Assessing a new class

Comprehend Ask explicit as well as implicit questions during and after each chapter. Make note of the extent to which the class has understood the content.

As the new academic year makes progress, one of the things that a teacher needs to do is size up the academic abilities of the new class. The initial impact of a new class with a new teacher amidst new curriculum is always overwhelming, and often the behavioural aspect receives the most attention. Many children though seeming to have behavioural issues, may in fact not have learning difficulties and vice versa.

The following checklist is provided to help teachers and school staff develop a better understanding of the students:

Initial observation: Watch your students throughout the day, look for signs of frustration, boredom, excitement etc. Do simple observational exercises such as asking for examples in every subject. Ask children to name the most important words from a chapter, they could be asked to give a spontaneous summary of a lesson or what detail caught their attention. These are ways in which we can take note of who answers, who avoids responding, who responds rashly etc.

For each chapter one could begin a sentence and ask the children to complete it, such as ‘The most important part of this lesson is...’ or ‘the new thing that we learnt here is...’ or ‘the most difficult thing in this chapter is...’. Such observations are very helpful in tackling the imbalance in the class regarding learning.

Academic observation: For young children in pre-primary and primary classes, basic learning skills should be observed. Merely carrying out the syllabus and accomplishing the written requirements is of no use if the foundation skills are not in place. What are the foundation skills to be observed?

Here are some tips:

Observe how efficiently the child opens the book and locates the page

Can the child locate the part of the chapter asked for, or the keywords in the lesson, or the answer to a question even if it is based on a picture?

Can the child figure out a new word?

Can every child in the class read? A simple question but most teachers don’t know the answer. Every teacher should note down the reading fluency of the child, there could be kids in class not knowing how to read, but getting by through rote learning of answers. Ask the children to read orally on a regular basis.

For written tasks, check which children finish efficiently, and make note of those who buy time, distract others, can copy notes but not make their own notes etc. Observe closely to understand if they have a bad handwriting or have comprehension difficulties that hinder smooth written expression.

In very young children oral language plays a rather important role in providing the academic picture of the child. If a child is quiet and hesitant, spend some time making the child feel comfortable and then proceed to observe the vocabulary of the child.

An important aspect to keep in mind is that a seemingly bright capable child faring poorly in all areas could be under emotional strain from home situations or lack of self-confidence and security.

Parental feedback: Teachers should not hesitate to communicate with parents. Most often children are not able to perceive reality accurately and may tend to exaggerate or undermine an important situation, they may complain about their parents to get sympathy, or to win friends over. Sometimes a family situation is crucial information which can help in offering extra support to the child.

Year-round observation: Apart from unit tests and term exams, there are some basic observations that need to be part of an ongoing process. They are:

Comprehension — Ask explicit as well as implicit questions during and after each chapter. Make note of the extent to which a class has understood the content.

Behaviour — Take note of how behaviour alters depending on the type of instruction. Observe whether children learn more when the instruction is in visual or audio or experiential form? These observations may change over time, so it is valuable to note them down.

Learning environment —  Observing children in different learning environments can greatly help in drawing correlations and patterns. Flexibility in seating arrangements and in grouping often throws up new patterns of concentration, task completion, oral participation etc. Creating temporary groups helps bring out the talents of children.

Differentiated teaching — All teachers know that they teach a class varying in potential, capacity, personality and interest. Understanding whom to teach, what to teach, how to teach is crucial as all children have different learning skills and preferences. One way to do this is to have the lesson presented orally (children who are good at oral skills will gravitate to this option), charts, powerpoint presentations and other visual modes (children who hesitate orally often are efficient at the visual level), and a mime or role play, experiment, physical activity (for children who learn best through tactile-kinesthetic modes).

In conclusion, teachers always need to have a student learning profile, either in their heads or noted down to assess the academic abilities of a new class.

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