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Self-assessment-can they?


As the number of full-day kindergarten classrooms increases, so does the emphasis on reading, writing and arithmetic. The academic pressures are increasing, in the kindergarten classroom. With the increasing pressure to accelerate student progress it is becoming more important to teach self-assessment skills at an earlier age. This action research project invites kindergarteners to assess their own learning.


My research question is: What happens when kindergarteners are invited to assess their own learning? I continue to be amazed at the enthusiasm my students bring to our classroom each day in spite of the situations they encounter in their lives. Equally, I continue to be amazed that I am the certified teacher of these very kindergarteners who enter our classroom daily. I teach at McCormick Elementary located in the south part of Farmington, New Mexico. McCormick is a Title I school providing supplementary literacy services for small groups. Title I services are based on the percentage of free and reduced lunches. Currently, 87% of the school's students are on free or reduced lunch. This year our school will be celebrating its 50th year of serving children. I teach in a portable classroom at the west end of the school. I have twenty students, ten girls and ten boys, four Caucasian, five Hispanic, and eleven Native Americans. Nine students attend a Navajo bilingual program daily. One student attends speech class twice a week for 30 minutes. The whole class receives Title I services in groups of five, a different group for 30 minutes each day. All students attend PE and Music four days a week.

Now, as a fourth year kindergarten teacher working toward a master's degree, 1 have become a teacher researcher. Hubbard & Power (1999) believe that the purpose developing teachers as researchers is "to create the best possible learning environment for students"(p.3). Creating a positive learning environment is something that is very important to me. One of my goals as a teacher is to support my students in becoming independent thinkers and "bringing out their curiosity and love of learning while laying a foundation for building a community of lifelong learners"(Duncan & Lockhart, 2000, p. 13). With teacher research in mind, I began thinking about the goal of kindergarten--preparing them for first grade. I do wonder at the end of each year if I have adequately prepared my kindergarteners to succeed in first grade. In the beginning, I became interested in, "How do we know when kindergartners are ready for first grade?" As 1 thought about involving the students, I decided to ask them, "What do you think you need to know to go to the first grade?" Some students responded as follows:

Selena: "To know how to read."

Jackie: "To know how to draw."

Baby Girl: "To be a good listener and line up."

Jerry: "Not to step on untied shoelaces."

George: "Not to sock people."

Sally: "Count to 100."

Kim: "I'm not going to first grade."

Crystal: "Learn ABC's."

Jack and Jasmin: "Do homework."

Tom and Bob: "To color."

As I evaluated these initial responses, I realized that they and I were in agreement on many observations that reflected an academic focus. Some of the other responses reflected more social interaction and dynamics. (e.g. Not to sock people, not to step on untied shoelaces.) As I discussed these interviews with colleagues and my instructors, the topic of self-assessment kept coming up. Could the students assess their own learning? I am continually looking for developmentally appropriate ways to assess students' learning. Why not self-assessment? Duncan and Lockhart (2000) state, "When students are involved, learning, evaluation, and assessment are not things that simply happen. They become an integrated and meaningful partnership between the student and teacher"(p. 124). As a result of these initial conversations with students and colleagues, my primary focus and question evolved to: What happens when kindergarteners are invited to assess their own learning?

Evaluating and assessing student learning has been debated among the educational community for years. To test or not to test, what to test and how to test will probably continue to be debated for years to come. Fredrick Froebel was the founder of the kindergarten concept in the 1830's. His philosophy is based on the idea that one should "cultivate children's innate ability to observe, reason, express and create" (Brosterman, 1997, p.12). Also, there is interconnectedness in all things. Froebel believed that learning must be object work such that "By examining real things kindergarten pupils developed originality in thinking and problem solving"(Brosterman, 1997, p.34). According to Katz (1997):</p>

