Exploring The Wonderful Messy Side Of Building Capacity

This past week, I had the opportunity to facilitate a PD session with the Grade 1 team. While there were a couple of topics included in this three period session, the big focus was on assessment and evaluation. With report cards coming up soon, we were talking about a B In Reading. Our Board released a document that helps educators determine if their students are meeting benchmarks. Initially, I thought about beginning with this document and extending the learning from there, but then I thought about how we might be able to uncover some of the main ideas in this document. I’m a huge proponent of a constructivist approach to PD, and I appreciate how our admin team supported this approach. I’m now so grateful that we took this approach because the Grade 1 team went in some wonderful directions and took our learning even further.

Since the Grade 1 team at the school is a large one — with six educators — we broke into two groups of three. It was interesting, as while I did a similar activity with both groups, they each went in slightly different directions. The first group, looked at some of the descriptions included, and began to modify them. They added in specific examples (e.g., listing the digraphs that students might know at this point in the year), and also clarified some points (e.g., moving from “knowing all short vowel sounds,” to “knowing and applying them when reading texts”). Their descriptions helped with eliminating some points and combining others. As they began to sort the descriptions, they realized that this could make a great rubric to also share with parents: helping families see where their child is at and the range of skills included in reading. They decided to then sort the descriptions and categorize them — from decoding to fluency to comprehension — and when we later looked more closely at the Milestones Document and the B In Reading Document from our Board, they could see the overlap with the different headings and descriptions.

The second group heard what the first group was doing, and they extended this thinking with a look at evidence to support some different areas. We’re at an exciting time in reading learning right now. While the Science of Reading is leading a lot of our new learning, we are waiting for the release of a new Language Document. The scope and sequence in this document could influence both purchasing and programming decisions. Right now, many educators are still using the standardized reading assessments that they might have used in the past (e.g., DRA), and while this assessment could be valuable for students that are already decoding, what about those that are not? Our Board has some K/1 screeners that are wonderful and focus on Phonological Awareness Skills, but the concern is how to take this data and determine a grade level. There are other assessment tools that we could use (e.g., DIBELS 8), but what about a reading passage that also aligns with our Board’s Scope for what students should be reading at the Grade 1 level? We know what the Language Document says around reading expectations, and educators could transfer this to what they’ve taught in class already. While Growing Success focuses on observations, conversations, and work products, for so long, we have really been focused on standardized assessment tools, so it’s hard to let go and remember the value in teacher professional judgment. What might we use as a decodable reading passage that could tell us more?

The Grade 1 team thought about a list of high frequency words that they would like to see in a decodable text, while we also spoke about including all of the short vowel sounds, three-sound words and some four-sound words, and a few digraphs. We know that comprehension also matters, so we decided that we needed to have even a couple of comprehension questions. While decodable books are wonderful, we also know that you can write your own decodable texts, so why not write this one? This led to the creation of a decodable text, which could act as evidence to support evaluation and aligned with the Language Document, our B In Reading Document, and the Milestones Document.

As I tweeted yesterday, there were wonderful moments that came out of using this decodable text with students.

His giggling also showed his comprehension of this text before we even asked the comprehension questions.

Some of the most wonderful moments also came from our group reflections during and after using this text.

This thinking aligns with the B In Reading Document that our Board created.

I’m writing this blog post because on Wednesday, I’m going to be sharing at our Reading Specialist Meeting about building capacity using the B In Reading Document from our Board. As I shared with the Grade 1 team, their voices will be an important part of this discussion. In this case …

  • building capacity didn’t start with the Document, but with uncovering the Document together. This allowed educators to see where all of the student learning fits into determining a grade.
  • building capacity gave educators the voice to share what they thought was missing, and to work together to create this piece. Is this a standardized reading passage? No. Is it without problems? Definitely not. For some students it was too long. The comprehension questions might not be best suited to this text and maybe need to be tweaked. We’re still unsure if it’s best to have a decoding passage without images or one with images. Would it be better to find a decodable book that might address all of these same areas, but also include pictures? Maybe this would also help with comprehension and allow for the previewing of the text. Or maybe this shows that we need to look at how we get students to think while they’re reading, regardless of if there is an image in front of them. That first Grade 1 student that we read with did exactly that, and showed us what might be possible.
  • building capacity reminded me that this does not mean answering all questions, but also providing the time and space for reflection, debate, uncertainty, and further exploration. We were all taking a learning stance here as we worked through the pros and cons of this decodable text and how it fits into the B In Reading Document. Our hope is that the conversation at Wednesday’s Reading Specialist PD might further our thinking in this regard. Maybe insights from my blog readers will do the same.

