This adventure began with concerns from one sixth grade cohort at the elementary level. An unplanned extended leave of absence with a rotation of guest teachers created a challenge. While I firmly believe in embedding this work into what we already do with the Units of Study, the extenuating circumstances led us to create a short mini unit that wrapped up in time for the return of the teacher who is now continuing the work within the units.
After minilessons with modeling and time for independent practice with embedded conferring and small group lessons based on need, we wrapped up our writing pieces. What made this mini unit so successful was student engagement. Based on my observations, I would attribute the high engagement to the following:
- Choice – Students read and did the thinking work for several stories, but they chose the one that they wanted to take through the writing process.
- Partnerships – Students had very strong partnerships throughout the entire process which provided support and investment.
- High Interest Text – It’s so much easier to do something really hard with something that is intriguing.
- Gradual Release of Responsibility – They watched a teacher do some heavy lifting, then they practiced with their partner with support, and when they felt confident, they were able to do the heavy lifting too.
The independent writing wasn’t perfect, but students grew and developed as they learned and applied their learning to their writing and it was worlds better than the preassessment. Below is a slide show of a selection from the independent writing.
Since we began with a preassessment, we ended with a post assessment as well. Students were actually excited to show how much they could now do. The confidence they felt was incredible to experience. We looked at the evidence of their close reading, their planning before writing, and their writing and compared the data from the preassessment to the post assessment. We also were able to determine who still needed guided practice in small group as well as other needs. Overall, the post assessment showed that 61% of the sixth graders in the morning class and 70% of the sixth graders in the afternoon class wrote analytically using at least two lenses and looking for patterns in order to come to new understandings. That is compared to 4 students overall who attempted but did not use at least two lenses in the preassessment. The exact data can be found at the very end of the post.
Below are some samples from the preassessment compared to the post assessment. The first example shows a student who understands the idea of examining the author’s craft; however, she only uses one lens in the prassessment and focuses more on the beginning, middle, and end of the story than on determining patterns. In the post assessment she was a super star! She was very grateful for all of the feedback she received throughout the entire process.
This student wrote a summary of the story in the preassessment which was very typical of the group as a whole. In the post assessment, you can see she made huge strides!
This student was one of my favorites. He struggled a great deal. He needed a lot of support and was one of a few who I conferred with every day and pulled into small group regularly. He was not nearly as confident, but he was persistent. He even chose to spend the time for independent writing at the small group table even when he wasn’t in small group so support was nearby. I was most curious about his post assessment because he relied so heavily on me that I worried I had done him a disservice. He asked to sit completely away from everyone during the post assessment because he knows he can get easily distracted. He received zero guidance and support on the on-demand post assessment. For the preassessment his writing was very neat and even in cursive, but he only wrote a summary of the story. He killed it on the post assessment. Clearly his concern was not on his handwriting because he put all of his time, energy, and focus into his thinking. I. Was. Blown. Away! Is it written perfectly? No, but the thinking has to come before the writing every time! Who cares if it’s beautifully written if there is no thinking…no content…no analysis!
Below is another student who struggles, and he is an English language learner as well. He wrote a summary on the preassessment. He was unable to finish in the time given as the post assessment was an on-demand timed assessment, but if you look at his annotations and his graphic organizer, you can clearly see he is on the right track. Fortunately, in state testing he will have the extra time he needs. Again I was so proud.
Something I have always believed that was proven to me time and time again is our kids CAN! Don’t discount any one of your students as kids who can’t because with the right support, they certainly can and will be successful!
One thing I see often in my travels are graphic organizers and worksheets created for kids by teachers. All I ever did was give kids blank paper. Kids need to learn and have the experience to create their own graphic organizers that make sense for them. Below are some samples of the graphic organizers students created for their post-assessment. They chose the lenses to determine how the author revealed a theme, and they chose how to organize their thinking before writing. They need to be in the driver seat more because they will not always have those crutches that when used too often can actually hold them back.
The sixth grade teachers are planning to continue this work while embedding it into the units of study they already use. As promised the data from the pre and post assessment can be found below.