Promo 1

Promo 2

Promo 3

Formative Assessment for Writing

       Happy Holidays!!  I hope my teacher friends are enjoying some well-deserved time off.  I am off until January 2nd, and I plan to enjoy some relaxation with family over the next few days.  The jammies are on right now and may stay on for a few days...ha ha!!

     I have decided to focus on writing as a goal this year.  The CCSS curriculum for third grade focuses on personal narrative, opinion, and informational writing throughout the school year.  I began the year with a unit on narrative writing.  Though I use a writer’s workshop model, meeting with small groups and individually with students, (formatively) assessing and providing timely feedback has proven to be quite challenging.  I have struggled with identifying those students that need the most help and reaching those students in a timely manner to provide further feedback and guidance.  In addition, I wanted to find a more effective way to support those students who are meeting objectives but wish to move further ahead in their writing.

     My students use a writer's notebook for practicing the writing skills they learn on a daily basis.  This is the place where they get to "fool around" with their writing and try out new things.  I do not collect these, or grade them.  When I work with students during a conference, we discuss the writing that is in their writer's notebook.  It is a risk-free place where students can write and write and write, without worrying about perfection.  This is the same way an adult writer would use a writer's notebook.  They generate ideas here and practice skills we are learning within the context of stories, poems, and other writing they are working on.  During writer's workshop, students must be working on the genre we are focusing on during a particular unit.  But at other times, they are free to experiment with other genres in their writer's notebook.  Some students even like to take their writing outside for recess!

     As we progress through a unit, students eventually choose a topic idea that they would like to take all the way through the writing process and develop into a published story.  We call this topic idea their "draft" idea.  This idea usually originates from an idea they've been playing with in their writer's notebook. However, now they will write this out in draft form in their drafting notebook.  Our drafting notebooks are yellow legal pads.   When students transfer a story to their drafting notebook, this signifies that they are no longer "playing around" with this idea, but they are ready to get serious about revising the piece and developing it fully using all of the tools in their writing toolbox.   They may work on their draft for days or even weeks.  Eventually, after some editing, students will make a final copy/draft of their work.  This may take a variety of forms:  a published book, a typewritten copy, or just written neatly out on special final copy paper.

          Using the that are provided by our district, as well as the Common Core Standards, I began by breaking the “Personal Narrative” standard into learning targets and determined how I could have students practice and demonstrate each skill in a manner that would provide me with instant feedback about who “got” it and who may need further instruction.  This involved students practicing each writing skill on a graphic organizer worksheet in addition to utilizing the skills in their writer’s notebook.  That gave me an easy way to gather their work, analyze it and then adjust my  instruction either on the spot, or the very next day.   In addition to the graphic organizer worksheets, I created a 4-point rubric to rate the understanding of students on each target.  I used this rubric to create strategy groups and to guide our conferences with students, as well as for providing quick feedback to them the very next day (in addition to the rating on the rubric, I would write a specific tip or suggestion for each student).  Those students receiving a 1 or 2 on the rubric would receive further guidance and instruction in a small group the next day. The 3s have the opportunity to work with a 4 to further develop the skill, and the 4s could use the tip or comment that is provided to move forward in their writing.  

     Students keep these graphic organizer skill sheets in their writing binders to use as reference sheets as they write.

This formative assessment plan has given me a much better idea of who needs the most help with each learning target so that I could create an effective system for meeting the needs of those learners.  I now have a road map not only for my daily mini-lessons with students (knowing when to review a concept and when to move forward) but I also have a plan for the one-on-one-conferring and small group work that takes place each day.  I begin by reading over the graphic organizer worksheets for each student, and using the rubric to score and comment on each one.  I then reflect upon the class as a whole and determine how the lesson was received:  Do I need to review?  Do students need more modelingmore practice?  Should I offer a bit more to challenge certain students?  I then use this information to plan my mini-lesson for the next day, and to determine which students need re-teaching of the concept in a conference, which need more guided practice in a small group, and which might just need more independent practice or a peer conference.  I organize these groups and conferences for the very next day, so students can alter their work and apply their learning before a lot of time passes.

