What’s in a Noun?
Pre-Assessment for Early Childhood Enrichment and Support
This time last year, I was in the same position that I am now — teaching second-year Kindergarten at an English immersion preschool for gifted and talented Korean students — but I would’ve emphatically insisted that assessment had no place in my classroom. That my students, who are four and five years old, were simply too young for assessments to figure into my teaching or their learning. However, after a few months of learning about everything that taking data-driven education measures can do for students, I can both look back and see how assessments had been built into the framework of my teaching all along, as well as looking forward to the ways that I can work assessments into my instruction to benefiting my current and future students in innovative, individualized ways.
When turning this assessing eye toward myself, it’s easy to see that utilizing pre-assessment is an opportunity for growth in my own teaching. This week, I’ve been seeking ways to integrate this useful method of teaching into my own classroom, in hopes of running my class as smoothly and effectively as Ms. Rhodes’s seventh grade science class. For the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to share some pre-assessment strategies and activities I’ve used to help my Kindergartners discern between nouns, verbs, and adjectives, as this is an area we’re targeting in phonics, grammar, and writing classes this month. This lesson’s objective was that students can identify nouns. Keep reading to find out about how I tested out my students’ prior knowledge of this topic and how I’ve been working to differentiate my teaching to assess students where they’re really at right now.
Strategies for Pre-Assessment
My students started this unit with different levels of awareness of the different kinds of words: they’ve seen this topic briefly on homework assignments or maybe heard another teacher or me mention adjectives, etc. during other classes. The following are some strategies I can use to find out who’s coming to class as a grammar expert and who will need some extra guidance during this tricky subject.
I’ve talked a lot during this module about the importance of brainstorming and, indeed, my students use it in almost every class to help them collaborate and gather knowledge about a variety of topics. A K-W-L chart is a special kind of brainstorm that I take out when introducing a completely new topic, like nouns/verbs/adjectives has been! Ninja Plans has a great pre-made version I can hand out to students who want to follow along with the one I make on the board.
As you can see, a K-W-L chart asks three questions: What do I know about this topic? What do I wonder? and What have I learned? We work as a class to fill out the chart. Everyone has something to contribute: whether it’s defining the terms, providing examples of them, filling in the things their peers have taught them during brainstorm sessions or even just deciding that they want to learn what nouns, verbs, and adjectives are.
Making a mind map is another way that I’ve utilized brainstorming as a way to pre-assess my students and check how much they know going into a new topic. Each day during this grammar unit, after I’d defined the type of word we were discussing, we created a mind map using colored markers on the smart board. My students loved providing different (often silly) examples of nouns, verbs, and adjectives. As I conducted this activity, I made note of which kids consistently had their hand up right away, which kids noticed the pattern others were following and continued it, and which kids seemed a little lost.
The final way that I use to pre-assess students in my classroom is by checking the students’ homework progress. Often, content that we will learn later in the week or month pops up on students’ homework first. Because my students are so young, their parents usually help them complete it, which means I can’t immediately trust the answers that students have provided.
On days where this happens, I use one of our morning transition times — when students are getting off the buses, unpacking their backpacks, and getting ready to start the day — to revisit the topic introduced in last night’s homework. This is always a simple worksheet, like “Circle the Nouns Within This Cloud of Words” like the one you can see next to this paragraph. When it’s time for students to get ready for snack, I can collect the papers and quickly check which students absorbed the content introduced in the homework and which students may need extra attention during grammar class.
It sounds like I have some data about my students now, right? Now it’s time for me to figure out what to do with it!
Using Pre-Assessments for Differentiation
When I assessed the students on their knowledge of verbs, I broke the students into the following groups based on their results:
- Group A: 5 students who identified 100% of the nouns, including the abstract nouns I included as a challenge.
- Group B: 12 students who identified at least 18 of the 20 nouns.
- Group C: 5 students who identified fewer than 18 nouns, including 2 students whose score was so low that they seemed to have no comprehension of the activity.
I used Coggle to diagram the process through which I can address the learning needs of each of these unique groups of students.
As these students have proven themselves extremely familiar with this new concept, my goal is to continue to enrich their learning through opportunities to explore this concept further. I’ve come with a few activities that allow students to both be creative and challenge themselves to teach the objective to other students.
Creative Writing offers an opportunity for students to synthesize their current knowledge of nouns. Although my students are little, they love writing stories about dinosaurs, dragons, princess, etc. I could offer them a simple prompt — one I’ve used in the past was What’s inside this scary castle? — and ask them to write their own creative story, focusing on using as many exact nouns as they can. When students have finished, I’d supply them with a highlighter so they can see how many they’d used.
Worksheet Designing would be another chance for enrichment of students in Group A. The students would be reminded of the word cloud activity I used for pre-assessment. I could give them a blank cloud template and challenge them to create their own. When they have finished, students in Group A can trade them and solve them together.
