On Reading Assessment...

I recently enjoyed a solo trip to Barnes & Noble. This meant I had a solid chunk of time that I could actually spend reading and exploring. I headed to the children’s section, because isn’t that what every teacher does when they are alone at Barnes & Noble? As I walked and read I slowly built a pile of beautiful books that I was excited to share not only with my own children, but also with the learners in the classrooms where I work. After 30 minutes I was getting ready to the cashier when I stumbled across the book Mindful Assessment: The 6 Essential Fluencies of Innovative Learning (Teaching 21st Century Skills to Modern Learners) by Lee Watanabe Crockett and Andrew Churches. I stopped and briefly flipped through. I did what good readers do and previewed the cover, the blurb, and the table of contents. As I continued to skim I came across a section that stayed with me even after I left Barnes and Noble.

“Acting in the present is how we build the future. Beautiful and powerful change happens one step at a time and one student at a time.”

I think this quote resonated with me so much because I have been thinking a lot about assessment, particularly reading assessment. In the past, as I approached each new reading unit I only thought about what skills readers would be developing during the course of the unit. Recently though, I have been thinking about what prior knowledge my students may bring that will help them better develop different reading skills. I want a quick way to see where my students struggle, and where they excel. This information will better help me plan minilessons, form small groups and inform conferences. As I thought more about this, I began to ask myself and a group of K-2 teachers I work with if we can use quick reading On Demands at the beginning and end of each unit (in a similar manner to the way we collect information with pre and post writing On Demands)?

The answer I received was a resounding “Yes.” So as these teachers approached new reading units we got ready to try out some quick On Demands. First, we read through the new unit and named the key reading skills we would focus on. Then, we thought about how we wanted to collect information. Would it be through stopping and jotting? Turning and talking in a reading aloud? Could we plan for small group assessment? What if we our conferences had a longer research phase? Jen Serravallo says that when you are thinking about assessment it is important to ask yourself, “Does the assessment I give match what I want kids to be doing every day?” Keeping that in mind we planned work within our read aloud, small groups, and conferences that felt familiar to our readers.

Initially we had kids stop and jot during a read aloud three times. In doing this we were able to collect information that would let us know the whole classes’ ability to retell, synthesize, and infer.

After collecting student jots we analyzed retelling first. We sorted students’ work into three piles. We repeated the process with the next two skills- synthesizing and inferring. We used this information to plan for some small groups.

The next assessment we tried was with a small group that focused on fluency. For this work we gave each student a copy of few pages from Pete the Cat: Snow Daze to read as well listened and recorded our observations about the student’s fluency. We used post-its to change parts of the text, and recorded the differences we noticed about how students were now reading.

After, we used this assessment to form small groups focusing on reading with meaning, phrasing, attending to punctuation and reading dialogue with expression.

Our final reading On Demand assessment happened as children read independently. We pulled up next to kids and asked a series of short questions: “What are you reading? What is happening so far? What strategy are you trying to use?” If students named a strategy we followed up with, “Can you show us where you tried that?”

In asking these questions we tried to assess whether students understood their books and whether they were accessing any strategies we taught.

The results from all three On Demands were compelling. After doing this work we now had a much better understanding of what our readers really needed during the unit. We were able to plan small groups, as well as to think about ways to better support students in our minilessons. Although it did take us time to gather all of this information, I could not help but think back to the quote that inspired this exploration. We were acting in the present by knowing what readers need at the beginning of a unit to help set them up for future reading success.

Isn’t this why we teach?

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