<pre> Clarifying the main purpose for which young children are assessed can help determine what kinds of assessments would be most

appropriate. Assessment of individual children might serve the

following purpose: *to determine progress on significant developmental achievements; *to make placement or promotion decisions; *to diagnose learning and teaching problems; *to help in instruction and curriculum decisions; *to serve as a basis for reporting to parents; and *to assist a child with ass assessing his or her own progress (p. 2). </pre> <p>"Starting with the fundamental idea that education for the very young must begin by sensitively channeling children's constant activity and interaction with the physical world,"(Brosterman, 1997, p.35) I began to develop the concept of self-assessment in kindergarteners in my research question: What happens when kindergarteners are invited to assess their own learning? Developing the self-assessment concept was not going to happen quickly. It was going to take numerous concrete examples, modeling and continuous use of the vocabulary. Realizing the students had no criteria on which to base good work, I began sitting at different tables each day and engaging in whatever activity with which the students were working, thus modeling a criteria on which to base good work, for example, coloring with crayons, cutting things out, and penmanship. With object work in mind and Froebel's ideas that "so many lessons may be learned with blocks" (Brosterman, 1997, p.50), I began incorporating the vocabulary into their daily language by exploring the concept of the best ways to build a structure to keep something in, build tower, or a castle. It was encouraging hearing the students begin to use the vocabulary, make assessment decisions, and respond to their and other students' work.

Just as children meet milestones in growth and development, given time and a safe environment where students' feelings and thoughts are valued, they will learn to self-assess. One of the assessment tools currently used by the Farmington Municipal School District is the Kindergarten Report, which is a checklist of the basic kindergarten skills. This checklist is used as an evaluation tool for retention or promotion. Another assessment tool, The Dynamic Indicators of Beginning Literacy Skills (DIBELS) are considered "brief but powerful measures of the critical skills that underlie early reading success" according to Good & Kaminski (2003, p 1). According to their research, DIBELS assessment helps teachers assign children to small instructional groups according to their needs. As stated in the manual, it provides guidelines as a screening and progress-monitoring tool for intervention with at risk students. The teacher can then implement a more effective instructional program. DIBELS is the state mandated assessment, which is given three times during the school year (Fall, mid-Winter, and Spring). The primary focus is that "these simple assessments predict how well children are likely to be doing in reading comprehension by the end of third grade"(Good & Kaminski, 2003, p. 1).


Prior to this project, permission was obtained from my principal to utilize my classroom and students in my research with reassurance that the curriculum taught in my classroom would be maintained. I am accountable for the students and the skills that ate essential for them to be prepared for first grade. Ethically and legally, I needed parent permission to involve students in the research. I did discuss the project with all parents at the kindergarten orientation on September 19, 2004, and again at parent/teacher conferences on October 10 and 11, 2004. I continue to discuss the project with the parents that have shown the greatest interest. I have received a signed consent form from each parent/guardian. As I observed my students at work and play, we continually discussed the project's progress because they are part of the research. I also wanted them to be aware of what is expected of them, how data are collected, and evaluated, and what the benefits might be in participating in this project. I will make available a copy of my final paper to parents at the end of the project.

Research Design/Data Collection

I collected three work samples in late September, late October, and mid-February. I conducted group and individual interviews with students. These group/individual interviews mostly took place during the students' lunch and recess time. I observed the students at work and play, keeping a reflection journal and anecdotal records of my observations. I compiled and coded student interviews and observations. The students did an independent assessment on letter identification. I conducted the same letter identification assessment one-on-one with the students. DIBELS is made up of tire timed components, one being Letter Naming Fluency, which I will compare with students' self-assessment. The DIBELS test was given at the standard Fall and mid-Winter testing times. The end testing time will occur after the deadline of this research.


I had planned to take the three work samples and review them with each student. I was going to ask the students if they felt one sample was better than another and why. However, the earlier interviews consumed more time than I expected and left us unable to complete the work sample interviews.

Of the seventeen students that participated in the uppercase letter self-assessment exercise, 82% of the students were within one of two letters of my one-on-one teacher assessment (see Fig 1). See website Of the seventeen students that participated in the lowercase self-assessment, 71% of the students were within one or two letters of my one-on-one teacher assessment (see Fig 2). See issue website Later discussions concluded that uppercase letters were easier to learn because "they are bigger", "they don't look the same" and "I don't know, they ate just easier."


The DIBELS Letter Naming Fluency scores (Table 1) indicates that the January timed testing information on this 1 of 5 indicators shows that 5 students are still at risk. According to the DIBELS criteria, those that remain at risk or deficit after the Spring testing will not be successful readers in first grade. See issue website Upon comparing the student's self-assessment with the DIBELS mandated assessment, I found the students gave an accurate description of their knowledge. The same students who scored low on DIBELS were also the students who were low on the self-assessment and teacher assessment.