As we continue this unit of grammar class, it’s essential that I monitor all students’ progress. As each new type of word is introduced, the benchmark for Group A activities remains 100% on the Word Cloud pre-assessment activities. I need to supervise the students’ output, checking for continued understanding as they produce stories and worksheets, as well as monitoring their participation in class and their performance on workbook pages. If a student begins to show less than 100% mastery, they would be seamlessly moved into Group B to receive additional practice until their performance improves.
More than half of my class falls into this group, which has some familiarity with nouns, but missed only a few of the more difficult choices, like abstract nouns. These students can move directly to their Grammar workbook to get additional practice.
Rally/Coach is a cooperative learning strategy that puts students in partners to complete a task. Students take turns completing a problem (in this case, students are asked to draw examples of people, places, and things, name them, and write a sentence featuring them.) One partner completes the task while the other one watches. After the task is complete, the observing partner assesses the answer and either offers praise for completing it correctly or a suggestion for something they may have missed. (A. 2013)
Partner Reading also makes use of partners. I find that collaboration really helps students with absorbing difficult topics. In this activity, students are given a reading selection and are asked to practice popcorn style reading with their partner, picking out the nouns they see and highlighting them. They can alternate between reading and highlighting. Working together will maximize students’ chances of catching all of the nouns in the selection.
For students who fall into Group B, I need to continue monitoring their progress on the pre-assessments we complete during morning work, but also by checking their progress on the grammar worksheets. For these students, I find that I get a good picture of their understanding by gaging their class participation, as students who are more confident with the topic will volunteer answers more frequently. Additionally, continued formative assessments like thumbs up/down help familiarize me with whether these students are moving toward complete mastery or approaching the benchmark I set for Group C.
The five students with the lowest level of comprehension of the activity make up group C. There are a multitude of reasons that students can struggle with material, so I’ve identified some assessment activities to be used to address three main groups. Every student in this group will receive some level of 1:1 instruction from me during grammar class.
Students who are struggling with this content
These students were not identified by my pre-assessment, but I do feel it’s important to address them anyway. Sometimes, students who usually fall within the high- and medium-performing groups find a specific topic to be particularly challenging. I find that the most important strategy I have for addressing this is to remain calm, with a positive attitude, as even young children tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves to be high performers.
Choice allows for these students to feel that they’ve regained a little of this control. Each of our grammar units has five pages. I can let the student preview them and choose a page to do with me. This alleviates some of the anxiety they may have felt about the pages they had judged to be too difficult… and it also lets them know that they won’t have to work with me for the whole lesson if they don’t want to!
Buddy System is another technique I can revisit to help these students. Remember those worksheets Group A students created? Students in Group C can take a crack at them, receiving guidance from Group A students if they request it.
Students who are less confident with English
In my classroom, all of the students are learning English, but my pre-assessment data shows that three are more challenged by expressing themselves in English and understanding the teacher’s instruction. To best assist these students, I need to provide 1:1 instruction with simplified terminology, especially with young learners who may not have learned words like “verb” or “noun” in their native language yet! If a student is really struggling, I can always call my Teacher’s Assistant, who can translate any words the student isn’t understanding into their native language.
Beyond this, I can accommodate these students by keeping a modified worksheet around. For young English language learners, pictures are a helpful tool. Students can more easily reach their objective of identifying nouns by seeing pictures of the words they’re sorting through, to ease any difficulty caused by not knowing the vocabulary.
Students with special needs
Finally, most classrooms have students with special needs. Two students who took my pre-assessment about identifying nouns have shown that they are understanding very little of this content. To best assist these students, it’s important that I know them very well. What, specifically, are their learning needs? These two students will need individualized assistance with completing assessments.
This will look very different based on what the students’ specific needs are: students with reading difficulties could need assistance reading the instructions or the word bank out loud; students with difficulties using their fine motor skills (common at this age) may need to say answers out loud to me; often times, students will just need more time to complete the assessment. Longer papers can be broken into chunks and completed over a longer period of time. On the other hand, I have had students who struggle from an attention deficit become more successful when I introduce a timer to keep them on track. (Martin 2017)
The key to assessing special needs students is… each student is special! Just like students throughout the achievement spectrum, we can help them succeed by developing a relationship of mutual trust, trying many different strategies, and meeting them where they are!
A. (2013, April 15). Cooperative Learning Strategy Rally Coach. Retrieved September 8, 2018, from https://teachinginthefastlane.com/2013/04/cooperative-learning-strategy-rally-coach.html
Martin, S. (2017, September 15). Adapting assessment to the needs of students with learning disabilities. Retrieved September 8, 2018, from https://www.ldatschool.ca/a-t-e-assessments/
Pendergrass, E. (2014, December/January). Differentiation: It Starts with Pre-Assessment. Retrieved September 9, 2018, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/dec13/vol71/num04/Differentiation@_It_Starts_with_Pre-Assessment.aspx