Sharon has an Masters of Science in Mathematics and a Masters in Education
Julie is an early educator who wants to meet all her students' needs. She knows the best way to teach them is to differentiate her instruction based on their needs and abilities. When she knows their skill levels, she can create lessons and opportunities for them to grow and make progress. In other words, though she teaches first graders, she recognizes not all her students are on what is considered a first grade level.
Lucky for Julie, she has access to several assessment tools she can use. When she assesses students, she has a specific purpose in mind. To get to know readers initially, like at the beginning of the year or when a new student arrives, Julie administers informal assessments, tests meant to measure the student's skill level in things like phonics and word recognition. She uses the results to determine instruction, not to give a grade.
How does Julie select assessments that pinpoint what she needs to know? Let's see.
Assessing Phonics and Vocabulary
Julie understands that students need a solid understanding of phonics to succeed as readers and writers. Phonics is the use of sounds in speech to create and read written words. Phonics has several components, such as:
- Phonemes: individual sounds in speech
- Syllables: part of a word with one vowel sound that may or may not have consonants
- Onset: the consonant before a vowel in a syllable
- Onset rime: any vowel and consonant
Phonemes are the smallest units of the sounds in speech. The word 'cart', though it has four letters, has three phonemes: /c/ar/t. The same word has one syllable as there is only one vowel, and the onset, the consonant before the vowel, is 'c'. Finally, the onset rime, the vowel/consonant, is 'ar'. When teaching students elements of phonics and vocabulary, specifically skills needed to write and spell, Julie makes sure her students understand these concepts. Let's see some screenings she uses to assess these skills.
Julie begins with assessing a student's ability to discriminate between sounds heard in speech. This assessment is completely oral, and completed one-on-one with a student. Julie writes down answers on a scoring sheet. It measures a student's ability to:
- Identify words that have the same beginning sound
- Isolate a phoneme within a word
- Break a word into individual sounds
- Blend sounds into words
- Create new words by manipulating phonemes
For example, Julie may ask a student to name the initial sound in the word 'cat'. The answer is the sound /c/. Or she may ask what the three sounds in cat are, c/a/t; a word that has the same onset, like 'car'; and what the end sound is.
Students with phonological awareness are able to show their understanding of syllables, rhymes, onsets, onset rimes, and words. Like the phonemic awareness assessment, Julie gives this test orally and individually to students.
She asks questions like:
- How many words are in the sentence 'I like to go to the park'?
- Do these words rhyme: 'fat', 'hat', 'dog'?
- Which four sounds make the word 'frog'? (/f/r/o/g)
- What word do these sounds make: sh/i/p?
- How many syllables are in the word 'hotdog'?
In order to put pieces of phonics to use, students need to have alphabetic awareness, or knowledge of the symbols that represent speech, the 26 letters of the alphabet, and their corresponding sounds. Julie gives assessments to measure whether or not a student recognizes these concepts at the beginning of the year, then checks in several times as the year progresses. She'll give a final assessment at the end of the year to measure progress from the beginning of the year.
Julie will ask students in her early elementary class to identify letters she shows them and then tell her what sound the letters make. Students generally have full alphabetic awareness by the end of kindergarten, though some will continue to need help with letter/sound relationships well into second grade. A full understanding of more complex phonemes, like blends and digraphs such as /sh/, /th/, or /ough/ are typically instructed through upper elementary grades.
Finally, Julie gives her students a spelling inventory designed to give her an understanding of what level of spelling and phonics development her students have. This assessment has 25 words of increasing complexity that Julie reads orally to her students, who then write the word using their alphabetic knowledge and understanding of phonics. When students write words such as 'bed', 'drive', 'bottle', and 'cellar', Julie can see what strategies they use to spell.
For example, if a student spells the word bottle using the letters 'botl', Julie knows the student is not yet aware of doubling of consonants or the silent /e/. If the student spells cellar 'selr', she knows to teach 'r' controlled vowels, and double consonants. The spelling inventory is given at the beginning of the year and used to drive initial instruction.
Julie is a savvy teacher who uses several informal assessments to determine her students' needs. For starters, she gives students assessments to determine their phonological and phonemic awareness. These give her valuable information about what her students know and understand about the sounds of speech and their ability to identify, manipulate, and isolate sounds. She also administers an alphabetic awareness assessment to determine a student's understanding of sound/symbol relationships. Finally, she gives a spelling inventory to measure a student's knowledge of sound/symbol relationships in print. These assessments allow her to teach her students from their current level.
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