Assessment in My Reading Workshop
Many teachers are excited to implement a Reading Workshop in their classroom. And why not? It is a framework for teaching reading that allows students to read self-selected texts at their own level, and it provides us teachers with many opportunities to differentiate our teaching to meet the wide variety of readers we often find in our classrooms. However, when we give up the traditional methods of teaching reading, there can initially be a concern when it comes to assessment. The basal texts and other prepackaged reading programs come complete with end-of-the-story comprehension questions for each selection, fill-in-the blank vocabulary worksheets to match the "one size fits all" stories, and specific questions to ask students as they are reading the stories. We know that these methods of assessment are not accurate indicators of true reading performance, nor do they help teachers guide their instruction to meet the specific needs of individual readers in their classroom. So you are probably asking, how can I implement a Reading Workshop and also assess my readers in an effective, efficient, and, most importantly, informative way?
Read on to find out how I use both formal and informal means of assessment to regularly evaluate my readers and inform my own teaching.
Purpose of Assessment
The most important thing to remember about assessment is that it should be used to build knowledge about our students. Too often standardized tests and other assessments teachers give to students measure what they can't do. One goal of assessment in Reading Workshop is to determine where our students are struggling. However, the most important goal of assessment in Reading Workshop is to determine what our students can do. We truly learn about our students so that we can match their learning experiences with what they read in order to be most successful. Old assessments (and those included in a basal reading text) assess students at the end of a unit. In Reading Workshop, assessment is ongoing throughout each unit so that we can alter and tailor our teaching to meet the needs of our students immediately.
My Mentor Text
I recently read an outstanding book written by two of my favorite Reading Workshop gurus, Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak. It is called Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop: Making Informed Instructional Decisions in Grades 3–6. I would highly advise any teacher who is beginning to implement a reading workshop or who has already established a reading workshop in her classroom to read this book from cover to cover. It is a quick read, but is filled with so much important and practical information about assessment in the reading workshop. It also includes a plethora of management tools and tips, useful assessment forms, informative questionnaires, and authentic examples of student work. Reading this book really helped me improve upon my own approach to assessment in reading workshop. I have combined my own ideas along with some great ideas from this book to write the post that follows.
Gathering Information About My Readers in the First Six Weeks
Before I can really begin tailoring my teaching to meet of the needs of my individual readers, I must spend quality time at the beginning of the year getting to know my readers. Below are the ways I do this.
I think reading interviews are a great way to learn about my readers before I even meet with them one-on-one. A reading interview is a private place where students can really reflect on their reading interests and their reading behaviors. Before I meet with students individually to talk about their reading or listen to them read, I like to have some background knowledge about their attitude towards reading and the specific books they have recently completed. The following student reading interview is given to my students at the beginning of the school year.
I also like to hear from the parents. Some students may not always be completely honest about their reading habits or abilities, so it is important to also hear from each student's parents to gain additional information about the child's attitude toward reading and the amount of reading the student does at home. Sending home this parent interview also sends a strong message to parents that reading is something I value in my classroom and take very seriously. The final question on the survey asks parents what expectations they have for their child as a reader in my classroom. This sets the stage for the teamwork that will become so important as we work together to improve their child's skills in reading.
Meet the Reader Conferences
Before I begin formal reading assessments, I like to touch base with each reader individually. Using the information I have already collected from the reading interview and the parent interview, I continue to study each reader to help me learn more about his or her reading patterns and behaviors. During these short five minute conferences, I ask my readers questions and browse their book choices to learn more about them. Here are some things I am looking for:
—Does the student choose books from a specific author or series?
—Is the student choosing a variety of genres?
—What level of books does the student think are "just right" for her?
—How comfortable is the student when discussing what he has read?
—Is the student recording books correctly on her reading log?
—What reading strategies does the student demonstrate successfully (or need more work on)?
Formal Reading Assessments
After I have read over my students' (and their parents') reading interviews and touched base with each reader individually for a "meet the reader" conference, I begin doing formal assessments. In our district, we use the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System. We attempt to determine each child's independent and instructional reading levels. I can usually complete two to three assessments during Individualized Daily Reading (IDR) each day. (Other districts may use similar assessments, such as the DRA.)
