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Why Mid-Year Is a Great Time to Assess Your Teaching |®

Why Mid-Year Is a Great Time to Assess Your Teaching

We all know assessment is important. It guides our instruction and helps us provide actionable feedback to our students. But who guides our instruction? Who gives us the feedback we need to improve?

Even in the best of situations, that someone is often us. Assessing our own teaching is one of the most valuable things we can do to improve what we do. And taking some time before the beginning of the second semester is one of the best times to do it.

“Teaching is so often assessed by looking at student learning outcomes — tests, grades, etc. However, teaching is fundamentally an interaction between the teacher and the learner,” explains Vanessa Rodriguez, co-author of The Teaching Brain: An Evolutionary Trait at the Heart of Education. “Therefore, assessment of the teacher is equally important. We are often less familiar with how to do this, but by using intentional self-reflection, a teacher can assess where they are in terms of the development of their teaching skill and how they can push themselves to higher levels of cognitive skill development.”

The semester break is a great time to do this, because we have data and insights from the first semester and we know our students well.

“Mid-year is the perfect time to evaluate practice because you can adjust instruction and add strategies to better serve your students for the remainder of the year,” says Kathryn Starke, an elementary school literacy coach for Chesterfield County Public Schools in Richmond, VA, and the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute. “You can take this time to reflect on what may have worked or not first semester and move forward to second semester with even more powerful results.”

Here are six tips for assessing your teaching:

1. Analyze Grades

Grades are an important data point. Too many low grades means you may not be meeting kids where they are and giving them the right work to do; too many high grades and you may not be challenging kids enough. Outliers, kids who differ greatly from the group or those who demonstrate inconsistent performance may need special attention.

But grades don’t tell the whole story, says Donna Leslie, a retired third grade teacher from Ott Elementary School in Independence, MO. “We should always be cognizant that low grades could be the result of a poor test or, conversely, high grades could be from a test that was too easy.”

2. Group by Instructional Need

Another way to look at student achievement is to group students by the kind of learning or support they need. “Mentally put the kids in subgroups to analyze the learning,” Leslie suggests.

If you have a group of students struggling with a particular skill — math or reading, for instance — look for techniques that free up time for you to spend on small group instruction or to provide more scaffolding for them in other ways. “If you could target a group of students, rather than one student, you could have higher results with fewer strategies,” she adds.

3. Get Student Input

Even kids at the very lowest grades can provide surprising insight into how they’re doing and what kind of help they would like.

“Aside from wanting recess eight hours a day, students actually have some creative ways to enhance our instructional time,” says Rodney Jordan, who teaches sixth grade math at Mayfield Intermediate School in Manassas, VA. “As a result, our evaluation process becomes much more extensive, and their insight helps us become better teachers.”

4. Record Yourself on Video

See how you interact with students and manage the classroom by filming yourself in action. An October 2014 poll by Insight Education Group and Smartbrief found that 91 percent of educators felt recording their teaching would help them improve.

5. Enlist a Peer

It can be difficult to assess ourselves, which is why Starke suggests asking a peer for feedback. “It's most effective to talk to an administrator or coach to get a suggestion of a teacher who may differ from you in style and have strengths you can learn from,” she says.

Your peer should “watch for both direct instruction and collaboration among classmates and independent practice,” she says. “The observer should clearly be able to identify the objective of the lesson — without being told.” He or she should also look at your lesson structure.

6. Observe Others

You can learn a lot from watching other teachers, too. “If you're a new teacher, observe a veteran; if you're a veteran teacher, observe a new teacher,” Starke suggests. “Observing someone on a different grade level is also a great option, so you can see what the instruction looked like for your students prior to you and then after you.”

We all want our students to be able to assess their own work because we know how valuable it is for them to think about how they’re doing. The same idea holds true for us. “When we review our practice, we further develop our craft,” Starke state. “We need to have a variety of tools and techniques to reach all kids. Reviewing our current instruction allows us to do so, to stay fresh and become a master teacher.”

In many schools today, we get a lot of coaching about our teaching. Observation protocols are improving all the time because we’ve all realized how necessary good feedback is to instructional improvement. But no matter how good our coaching systems get, our opinions of ourselves do more to shape our practice than any other feedback we receive.

Steve Peha is the founder of Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc., a North Carolina–based consultancy specializing in innovative approaches to educational change. In addition to working in hundreds of schools and teaching in thousands of classrooms, he is also an award-winning writer and educational software developer. Follow Steve on Google+.

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