New School Year…new baselines!

2010 – 2011 will prove to be an interesting one for many school districts around the country.   As more and more states change state wide assessments, districts adjust to fluctuation in funding, and teachers vary their methods to adjust to the new Common Core standards adopted by 35 states, big changes are facing the new school year.

To that end – the push for literacy in the Science and Social Studies classroom is a big school year goal.  In an effort to ease that transition, the push for non-fiction texts in these two content areas with more of an emphasis of fiction text in the English Language Arts classes should be one of the smoothest ways to increase literacy fluency across subject areas.  So where to begin – at the beginning of course – with a BASELINE!

Baseline’s are great tools – and provide a lot of information for teachers about their students current academic abilities.

FAQ’s on Baselines –

Who: Your students write it – you get to analyze it!

What: It is a writing assignment with no rules, no structure, and no guidance from the teacher.  You can have the students write about anything or be subject specific (i.e. – what do you know about the periodic table of elements?  or write me a poem…)

When: Baselines occur at the beginning of the school year or beginning of a unit.  In some instances you can do them at the beginning of a lesson but that time is better used by a do now, or entrance slip (a baseline on a very very very informal scale.)

Where: I find baselines easily done on looseleaf or a pre-printed lined paper with the focus.  The less direction by the teacher the better.

Why: Why not?  What better way to get to know what your kids can do and what they are thinking without the pressure of making sure you call on or conference with everyone.

How: Give the students the focus (i.e. “Write me a story?” or “What do you know about the American Revolution?”) and a specific amount of time.  Usually 2o – 30 minutes.  If the baseline is assessing their writing process you want to administer it over three days – day 1 – they write their story, day 2 – they revise and edit and day 3 – they publish.

My first target area for a baseline will be in just collecting the students background knowledge in social studies and science.  I know it sounds almost two simple, however, having them write this information down tells me a lot about their writing fluency.

  • Do they write in complete sentences?
  • Do they bullet out notes?
  • What is their spelling like?
  • Do they use correct punctuation and capitalization?
  • Si there a sense of grammar conventions?
  • Do they show some beginning, middle, and end – even if it is a sentence?
  • Do they have an understanding of fact and fiction?
  • Is there a voice in their writing?

Of course, the information that the students provide regarding the content is just as important.  It provides tiny clues as to whether or not they have paired a world of attention in previous years during these classes.  However, being able to get a quick snapshot of where your students are not only academically but also get a feel for how quickly they work and how long they can focus is invaluable in the first couple of days of school.

Additionally, it gives you the opportunity to target one or two areas that all or most of the students need improvement on as well as providing you your first tool to measure student growth.

So what do you do when you have a bunch of papers written all over in various states of completion? – Read them of course.  Baselines are not meant to be used for your first grade of the 1st quarter/semester – they are informal and informative to the teacher.  For the students it builds their sense of trust that everything they write or do will not be graded and it provides, the opportunity for opening an exchange of dialog between your students.

In the end, baselines, should become a regular part of the assessment process.  When combines with midlines and endlines they become invaluable to measure student growth and performance as well as provide you tremendous amounts of feedback on what your students learned and didn’t.  For the content areas, they are an easy way to start building literacy into the curriculum, without diving to deeply into the whole literacy thing – yet!


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