September 2013 Archive
Why assessment is the most important thing you do.

Question: How many times a day are you assessing your students? 

Answer: Constantly.  (If you said anything less than this, I’m glad you’re here.  Read on.)

Recently in my Method course at a local university, I had students turning in lesson plans without assessment in them.  Confused by this, I asked them why most of them had left out such a crucial piece of every lesson.  Their answer?  Well it wasn’t the end of the unit.  I wanted to fall off my chair, BUT, I realized that that is so often what we associate assessment with.  And if you’ve never been in the classroom full time or have been there very recently, that may be what you think you should do.  Teach a lesson/unit.  Give a test.  Repeat.  And I realized that it is still that way for most teachers who are in the classroom right this minute.  This is one of the very reasons why I created the Teacher Anchor to included student data as a crucial piece.  Teachers I know and have worked with needed this piece of the planning puzzle.  They were only using assessment to see if their students got it.  And even if some didn’t, they moved on anyway.  So, let’s talk about why assessment is so important and let’s get you on the right path (if you aren’t already there).


When do you pre-test?

  • At the end of the previous day’s lesson
  • For Morning Work
  • Any time that will give you accurate time to review the results
  • If the skill is a reviewed skill, you may pre-test in the beginning of a lesson.

For every Common Core standard you teach, you should be pre-testing your students to see what they already know.  For example, if one of my standards is CCSS.Math.Content.2.NBT.A.2 Count within 1000; skip-count by 5s, 10s, and 100s and I’m tackling skip counting by 5’s (5, 10, 15, 20…) and my students already know how to do that, I’d be wasting precious school time of theirs and mine going over it again, right?  But how would I know if they can skip count without a pre-test?  You can’t.  So let’s start there.  When I was in the classroom, everything I did included a pre-test.  Once I had my standard(s) laid out, I’d create an assessment to evaluate how many of my students had mastered* this skill already.  So before I’d even begin to teach, I’d give a pre-test.

*Mastered means just that.  They know it front, back, and sideways.  Not just every once in awhile or just on this day.

Types of pre-tests

Now if you are thinking of a “test” being with pencil and paper, that’s not what I mean. There are various types of formal and informal measures.  Here are just a few that I would use:

  • Formal: Written assessment (multiple choice, fill in the blank, open response), Digital Data Collection system (Student Response system by SMART, Clickers, Survey Monkey, Socrative)
  • Informal: Oral assessment (white boards, thumbs up/thumbs down), Entry Tickets, Checklists* (whole group, small group, or individually)

*I used checklists most often.  And if you have the Teacher Anchor or you’ve purchased one of the Student Data sheet sets (which are still available even though the Anchor sold out), then you already have these checklists built into your planning system.

So let’s walk through a pre-test.  Let’s say I’m teaching skip counting by 5’s, as I mentioned before.  (CCSS.Math.Content.2.NBT.A.2 Count within 1000; skip-count by 5s, 10s, and 100s.)  I may pre-test by using my SMART response system, by asking students a variety of skip counting questions and have them weigh in with their clickers (only allowing me to see their results).  Don’t have a fancy system?  Let’s go old school and ask them to skip count one at a time.  I’ll call them up to my desk as they come in in the morning, ask them to count by 5’s to 100 and mark my checklist with a yes they did it or no they couldn’t do it.  Easy as pie.

I pre-tested.  Now what?

Now you proceed with your whole group lesson (unless every single person in class has mastered it.  Then you put your checklist in your Anchor and move on to the next standard).  As you teach your whole group lesson, be aware that some students are above and below target.  When you break up to do an independent activity, plan to pull out or provide differentiated activities for those students who are above/below target.  The student sheet set also has these differentiated anecdotal notation forms available too.  Or you can purchase an anecdotal notepad right here in the shop.  It’s important to make sure you are enriching for your high learners and scaffolding for those who are below target.  This is why planning and differentiation is a crucial part of the assessment process.  You have to meet each student at their level.  Bloom’s Taxonomy and Higher Order Thinking skills are SO SO important to help you meet each students needs.  Visit those links listed there to help you differentiate via various levels of questioning.


