Using Assessments and Knowledge of Students to Inform Instruction

6.3 Designing Student Assessments to Inform Planning: Teacher plans to use assessment results to plan for future instruction for groups of students. 3.2 Demonstrating Flexibility and Responsiveness in Lesson Adjustments: Teacher makes a minor adjustment to a lesson, and the adjustment occurs smoothly. To me, the first standard means that a teacher is using assessments, whether before, during, and/or after, to alter the course of the lesson plans. The second standard addresses a teacher’s ability to alter and adapt lessons “on the go” when it is observed that a student is not understanding a concept. I think that it also means that the teacher has enough knowledge of individual students and their learning to group them appropriately for certain activities and lessons. I grouped these two standards together because I feel that both knowledge of students and formative assessments can be used to plan for future instruction of groups of students.

For one of my first observations during Internship, I wrote a lesson to introduce my students to fractions on a number line. Before the lesson and before even discussing the concept of a number line fraction, students were given a Show What You Know (pre-assessment) to gauge their prior understanding of the concept. Out of 17 students, all but one got all five questions incorrect. I knew I had a lot to teach them, and they had a lot to learn. Using this assessment, I jumped right into the lesson. Very quickly, however, I noticed that students were not able to conceptualize the ideas, concept, and format in which I was presenting it. We soon ended the day’s lesson, and I taught the rest on the following day. I adjusted my plans for the lesson, and started the next day with a hands-on activity involving folded strips of paper. Between the two lessons, I used the materials I had for a pipe cleaner activity, and put together differentiated materials, based on what I knew about my students, for my low learners and my high learners. I used baggies to sort out the individual fraction cards that students would use to show fractions on a number line/pipe cleaner.

Lower level learners received benchmark fractions, such as ½, 1/3, ¼, 2/4, etc. Students who were more advanced learners received more complex fractions such as 3/8 or 4/5. With all students receiving baggies, students were not aware that they were working on tasks that were appropriate for their own learning—they may just have assumed that when they reached their hand blindly into the baggie to pull out a fraction card, they lucked out with a fraction that they could handle.

display board fractions on a number line

Completed fractions on a pipe cleaner/number line.

Being able to be flexible while teaching and use what one knows about how a certain student learns, combined with what they already know, is important in helping maximize student learning during a lesson. Through the number line fraction lesson, and countless others, I was able to focus instruction to each student who needed it, and applied what I had learned about each student to help their growth.

learning target fraction number line

Learning Target Reflections and folded number line fractions.

For example, one student struggling to create a number line with a pipe cleaner needed reminders to relate the pipe cleaner to a folded piece of paper, an activity which had been done at the beginning of the lesson. This connection clicked instantly for that student, and she was able to continue forward without ease. At the end of the three lessons on number line fractions, the scores for my students went up significantly, with more than 70% of my students scoring Advanced on the assessment.

pre and post assessments fractions on a number line

Pre (left) and post-assessment for one of  my lowest learners. 

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Increasing Student Engagement

2.2 Engaging Students in Learning. Keeping students engaged during lessons is critical to increasing student achievement. Recognizing when student engagement is low, and being flexible enough to be able to change the lesson is also key to creating a successful learning environment. Throughout the last six years of my teaching career, I have learned a lot about best practices in keeping students engaged, but also continue looking for ways to get my students even more engaged in lessons. One of my focus areas for student engagement this year is Math. Mathematics is one of those subjects where kids feel like they either get it, or they don’t. When they aren’t WIN_20170119_14_26_36_Pro“getting it,” their engagement starts to wane, and achievement drops. While working with division and word problems, I tried something new: I gathered dry erase markers and wipes and wrote short messages on four of my students’ desks while they were at recess. When they came back inside, they were so excited about this new idea, and were immediately engaged in our Math lesson before it even started. Then, after listening to word problems read aloud, students used Expo markers and small cubes to draw groups of objects on their desks to strengthen their understanding of ways that division is represented.

Another subject area in which I led a successful engaging lesson surrounds the topic of Science and our unit on the moon. One of the objectives of the unit is to teach students the eight phases of the moon. After using videos and full color diagrams to introduce the topic to my students, they used provided lyrics to practice and perform a “Moon Rap.” WIN_20170309_14_49_24_Pro.jpgLater, I pulled out a box of Oreo cookies and some plastic knives. We practiced twisting the two pieces off gently, and then got to work! Students carefully moved around the cookie’s icing to show the phases, put them in correct order, then demonstrated their knowledge by reading each phase to me before eating their cookies. From an initial assessment to a final assessment soon after practicing with Oreo cookies, nearly 80% of my students increased their understanding.

Keeping students engaged in learning contributes to greater student achievement in many ways. When students are excited to learn, their brains will stay open to the new knowledge. If students are not engaged in the learning process, they will not be motivated to learn.