These assessments are so useful when planning my future instruction. As I listen to each child read aloud and then talk about the story, I learn incredibly important information about the child's fluency, rate of reading, decoding skills, and level of comprehension. I use Fountas and Pinnell's "Guide for Observing and Noting Reading Behaviors" checklist and highlight any skills we should work on throughout the year using direct instruction (see example later in this post). As I complete each individual assessment, I also make plans for future strategy group lessons. When a student is struggling with a common skill or strategy, I add the skill to my "Possible Strategy Groups" form and write the student's name underneath. As I assess additional students, I add more names underneath the same (or new) strategy lesson skill on the form. By the time I am done assessing my whole class, I have many small group strategy lessons I will be ready to teach during IDR time. Some skills are so glaringly weak that I know I will have to teach them as whole group mini-lessons.
For teachers who are looking for specific assessments to use with their students, Scholastic offers some quick assessments that can be administered to gain valuable information about your readers. Click on each book cover for more information about the texts below.
Assessment During Individualized Daily Reading (IDR)
Individualized Daily Reading (IDR) is the most critical component of Reading Workshop. It is during this 35–40 minutes that students are reading self-selected texts for a sustained period of time. In the forward of Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak's book, Nancy Atwell (another Reading Workshop guru) addresses the fact that implementing a Reading Workshop can be a daunting task to most teachers. She says that many teachers ask her, "You mean, you just have them read?" Her answer is yes, but this common question certainly brings to light the need for student accountability in Reading Workshop. Below are the ways that I use assessment to hold my students accountable for their own reading performance during IDR time.
My students are expected to record every book they read on their reading log in their Reader's Notebook. This helps them keep track of their own reading, and they use it often to reflect on previous books they have read in order to complete daily reading tasks and create genre graphs at the end of each unit.
However, I also look carefully at each child's reading log. I ask myself the following questions to gain insight on my readers.
—How many books are they finishing each week?
—Are they reading a variety of genres? What specific genres are they reading?
—Are they abandoning books too often?
—Are they reading at their "just right" level, or are they reading books that are too easy or too challenging?
—Are they reading chapter books or picture books more often?
—Do they seem to be recording every book they read?
Sibberson and Szymusiak's book, Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop, provides great reading log questionnaires that encourage students to revisit and really reflect on their reading so that they can set goals for themselves as readers.
My students respond to their reading in different ways. They often use reading response task sheets to show the thinking they do as they read each day in relation to the skill taught in the mini-lesson. I try to check in on their reading responses very regularly, as their work helps me know if they truly understood the concept taught in the daily mini-lesson and were able to apply it to their independent reading. I may decide I need to reteach a mini-lesson if students' reading responses reflect poor understanding or application of the skill or strategy I taught them. As I read over their reading responses, I ask myself the following questions:
—Do their reading responses show strong comprehension of their self-selected texts?
—Are students actually responding to their reading? (Sometimes I will find students who are not responding at all!)
—How thoughtful are their responses?
—How comfortable are they writing about what they read?
—Are their written responses reflective of the skills and/or strategies I have taught in my mini-lessons?
Conferring is when I meet with individual students to discuss what they are reading and to provide them with the necessary support and skills they need to be successful independent readers. I use labels to keep track of what I notice during the conferences.
Download Conferring Labels (They should be printed on 2 in. x 4 in. labels.)
My conferences tend to fall into the following three categories:
1. The Compliment Conference: In this type of conference I ask questions of the reader, name a strategy the child is using, and say “Good job!” I like to do lots of these at the beginning of the year to help my students feel comfortable and develop a positive attitude about conferring.
2. The Coaching Conference: In this type of conference, I already know what my teaching point will be and want to see how the student is doing with a specific skill or strategy. I get ideas for these conferences from working with students in guided reading groups and studying their Reader's Notebooks. These conferences are somewhat planned ahead of time since I already have in mind what I want to work on with the reader.
