Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Bulbs

Catch Them Thinking (page 2 of 2)

by Eve Pranis

Valuing Kids' Ideas

"Although I was leery at first about relying on more qualitative types of documentation -- my observation notes, student writing and journals, group projects, and so on -- I am already seeing how this process helps me better understand the whole child," says Kathryn. Her strategies? When students are doing an indoor GrowLab or outdoor garden investigation, they draw or write a relevant journal entry once a week. "At first I tried conferencing with students one-on-one about their journals, but my time was limited," says Kathryn. "Then I started working with three to four at a time, talking about their drawings and having them dictate their observations, ideas, and questions to me," she explains.

When students are engaged in garden activities (measuring a sunflower using hands, for instance), Kathryn observes them, listens to their conversations, and records comments that reveal how kids are meeting specific standards. Photos of students engaged in garden investigations, along with journals and portfolios that feature a progression of student work, provide more fuel for assessing and reporting student gains. She might also use a rubric or checklist linked to certain learning goals to "score" the work.

Kathryn draws from all of this material when reporting to parents and explaining what the material reveals about students' grasp of standards. She explains that many parents notice a difference in their children's enthusiasm and motivation since the garden project began, but others still question the value of "digging in the dirt." "By showing them the criteria for standards, then linking that to student work and my observational comments, I'm more able to help them see the value of the garden," explains Kathryn.

She acknowledges that it's a struggle to fit continuous assessment into her already busy teaching time. "I've alerted my teaching assistant to what I'm looking for, so she can help gather data. But these types of logistical challenges don't inhibit my enthusiasm for this approach. It helps me gain a much deeper understanding of kids' thinking and abilities, and what I need to do to support them," she concludes.

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