So you’ve finished your lesson.  You’re done differentiating.  Now what?  Time to see what they’ve learned!  This can be done on the same day or the following day.  Or even when you’re done with the standard.  Here’s are some guidelines to post-testing:

  • You must give the SAME post-test as you did pre-test in order to show growth.
  • You can add questions to the post-test, but you must keep all of the original pre-test questions on there too.
  • Post-test at the end of each skill lesson or at the end of your unit. (For example, if your skip counting lesson is just part of a bigger unit, you may choose to pre-test at the end of this skip-counting lesson to assess this particular skill but then give a overall “unit test” where you pull questions from each post-test throughout the unit to gauge their overall learning of the unit.  Make sense?)

How did your students do?  Did they show mastery?  If yes, then wonderful!  File individual student data in your Anchor and move on!  If no, re-teach the standard in a different way.  Provide enrichment for those who have mastered and assistance for those still below target.

Want a summary of this entire post?

I created a flow chart to give to my Methods students and wanted to make it available to you, for FREE!  Hole-punch it and stick it in the front of your Anchor.  You can also find it in my TpT shop for free download as well.

Download the Assessment Flow Chart here.  Or click on the graphic below.


Why does assessment matter?


Your data should drive what you teach.  The way your student perform on each pre/post test should determine how you proceed with your plans.  No more testing and moving on.  If you do that, then stop it right now.  If you don’t use the data to drive the instruction, then you are wasting everyone’s time.  Most importantly, your students aren’t learning and what good is that?  You should pre-test and post-test for every single standard and objective that comes across your plans.  Use the flow chart to help you.

And as always, if you have questions, please contact me or email me at  And if you feel like you need a little extra help, the student data sheet sets are still available.  They come with a complete explanation on how to use them and how to best benefit your students learning.  Trust me, they’ll make you a better teacher.  And your students will thank you.  🙂



Fired Up Fridays: Go team!

This weekend we’re headed back to OH-IO to cheer on the Buckeyes as they beat play Wisconsin.  I haven’t been to a game since I lived in Columbus, which was six years ago, so I’m super excited!

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Nothing fires me up like being back home in Ohio, visiting family and friends, and having fun surrounded by college football fans.  Not to mention a bunch of our college friends will be there plus two of my very best friends – yay!  I can’t wait!  Plus I’ll be bringing my very own Go Buckeye’s spirit tray to the tailgate to serve lots of fun snacks on!


Is there anything better than fall + cooler weather + the college football atmosphere to light your heart on fire?  I don’t think so!  Here’s to a great weekend and a big W!

PS: Follow along on my Instagram @cjayneteach to see all of the fun!

Writers Workshop Wednesday: Memory Boxes

I wrote a post last year on the Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman and some end of the year activities you could do with it.  But when I did, I made a note to myself to talk about it again in the beginning of the year.  I think this is a great lesson to roll out once your students have begun writers workshop, but before they get into the meat of their writing.  Let’s recap a little:


[All images in this post are © Paul Fleischman and Bagram Ibatoulline (Candlewick Press).  They may not be reproduced or sold.  All rights reserved.]

The Matchbox Diary is the new book by Newbery winner Paul Fleischman (Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices).  Fleischman has written one of my favorite adaptations of Cinderella, Glass Slipper Gold Sandal.  His books are beautifully written and illustrated and this story is no exception.  The illustrations are by Bagram Ibatoulline who was also responsible for the illustrations in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (Dicamillo).  I think this would make an amazing beginning of the year story to launch your writers workshop.  Read on.

Here is a summary from Candlewick Press:

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When a little girl visits her great-grandfather at his curio-filled home, she chooses an unusual object to learn about: an old cigar box. What she finds inside surprises her: a collection of matchboxes making up her great-grandfather’s diary, harboring objects she can hold in her hand, each one evoking a memory. Inspired by each matchbox she opens, the great-grandfather tells of his journey from Italy to the United States, before he could read and write — the olive pit his mother gave him to suck on when there wasn’t enough food; a bottle cap he saw on his way to the boat; a ticket still retaining the thrill of his first baseball game. With a narrative entirely in dialogue, Paul Fleischman makes immediate the two characters’ foray into the past. With warmth and an uncanny eye for detail, Bagram Ibatoulline gives expressive life to their journey through time — and toward each other.

