A few weeks ago, I happened to notice a hummingbird perched near the top of a tree in our yard. I hurried for my camera. Of course she had flown away by the time I settled myself in front of an open upstairs window. But I’d seen her near this tree several times during the week, so I waited, hoping she’d return.
My patience was rewarded and she posed for me at the top of a branch. Unfortunately, the photos weren’t great. Only the bird’s silhouette was visible. So I moved over to the other window. Bingo. Now her colors were clearly visible. She even hovered for a moment, showing off her delicate wings.
As I looked at the pictures after she flew off, I was grateful I’d moved to the other window. Shifting myself a few feet, changing my perspective just slightly, gave me not just a clearer view, but a more complete image. I recalled the wisdom of Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan in their book, Assessment in Perspective: Focusing on the Reader Behind the Numbers (Stenhouse, 2013). If you have any questions about literacy assessment, this book is a must read. But more importantly, Clare and Tammy explain in detail the importance of “triangulating …multiple sources of [assessment] data to illuminate, confirm, or dispute what you learned from an initial analysis of one piece of data. (Italics added.) How often does a child’s performance in the classroom not match data we have gathered through an assessment? Too often.
The key is to gather information from multiple vantage points, including informal and/or qualitative data gathered through observation. Pulling all this information together provides a much clearer image of who our students are as learners, as readers, as people. When we have this deep understanding, or what Clare and Tammy call “the stories of our readers,” we can plan and provide instruction that is responsive to their needs.
As July turns to August, I’ll be spending time thinking critically about which assessments I use to gather the information I need to get a clear, complete image of my students. Only then will I be well equipped to do the most important work of all: to help my students grow as readers, as thinkers, as people.
Thank you to Stacey, Betsy, Beth, Kathleen, Deb, Kelsey, Melanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.