Of course, I have encountered challenges in this process.   I continue to struggle with finding the time to meet with all of the students in a timely manner.  Creating peer conferencing groups and partnerships for those students who are “almost there” on a learning target helps a lot.  However, it is a race each and every day to reach all of the students who need further guidance and instruction.    Another challenge has been helping those students who seem to be in the 1-2 range on the rubric for every learning target.  It quickly becomes overwhelming for those students when they need to confer or meet in a group for re-teaching every day.   I decided that those students would set a goal to improve on 1 or 2 of the learning targets during the unit, rather than trying to tackle all of them. Of course, they would continue to practice all of the targets within the context of their writing, but we would be holding them accountable for the 1 or 2 targets as we worked with them 1-2 times each week.  This strategy helped to alleviate the time factor, while also giving those students a focus for their learning, enabling them to reach a goal before moving on to another.  One additional challenge that I have encountered is that by having students practice a writing strategy out of the context of their writer’s notebook, I have created an additional step in the writing process.  They demonstrate the strategy on the worksheet, using a section of writing from the story they are working on.  They are then expected to also revise the section in their writer’s notebook.  This has not been a problem for the majority of our writers, but for our struggling students it can be a bit confusing and cumbersome.   Those students need daily assistance to make this transfer from the worksheet to their writer’s notebook, adding to the time issue.

This process has made planning for my daily writer’s workshop easier and much more effective.  In addition to my personal planning, our grade level (PLT) planning has much more focus.  We are able to use the rubrics and the student writing samples to discuss intervention planning for the students who are still not getting it.   Since all three teachers on our team are using this method, we are all able to contribute problem-solving ideas to help our students to succeed in writing.  This has worked very well with our personal narrative unit.  We plan to continue using this method with our next unit on personal essay writing.

Here is the spreadsheet that I use to keep track of the student's scores, an example of the rubric/scale that I use to give student feedback on each skill sheet, and a sheet I use for creating strategy groups. 

Here are some examples of one student's skill sheets from our Personal Narrative unit.  These are available at my TpT Store (see below for more information).

Here are some photos of this student's drafting notebook, so you can see how he transferred the skills from the worksheet to his story:

If you like these skill sheets/graphic organizers they are available at my TpT store.  I have also included examples of each writing skill/strategy to use as a model for students.  Here they are:

     Also, if you like the idea of using a scale or rubric to give your students feedback, you will like my Writing Assessment Tools.  This pack includes rubrics and other assessment tools that are aligned to third grade common core standards.  I am working on creating Assessment Tools for grades 2 & 4 also!
  Thanks so much for popping into my blog.  I would love your comments and feedback!

Love and peace,


Reading Response

Not quite a month since my last post....ugh!  I really feel like I'm neglecting my blog.  I was so darn excited about this blog when I started it, not quite one year ago...and now it is collecting dust.  Hmmmm, reminds me of my treadmill (that thing is really neglected lately).

Well...I am setting a goal right this very minute to blog once each week!  It is something I really enjoy, and it makes me a better I am going to carve out a bit more time to give to this guilty little pleasure of mine!!

Recently, my third graders have begun working on responding to their reading by writing a bit about their thinking.  Reading response is a very important component of reader's workshop for several reasons.  First, it gives me a peek into the brains of my students, letting me know if my students are thinking about their reading and if so, what is the depth of their thinking.  Second, when readers stop to think periodically as they read, and then jot their thoughts down on a sticky note, it automatically slows down the thinking process, allowing the reader to really reflect on the text in a more meaningful way.  Finally, if you follow a reader's workshop model in your classroom, your students are meeting regularly at the end of workshop to "buzz" with a partner about their reading.  When students stop, think and write as they are reading, they will have "talking points" all ready to go when they meet with their partner, which makes for a much more meaningful discussion.

The trick to reading response to get your students started on it....and keep them going throughout the school year.  I have found that the key is loads and loads of modeling!!  When I read aloud to the kids (almost every day), I try to do what I want them to do:  STOP, THINK AND JOT.  Whether it's a picture book or a chapter book, I stop periodically, think outloud, and sometimes write down my thought on a sticky note.  I think aloud about why I stopped where I did and what I am going to write down.  Those are the things that they get stuck on:  When, why and what to write on that sticky note.   Modeling gives them a road map.

I love the book Notice and Note by Kylene Beers.  Her "Reading Signposts" are great tools for helping kids to know when to stop, think and jot!  I made some FREE posters that provide a great visual reference for students:

I also give my students "When to Write a Sticky Note" page to keep in their reader's notebook.  They use it a lot at first, but eventually get a feel for when to stop and jot without it!