Fleischman said that he wanted to write this story after seeing a matchbox journal of his friend, over two decades ago: “A writer’s toughest task isn’t finding an idea but figuring out what to do with it.”  After years of thinking about this idea, he decided that a story could be created around a character who used the Matchbox diary to communicate.  The story weaves the themes of immigration and family history into its beautiful dialogue style.  Each matchbox the little girl holds in her hand evokes a specific memory for the grandfather.  As you read, you can just imagine him using all of his senses to describe each memory and how important it was for him to save these for that purpose before he was able to read or write.

Lesson Ideas

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Candlewick Press has an amazing study guide that goes along with The Matchbox Diary, including alignment with the Common Core Standards.  Some of their ideas include investigating immigration in your own family, interviewing grandparents and great-grandparents to hear memories of a time when they were younger, and compare and contrast their lives then to the way we live now.  There can be quite a number of social studies and geographical tie-ins that you can investigate with an older group of students.  Even just discussing the text once you have finished reading can be a valuable time for students to ask questions and make connections about conversations or stories and traditions they may have heard in their family.  Common Core Connection: RL.3.7. Explain how specific aspects of a text’s illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character or setting). 

An obvious idea though is to have students create their own Matchbox Diary, which is a great artifact to use throughout the year in Writers Workshop.  I would have my students keep this in their writers cubby and use it when they were stuck on a story idea or how to further a story they already had begun.

When I first read The Matchbox Diary, I immediately also thought of The Memory String by Eve Bunting, where a little girl uses the buttons on a string to evoke memories of her family.  Again, I think both would be great to launch a writers workshop in the beginning of the year.  Students can bring in photos, artifacts, and other various memories from vacations, outings, or even special memories that they would like to write about*.  I could do this in collaboration with my “small moments” unit during Writers Workshop.  I would even collaborate with the art teacher to have students create their own memory boxes.  She would be able to help me with the artistic piece that I am lacking in the classroom.

Once students brought in their artifacts to represent their memories, I would have them write about each one, using all five senses.  I want them to be able to share with the reader how they felt in that memory, so that when they share the experiences, they will be put right back into it as if it was yesterday.  You can discuss with the students how easily the grandfather was able to recall his memories after many decades had passed.  You want them to be able to do the same.  They will create a piece of published writing that will go along with their memory boxes and can even present it to their peers.  Their memory boxes will be able to be used throughout the year as they recall information and pieces of a story that is an important memory to them.

*I realize that it may be difficult to find exact pieces from the children’s different experiences.  So, much like in the story, students are to find something that evokes a memory not necessarily an artifact from the actual field trip or project, etc.  It can be something as simple as a box of matchbooks but just so each item can recall the feelings they had in that memory itself.

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And of course, you could use this as a social studies tie-in, as I mentioned above.  Having students interview their relatives or their elders in the community is a great way to teach primary sources and also to hit some Common Core standards too.  Also check out Paul Fleischman’s website for additional information and activities to go along with the text.

Fired Up Friday: Full Disclosure

Today’s “Fired Up Friday” is a post dedicated to all of the teachers who “do it all” or actually, who don’t do it all.  Hear me out.

Remember that sweet post about Lincoln’s first day of school.  Well here’s what you didn’t see, in the photo below.  Also, just so you know, after that glorious first day, he screamed and cried the entire day for the next two days of school.  He’s just now getting used to school, but he still cries terribly at drop off and clings to my neck for dear life.  When his teachers pull him off of me, I sprint for the door.


The amazing Whitney English wrote this blog post today titled “Death to Doing It All”.  It really resonated with me because, as she says, we don’t do it all.  I remember when I was a teacher and single and even when I was then a wife (not even having any children yet), my schedule was as follows: I would wake up at 5, get ready, drive an hour to work (yes I did this every day), worked with 20 precious 7 year olds, stayed a little after school to prepare and plan, drive an hour home, get almost home and think “I cannot possibly think about making dinner”.  And I’d swing by Chipotle right as I got off my exit.  By the time I ate, showered and said hello to my husband, it was 9 pm.  And I was hitting the pillow… hard. I would never have described myself as “doing it all”, but it sure looked that way.  I couldn’t imagine how teachers with children felt!

