Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Assessment Race

In order to be a better a runner I need to run. I need an experienced runner or coach to give me
feedback about things like my stride or pace. I dislike running so having people around me that enjoy it and will cheer me on, helps me stick with it. It helps to have a plan like the Couch to 5K podcast or" Running 101" from Runner's World.

There are a host of lessons I imagine I need in order to grow as a runner, but I know one thing for sure: I won't learn to run by competing in races.

An initial assessment would help me track my progress and celebrate my developing skill, but I also know that I will be able to feel my own growth over time in how I breathe and perform during a run. I know when I've run well; I don't need anyone to tell me that and sometimes, frankly, it gets in the way of wanting to do better.

Running local 5K races serves as an assessment of my training and practice. In such runs there is an official clock and the course tests my ability to translate what I've learned to a novel situation. The Reindeer Run held each December at Sea World will be a summative assessment for me. It's a one-shot , "big event" that will capture what I am able to do as a runner. Likewise, the Neon Run and the Gingerbread Run will also serve as assessments of my running skill (or lack there of). I could use each of these runs to form or inform my training routines. If I did that they would also serve as a formative assessments for my trainers and me.
With my assessments in mind, how do I learn to become a better runner. What are the standards of running I need to master in order to improve? Could running standards be grouped into strands: pace, form, dress, nutrition and the like? What instructional activities would enable me to reach beyond the nestling or fledgling level on my running performance scale? What if I want to really fly? What do I need to do?


I am able to run like the wind without stopping for as long as I need or want to run.
I am able to run.
I am able to run but may have to stop in order to catch my breath or rest my muscles.

With help, I am able to run a short course. I may need encouragement to keep going.
Even with help, I need more support and time to run more than a few yards.

These are the questions I wondered as I thought about my running needs and performance--actually I was thinking about lesson planning and instructional calendars but I will get to that in a minute. As a runner or a student-runner I would not be learning "the 40 yard dash" that is not the how to lesson I  need. Doing the activity may develop my skill, but what skill or skills is it developing?

The dash is an instructional activity, just as running a mile could be, or practicing different strides or running through traveling exercises. The standards, or what my trainers are trying to teach me may change with each activity.  At Camp Gladiator, campers learn how to activate fast-twitch muscle groups by practicing a specific set of exercises. We learn how to strengthen our core muscles and develop balance with another set. Each routine, each activity, each practice or workout session helps us increase our fitness levels and in my case, my stamina for running.

Camp Gladiator tells me that it's okay to go at my pace. My trainer labeled a recent photo with, "It's about being better than you were yesterday." Isn't that what it's about in our classrooms too?

Practice for those learning and attention to practice by those teaching grows skill. 

Teachers at my school have been charged with creating year-long instructional focus calendars in curriculum-alike groups. Our calendars are works in progress. English teachers often think about what they teach in terms of the work: Death of a Salesman or Romeo and Juliet or____ (name your favorite, not-to-be-missed piece of literature here). But we don't teach works. We teach students how to analyze complex characters or how to decipher what the text says explicitly or how to infer. We teach processes and content. In language arts those processes are familiar strands found in Common Core Standards: reading, writing,speaking, listening and language. The works are the vehicles we use to teach them.

Our calendars will be living documents, not pacing charts. Our calendars are instruction focused with assessments in mind (think Heidi Hayes Jacobs and "plan with the end in mind"). Our calendars will change with each "race" our students run. If we notice one day that students need more time or that we need to reteach or build in additional practice, we will. We may have to adapt our training plans in order to flex to the needs we notice during a training session. 

If you'd like to see my calendar for Pre-IB, tenth grade English click here. You'll notice that even though I understand that the standards are the "what" I'm teaching, I still think in terms of works. 


  1. Great analogy, Lee Ann. You ALMOST make me think about running again, just to fully experience the analogy, but I think I'll stick to my walks. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I love the quote about being better than you were yesterday. That can be related to so many things, people, and goals. I think I will post this in my room. Great post!

    1. Yes, I think the folks at Camp Gladiator are onto something with that line, Leigh Anne.

  3. Thanks for sharing the thinking from 'start' to 'finish', Lee Ann. I like that you talk about teaching the process of analysis, then use the novels, so that by learning the skills, students (anyone really) can apply the learning to any 'work' not just the one taught by the teacher.

    1. And you've got me thinking, Linda, that we should be able to "see" that learning as it is applied to new texts or in novel situations especially as the learning is mostly process and not dependent on the work. As always, thank you for your encouragement.

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  5. I love the analogy and the reminder that we are teaching students to read and think--not particular works. We are doing similar work at our middle school, creating curriculum maps and planning assessments. It is and will continue to be a work in progress.

    1. I'm glad you like the analogy,Kay. I wonder how the shape or layout of your curriculum maps and assessments compares to ours?