3. The Teach, Research, & Decide Conference: This type of conference is often the most difficult because I go into it with no specific teaching point in mind. Instead I am looking for something to teach the reader. It actually takes the form of a “mini” mini-lesson. First I research the reader. I may look at Post-its, ask the reader to retell, listen to the reader read aloud, or ask an open ended question like “How’s it going?" Then I support the reader by explicitly naming what the child is already doing well and give a clear compliment. Next comes the hard part. I must decide what to teach. I determine a teaching point and decide how I will teach it (demonstration, guided practice, explicitly telling him, inquiry). I try to connect the teaching point to what the child has been doing or refer to a strategy I have taught in a previous mini-lesson. After renaming the strategy I have taught, I encourage the student to try using it today and in the future.
Students also have a conference log in the front of their Reader's Notebook. In addition to writing on labels that I put in my reading assessment binder, I also want my students to be held accountable for what we discuss during the conferences. For this reason, I write down the goal (the teaching point) that we discussed during the conference so that I can refer to it when I meet with the student in the future. Since students take their Reader's Notebook home every month for their parents to review, it is nice for parents to see the skills and strategies I am working on with their child.
Sibberson and Szymusiak's book, Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop, provides additional information on conferring. They explore different types of conferences including comprehension, text features, fluency, vocabulary, theme, characters, and nonfiction in order to give teachers an idea of the range of topics and strategies that can be addressed in an individual reading conference.
Status of the Class
This is an awesome idea I got from Franki and Karen's book, Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop. The idea of Status of the Class is to orally check in on my readers every day in a quick, efficient way. At the beginning of IDR time each day, the teacher calls out students' names. They respond by telling the name of the book they are reading and the page they are on. While I have found that it is a bit time consuming to do this for each child every day, I try to call out 5–6 students' names each day. That way I am checking in on most readers twice a week even if I don't get a chance to meet with them in an individual conference or in a small group setting. This is a great way to:
—Document each child's reading.
—Hold students accountable for being tuned in to where they are in their reading.
—Allow other students to hear what their peers are reading. (It often creates interest in certain books or series.)
—Monitor how quickly students are finishing their books.
—Notice the variety of genres (or lack of variety) each student is reading.
—Determine if students are reading "just right" books.
—Connect students who have similar tastes in books.
You can find Status of the Class recording forms in Sibberson and Szymusiak's book, Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop.
This is another fabulous idea I read about in Sibberson and Szymusiak's book. I have not yet tried it in my classroom, but it is a wonderful tool that I plan to implement in the second half of the school year. During read-aloud time, students stop at key points in the story to jot down their thinking in their read-aloud notebooks. They have found that the notebooks are "a safe place for students to use writing as a means to think more deeply about the text." They do not give much direction in terms of what the students are supposed to write because they want their students to naturally respond to the text in their own ways. They then use the notebooks as yet another way to learn more about their readers. They look for variety in responses, abstract thinking, application of skills taught in previous mini-lessons, etc.
Their book, Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop, also provides great book lists for read-alouds including favorite read-aloud books for the beginning of the year and many other read-aloud book lists for specific teaching points and concepts.
Small Group Instruction
I meet with students in small groups to conduct guided reading lessons and strategy lessons on a regular basis. You will find a great deal of information about the difference between these two types of small group instruction in a previous post titled, "Reading Workshop: What It Looks Like in Our Classroom." In this post, I want to focus on the assessment that takes place during guided reading.
For each group that I meet with, I keep assessment labels with each student's name and the title of the book we will be reading on a clipboard. I keep the clipboard with me the entire time I am teaching the lesson. As I teach the lesson, I listen to students whisper read individually to me during the lesson, and I also listen to them discuss the text. I quickly jot down anything that I notice on each student's label. I will not necessarily fill out an entire label for each child each time we meet for a guided reading lesson. However, it was important to me that my labels provide a place to record fluency, comprehension, and general comments when I observe anything that falls into one of those categories. At times I find it hard to write and teach the lesson, so I often take a few minutes after I meet with each group to jot down my observations.
Again, these notes are used to guide my future teaching. Many of my future mini-lessons, strategy lessons, and individual conferences will focus on the things I notice during guided reading.