And then I had a baby!  Luckily, I had a baby in June, so I didn’t have to worry about trying to do it all during the school year.  Yes, I took a maternity leave and had the year off from teaching.  But when my sweet baby was 4 months old, that’s when I had the idea to start C. Jayne Teach (and I also ran that little Etsy shop on the side that I previously mentioned).  I had a lot of people ask me how I “did it all” while having baby such a short time ago.  I just smiled and laughed.  But little did they know, that that was hardly the case.  Full disclosure here: I barely scraped by some days.  I had a really hard time after Lincoln was born.  I cried… a lot.  I had an extremely difficult time nursing and ended up exclusively pumping for 9 months.  That means for roughly 280 days of Lincoln’s life, I hooked myself up to a machine, seven times a day for 15 minutes each in order to feed my child (that’s 1,960 times for those of you who are counting and around 29,400 minutes of my life).  I stayed up late learning Illustrator on and taking care of a baby and (admittedly) left little time to spend with my husband.  I attended conferences (drove to and from Atlanta in ONE DAY for Making Things Happen to get back to be with Lincoln) and learned as feverishly as I could about this new business of mine.  I would have “business meetings” and vendor calls, all during nap time (which changed daily).  And I even had a plate of tacos dumped on my lap in the middle of a lunch meeting with my accountant (by Lincoln not by the accountant).  Here’s the thing though… I wouldn’t trade those difficult moments for anything in the world because it made me stronger as an entrepreneur, as a mom and as a wife.  And I won’t say life is easy peasy now because, well, that just wouldn’t be real, but it is pretty good.  We have a routine, I am able to run a business from my home and teach classes at a University here in town.  And I’m even able to cook dinner some nights!  But I still don’t do it all.

So to those of you who see me as a teacher, a professor, an entrepreneur, a wife, a mom, a friend and you think I have it all and do it all.  Thank you.  But I am as human as the next person.  I want you to be a little less hard on yourself.  You are doing an amazing job.  You are a fabulous ______ (teacher, parent, spouse, friend) and you rock.  I know not every day is good, but you have some great ones too – you do!  And tomorrow is a new day.  (And if you need me to remind you of that each morning, I will… that’s why I created the pep talk mug!  :))

As Whitney says, in response to the question, “How do YOU do it?”, I would like to propose a more productive conversation: tell us about your awesome. Tell us how you do the important stuff. Tell us how you do what matters. Tell us how you found your balance. Tell us what your strengths are. Tell us what lessons you learned. Blog about your awesome loudly. Because the world needs your expertise, your passion, and the lessons you’ve learned. The world needs your AWESOME. The world doesn’t need to know how you do it “all”. The world needs to know how you do that one little thing really, really well.”

So, how do I do what matters?  I focus on my core.  I focus on making decisions every day under the mantra “always make each day count“.  Whether I’m designing something new to help teachers in their classroom, meeting with a student from one of my courses, or taking Lincoln to the park, I’m always trying to make the day count.  I take the little victories amidst the times that I fall down.  (Case and point: Lincoln had a HUGE meltdown on the floor of the Verizon store as I’m trying to purchase a new iPhone today.  I stood in line for 45 minutes and I was NOT leaving before that phone was in my hand.  So I gave him my keys to chew on and a piece of a doughnut that they were giving away… because of course he threw the grapes and healthy snacks I brought with us all over the ground.  BUT little man ended up taking a four hour nap in the afternoon, which totally made up for that meltdown.  And I got to spend time learning my new phone and doing a little finalizing some Christmas products!  Victory!)

And focusing on my core goes for all of the products and original lesson plans in my shop too.  They’re all designed around what matters.  They all have a piece of my beliefs in them and a purpose for your classroom.  The desk pads are to keep you organized, and keep lots of little lists from cluttering up your desk.  This frees up more space for you to work with your students!  Because how many times do we skip reading groups because the table is just too messy?  Guilty!  The rubber stamps are meant to help you easily label your supplies so you don’t have to worry about lending them out and sharing with your students or colleagues because now you know they’ll find their way home.  And we all know about the Teacher Anchor.

