Friday, March 28, 2014

Pre-assessing With Different Lenses

During the month of March, I am participating in the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Most of my posts are at, but the ones that really have to do with education are here.

My personal one little word may be kindness, but my educational one little word for the 2013-2014 would have to be lenses. I love the concept of reading with different lenses, written about so beautifully by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts in Falling in Love With Close Reading. Yesterday, I wrote about some of the work that our first-grade team did with Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Staff Developer Christine Holley here. Our work focused on the new unit of study for Realistic Fiction, From Scenes to Series, that Christine and Mary Ehrenworth wrote last year.

One of the emphases in all of TC's new writing units is on pre-assessment and on demand prompts. At the beginning of the unit, teachers are encouraged to have students write a piece of writing within the upcoming genre. To prepare for our work session, I "borrowed" a first-grade classroom and asked them to show off their narrative skills for me. I asked them to write a story for me, remembering whatever they could from their small moment unit. I made a quick chart for them, reminding them that stories have a beginning, a setting, a character, and an ending. When one of the students asked if he could make up a character, I said sure--they were welcome to use "I" or a made-up character. I just wanted to see how they were at writing a story.

Their teacher brought the pile of "stories" to our meeting and Christine helped us think about how to sort them, using the three different lenses of structure, development, and language/conventions.

I like to go to tournaments. I get trophies. You get to watch other people do their stuff. You could get a medal there, too. Some get first place. Some get last place. Some use weapons.

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Emma and she liked to find things. One day she found a hat. It had a little heart on it. The next day, she found a girl playing hide and seek. Emma said can I play too, please. Yes, said the girl.

Looking at these two pieces, we sorted them with the different lenses of structure, organization, and language/conventions. Then, we continued to sort other pieces, using a similar process. The first child's name would go in the following chart under overall organization, since he had no structure of a story in place at all. However, the second child's name could go under elaboration, since she did already demonstrate understanding of story structure; her story had a clear beginning and sense of plot. Her name could also go under punctuation, as she could use some work on end punctuation--names can show up in more than one place!

Christine developed a chart like this one with a group of many teachers and it is incredibly useful for any unit and any grade for establishing strategy groups for targeted instruction. I could see using it at various points in units when students are cycling through pieces, and it would serve as a tool for monitoring progress. 

I have one or two more posts to write about the learning that happened on Wednesday, but this is enough for today. Off to watch some basketball!

Happy Slicing!


  1. It could also be revised & used for any kind of assessment, Melanie. I wonder too if after making notes from an assignment, it could be used in conference? You've really started me thinking about how useful this is. I've created my own assessment pages for different assignments in the past, some longer because of expectations given, & some shorter, but this is comprehensive for future planning, too. Thanks!

  2. I've been to a couple of TC workshops where this work was alluded to, but your post fleshes it out for me, Melanie. It's so worth the effort to front load this type of assessment - our instruction really benefits from this information gathering.