Interpretation/Data Analysis

I continue to observe my students at work and play. Of the past two years that DIBELS has been required for all kindergarteners, I have been skeptical of its ability to predict success or failure in students of such a young age. Everything I have read indicates that testing, letter grades or achievement scores are not appropriate for children below third grade. I have had concerns with the components of the test being timed and my understanding of how time is viewed very differently within some cultures. I am concerned that culture differences may not have been considered in the design of the DIBELS assessment. The dialogue below took place with a student as I was giving him the second timed section of the mid-DIBELS assessments.

Teacher: "Here are some letters. Tell me the names of as many letters as you can. When I say, "Begin," start here and go across the page. Point to each letter and tell me the name of that letter. If you come to a letter you don't know, I'll tell it to you. Put your finger on the first letter. Ready, begin."(Good & Kaminski, 2003, p.19) At the end of the minute the student replied: "If I stay in kindergarten, can we stop? 1 can't do this".

The student was struggling. I believe the reference to staying in kindergarten was the result of earlier conversations relating to the original question, "How do we know when Kindergarteners are ready for first grade?" It was clear to me that this student was self-assessing. It was obvious to me he was concerned about the timer.

Katz (1997) states, "Whenever a measurement is applied to a group of people of any age, especially a group that is diverse in background, experience, aptitude, development, culture, language, and interests, some will rank higher and some lower than others on any item assessed"(p.6). The above-mentioned student is Navajo and quickly realized his own limitations during the DIBELS test. As a result of my comparing the self-assessments and DIBELS, I am beginning to view their research differently. I am more willing to utilize it as the screening and progress-monitoring tool for which it was designed. That is, "to catch children at risk before failure sets in and to mobilize instructional support for them"(Good & Kaminski, 2003, p.3).

As I continued to observe and listen to my students at work and play, I began asking the students, "Is this your best work?" Some student responses now are, "No, I hurried", "Yes, this is my best", and "Yes, Look, Look, I cut on the line". Students have begun making the choice to start assignments over when they have discovered a mistake or realized "horses should not be colored orange." Engaging in the students' activities has further reinforced the whole concept of self-assessment.


Where do I go from here? I will continue on the journey I have begun. I plan to continue my reading and working on methods and research for improving data collection and anecdotal record keeping of my students. One of the most important things I learned relates to the logistics of collecting data using fictitious names. In the future, I will use fictitious names in the beginning and not at the end of the project as I did. Also, I would work toward more reflective writing, for I felt my journal was more of a daily documentary and list than an insightful recollection of happenings.

With this project in mind, I plan to continue focusing on self-assessment. I still plan on having students evaluate their work samples to see how they will assess themselves. I would like to explore the idea of student-conducted conferences. Nine of my students attended the most recent parent/teacher conference and showed interest in participating. I am going to continue with ideas for students to work toward developing the criteria on which to base good work and eliminating my influence on their perception of acceptable work. During this research, more questions arose than I have answered. Some of those questions are:

1. What influence does language play on the ability to accurately self-assess?

2. If we do not address students' emotions, does meaningful learning take place?

3. What role do fine and gross motor skills play in reading readiness?

This project has given me confidence as a teacher. I love what I do and I realize there is not one right way for teaching to happen. Each year, each day, and each child is different. Children are amazing and are the experts in their own lives. I believe they can be the experts in their own learning if given the opportunity. Giving children the opportunities to make choices about their learning, I trust they can make the right choice. I agree with Katz (1997) that there are a lot of factors to consider when assessing children--but are we forgetting to address the heart?

Resources/Reference List

Brosterman, N. (1997). Inventing kindergarten: New York, NY. Harry N. Abrams.

Duncan, D., & Lockhart, L. (2000). I search, you search, we all learn to research: A how-to-do-it manual for teaching elementary school students to solve information problems. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers.

Good, R., & Kaminski, R. (2003). DIBELS: Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills 6th Edition. Longmont, CO: Sopris West Educational Services.

Hubbard, R., & Power, B. (1999). Living the questions: A Guide for teacher researchers. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.

Katz, L. G. (t997). A development approach to assessment of children. Eric Digest. Champaign, IL. ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education. ED 407172.

Jennifer L. Wilson, McCormick Elementary in Farmington, NM

Jennifer L. Wilson is fourth year kindergarten teacher at McCormick Elementary in Farmington, NM.
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Title Annotation:kindergartens
Author:Wilson, Jennifer L.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2005
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