Parents gathered in Toni Grimes’ class at Garrett Elementary School as second grade students performed examples of assessment literacy for parents, administrators and other guests. Assessment literacy is one of four strategic strands of work the District uses to improve student achievement and assure success for all employees and students.
“I involved the students in formulating the roles that they played during our interviews,” said Grimes. “The students created a list of people we read about during our Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. studies. We tried to list as many people as we could who were connected to Dr. King in some way. They could be part of his family, other political leaders, people he helped or even people he admired and/or studied.”
The children completed a Roles, Audience, Format and Topic (RAFT) assignment, which is part of differentiated instruction and related to assessment literacy. Later, students performed a readers’ theater.
“Once we created the list of roles, we discussed how we would have other students, or even the public, as our audience,” said Grimes. “We said that the public was our audience because we decided to make our interviews as if they were part of a news broadcast. The format we used was an interview. Our topic was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
After the students chose partners, they decided who would play which role. One (or two) students acted as News Channel 18 reporters while the other student played the role of the person connected to Dr. King, though Dr. King himself was not a role. Students portrayed such historical figures as civil rights activist Rosa Parks; Indian non-violence advocate, Mahatma Ghandi; King’s parents, Alberta Williams King and Martin Luther King Sr.; his wife, Coretta Scott King; and Presidents Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
Holding shelf paper rolls topped with pincushions as microphones, students took turns interviewing classmates. They typically asked one or two questions of each interview subject. First was Rosa Parks. The reporter asked her to recall the famous bus incident in 1955, when she refused to yield her seat to a white man, and asked her if laws are better now for black people. She replied that yes, the laws are better.
Two reporters interviewed President Lincoln. They asked him to compare his life to Dr. King’s. A pair of reporters also interviewed President Kennedy, who said, “Everyone should be treated the same.” At the end of each visit, the reporters thanked the guest for the interview.
“The students were challenged to write questions that would show that particular person’s connection to Dr. King,” said Grimes. “Another goal we had was to highlight the reasons why Dr. King was an important American. The students were really involved in helping create our objective so they could take ownership of it. This is actually a part of assessment literacy. I would meet with each group to help them monitor their progress. We would discuss whether there were any holes in their information and if so, are there any books or other resources they could use, such as the Internet, to fill holes or double-check their facts. Giving them feedback whenever we did a check-in meeting allowed them to fix anything they needed to fix. They still had time to act on what we had discussed.”
Alberta Williams King talked about her son’s childhood, his nickname, his first childhood best friend, Bobby, who was white, how proud she was when Martin Jr. won a Nobel Peace Prize and his work to help end segregation in the United States. Martin Luther King Sr. echoed what his wife said, but explained that Bobby’s parents ended Martin Junior’s childhood friendship. Martin Sr. also recalled a time when someone threw a bomb at their home. Coretta Scott King described the first time she met Dr. King, recalled when they got married and how many children they have. The reporters asked President Johnson how he became president in 1963, if the job was hard and if anyone helped him. They also asked him about the Civil Rights Movement and what it did. Ghandi said he practiced a “love your enemies” approach, similar to the non-violent practices that Dr. King believed in.
Before starting the readers’ theater, Grimes explained to the visitors that students need to demonstrate reading fluency.
“As we practiced, I had the students help create a sort of rubric for what I should be looking for when scoring them on their fluency and expression,” said Grimes. “The students were aware of this objective, but I asked them to work together to help me create a list of things I should be listening and looking for.
“I wanted them to explain to me what fluent reading is and what good expression sounds like. They really came up with some great descriptors. They told me that their reading should be smooth, not too fast and not too slow. They told me that they should sound like the character. They should use the right feelings. We even discussed how our tone changes from when we read an exclamation to when we read a question. They told me that hand motions can help us get our feelings across better, too.”
Parents stayed in the classroom to watch and listen to the readers’ theater. The students divided into two groups and read “Pushing up the Sky,” a Native American tale, aloud. In the story, the sky was much closer to the ground than it is now, so much so that people found it easy to climb a tree and jump into the sky, hit their heads on it, lose arrows in it and other annoyances. The solution, the people discovered, was for every person on the ground to push up the sky at the same time. They used a signal everyone would recognize, regardless of language and working together, they pushed up the sky. Grimes said another assessment literacy point is students working together to help one another revise or improve.
“I had the students from one group watch and listen to the students from the other group who had the same roles,” said Grimes. “The students were to write one thing that they thought their partners did a great job with and one or two things they thought classmates could improve. I also went around to each pair to give them my input. I then gave them time to practice with one another before performing again. I think the kids did a great job of coaching one another. Sometimes, I think kids like getting help from their peers. I think it makes them think twice about suggestions I give them. It hits them at a whole new level when they hear the same things coming from someone their own age.”