From Striving to Thriving ch 7 - Assessments

I've found that there are usually two mindsets teachers have about reading assessments. The first is that while these assessments are necessary, they take away from instructional time and do not give any new information about the student. This is the, "I could have told you that!" thinking.

The second mindset thinks of assessments as providing guidance for instruction. Assessments should be formative, not summative, and provide information to help that helps us move out students forwards. This is the assessment mindset that most benefits our striving readers. We need all the information we can get to help them be successful and in this chapter, Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward provide us with a different - broader way - of thinking about assessments.

"Want to collect data on how children are learning? Know them. Watch them. Listen to them. Talk 'with' them. Sit with them. Be with them." - Joe Bower

This quote that starts chapter 7 speaks to what assessment is all about. In order to get to know our readers - especially our strivers - we need to really spend quality time with them. Harvey and Ward call this "assessing readers in the round" and gives us information that "tables the labels" (Oh, how I love this phrase!) and lets us see students for what they CAN do.
Assessment happens all the time. The best teachers pay attention to student reading ALL THE TIME.  The authors share two specific ways teachers can use continuous assessment.

First, they engage in "kid watching," a term coined by Yetta Goodwin. As you watch and listen to your students, keep track of what they say and do. What are they successful at? This helps you build upon what you know about the student. Think about the reading assessments you use right now. They are most likely focused on specific skills or strategies that we want our students to master. But what about the other parts of reading? What are students interested in? What do their reading behaviors look like? What are they like as a learner? These are examples of "full-spectrum data" and it allows us to see the WHOLE reader.

A second way to gather data is with conferring. There is nothing more powerful than taking a few minutes to sit with your striving readers and notice what they do. Talk with them about their strategies. The authors talk about using running records and miscue analysis as one type of assessment, but they acknowledge how time consuming this can be. Instead, they suggest something called "Over the Shoulder Miscue Analaysis," a more informal way to gain information. The idea is that once you understand miscue analysis, you are always listening with "miscue ears" to hear how students approach reading. Then, you work to help your strivers develop their own "miscue ears" so they can be aware of what they are reading and whether their miscues interrupt the meaning. In this chapter, Harvey and Ward detail the structure of an OTS miscus analysis and how to use the data during conferencing.

This brings us to the third and fourth parts of ARR - conferencing and setting goals. Both of these should be done WITH the student. You, of course, will need to look at the data first to see any patterns or points you may wish to share. The purpose of all this data is to help find teaching points you can use with your strivers.

As you look through the data, look for strengths that beginning to emerge. Is the striver:
- developing a deeper relationship with books and reading?
- using a variety of strategies to help problem-solve?
- self-monitoring and self-correcting?

It is important to share this data - and how you arrived at the conclusion - with the reader. Read back what they read. Talk about specific strategies they used. Build on strengths. Students need to be aware of what they are doing as readers, and many strivers struggle with this metacognition.

Finally, set goals TOGETHER. Use all your data to create a profile of the reader and ask questions about what she or he wants to be able to accomplish. You may want to consider using a "strength-focused reading portfolio" as a way to bring readers (and their families!) into the process. Include information that shows what students CAN do, and talk about how they can use these strengths to build other areas.

Assessment should be an inquiry based process between you, the student and the student's family. Quality assessments inform us of three important things:
  1. Our students' learning and progress. Watching kids and analyzing student work helps us to understand the whole reader.
  2. The direction of our future instruction. As the authors state, "Observation and responsive teaching go hand in hand."
  3. The quality of our past instruction. We must always be willing to reflect and change our practices if something is not working, and we should never lose sight of the strengths of our readers.

Continuous, reflective assessment is the best way to help our striving readers thrive. Look at assessment as a way to find out more about readers as a whole, and use that information to work with your students and set goals using their strengths as a guide.

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