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How Do I Assess Students in Word Study?

For most of my life (as a student and as a teacher), word study assessments were a weekly spelling test. As a student, I numbered down the left margin, sometimes skipping lines. I was confident I would spell the words correctly because I knew every word that would be assessed and I practiced those exact words the night before. As a starting teacher, I felt so grown-up and professional carrying my spelling book around the room as I called out spelling words and created funny sentences involving myself and my students. Most of my students would do well. It was calm and . . . expected. Later in my teaching career, I felt very creative as I moved towards replacing my traditional text with a blind written sort. Students needed to not only spell the words correctly, but also sort the words according to their patterns. Last year, I had a light bulb moment while participating in professional development. We discussed alternative ways to assess students in word study. . . and it kind of rocked my world!

In this session, a group of smart, talented, fabulous teachers (all with different teaching styles and philosophies) shared how we assessed our classes. Many of us used similar methods. We started talking about what information we could glean from these assessments- and what we weren’t getting the chance to see through these assessments. At this point, we started brainstorming ideas of alternative assessments and began discussing the different types of information we could find (and use) from each of these methods. We did not judge any type of assessment, instead, we simply discovered the “lens” each type of assessment provided:

I was immediately inspired to try out these new ways to assess students. Students appreciated the variation. I enjoyed seeing their enthusiasm - AND all of the additional information I got from each type of assessment.

Many teachers appreciated the affirmation that traditional spelling tests and blind written sorts do have value! It was exciting to discover pattern generalization reflections, shared reading, interactive writing, and self-assessments also provide meaningful information. One powerful conclusion I drew was that some types of assessments give us more information than others, but there is likely a time and place appropriate for each type of assessment idea we generated. I am imagining a possible next step might be to talk with students and allow them some choice in assessment practices: The thrilling part of teaching is that there are always opportunities to fine-tune current practices while also incorporating new ideas.

This is the last blog in a five-part series on enlivening our word study practices. You can find the first four blogs here, here, here, and here. I have greatly enjoyed getting to share different ways to wonder about words and hope to keep this dialogue going. Words have enormous power and by helping our students understand and expand their knowledge of words, we are providing heightened possibilities for what each of their days may hold.

NOTE: My district highlighted “Words Their Way” (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton & Johnston) in their word study work. Many of the practices and routines mentioned reflect this style of learning.