I do know though that this might be one of the messiest and most exciting large group learning experiences that I have ever been a part of, and I’m grateful that I was able to do so alongside a passionate Grade 1 team. Learning is messy, and maybe building capacity is too. What do you think?


4 thoughts on “Exploring The Wonderful Messy Side Of Building Capacity

  1. Thank you so much for sharing about this experience!
    All that information, and how it came together, was so important and informative.

    I thought of a follow-up question. In terms of assessment, and determining what B reading is (or is not) … were strategies discussed that included those students who may present as uncomfortable or resistant to assessment in general?

    I have worked with students who have proven themselves capable readers and have demonstrated abilities and understanding in times ‘outside’ of assessment.
    However – when a moment of formalized assessment appears they might read the text (perhaps in ‘robot voice’), but then refuse to answer the comprehension questions… or… perhaps spit out a tiny answer to meet the need of the moment, but when I am certain there ‘could’ be more. This could lead trouble establishing the ‘B’.

    Did your working group this week discuss any strategies for working with students in situations where the more formal assessment process is unsuccessful?

    • Thank you so much for your comment! It’s really interesting, as this topic did come up in a couple of different ways.

      1. The first time that it came up was through a sidebar conversation with an educator. She was speaking about a friend’s child, who reads fluently at home, but is reluctant to read, particularly in a testing situation in the classroom. I spoke about when I taught kindergarten, and we had a child where this was the same. This was before the Growing Success Kindergarten Addendum, which allows for home examples to be included in assessment and even in the Communication of Learning if required and in different circumstances. At the time when this first happened to me, I had the parent come into the classroom before school started, and I gave them the text to read with their child. I opened the doors between the classrooms and listened from next door. I could then do the running record, but with being in a different room. Now, MS Teams, might be valuable to use in a similar way depending on the circumstances (although, most likely in a grade other than kindergarten as assessment now looks different in this grade). Last year, when I chose to do DRA at the end of the year with some kindergarten students, I actually brought the books outside. We sat on the hill together, under a tree, connected first, and then I did the DRA. I recorded the reading just as they’ve seen me do before, so there was no stress with the paper there, me scoring it, and them feeling under pressure to perform. This reduced a lot of stress. Since our K Document now allows for a parent voice re. assessment in different circumstances, I’ve also had families record and share reading at home. This can be a lower pressure way for educators to see kids in a different environment if they feel as though they need to see something that varies from what they’re already seeing in the classroom. Similar approaches can work in a variety of grades, but all depending on educator and parent comfort and circumstances.

      2. This also came up during one of the reading times yesterday. We were working with a child who’s very quiet and more reluctant to read, even in a day-to-day situation. She did read the decodable text, but it was largely word-by-word, which impeded on the comprehension component. Usually her comprehension is stronger. She is also ELL (an English Language Learner), and visuals really work well for her. The classroom educator already did the DRA on her, as well as read with her that morning using a classroom text. We looked at how all of the data compared, and what we gained from each piece of the data. This led to a discussion that we later continued with other educators: formal assessment is just a piece of the puzzle. That’s why the triangulation of data in Growing Success is so important: educators can put all of the information together that they know about students from observations, conversations, and work products, and then use this information to come up with a mark. This is where teacher professional judgment also matters, keeping in mind all that educators know about the kids in front of them.

      Sometimes we have standardized assessments, but there is a judgment component to all of them. This is why we also all loved the Milestones Document part of the B In Reading Document, as this really allows for daily interactions and observations of kids to play an important role in grading.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *