Staying Neutral During Assessment Season

Written by Gen

As a teacher trained in Reading Recovery, I am always painfully aware of my own actions and intentions, particularly this time of year, as I am administering the Observation Survey to a new group of wide-eyed first-graders.

In our Guide Book, Marie Clay is always careful to remind us that, when encountering a particular problem with a student, while it could be the child, the problem probably lies with our teaching. We are probably, and unwittingly, doing something that is causing the undesired response from the student. This is the same with assessment.

On my mind during this season of assessment, I am trying harder than ever to get as accurate a read on my potential future students as possible by staying neutral. It’s just so difficult to ignore those big, uncertain eyes of a 6-year-old who is searching you for some kind of indication that he is on the right track. Anything we say, however, that could send the message that the child is either “right” or “wrong,” can change the way the child responds to our prompts. Following are some of the instinctive things that we say that may create a false read on the child, and the language to use instead:

Avoid saying:

“Good job,” or “Good.” These two fly right out of my mouth so easily! It seems so harmless to tell a child that he’s done well, but in the past I found myself saying it even when the child had provided an inaccurate response. It easily quells the child’s anxiety about answering you, but not only is it false, it may also change the way the child would have answered the next question. For example, if he thinks you meant he was right when he said “d” for “b,” he might say “b” for “d” later on, even if he thinks it is a “d,” just because you said he did a good job earlier!

“Yes,” or “You’re right.”: See above. These also assign value to the child’s response! You may even want to erase, “mmm hmm,” from your testing language, since it implies a correct response.

“You’re doing great!” or “Keep going!” These are cheerful, but lead the child to responses that he might not have made if left on his own. For example, if a child stops recording sounds after the initial letter, and you say, “you’re doing great!” he might write more letters, one of which may look accurate, but he wrote it not because he heard the sound, but because he thought you wanted him to write more.

Language to use instead:

“Thank you.” That’s it. Just, “thank you.”  This seems so simple, and yet I have just recently given it a try. When a child makes an attempt but is unsure if he is right, he may look inquisitively at you. In this instance, you can simply say, “thank you.” It acknowledges that the child tried without assigning a value to what he said. When you feel the urge to say, “good job,” say, “thank you,” instead. Sometimes a child will ask me if he did well, or if he got it all “right.” To which I now respond, “thank you for working so hard today.” I’ve found that this simple phrase is all I need to neutrally make it through an Observation Survey.




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