Ohio Resource Center
AdLIT In Perspective > 2005 > March/April
Classroom Vignette

Ensuring Success: Daily Short-Cycle Assessments

by Darla Wagner, Joe Paris, Judy Mikita, Jay Falls, and Pat Tallman, Solon Middle School, Solon, Ohio

Too often, as teachers, we become frustrated at having spent weeks of study only to give an exam and find that many of the students have not learned the material, strategy, or information. We consider the amount of teaching time that we have "wasted." The real concern, however, is the amount of student learning time that has been wasted. We are well aware that the number of standards to be met in any content area does not exactly match a nine-month school-year time frame. It is more important than ever that we know where each of our students is in the process of understanding new concepts on a daily basis. Formative short-cycle assessments are imperative to the learning process.

Are students aware of the daily learning goal?

In our classrooms, we make a daily habit of writing the target objective on the board so that students are aware of where we are headed with the lesson. Using one of the state language arts grade-level indicators as the daily target goal enables us to also introduce some of the language of the indicators, as well as the assessments, to our students. In their Daily Learning Logs, students copy the daily target objective prior to taking notes or completing short classroom activities, which also get recorded on that date in the learning log.

"I think that writing down the daily objective is helpful because it helps me to try to use the concepts or skills throughout the class. It also helps me understand how the activity or assignment we are working on relates to the assessment." [a student in grade 7]

Daily Learning Logs. Students use a composition book divided into three sections. Section I contains any literary terms that we cover. Section II contains a daily dated entry consisting of the target goal, notes and information, and some daily class activities. Section III provides students with a place to document the title, author, and parent signature for each independent reading book that they complete.

"When I walk out of class everyday, I can feel confident that I am learning. When I get my report card at the end of the grading period is not when I find out that I am learning. My learning is all around me. I look on the board and see our objective. I review my composition learning log to see what I should know how to do. I clearly know what I am learning, and it gives me confidence." [a student in grade 7]

"I Can" Statements. Students receive a list of standards to be learned for any given unit of study. Grade-level indicators are written in "I can" statement format (i.e., "I can explain how interactions of specific characters impact the plot of the story"). Because the language arts standards are strategy-based, the list of "I can" statements serves as an agenda for the unit and provides parents with the types of strategies that will be assessed at the end of the unit.

Do students understand the connection between the class activities and assignments and the learning goal?

In connection to measuring students' understanding of expectations, we have become more explicit in our explanations of how activities and assignments fit into our curriculum. We often introduce assignments by explaining to students what the activity should help them develop. As an example, when we assign a vocabulary list for which students are to determine meaning from context, we explain to students that the important skill to develop is the ability to determine the meaning of a word by the way in which it is used. After students develop their own meaning of the word from the way it is used, they must work collaboratively in small groups to come to a consensus about its meaning. It is essential during this discussion that students be guided to talk about the process they used in coming to a group decision.

When students leave the room, how do we know which ones "got it"?

In order to meet the needs of all students through differentiated instruction, teachers must implement, on a daily basis, ways to find out where each student is in his or her understanding of the strategy or concept. Exit slips and checklists are both helpful in determining this.

Exit Slips. Exit slips or note cards are a quick way to check on student understanding of the strategy learned that day. The exit slip strategy works this way: As students are about to leave the class (5-7 minutes remaining), we ask them a question (put on the board) that deals with the most important idea of the day. They write their answer on note cards (3 x 5) and hand them to us as they exit the room. Quickly we sort them into three piles (Gets it, Kind of gets it, Doesn't get it). Anyone who falls into the Doesn't-get-it category receives intervention, usually at the beginning of class the next day. If students repeatedly fall into this category, they must come in early for help; or sometimes they are pulled from study hall and placed into general support where they have the opportunity to work one-on-one with a classroom teacher. Students can also use a space in the learning logs to jot down a quick response to or reflection on the daily lesson. The key here is to keep the assessment short, concise, and easy to manage.

Checklists. Checklists that follow a given assignment and encourage reflection are helpful in getting students to recognize what they can do to improve their learning. We type up checklists that ask the students to evaluate their writing process strategies. The students receive their checklists when their essays are passed back, prior to receiving their rubrics that contain their grades. Statements like "I knew I needed five paragraphs" or "I knew this was a letter so I needed a salutation" are types of checklist items we include. The students fill their checklists out. Then they have a conference with the teacher. Next they reread their essay and grade themselves based on the previous activities. After they receive their rubric with their grade, they compare their grade to what they anticipated they would receive based on the checklist and conference. This helps them be aware of what they need to include in each essay and helps them understand why they received the grade they did. In essence, this type of formative assessment forces students to think about the work they have done and to identify what they can do in the future to ensure improvement.

A brief summary

Short-cycle assessments―daily knowledge of student understanding―are essential to the learning process of all students. Gone is the day of neatly prepared units of study and lessons that can be pulled from the drawer and used over and over again. Gone is the day of asking students questions about the minute details of a novel. Strategy-based standards have nudged (or shoved) us into truly educating kids for the future by making sure that they can apply the knowledge to other situations, activities, or texts.

We all teach at Solon Middle School. We all are full-time classroom teachers of seventh grade language arts, with the exception of Pat Tallman, who is a full-time interventionist for students with special needs. However, as the article shows, Pat is as much of a regular classroom teacher as we are.

Darla Wagner is in her thirteenth year of teaching. Last year she won OCTELA's teacher of the year award for middle school language arts. She also is one of the coordinators for the Northeast Ohio Writing Project (NOWP) at Kent State University. This program works with teachers of writing.

Joe Paris, a teacher consultant for NOWP, is in his fifth year of teaching.

Judy Mikita has taught in Solon for 25 years.

Jay Falls, a veteran of the Vietnam War, began his teaching career in Ravenna (Ohio), where he taught for three years before going to Brazil to teach. He has taught in Solon for the last 15 years. He is also a teacher consultant for NOWP.

Pat Tallman has taught in Solon for 20 years.

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