Original photo by Buffy J. Hamilton

As part of the Georgia Teacher Keys Effectiveness System (TKES) , the common evaluation system designed for building teacher effectiveness and ensuring consistency and comparability throughout the state, we have an end of year conference with our supervising administrator.  My principal, Mrs. Jennifer Kogod, asked us to prepare a written self-assessment as a springboard for our face to face end of year conference.

I wrote way more than than was required, but composing my thoughts on how well I did meeting my professional TKES goals was a great reflective exercise.  I’ll write an additional and broader “end of year review” to piggyback on this post, but because this year was such an important one of learning and growth, I wanted to share it here on the blog.  Because I was a media specialist when TKES was first piloted, this is my first year being evaluated as a classroom teacher with the TKES platform.

Buffy Hamilton Title I Writing Teacher
2016-17 Academic Year
May 2, 2017

Original Goal Statement:

Knowing that student writing promotes lasting learning, I will implement Jim Vopat’s method of writing circles with all of my Writer’s Workshop and Writing Connections classes to help students improve writing fluency and skills across multiple genres. The evidence for achieving the goal will be an action research study examining student work and student self-assessment portfolios crafted between September and April.

Target Performance Standards:
• Standard 3: Instructional Strategies
• Standard 5: Assessment Strategies
• Standard 6: Assessment Uses


Students will work in writing circles to choose writing topics, types of writing pieces within a genre unit of study we are studying as a class, share writing, provide regular feedback on writing pieces, and draft two at least two days a week in class. We will use writing cycles to lead to regular intervals of publishing our best work.

I will observe and take notes on writing group meetings as well as hold writing conferences with individual students; I will keep notes on these observations and conferences as data.

My Reflections and Self-Assessment

My original goal was to implement Jim Vopat’s writing circles method to help facilitate student writing growth and fluency across multiple genres. Although this particular approach was ultimately not a good fit for where my grades 6-8 learners were, I was still able to accomplish many of the same targets that were embedded in the writing circle method:

• Students had regular opportunities to brainstorm, explore, and self-select their writing topics.
• Students engaged in a wide variety of writing genres, including personal narratives, poetry, informational writing (through zines), problem-solution writing, persuasive (grade 6) and argumentative writing (grades 7 and 8), and research-based writing.
• Students had regular opportunities to share their work through class readings, Google Documents, gallery walks of student work, peer editing and review, and our class KidBlogs.
• Students in each grade wrote regularly every week–students engaged in writing on a daily basis including Writer’s Notebook entries, Quickwrites, paragraphs, essays, extended pieces of writing, and shorter pieces of writing that were part of our daily work of thinking through our writing.

Reflections By Professional Standards

Standard 3: Instructional Strategies

I tried a wide range of instructional strategies for writing this year as I drew upon the work of literacy leaders like Kelly Gallagher, Allison Marchetti, Rebekah O’Dell, Harvey Daniels, Jim Wilhelm, Nancy Steineke, and Gretchen Bernabei. I also borrowed ideas from fellow Language Arts teachers I know through Twitter.

In particular, I used a great deal of modeling and mentor texts with my students—these mentor texts were not only pieces from other writers, but I frequently used my students’ work as a mentor text across grade levels. I also tried different methods of keeping writers’ notebooks across all grade levels and Ralph Fletcher’s “greenbelt” writing with 6th graders.

Standard 5: Assessment Strategies and Standard 6: Assessment Uses

These two standards are the area I have wrestled with throughout the year. Increasingly, I am thinking about how “grading” differs from assessment and what exactly a “grade” means, particularly in a writer’s workshop environment. Throughout most of my career, assessment and grading have been treated as a concept that is scientific and pure, and that if we establish solid learning targets and design rubrics aligned to those tools, then all should be fine and good, right? However, I see more and more areas of gray, especially when it comes to struggling writers. I sometimes wonder how grades influence how they see themselves as writers and if that grade and the feedback you try to include with the rubric has any real value to middle school writers. I also am not sure if the grade and assessments I have given/administered will actually correlate to the Milestones writing tasks since they are 1. All evidence-based writing and 2. Writing that is inherently dependent on the students’ ability to read and comprehend multiple texts. Consequently, I have concerns about the limitations of a Milestones writing score as it really assesses only one type of writing and even with that, I am not sure about the validity of that score and if the assessment REALLY measures what it intends to do so.  (*Note:  our test data indicates my 7th and 8th writing cohorts both showed improvement in every area of the writing assessment on the EOG Milestones; they also showed marked improvement in other areas of the Milestones ELA*).

I believe my most effective assessment method was one of formative assessment with writing conferences. Thanks to the work of Carl Anderson, I feel I have shown tremendous growth in my ability to engage in meaningful writing conferences with my students. I believe this is one of the things I have done that has had the most impact on my young writers. I am thankful for small classes that allow me to do this on a regular basis; the only limitation was time as our classes meet for roughly 40 minutes, and it’s hard to get to each student in that time frame.

I have also given students multiple opportunities to self-assess their work both informally and formally. Helping them to know on their own when a piece of writing is “finished” and giving them revising and writing strategies to evaluate and determine this for themselves is something I’ve worked on all year. I believe this is one of the ultimate benchmarks of growth when a student looks more to himself or herself and less to me to understand when a piece of writing is complete and why/how that is so.

I have tried keeping hard copy student portfolios as well as digital, but I haven’t quite yet found a means that feels efficient and accessible. This endeavor is one I will continue to contemplate and work on during 2017-18.

Though not all students have grown as writers in the ways I hoped, many have shown tremendous growth in different areas. I am proud that all students have been challenged and given multiple opportunities to wrestle with ideas and their thinking; I am also proud that students have used writing not just an end product but as a tool for thinking and expression.