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Communicating with Families

Program standard 7.1 Communicating with Families: Teacher communicates with families about students’ progress on a regular basis, respecting cultural norms, and is available as needed to respond to family concerns. To me, this standard explains the importance of talking to parents and having an open line of communication, helping parents understand what is going on in the classroom and how their child is learning and progressing. On a regular basis, I am communicating with parents through phone calls, emails, weekly newsletters, and impromptu meetings at pick up and drop off times. Homework assignments will sometimes consist of students teaching their parents what they have learned for the day, so that parents are “in the loop” about what is happening in the classroom.  I have intentionally designed my classroom to have these open lines of communication. I readily meet with parents as needed and have an open-door in the mornings and after-school, and am open to conferences with many different constituents (parents, faculty, etc.). I send weekly eNews updates and update my classroom website with photos and a calendar. I listen to all sides of the stories before conferencing about what is going on with students.

report cards

All six subjects of narrative reports; picture shows reports for one student. 

Finally, and most importantly in my practice, are the narrative report cards that I create three times a school year. Each child’s parents get a report about their child’s learning in all six subjects in the form of a narrative paragraph, including a summative grade for each subject, and grade for up to 6 standards in each subject. Not only is this a student and family discussion, this is with all educational stakeholders in the school; grade level partners participate in peer editing before it is sent to our division director for a final edit, meaning we have multiple versions created before the final goes out to parents more than a month after they are started. Through this process, I have learned a lot about myself as a teacher and educator. I’ve learned how to recognize and explain the standards that my students need improvement in as evidence in the work that is done in class. I’ve learned how to use multiple forms of assessments to assess a student’s progress towards the standards. I’ve learned how I can properly communicate to parents in a way that they will allow them to fully understand their child’s learning. Lastly, I’ve learned about time management. Because this is such a lengthy process, planning is crucial so that I can put some intentional comments and thought into the reports. Overall, narrative reports and standards-based report cards will help me in the future with being able to streamline the ways that I learn about and assess students, helping me be more organized and intentional in my lessons, and taking better care of myself through careful planning.

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Demonstrating Knowledge of Students

3.1 Demonstrating Knowledge of Students. To me, this standard means that I can recognize the need to differentiate lessons and content to help my students fully grasp the concepts. Throughout this school year, I have discovered that while my students’ mathematical skills are quite adept, their interest in the subject has been lacking. This year, I have found it particularly challenging to teach math to all 17 students when there is such a huge range in their mathematical abilities and skills. Therefore, I discovered and downloaded several concept-based math projects. After assessing all students during math lessons, I found two groups of students who had demonstrated a solid understanding of the concepts being taught in class, and I did not think it was necessary to have them sit through review lessons with the rest of the class. First, I had three boys expand their problem-solving skills with a project where they planned a trip together to the World Cup. Then, I had three girls work together to design a zoo to review and enhance their long division and multi-digit multiplication skills. All six students were engaged in the project while working on something that they were passionate about—either soccer or animals. But more importantly, it was an opportunity to see math in the real world, and it immediately pulled them into math.

3.1 three

Three girls work together to finalize their presentation of their new zoo.

Soon, all my students were working through a project. I divided students into groups of two or three to build and practice long division or multi-digit multiplication, depending on their individual skill and ability. Some students designed a resort, while others planned a movie theatre. Each one was working on a skill they were ready for, and the layout of the projects allowed me to differentiate as needed. Meeting with each group allowed me to teach more concepts, such as the area model for multiplying two digits by three digits, which was not a concept (or standard) I would have otherwise taught the entire group.

3.1 two

Even my lower learners learned the area model of multiplication to help them through challenging 3 digit by 2 digit multiplication.

I could narrow in on the students who needed more practice with critical thinking and problem solving skills. I heard multiple students, including my lower learners, tell each other, “That’s not reasonable” when working through the problems in the project. The groups finished, and each one displayed their learning in a Sway (online power point presentation) to present to their parents. Now, we are reviewing addition and subtraction with money while planning a trip to Ireland. Each one of my students now looks forward to math each day and asks me constantly when they get to work on their project. Using real-world projects, I have discovered so much about my students—including how they learn, where they still need help, and what they are interested in—and how to keep each of them engaged in their own learning. I’ve learned how to differentiate my classroom to meet the needs of my low learners, my high learners, and my grade-level learners at the same time. Using the same or similar projects gives me the chance to differentiate without students knowing how the groups are different. Lastly, I can build the critical thinking of my high learners and build a love of math in each and every one of them.

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Course Reflection: EDU 6942

For this course reflection, I decided to connect program standard 5, which focuses on the learning environment, to how teachers get ready for the first day of school, which was the topic for Module 2. Program Standard 5 states: “The teacher fosters and manages a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being.” I interpret program standard 5 to mean that teachers should create an environment for their students that makes them feel loved, wanted, and safe. It is a place where kids can make mistakes and get right back up, a place where they can say the wrong thing and be encouraged to know that mistakes are proof that you’re trying. I think that creating a safe and welcoming environment is of utmost importance—before the copies of first day busy work or posters on the wall—because when those children walk into the classroom on the first day of school, they need to know right away that they are wanted there, and that they are going to be safe to be who they are, physically, emotionally, and intellectually.