So I want you to go into this weekend and into next week and all the weeks following by knowing that you’re AWESOME.  Who cares if you did it all?  Did you make today count?  Did you spend your time making decisions in your classroom and your home based on your core?  Well then, I’d say that’s a pretty good day.



Writing Workshop Wednesday: Non-Fiction Research

I know things have been pretty quiet here on the blog, but that’s because I’ve been a busy bee working on all of the new holiday products for the shop.  I can’t give too much away yet because I’m still finalizing details, but I can promise lots of fun new designs, new products and a little “magic” for the holiday season!  Yay!

I’m going to jump back into regularly blogging as well.  First up, I’m doing a little re-post on my favorite lesson I taught in the classroom: wonder bubbles!  This is an original, copyrighted lesson that I created when I was in the classroom and is for sale in it’s entirety on TpT and Etsy.  Non-fiction is a HUGE part of the new Common Core standards, so this lesson is extremely relevant in today’s schools.  Below are the CCSS that you’ll hit in this comprehensive unit:

Common Core English Language Arts Standards

Text Types and Purposes

CCSS.ELA-Literacy. CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy. CCRA.W.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

Production and Distribution of Writing

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

– See more at:

So let’s jump right in and see how you can bring non-fiction research to your students this year.

What is a Wonder Bubble?

A wonder bubble starts with a research question that the students are “wondering” about.  Why is the sky blue?  Why do octopuses have eight legs?  How many teeth does a shark have?   Students choose their question to drive their research.  Over the next few weeks, they check out books from the library, learn the features of non-fiction, and publish their wonder bubbles (okay so it’s a little more detailed than that).  The main idea about this unit though is that the students do the research.  I’m not sticking bookmarks in a book and handing it to them, they are researching, finding facts, putting into their own words, and publishing content all on their own!


Parts of the Unit

Here is a brief overview of the parts of the unit:

Part 1 – Choosing a wonder question

Part 2 – Learning what a “dash fact” is and how to put your research into your own words

Part 3 – Introducing features of non-fiction text

Part 4 – The publishing process: organizing your research into your “bubble” (Free publishing pages available here)

Part 5 – Illustrating non-fiction features

Part 6 – Presenting to peers and parents

I’ve listed this entire unit on Teachers Pay Teachers and for all of my C.Jayne Teach readers, I’ve discounted it to $5.00 (originally $8).  I also have a free download of the publishing paper, comment cards, and even an editable checklist there too!  This unit is broken down into very detailed parts, covers a number of common core standards, and even includes helpful research links.  The best part?  It’s scripted!  Yes, I sat down and actually wrote out the script so that if you’re unsure of what to do, you can follow along (see below):

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Presenting Their Research

Not only does this unit cover the core standards, but it’s something different for the students to focus on apart from our regular Writing Workshop.  Not to mention, its always a favorite among the students and parents because of the way the students present their research.  At the end of the unit, parents are invited to come and learn about our wonder bubbles. I would usually do a private presentation in-class in the morning so they can share with their peers, and then host a public event in the afternoon where the parents, principal, and even superintendent are invited to view the bubbles in the school library.  You can make this really fun by printing out invitations and have students “deliver” them or the students can make their own invites to pass out as well.  The public event is set up like a museum walk and parents are invited to walk around at their leisure with all students presenting at once.  The parents are also encouraged to ask questions and engage the students about their research.  During this event, I have also made a brochure for the parents to pick up at the door as well as comment cards that are placed next to the students’ bubbles.  When the adults have finished listening to the students’ presentation, they can leave a comment on their card (these cards are also available in the free download in my TPT store).  After the event, the wonder bubbles hang in the hallway for other classes to view or for parents to come look at if they were unable to attend the presentation day.  Students are given their bubbles and laminated comment card to take home after a few weeks of display.

I’ve seen this unit done from first grade all the way through fifth grade, so it really is applicable to all ages.  I think as a kindergarten teacher, I’d even be able to modify this to suit that age level by introducing fewer text features and having them publish on a smaller scale.   The complete unit is available here as well as free downloads of those publishing pages you see above, comment cards for the presentation day, and even a checklist for you to customize to your students publishing process.

If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.  I’m happy to help!


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