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December 21, 2006

Not Your Grandmother's Scantron: Assessments in a Pre-k Classroom

The first years of school are far too critical to waste time on ineffective strategies. Accountability in pre-kindergarten programs is therefore vital to the academic and social growth of our youngest learners.

The word "accountability" may conjure images of standardized exams and hours of tedious test prep—not exactly what we would deem appropriate for a four year old. So what do assessments and accountability look like in a pre-k classroom? Well, despite the obvious attraction of handing a multiple choice test with fifty rows of neatly curved "a to e" oval bubbles to a four year old, the reality is that assessment in pre-k just isn't that easy. Yet that doesn't mean accountability in pre-k is or has to be non-existent.

Four year olds don't always show you what they know. Their moods, interests, and developmental stage can affect their performance on a day to day basis. And if they do demonstrate growth in a particular skill area, they certainly do not all do it in the same way like drawing a picture or responding to questions orally. But if you watch and interact with them everyday, all day, while taking anecdotes and collecting work samples, you can have the data needed to chart growth, design properly differentiated lessons that meet the needs of all learners, and hold programs accountable. My students' words, actions, drawings, and singing are my "a, b, c, d, and e" answers.

Take Tanasia, for example. For the first two months of school she spent the majority of her day either bawling and asking, over and over, "When is my mommy coming?" or in a state of total silence. Our one-on-one interactions often incited desperate pleas for her mother. Then, in early October I began to observe her making connections between the print around her and her friends' names during choice time. That is when I knew not only that she was starting to adjust and build relationships, but that she was picking up on basic literacy skills. She would point to letters on labels in Dramatic Play and say to her friend Karen, "Look, it's the K like in your name." If I confronted her with a barrage of letter identification questions, she would clam up and start to cry. I began to address more and more of those skills during choice time where she felt increasingly comfortable.

One of my students last year struggled with letter identification but masterfully used movement to act out stories or create his own. My extensive anecdotal notes reflected these weaknesses and strengths. I consequently decided to address the latter with the former by working with him one-on-one to create movements for each letter. We waddled like penguins for the letter "P," made elephant noises with a long trunk for the letter "E," and so on. I recently met up with him down the hall in his kindergarten class, at which point he pointed out a letter and made the movement we had devised.

My recent analysis of the anecdotal notes revealed that Kevin (aka the "anti-sharer") is a visual learner. Stay tuned for a post focusing on how my aide and I teach the fairness of sharing using a visual approach that puts him in charge.


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Hi Sophia,

I just stumbled on to your web site looking for some information to inspire me to come up with fresh and new ideas for my new position as lead teacher for four year olds. I have been working with children for over 10 years in several different capacities, loving every minute of it. I graduated from college a while ago and just feel that I need a little brushing up. I haven't had time to really read all of your information but I am impressed by your enthusiasm and insight. I look forward to reading on. Thank you.

Great to hear from you. I look forward to discussing ideas with you. I am sure we can both learn a great deal from each other.

I look forward to hearing from you again.


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