Figure 1: On page 198 of her article, Shadiow refers to Nel Noddings, who describes how students need continued attention from adults that will listen and support them as part of a way to build shared trust in the classroom. Shared trust will undoubtedly create an intellectually and emotionally safe classroom for students.

In her article The First Day of Class: How it Matters, Linda K. Shadiow references philosopher Nel Noddings to describe an “ethic of care” that teachers should instill in their classroom. This ethic includes four components: modeling, dialogue, practice, and confirmation. My interpretation of these components take modeling to be how you show respect to your students and those you interact with; dialogue is those conversations that you have with students that go deeper than the academic content; practice is the way that you reflect on your teaching each day with the guidance of student responses of their learning; and confirmation is when you trust that students are trying their best with each response and contribution they make in class and that teachers should be respectful and understanding of those responses. All four of these components add up to creating a good first day of school as they immediately let your students know that they will be able to feel safe intellectually in the classroom.

While reading Shadiow’s article, I stopped to reflect on my own teaching. I have been teaching for almost six years now and know the importance of trust and safety in my classroom. I am consistently telling my students that it’s okay to make mistakes, and I have students who frequently raise their hand to “take a guess” on a topic we are discussing. I encourage these attempts at learning because I know it means that my students feel safe to be wrong, and even when they are wrong, they are learning. Nearly every day, I remind my students that nobody in the class learns the same way that they do. I share experiences of my own learning, and my learning compared to the other elementary teachers in the building. I think that it gives them comfort to know that their teacher can make mistakes, too. Building this kind of trust needs to start on the first day of school, so that students never doubt their safety or security. A teacher needs to know her students before they walk in, so she can address them by name as quick as possible. One of the biggest ways that teachers create a safe environment also has to do with their classroom management plan, which should be created before the first day of school. Teachers need to know how they are going to handle disruptions and misbehavior so that when it happens, she can execute her plan carefully and calmly, and never make her students feel that their physical safety is in jeopardy. If students experience an emotional upset at home or with peers, or even in the classroom, they need to feel safe approaching their student for some emotional safety and security.


Figure 2: This passage, from page 199 of Shadiow’s article, sums up the idea of shared trust, which should be created during the first week of school. The passage addresses Noddings’ four components, and the impact they can have on the environment.


According to Shadiow, in classrooms where teachers are eliciting an ethic of care, “…students are also invited to exhibit those components themselves. Learning is thus amplified—both the students’ and the teacher’s; new meanings of “learning” and “teaching” are built” (Shadiow, 2009, p. 199). When students feel physically safe, they are not in constant worry that they will get punished for something they say or do. When they feel emotionally safe, they do not have to hold in their sadness or anger or frustration when something happens at school that they are having a difficult time processing. When they feel intellectually safe, they do not have to worry that they will be ridiculed for an answer or embarrassed to raise their hand. When students feel safe, they hold the capabilities to learn and thrive. When they feel safe, the learning environment thrives for both student and teacher.  



Shadiow, L.K. (2009). The First Day of Class: How It Matters. Clearing House, 82(4), 197-200.



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Artifact Summary: EDSP 6644


This year, I will be embarking on my sixth year of teaching elementary school. Last year, I had one student previously diagnosed with dyslexia, and one student during the school year whom I identified as having a learning difficulty. I was able to get her pointed in the right direction in order to get the testing and support that she will need for her fourth-grade year. Because of these two students, I was anxious to focus my learning in this class on understanding my students with learning disabilities, and centered my peer review assignment on building my knowledge on students with dyslexia.

As a third-grade teacher, it is imperative that I am able to recognize learning disabilities in my students, especially those pertaining to struggles with reading, writing, and math. Through my research on several peer reviewed articles, I learned some important facts about dyslexia and how to help my students with this disability. Initially, I believed that dyslexia is only defined as when a child is writing letters backwards. However, through my research, I discovered that is not true. The most intriguing element of dyslexia is that children who suffer from this disability do not have the ability to understand the alphabetic principle, which, in short, is the ability to understand that spoken words are made up of letters with individual sounds. Without the ability to decipher those sounds, children will have difficulty reading words quickly, writing words correctly, and may even struggle with math concepts. If this learning disability can be identified in children early, there is a better chance for getting them the proper support with their learning that can include building phonemic awareness—to identify individual sounds in each word, and fluency building skills—to help them learn to see letter combinations and patterns in words (orthographic patterns). Had I known all of this information at the beginning of last school year, I would have been able to use my student’s spelling scores combined with her reading and writing ability to help diagnose her dyslexia sooner. I feel confident that my research on dyslexia will make me a stronger teacher in the future, as I am positive that I will be better able to recognize the signs in a student who needs my help.



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Classroom Tips Project EDU 6363

I used Microsoft Sway to show 7 Classroom Tips for Integrating Technology in the ELA and Social Studies Classroom. I chose this topic because it is an area of improvement for myself, as a current 3rd grade teacher at a Microsoft Innovative School, and as a strategy identified with my Director. I hope that other teachers can find it useful as well.

Click here to view my Sway, and use the arrows in the lower right hand corner to go through each slide.

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