I used to work a very structured private school. It was a school for students with ADHD and learning disabilities. The structure was part of the programming there that served to support these students as learners, not just at that school, but if they returned to public school classrooms. Though I teach much differently now than I did then, there are influences of that place in my teaching now.
One of the things that happened there was that the school year began with students writing a couple of diagnostic tests. The results of these tests were then used to inform a student’s programming. Instead of being placed in a class based upon the grade someone their age would be in, classes were composed around their strengths and challenges. I found a copy of the English diagnostic test we gave them recently. I doubt that I’ll ever use that particular test again, but I realized that I still do something similar.
As I approach the end of the year with my current Grade 9 class, I want to balance some fun learning, particularly our visual storytelling work with graphic novels, with some academic writing. We’ve been looking at storytelling over the course, so we’re going to look at short stories. We read, take notes and discuss each story, and then write academic responses, focusing on some basic literary analysis.
As I often do with a type of writing that we’re going to do multiple times, I actually give minimal instruction for the first response. They are simply told that I want an academic response that communicates the things of importance in their notes, and/or our collective notes I take during our discussion. This is my new diagnostic. I want to see what they can do, what they already know, and what aspects of this style of writing might warrant further instruction.