Knowing When Elementary Students “Get It”
In the Success at the Core video Guided Groups, middle school teacher Shawna Moore directs her students to assess their understanding of a concept by assigning themselves a “C” (I’ve got it), “B” (I’ve got a few clarifying questions) or “A” (I still have major misconceptions). This video inspires me as I think about having my fourth grade students self-assess their understanding. Here’s what I’ve learned and how I’ve adjusted Ms. Moore’s technique for my students.
When my students learned the standard algorithm for multiplication, I asked them to group themselves based on their ability to use the algorithm to multiply multi-digit numbers accurately. Their self-grouping yielded mixed results. About half of the time, my students inaccurately assessed their level of skill or understanding. I’ve learned – through reviewing students’ seat-work or quizzes – that many who put themselves in the “I’ve got it” category actually belong in the “I still have major misconceptions” group. I think that sometimes students simply have an inaccurate idea of their own understanding. I also believe that some don’t want to admit they need help. Ms. Moore addresses these and other issues in the Teacher Commentary that accompanies the Guided Groups video.
So what to do? I’ve tried a couple of techniques to help students and me better gauge their understanding.
1) In literacy lessons, giving students a rubric that outlines my expectations for an assignment’s finished product helps them more accurately assess where they are in the learning process. Rubrics also improve the quality of work that I receive. I’m still developing my own understanding around how to develop a simple rubric for a daily math assignment based on practice of a new math concept.
2) In math, I’ve used white boards to monitor students’ progress and to ensure that my teaching meets each student’s instructional needs. Before asking students to work on a new math concept independently, I give them a prompt and ask them to solve it on their individual white boards. For example, my students are currently working on finding the area of irregular shapes. This requires that students go through a process; breaking the shape into rectangles, determining the length of unknown sides using given information, accurately multiplying the rectangles’ sides to find area, and combining the rectangles’ areas to get the total area. Students show me their work by holding the small white board up and pointing it toward me when they’re finished. In this way, I can quickly give students feedback on the portions of the work that are correct and not correct, or tell them if the entire problem is incorrect. This gives me good information for grouping students. If students’ calculations are inaccurate, I can tell where the process broke down. I can determine whether students are making careless errors, having difficulty with math skills that they should already know, such as multiplication facts, or if they’re struggling with the math concept.
What formative assessment tips have you found useful in your day-to-day instruction?