Sticky-noting plays an important role in responding to our reading....but the thinking and writing doesn't stop there.  What to do with all of those sticky notes?  My students save their sticky notes on a sticky note tracker (Thank you Beth Newingham!), but that's not the end either!  They keep their sticky note sheets in their reader's notebooks and at least once each week, they choose one of their sticky notes as a starting point for "stretching their thinking" even further.  Aimee Buckner, in her book Notebook Connections, uses a strategy called "Finding the Spark" to help students to choose a sticky note that is worthy of stretching into a full-blown response.  Once they choose this sticky note, they attach it to a piece of notebook paper (or into their response journal if they have one) and then write more about their thought.  This process really pushes students to do all of the things we want them to do as readers:  reflect on their reading and their thinking!!  It is amazing to see their thinking path as they complete this type of can see it develop onto the page!! 

My students turn-in their responses each week and I do my best to read all of them and write a short response.  They love getting a personalized note from their teacher, and it motivates them to keep up with their responses, knowing that someone is actually reading what they wrote.  They also share these responses with their reading partners when they meet, which we try to make time for almost every day.

As we work on specific reading comprehension strategies, I will give students open-ended questions and/or prompts to guide their responses.  I also frequently give students a response sheet or a thinkmark to fill-out and hand in.  These are much more structured than the sticky note responses and offer a bit more accountability.  They also give me convenient way to evaluate students on their reading comprehension skills and give them feedback for setting goals.  Here are some response tools that I've recently created for guiding students in their responses (All three are common-core aligned).
Great for fiction and non-fiction responses!  Also have a rubric for giving feedback.

I would love to hear about how you use reading response in your classroom!!  Thanks for popping in!!  

Love and peace,

Setting Up for Guided Reading


It's already October and we have finally finished several weeks of pre-testing.   My kiddos have been put through the ringer with NWEA testing, state MEAP testing, Benchmark Reading Assessments, On-Demand writing prompts and much more!!  It's amazing that we have had any time to TEACH!!  I guess that is the new reality in public education these days.  The good thing is that I have collected A LOT of information about my students that will help to guide my instruction in all subject areas.

In our school district we give all students the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment in reading several times per year.  It is a very time-consuming process (taking about 15 minutes per student), but goes a long way to help me to determine a student's reading level and offers other valuable information about their strengths and areas of need in reading.  I use this information, along with my NWEA Reading MAP reports to help me when forming my guided reading groups.

My guided reading groups are not only based on a student's reading level, but I also group kids based upon skills and strategies they may need to work on.  By third grade, most of my students will be focusing on reading comprehension skills during our guided reading lessons, but I will also have several who will still be working to improve their fluency and accuracy.   My groups are flexible and will change every few weeks as needed based upon the needs of the students.

After forming the groups, I created a weekly schedule for meeting with my groups.  I am soooo lucky to have a competent student teacher this year, so together we will be able to meet with four groups each day.  My two highest level groups will not have a group every day, but will meet 2-3 times each week instead.  Here is what my schedule looks like so far:

This year I used my NWEA data to create a list of "I CAN" statements for each of my guided reading groups.  Here is what that looks like:
I will use these lists of objectives to create weekly lessons for each of my groups.

I also set up binder for guided reading plans, group notes, conferring notes and other tools I will need for teaching and record-keeping.  I also keep my conference notes for writer's workshop here too!

Here are the highlights:
Great resource from Lesson Plans SOS

A copy of the CAFE Menu

Tabs for Each Group

Leveled Lesson Plan forms by Jen Bengal (very helpful)

Prompts for Conferring

Questioning Prompts
Reading Conference Record Sheet..I record the date I meet with each student.  It gives me an overview of when I have met with each student. I have a separate one for writing conferences.  I keep one for each student behind numbered tabs:

A calendar for setting up conferring appointments with students.

Reading conference notes.

Writing Conference Notes
(My students keep track of their own conference notes too, in their reader's and writer's notebooks.

This a "word work" sheet.  It is a t-chart slipped into a clear page protector and used with dry erase pens.  Students use these for any word sorts we might do during our guided reading group.  

Elkonin boxes for stretching out words during a writing conference.  Also kept in a clear page protector, used with dry erase pens.

I also keep reading data, such as student reading levels, in this binder for quick reference!

As you can imagine, my binder is rather large, but it is really helpful to have everything in one spot so I'm not scrambling during  our limited time for guided reading.

I would love to hear how all of you keep organized for guided reading!!  I plan to post more about guided reading in my next few stay tuned!

Many of the record keeping papers you see above can be found in my TpT products:


Love and Peace,