an assignment due to the perceptions we have about the assignment outcome. Bottom line? We control our paper. 

Image Credit: Bored Teachers

Image Credit: Bored Teachers

I say this also being a person who carries multiple tote bags to work, and also spends countless hours planning and grading at home. I want to do better for the 2019-2020 school year. I want to get smarter with the way I assess my students. I want to change how I do business for the benefit of my own life and with an understanding that I’m not giving up the quality of instruction that I give in my classroom. If I am assessing them more creatively, and less on the traditional model of “do this assignment, now I’ll grade it,” I am disrupting my grading system. The goal is to disrupt our systems in order to become better educators for our students. I love this idea of “disruption” in general. In Kylene Beers and Bob Probst’s text Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters , they urge educators to disrupt the system of what they already know in terms of reading instruction. I think this idea of disruption can be applied to everything we do as teachers. We have to be willing to think outside of current systems in order to make those systems better.

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The Types of Assessment

There are three modes of assessment. All of them have potential to bombard my bag with papers, and all of them could take a ton of my time outside of the classroom. I can get all of the fancy flair pens I want, and I can create the perfect cozy spot for grading in my house with my lab-husky mix curled up at my feet, but it doesn’t change that I am still giving up time outside of school to grade papers. 

The three modes of assessment are:

  1. Diagnostic Assessments (I am finding out what my students know)

  2. Formative Assessments (I am getting feedback about instruction along the way)

  3. Summative Assessments (I am evaluated what they learned at the end of a unit or project)

As per usual, these assessments follow patterns within our units of study. Diagnostic assessments happen at the beginning of the unit, formative assessments are along the way, and summative assessments are at the end. I often find that I am taking all three types of assignments home because I am not making better use of my time at school or moving my mindset regarding how I am assessing the assignment. The standard delivery for grading and assessment is to take the assignment, write on it and give feedback, and then pass this back to the student. I have to admit that this system is easy...and is also the reason why many teachers leave the profession and give up time at home.  Some questions to consider:

  • What if this cycle could look different in my room this year?

  • Is there a way to shorten the feedback loop to not rely on graded materials?

  • Can I maintain rigor in my classroom with students knowing that they will receive feedback in different ways?

  • Could I have a school year where I am not taking papers home? 

  • How does this impact planning?

Better Assessments to Consider

DIAGNOSTIC (Before Instruction)

The goal of diagnostic assessments is for the teacher to gather what the kids know before teaching. Often, I make this on a paper or digitally through Google Classroom, thus making something else I need to look at for grading. I want to make sure that I work in more verbal check-ins as well with students regarding before instruction assessments. I also want to make sure I am using my check-list system during class as much as possible. 

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  • Discussion Boards (Padlet or Google Classroom)

  • Self-Assessments in Writing Journals or Class Binder

  • Polling with Technology (Nearpod and Kahoot)

  • Gallery Walk

  • Four Corners Activity

FORMATIVE (During Instruction)

Formative assessment happens during instruction and provides feedback to both the student and the teacher. Students need feedback mid-process; this is when it matters most. While this may be the most important part of our writing conferences with students, they also need it not to feel like summative feedback all the time. I also want to make sure that these check-ins are most often not graded or not evaluated on the same measures as a summative assignment. 

I think I am most guilty of taking my students’ formative assessments home with me in my grading bag. I get caught up in the cycle of providing major feedback along the way in the writing process, and then end up rubric grading the final product or delaying summative feedback. I think a change of mindset in this category is the best way to change the heart of my practice. I need to be doing more conferences, more peer review, more workshops, and more reteaching lessons. 

  • Reading and Writing Conferences

  • Binders or Portfolios

  • Hop-Checks

  • Reflection Journals (Or as Lisa Moore Ramee in A Good Kind of Trouble might say...eyeball journals)

  • Quickwrites or Quickdraws

  • Peer Reviews with Flipgrid

  • Class Discussions and Q&A Discussion Techniques

  • Think/Pair/Share

  • Thinking Maps/Sketchnotes/Visual Thinking Strategies

  • Annotation Checks

  • Verbal or Written Summaries

  • Stations or Centers

  • Google Classroom Questions

  • Exit Tickets (Check-for-Understanding, Self-Assessment, Mindset Check-In)

SUMMATIVE (After Instruction)

Summative assessments are going to be the main papers that are coming home in my grading bag. These ones will be allowed. I still want to spread out my pacing so that my two preps are not coming home at the same time, but I feel like these are the bigger projects that get the evaluation. Summative assessments happen after instruction and need to show what the students got from the lesson or unit. These demonstrate mastery. While these are graded by me, I also want to work in a student input scale of grading for the next school year. 

Before I get to the list, I wanted to touch on the work-in-progress that is essay grading for me. My normal essay system involves grading individual chunks of the paper (Introduction, Body Paragraphs, and Conclusion) so students can see their feedback on each part. I am moving to a place where their work will be ungraded until the final paper and students will get a turn-in score. I have tried grading parts of the paper, using comment codes, using rubrics, and students creating their own rubric. Essays take up the most time. Seriously.

I need to be better about grading these during the school day in manageable chunks. I also like to vary when I give feedback in Google Classroom (Shout out new comment banks!) or when I give handwritten feedback. Both take the same amount of time, it depends on where my brain is that day. The Cult of Pedagogy has a great article on single-point rubrics. I want to use single-point rubrics to give feedback on smaller sections, and also work with my writing conferences within the writing workshop in order to streamline this process. 

  • Multi-Genre Projects

  • Project-Based Learning

  • Service Learning

  • Research Projects/Inquiry Projects

  • Letters

  • Collage/Illustration

  • One-Pagers

  • Advertisement

  • Outlines

  • Performance/Speech/TED Talks

  • Slideshows

  • Student Self-Evaluation

  • Student-Created Rubrics

  • Escape Rooms

  • Jigsaw Presentations

  • Interviews (Teacher or Student Leads)

  • How-To Manuals or Speeches

  • Open Book Exams

All of these strategies and tools lead to planning. When I am reviewing a unit, I need to ask if the summative assessment can be streamlined for feedback as well as the steps along the way. I wish I could say that I was going to draw a hard line and take no work home at all. I can’t. However, I want to say that the change in mindset is forcing my practice to go in the right direction. 

Writing Mindset Reflection: How do you change your assessment to shorten the feedback cycle? What strategies do you use to take less paper home?