Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Attributes and Assessment

All four of the student teachers I am currently supervising are in the same K - 2 school which makes for some interesting connections between the lessons I observe. The school, Allen Brook in Williston, Vermont, has just started using the Second Edition of the Bridges math program published by the Math Learning Center.  Last Friday, for example, I watched a super lesson on attributes presented by Erika in her second grade class. The focus of the lesson was to develop  students' understanding of the way we use attributes of objects to sort or classify them. This is one way the Bridges program introduces young children to the idea that maths has structure as identified in the seventh Math Practice Standard.  The way Erika did this was brilliant. She had the students describe a shape on a piece of card in terms of  three attributes, size,  shape and color. In other words, each card could be identified according to three different attributes. As the children described and identified the cards she held up Erika  had the students arrange them by attribute on the board. After several minutes there were two columns of cards but with  with cleverly designed gaps of missing cards. Erika then asked the students, for example, what should go here, pointing to one of the gaps. The students would look at the structure of the pattern of shapes and work out which card needed to go in the gap. The look on their faces when she held up the exact card they thought it should be was priceless. The amount of reasoning and thinking it took to identify say, a large, red rhombus, was amazing.

Later that day, I observed Caitlin in a Kindergarten class also presenting a lesson on attributes but this time there were only two attributes, shape and color. The other neat difference was that the children had to move around and form groups based on the attribute card they were holding. First they grouped by color and then they grouped by shape. Then, Caitlin had them group themselves by shape and color so that they really had to think about how who they should stand with. Developmentally, it was much more important for the kindergartners to be physically involved in forming the groups.

Last Friday I attended  a presentation about the new SBAC "assessments " designed to measure student achievement according to the Common Core Math Standards. Having assured the audience that the materials included in the SBACs were indeed assessments and not tests it was interesting to note how many times the speaker referred to them  as tests during the presentation; five times on one slide alone. The word 'assessment', as more and more academics are reminding us, is from the latin assidere or ad sedere, meaning 'to sit down beside'. There will be no-one sitting beside the students with the SBACS when hey are scored 3000 miles away.  Doesn't that make them tests?           

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