“We’ve been practicing our numbers 1,2, and 3,” I tell the class. “We are getting really good with our numbers and what they mean. Today—in just a few moments—you get to SHOW WHAT YOU KNOW!”
Notice, friends, I didn’t say, ‘Show what your buddy knows…’” I continue. “We’re getting out the dividers, so that each of you has your very own place to work.”
“Now, these are big kid things, so we must take a second to understand WHY we have dividers. I told you I want you to show what you know, and the dividers will help us each stay in our own spot. Please, do not lean over to see or talk to the other people at your table.”
“Should we write on our dividers?” I ask.
The children respond, “NO!”
“That’s right,” I respond. “We are used to working together as a group. This is your time to show what YOU know. All you have to do is listen & do your best. Please, do not try to look at anyone else’s paper. You can do this!”
There are a few things I do to set this up for student and formative assessment success. One thing I do is I have the little squares ready for each student, stacked in piles of 7 or 8. (I put extra squares in each student’s group on purpose to minimize lucky guessing.)
Another thing I do to set this assessment up for success has to do with logistics. I spread the students out as much as possible. There are some kiddos who simply cannot work independently when told to do so. Those kiddos get assigned to their own place, like the listening center table, where one student with a divider is the ONLY student at the table.
For other tables, I tend to group students by ability level. (I almost never ability group!) Just in case a student is tempted to “look around,” I make certain that students with a stronger number sense background are at one table, and students with less experience are spread out at tables with children who appear to have similar understanding of numbers. It’s a guess, to some extent, but I do what I can to ensure that this assessment truly reflects what students know.
Dividers are set up before students sit down. A pencil, a glue stick, and a stack of small paper squares is set at every place where a student will work. I do not distribute papers yet.
I set students at their tables. The quiet, “mellow” kids are sent to tables first. (I give the wigglers as much time to wiggle on the carpet as possible!) When all students are sitting, I proceed as quickly as possible, but I make sure to reiterate what we are doing and what is expected.
“Remember, you are showing what YOU know about numbers. This will not take long. The ONLY way you can “mess up” is if you choose to not listen or you start looking at other students’ work. Let’s get started.”
“When you get your paper, write your name on the line at the top that says ‘N-a-m-e, Name,” I state.
I pass the papers to the students who take the longest to write their names, with those quiet, mellow kids usually being the last kids to get a paper. (It’s terrible that I seem to take advantage of their sweetness, I know! I’m trying to expedite the process, and I try to work with students’ internal pacing and skill sets.)
“Put your finger on the triangle,” I instruct, and I quickly walk around to make sure everyone has found the triangle.
“Write the number 3 in the triangle, I continue, again walking around to make certain students are working independently and quietly.
“Glue 3 squares next to the triangle.” For students who really struggle with language, I will silently place my finger in the space next to the triangle. Now, some students will be confused. I do not give them “hints” other than to repeat the direction and to silently point to the space. They will get the idea, but if I share too much information, the assessment aspect is lost.
By the time we get to the second number, most of us have the idea. “Point to the circle,” I say as I walk around to be sure we’re all pointing to the circle. When students don’t have a finger on the circle, I silently place my finger on the circle to show them where they should be pointing.
“Write the number 1 in the circle,” I say, again monitoring students closely.
“Glue 1 square next to the circle.” Students tend to do this part with ease. Whew!
Finally, we are near the end of our assessment. “Point to the rectangle,” I say, checking to see that we have all found the last shape.
“Write the number 2 in the rectangle”, I continue, making sure that students are writing a 2 or something resembling a 2 in the rectangle.
Finally, I say, “Glue 2 squares next to the rectangle.”
This time, as I walk around monitoring students, as soon as I see a completed paper, I collect it, trying to gather all the papers as quickly as possible.
When I have all papers at a table, I collect the dividers while silently gesturing to students to remain sitting quietly. I set down containers in which to place pencils and extra paper squares.
After all papers are collected and dividers are picked up, I tell the students to meet me in our “meeting spot” on the carpet.
“So, how was that?” I ask.
Students respond a variety of comments, from “It was easy!” to “It was quiet!” One student says, “Ms. Novelli, you were very serious!” I smile and affirm that checking what we know is serious work.
We talk about how it’s important to take time sometimes to make sure that our practice, our games, and our activities are really helping us learn. I let them know that if our check shows that we are doing just fine with our learning, we will keep doing what we’re doing.
I continue to say that if numbers are a little tricky, we will get some extra practice so that we are all strong with our numbers. I let students know that if say, 3 is tricky for a friend, that student may get 3 added to his Learning Ring so he can get some extra practice and get really good with 3.
(My students have Learning Rings—essentially personalized flash card sets with sight words added weekly, and letters, shapes, and numbers added as needed for individual extra practice. Students who are ready for a challenge may get extra sight words added, but I have found that Learning Rings for remediation—particularly when I add a tactile element, like sand for students to feel with their fingers—provides the extra practice that many learners need.)
“Are all of us going to be great with our numbers?!?” I ask, almost as if I’m leading a crowd at a pep rally, “YES!!!!” my crowd of kindergartners respond. With time and practice, YES we WILL ALL be strong with our numbers. Formative assessments help us know where we are at and let me know where I need to add support and change things up.