Download Guided Reading Labels (They should be printed on 3 1/3 in. x 4 in. labels.)
Sibberson and Szymusiak talk a great deal in their book about how guided reading can, at times, limit their ability to teach. Instead of looking at daily assessments and determining the best way to meet each reader's needs, they were caught up in the number of groups to schedule each day, the text level of the books, and the number of students in each group. I too often find myself stressing out over how many guided reading groups I am able to meet with in a week or how many conferences I can fit into a single IDR period. They instead emphasize the need to focus on guiding readers rather than just managing guided reading groups. In order to do this they found that, on some days, their time was best spent doing what they call "kid watching." Because we are so busy teaching guided reading groups and strategy lessons, and conducting individual conferences, we are not always aware of everything that is happening around us.
During kid watching, the teacher grabs some sticky notes and writes down anything she notices as the kids are reading. I have begun to do this for part of IDR time at least once a week and have found it to be very beneficial. I have noticed things very similar to what Sibberson and Szymusiak found when doing it in their own reading workshops.
—Students who are flipping through books instead of really reading ("fake reading").
—Students who are getting up too often or moving around the room.
—Students who are constantly switching books without finishing them.
—Students who regularly feel the need to share their thoughts with other readers.
—Students who are simply not engaged in their books or who are distracting others around them.
Using what I learn from kid watching, I suddenly have new topics for individual conferences or perhaps even mini-lessons if I notice something that needs to be addressed with the entire class.
Putting It All Together
Once I really started using assessments on a regular basis and keeping careful records of student progress, it became overwhelming to figure out how to best organize and sort the information so that I could truly use it to guide my future teaching, complete report cards, share it with parents at conferences, etc.
Sibberson and Szymusiak created an awesome assessment profile web that compiles the assessment information that is gathered about a student over a period of time. Since their web did not work perfectly with the assessments I use in my own classroom, I created my own web that is very similar to the one in their book.
Organizing the Information: My Assessment Binder
As I began doing more assessments in my classroom, I also realized I needed a very organized, easily accessible place to store all of the information I was collecting about each student. That is when I began developing a Reading Records Binder.
At the beginning of the binder, I keep forms where I record students' independent and instructional reading levels throughout the year. Since students move through levels throughout the school year, it is important for me to track their progress. This allows me to move students in and out of guided reading groups and also direct them to "just right" texts in the classroom library.
Each student has his or her own section in the binder. Karen Bush, my good friend and teaching colleague, introduced me to the colorful tabbed folders you see in my assessment binder (in the picture below). I used to use regular tabs and then include page protectors to hold any important information and examples of student work behind the student's tab. Now that I have these tabbed pockets, I can insert things like the students' reading interviews, assessment webs, Fountas and Pinnell assessment forms, and other informative examples of their reading work right into the pockets for easy access when doing report cards or meeting with parents during conferences.
Behind each student's tabbed folder are three things. First, I keep their "Reading Status" form. I can flip to each student's section of the binder to quickly access this form when calling off 5–6 students' names at the beginning of IDR time each day.
Next I keep a copy of Fountas and Pinnell's "Guide for Observing and Noting Reading Behaviors" checklist. I highlight skills and/or concepts with which the student is struggling and put a date next to it. This is helpful when meeting with students for individual conferences and when planning strategy group lessons.
Finally, I keep a plain piece of cardstock behind the tabbed folder. It is on this cardstock that I transfer both my conferring labels and guided reading labels that I create when meeting with students individually or in small groups. I like having all of the labels for each student in one place so that I can easily track progress and recognize consistent reading patterns over time.
Karen also suggested to me that I keep extra pockets in the back of the binder to store reading forms that I use on a regular basis, such as "Possible Strategy Group Lessons," "Reader's Notebook Rubric," extra conferring labels, guided reading labels, etc. I like having all of my reading materials and forms in one place so I can easily access them when necessary.
Share Your Ideas!
As you can see, I am constantly trying to improve what I do in my classroom. I would love to hear from other teachers about what you do in your own classrooms to assess your students in reading workshop. Please share!