As my second week of summer vacation comes to an end, I find myself scratching my head and wondering where the summer is going so quickly. Ahhh, such is life. Right now I can’t help thinking about measuring the growth of students in a Language Arts classroom. The Michigan Department of Education and our beloved state government (Sense the sarcasm there?) wants to measure our ability as effective teachers based on the growth in our students. The measurement for this growth will come from a combination of things. One of them being standardized testing. Now, what that test will be is still yet to be determined. In addition, I am confident saying that part of the growth needs to be proven by the teachers as well. Currently a major portion of the teachers at my school give a pre-test at the beginning of the year and then a post test at the end of the year. To be honest with you, I don’t have a real issue with this process. A pre and post test can be beneficial for a math teacher. I have always argued that quantitative data can be used more for math and science. However, it doesn’t work necessarily for a Language Arts classroom. As a language arts teacher I am looking for the qualitative data that can only be found in my student’s writing. Giving students grammar sheet homework daily and the mundane drill and kill exercises only turns them off and I don’t feel it clearly measures their abilities or their growth. When it comes to reading nothing turns me off more than seeing a worksheet packet given with a novel. No wonder our students don’t want to read. Would you want to read knowing every time you did, the worksheet packet was looming over your head? Kelly Gallagher talks about this in his book Readacide.
The argument that I have had in the past with colleagues is I can’t input data into a data collecting system when it doesn’t measure what my students can really do or what they have learned over a school year. It is impossible for me to do that with a student and their writing. On the other hand, I know I can give my students a typical comprehension test over what they read; that is easy. But does it really give me accurate feedback on how my students have grown? I think not. Though I could debate about a student’s growth in reading and find some tools to help me, I am more interested in the writing portion.
Recently, before the school year ended, I met with two of our high school English teachers to discuss Google docs and Schoology. As the meeting progressed we discussed how to measure growth in our students and what is the best way to achieve our goal. We all agreed that writing portfolios are the best way to show the growth in our student writers. We are going to take it one step further and next year we are all going to have the students do digital portfolios. We will use Google docs seeing how our school is going to Google apps. Students can simply make a folder in Google Docs and then take the portfolio with them each year. Obviously you can get more complex with the idea of a digital portfolios. Visit http://www.michiganportfolios.org to see examples, resources, etc. It is a super site for getting started with this idea. I am attending my second workshop in 2 years in August on the idea and I hope I can get it fully implemented next school year. This past year I only began the process and didn’t fully execute it. My principal is in full support of us doing this from middle school to high school and I believe it will be a true reflection on how the students grow as writers. I will publish some blog posts on the subject as I go through the process.