Yesterday, in part 1, Jen Serravallo told us how her powerful formative assessment protocol came to be. Today she talks about her teacher mentors and the importance of assessment.
In The Literacy Teacher’s Playbook, you give a lot of credit to your colleagues and mentors. Who are the most influential in your practice?
Lucy Calkins is definitely at the top of the list — not just for what she’s taught me about reading and writing instruction, but also for how she’s mentored me to be an author, speaker, and literacy consultant. There are dozens and dozens of close seconds. Ellin Keene and Debbie Miller (and I’m beyond thrilled that Ellin wrote the forward for the 3–6 version and Debbie for the K–2 version) have influenced so many of us when it comes to reading comprehension. I can’t get through a workshop without quoting Richard Allington at least a dozen times. Carl Anderson taught me most of what I know about teaching writing, and, in particular, writing assessment and conferring with writers. Of course Fountas and Pinnell and the way they’ve made leveling so accessible. Rasinski’s work on reading fluency, and Marie Clay for everything for beginning readers. Elizabeth Sulzby’s work on emergent literacy. Bomer, Johnston, Nichols, Cruz, and on and on. This feels like an Oscar speech and the music is starting to play; I know I’m forgetting at least ten more people.
In this era of Common Core State Standards, many teachers feel a lot of pressure to teach to the test. How can we be effective and also remain true to what we know is best practice?
This is the million-dollar question! I think it comes down to believing that we’re doing more than teaching kids to pass a test—that we’re teaching kids to be real readers and writers and what they do every day will translate to test performance when the time comes. After all, the test is looking to see whether they can read texts at a certain level and write with certain proficiencies. I see no better way to get kids to do this than to identify what areas make sense for them to work on and then support them with tons of practice in just-right materials on topics of choice.
So many of us are concerned about implementing the Common Core. Doesn’t the Core make assessment protocols like yours more important than ever?
I think so, but maybe I’m biased! CCSS gives us end-of-year goals. But we have kids in our class for 180+ days each year. What’s their daily adventure going to be? As teachers, isn’t it our responsibility to meet kids where they are and take them to the next step in a sensible, respectful, responsive way? I am worried about an image of teaching that’s floating around in which teachers put up a (boring) short text that nobody would choose to read, that’s too difficult for anyone to read independently, and then drag students through an analysis. I could barely sit through that in my AP English class my senior year in high school. Instead, let’s look at what kids know and are able to do and plan purposely for them as individuals. Join Jennifer Serravallo and Carl Anderson for a live webinar on Tuesday, March 4th, 4–5pm EST: Let's Talk About Closely Reading Our Students: A Chat on Simple Formative Assessment Strategies for Goal Setting!