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Implementing Daily Formative Reading Assessments

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The following excerpt comes from Informal Assessment Strategies, by Beth Critchley Charlton (Stenhouse Publishers, 2009). The book retails for around $20 and is available on the Stenhouse Web site. Read another excerpt from this book: Reading Assessment Tips: Accuracy and Fluency.

This excerpt offers three ways to incorporate formative reading assessments into daily classroom lessons. The Reading Record can be used to answer two critical assessment questions: "What exactly did this student do well?" and "What are the next steps for his instruction?" A Literacy Response Assessment offers a holistic view of student progress that informs future lessons. And tips for noticing, searching and checking offer a window into students' minds as they process text.

The Reading Record

The reading record, as a formative assessment, gives information about how a student approaches the experience of reading, interacts with a text, and uses the information in the text.

Students usually welcome the opportunity to chat with someone about themselves, especially if that person is adept at listening. A good listener questions only for clarity, doesn’t judge or reinterpret the answers, and reviews what’s been recorded with the student to confirm its correctness. With this information, the teacher gets a sense of whether the student approaches reading with a sense of joy, a sense of complacency, or a sense of defeat. Why is this conversation important? Because how a student feels about any task affects how that student enters and completes the task. Entering any task with negative feelings or high levels of tension has a deleterious effect on learning.

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A formative reading assessment begins with a conversation between the teacher and the student. It has always been my favorite part of the assessment. It allows me to connect with the student. It’s very informal, but I always keep in mind that my purpose is to discover how my students view themselves as readers.

The simple questions below provide a lot of information about how the student sees himself or herself as a reader, and how he or she views the process and usefulness of reading. As you ask these questions, listen carefully. Try to clear your head of preconceptions and listen to what the student actually says. Make notes.

  1. Do you like to read?
  2. How often do you read?
  3. What are you interested in reading about?  or   (for the student who claims no interest in reading) What are you interested in doing in your spare time? Would you like books or magazines about _____________? (use student’s interest in response to previous question)
  4. This line gives you a chance to rate how you feel about reading. You’ll see “easy” on the left, “okay" in the center, and “hard” on the right. Put a mark where you think how you feel about reading would be.


    EASY                                                             OKAY                                                       HARD

  5. What do you do when you’re reading and you find it difficult?
  6. How do you study for a test?
  7. Do you know someone who is a good reader?
  8. How do you know when someone is a good reader?

Literacy Response Assessment

I keep an active Literacy Response Assessment Journal dedicated to each student. The journal covers Reading, Writing, and Speaking/Listening. As evidence comes up, I jot it down and date it (so I can refer to my plan book for a detailed explanation of the lesson).

To maintain a sense of the curriculum standards, I staple a concise numbered listing of the standards at the beginning of the journal. When appropriate, I make note of the corresponding expectation beside the comment about student performance.

Literacy Response Assessment:

Focus 1: Making predictions
Based on what you see, what do you think this __________ (story, poem, article, chapter) will be about? Why do you think that?

Focus 2: Accessing prior knowledge
What do you already know about this ____________ (topic, genre, author, time in history)?

Focus 3: Determining importance
Read to here. After you finish reading, I’ll ask you to tell me what the key point is and some details that support that point.

Focus 4: Making connections between the new and the known
[If you have completed your reading record, you may invite the student to read the rest silently.]

After you read the next section, I’m going to ask you to tell me what this ___________ (part, section, article, etc.) reminds you of.

Focus 5: Word work and vocabulary building
Please tell me what these words mean. Now, tell me how you knew the meaning of each word.

Focus 6: Inferring
Based on what you now know about __________ (a character, an event, an object, etc.), what can you infer about it? Tell me how you made that inference.

Focus 7: Questioning
As you read this section, what you were wondering about?

Focus 8: Visualizing and other sensory images
After you read this section, I’ll ask you what image or picture you saw in your mind. I’ll also ask you to describe which words allowed you to create that image.

Focus 9: Synthesizing
Pretend someone just came in who hasn’t read this. In just a few sentences, mention how the pieces of information in this __________ (story, article, page) fit together.

This section is used to record information about the quality of the student’s written responses.

Speaking / Listening
This section is used to record information about the quality of the student’s participation in large- and small-group discussions.

Do I do this every day for every student? Absolutely not! For the first few class discussions, I simply guide the discussion and make general observations about the conversation. As I get to know my students more, I know which students to observe each day, for what reason, and when. I read over these notes regularly and look for evidence of learning for individual students—it’s wonderful to record that a student known to be silent during discussions, begins to participate—and I look for trends among the students. This is the information that gives me suggestions for future lessons. All this information, and no written work to correct—it’s a nice change in routine and it allows me to see a more complete view of each student as a learner.

Evidence of Noticing, Searching and Checking

As we observe and make a written record of a student’s reading, we look for evidence of how the student approaches text, notices errors, problem solves, and verifies the accuracy of the problem solving.

Effective problem solving is evident in every aspect of our life. If we play an instrument, we notice when the melody goes astray; we search for a way to fix it; we play the melody again and we check that, in our replaying, we’ve regained the melody. And, when we read, we notice errors; we search for ways to correct the problem; and then, as we continue to read, we check to make sure that our reading makes sense.

As we listen to a student’s reading, we are very attentive to the “hints” a student’s comments and body language give us information about the student’s ability to

  • notice when reading falters (Does the student notice when the meaning, the structure, or the visual information in the passage is compromised?)
  • search for information (Does the student have a range of strategies that allow the student to confirm what he or she has read as accurate, or to attempt to correct errors?)
  • check for accuracy (Does the student confirm that this searching has reestablished the meaning, structure, and visual information of the passage?)

Noticing occurs when the automaticity of a process is interrupted. Reader Notices: “Oops, I notice something’s not right!”

  • the text doesn’t make sense
  • the text doesn’t sound right
  • the word I’m reading doesn’t look like what’s on the page

Searching occurs when you look for a solution. Reader Searches: “Hmmm… what can I do to fix the problem?”

  • what would make sense?
  • what would sound right?
  • what would look right?

Checking occurs when you find proof that the solution worked. Reader Checks: “My problem solving worked!”

  • it makes sense now
  • it sounds right now
  • it looks right now

Including evidence of noticing, searching, and checking in your observations of a student’s reading is helpful. These strategies are at the center of effective processing of text, and making note of them allows the teacher to think about what’s going on in the mind of the student when he or she reads, and what the student may need to know next.

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