I have read a lot of research arguing for and against pre-assessments. On one hand, you don't want students to feel like they are being set up for failure. On the other hand, it is important to gather data that is more specific than what we receive from the state tests. To read the most compelling argument against pre-assessment, read this...and then decide for yourself what kind of data you want/need.
In the end, it makes sense for me to pre-assess, so I am going to use today to do a writing pre-assessment. However, I will do it a little differently than I have done it in the past. Rather than putting the kids to the task independently, I will let them do a little bit on their own and a little bit with their peers. This pre-assessment is also designed to help me see how well they are able to compare two texts with similar subjects/imagery (RL.9-10.7), which is something they will have to do again later in the year.
I will set the assignment up by walking them through the writing prompt and having them annotate what the task is asking them to do. I always model this kind of behavior with them for the first semester and then remind them often to do it on their own second semester so I don't have to write a million comments about addressing the prompt when I'm grading. As such, I will do this with them today so that I can make sure they know what it is they are supposed to do both with the writing and the reading.
The first part of this assessment will center on a student reading and annotation of a Shakespeare sonnet and a panel from Persepolis . I want to see what students are able to do with difficult text on their own (RL.9-10.10), so I will give them 20 minutes of class time to read the texts and use the guiding questions, which address tone and vocabulary, to make sure they comprehend what Shakespeare is saying (RL.9-10.4).
My teaching team and I are working with this sonnet and panel because their themes are very similar. Each piece shows the nature of man-made destruction in the world and how innocent people have few opportunities to stop these destructive forces in the world. For copyright reasons, I can't include the panel we use on our test, but it depicts the main character, Marji, standing at the top of a set of stairs looking down on a large group of her countrymen fighting for what she claims to be a futile cause. My hope is that students will see the natural overlap between these two pieces and, if nothing else, be able to analyze the similarities between the images used by both authors. Additionally, by using a panel from the book next to a Shakespearian text, I am hoping to create a logical connection between this pre-assessment and the kinds of texts we will be reading this fall.
I don't have many students on IEP of ELL modifications in my class this year, but for the few who are, I will also provide a modified version of the texts, which includes the No-Fear Shakespeare translation of the sonnet.
Instead of just diving into the writing, I will let students spend a little time discussing their reading/annotations with a peer (SL.9-10.1). I will let them work with a partner or two of their choosing to discuss interpretations. I also use this time to wander the room and push their thinking and to help clarify anything that they might ask for help on. I will also use this as a different kind of pre-assessment as I watch how students interact with each other during this informal, but very academic time.
After the discussion, I will tell students to complete the second step of the activity (the written work) in their turnitin.com portfolios online as homework. I had intended to give them time in class to work on this (and other teachers in my common course team had them do the writing as an in class assessment), but they will have to do it as homework since I wasn't able to get into the lab to do the writing online. As such, I will give them a week to write their responses in turnitin.com.
Since the prompt is asking the students just to compare the two texts rather than to argue for a specific purpose or interpretation, this writing will take the form of an explanatory/analysis text (W.9-10.2), so I will also remind the students that they should use their annotations to make sure that they are developing their writing with good, specific detail and support (W.9-10.2b).