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Language Arts, Vol. 86, No. 5, May 2009

Cover Art for Language Arts, Vol. 86, No. 5, May 2009

Table of Contents

Issue Theme: Refocusing on Assessment

  • Call for Manuscripts

  • Thoughts from the Editors: Refocusing on Assessment

  • Dilemmas and Discourses of Learning to Write: Assessment as a Contested Site

    Karen E. Wohlwend

    Abstract: Writing assessment is a contested site where competing discourses overlap and invoke conflicting expectations, creating dilemmas for teachers who want to do what they believe is best for children and fulfill their school’s writing targets. A critical look at assessment quandaries reveals surface dilemmas as clashes between overlapping discourses, freeing teachers to work with and against institutions that create the dilemmas and their immobilizing effects. To illustrate how competing discourses generate assessment dilemmas, I analyze data examples from emergent writing activity by a group of children at a kindergarten writing table, looking closely at the students’ and teacher’s actions through the lenses of several prevalent discourses that explain early writing development: maturation discourse, skills mastery discourse, intentionality discourse, multimodal genre discourse, social practices discourse, and sociopolitical discourse (adapted from Ivanic, 2004).

    Keywords: Assessment, Writing, Elementary

  • Teachable Moments: Linking Assessment and Teaching in Talk around Writing

    Kathryn Glasswell and Judy M. Parr

    Abstract: Traditionally, assessing student writing ability has often been product-focused. Advocates of child-centered process-oriented classrooms, however, suggest that teachers should also focus on understanding children’s writing behaviors in the context of meaningful communicative tasks.  In such an approach, writing conferences are one way in which teachers can gather information to use for teaching purposes. While engaging with children around writing, skilled teachers can make the most of writing conference interactions by taking advantage of the “teachable moments” that children present to them.  In this article, we will discuss teachable moments as powerful instructional episodes in which assessment and teaching mesh to produce a finely tuned instructional system that moves students forward. We identify and explore three key hallmarks of the teachable moment as assessment and instruction in action, and discuss how teachers can make the most of these seemingly simple, but instructionally complex events.

    Keywords: Assessment, Language, Writing, Elementary

  • Pathologizing the Language and Culture of Poor Children

    Curt Dudley-Marling and Krista Lucas

    Abstract: There has been a resurgence of deficit discourses that implicate deficiencies in the language and culture of poor students as the cause of their academic failures. An influential study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley concludes that high levels of academic failure among poor children can be linked to the quantity and quality of language interactions among poor children and their parents. However, strong claims about the language and culture of poor families are undermined by serious methodological flaws in the Hart and Risley study; an ethnocentric bias that takes for granted the normative status of the linguistic and cultural practices of the middle- and upper-income families in their sample; and the failure to make explicit the theory of language and culture that frames their analysis. But the fundamental problem with the Hart and Risley study – and deficit perspectives more generally – is that deficit thinking fails to consider linguistic and cultural resources all children bring with them to school. Ultimately, the remedy for disproportionate levels of failure among children living in poverty is a school curriculum that respects their background knowledge and experience and builds on students’ linguistic, cultural, and cognitive “funds of knowledge.”

    Keywords: Assessment, Diversity, Language, Research, School-Community Relation

  • Focus on Policy: On Assessment, Accountability, and Other Things That Go Bump in the Night

    Susan Ohanian

    Abstract: This article demonstrates, through stories of Ohanian’s teaching, journalism experience, and analysis of testing items and outcomes, that we have every right and obligation to challenge institutionalized norms that shape today’s views of assessment practices.

    Keywords: Assessment, School and Community Relations

  • Research Directions: Mobile Texts and Migrant Audiences: Rethinking Literacy and Assessment in a New Media Age

    Amy Stornaiuolo, Glynda Hull, and Mark Evan Nelson

    Abstract: This article highlights the importance of rethinking literacy assessment in a digital and global world.  Although pressures currently abound to narrow conceptions and practices of literacy, especially in an era of high stakes testing, digital multimodality and connectivity offer the potential for new ways of thinking, representing, and communicating, as well as new avenues for participating in relationships across social, geographic, and cultural difference. We explore the challenges of redesigning assessments so that they better take into account children's multiliterate capabilities. In so doing, we offer examples from our work in afterschool contexts that demonstrate how we have grappled with the complexities of assessment in new times.

    Keywords: Assessment, Literacy, Research, School and Community Relations, Technology, Elementary, Middle

  • Profiles and Perspectives: Educators on Assessment

    Yvonne Siu-Runyan, Jerrie Cobb Scott, Anthony Salm, Gretchen Goode, Debbie J. Linville, Sharon Whitehead-van Löben Sels, Neshellda Johnson, and Charles Finn

    Abstract: In keeping with our goal of connecting theory to practice, for this issue’s Profile and Perspectives column, we invited classroom teachers and teacher educators to share their perspectives about how assessment impacts teaching and learning in language arts classrooms. This collection of educators teach in many different types of schools and classrooms, but they all advocate for accessible, equitable, and meaningful assessments that guide instruction and document authentic student learning.

    Keywords: Assessment, Pedagogy

  • Professional Book Reviews: The Value of Teacher Expertise and Good Judgment: Recent Inspiring Reading about Assessment

    Silvia Peverini

    Abstract: In this article readers will find the account of a fourth-grade teacher overwhelmed with constant, mandated testing who turns to professional literature to learn more about formative assessments that will help her students learn.  She reviews W. James Popham’s Transformative Assessment, Sherry Mee Bell and R. Steve McCallum’s Handbook of Reading Assessment, and Classroom Assessment & Grading That Work by Robert J. Marzano.

    Keywords: Assessment, Research, Writing

  • Children’s Literature Reviews: In Defense of Not “Teaching” a Book

    Detra Price-Dennis, Jackie Wissman, Marlene Beierle, Laura Pietrandria, and Jongsun Wee

    Abstract: While considering options for the assessment theme of this issue, the editors discussed multiple ways that books are being "used" with students to examine and assess their learning. We began to question the message that "using books" sends to students and policy makers about the purpose of books in the classroom. Of course we want teachers, parents, and librarians to build around books using authentic experiences with drama, art, or music, theses connections serve as a means to enhance our literary experiences.  Nevertheless, we worry that significant, timeless, and downright enjoyable books have been used for the sole purpose of teaching literary devices like theme or point of view, or are watered down for comprehension questions during guided reading. As a profession, if we always use books to teach something else, never for aesthetic appreciation or pleasure, what will this mean for the lifelong readers we profess we are trying to create? We believe children’s literature can provide examples and support for teaching language arts standards, but quality books should not be overlooked because they don't meet a standard or align with scripted assessment protocols.  For this issue of Language Arts, we shift the focus from “using books” to reading and responding to children’s books for enjoyment. For this column, we reviewed books that invite readers to create shared experiences around meeting new characters or going on new adventures.  We have selected books that offer readers an opportunity to experience laughter, fear, hope, and excitement with no strings - or standards - attached.

    Keywords: Literature, Elementary

  • In Closing…: When the DIBELS Came to Town

    Lexanne Leonard

    Abstract: This poem by a first-grade teacher reminds all educators to resist the push to standardized learning and instead be vigilant advocates for our students’ rights.

    Keywords: Assessment, Pedagogy, Elementary, Middle

* Journal articles are provided in PDF format and can be opened using the free Adobe® Reader® program or a comparable viewer. Click here to download and install the most recent version of Adobe Reader.

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