The power of pre-assessment

Last week our district held our annual Tech Fest.  This is the third year that we have done it and it is pretty much the brain child of Gina Hartman (@ghartman.)  Mad props to her by the way!  Anyway, this year teachers were given options for technology professional development based on a teacher technology survey that was administered towards the end of the school year last year.  The two items that they wanted more training and professional development on the most were SMART Boards and Microsoft Excel.  At first I was surprised that Microsoft Excel was the second choice, until I realized how data driven our district really has become.  Teachers want to easily be able to disaggregate data into subgroups.  Teachers and administrators want to look at data and be able to make decisions to guide teaching learning.

That being said, I realized that I needed to learn more about Excel.  I could do the basics with no problems: input data into cells, use the merging tool, create graphs and charts, add worksheets, etc.  Granted, the professional development that I received on this program was six years ago, but I still felt confident in my abilities.  But when it came to adding formulas?  Forget about it!  Using formulas in spreadsheets was not something that I had forgotten, it was something I had NO idea how to do.

So what did I do first?  I googled.  Specifically, I googled for video results as I know one of my preferred learning styles is visual with a sprinkling of audio.  I ended up browsing through youtube videos and basically taught myself how to use formulas with Excel.  Knowing I would be presenting to a group of teachers in a few days I wondered what the best method of instruction would be for them.  I had a three hour block of time.  Would that be sufficient?  Would I be scrambling to fill the allotted amount of time?

Lots of things swam through my head.  What experience had they had with excel?  How could I differentiate with the teachers where they were and take them to where they wanted to be?  How the heck was I supposed to plan for this?  Those of you who know me may realize that I work well under pressure.  It’s just the way I am.  So often I put things off to the last minute.  But after a long talk with a colleague, I am getting better at planning things in advance.  I have a lot of work to do, but I’m getting there slowly but surely.  As luck would have it, a content leader walked into my office the day before our training and let me know exactly what she was looking for in the training and gave me an idea as to what teachers would benefit from most.

Why didn’t I think of tapping into this resource before?  I knew who was registered for the session.  I had access to them through email and phone.  In fact, I knew a few of them well enough that I just could have simply walked into their classrooms and asked them face to face.  I had forgotten until that point just how important and powerful the concept of pre-assessment can be.  I had forgotten to use the resources I had right in front of me and instead chose to worry.  Yes, chose is the operative word there.

To make a long story short, the training went very well.  I was pleased with the outcome, and so were my teachers according to their reflection sheets and the emails that I received afterwards.  That same day both myself and my colleague were able to schedule follow up appointments with them and made plans for further professional development with Excel.  The entire experience made me realize that it was silly for me not to administer a pre-assessment before the actual day of training.  I tell my students in my undergrad class all the time do it, but I myself had forgotten.

I’m setting a goal before my next training which is in a few weeks: use a pre-assessment tool to gain a better understand of the needs of my students, even though they are teachers.  It will make the two hours that I spend with them more meaningful and constructive for parties involved.  I may need my PLN to help remind me of that goal.  Hint hint!


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