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The Most Effective Assessments

Formative assessments, those that happen daily in the classroom, tell us more about students' progress and needs than mandated annual tests. Observing students while they read, write, talk, listen to mini-lessons, and participate in discussions is an important part of assessment. Noting body language, levels of participation, and interaction with others can help us spot those we need to confer with to discern whether they'd benefit from additional support. One of our most important jobs, then, is to learn to "read" our students and learn more about them by observing and listening.
How do you assess your students each day?
Laura Robb

NAEP Results

The 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading results are in--and they are not good. The NAEP is the nation's reading and writing report card, providing a snapshot of student achievement.
34% of fourth graders and 43% of eighth graders scored at the basic level, which indicates that these students have only a partial mastery of the skills they need to be successful at their grade level. In addition, 33% of fourth graders and 26% of eighth graders scored below the basic level. That means that fully 67% of fourth graders scored below proficient—the same number of students who scored at that level in 2007.
From my perspective, it is clear that implementing one-size-fits-all programs and mandating one novel for all students in a class to read are practices that prevent too many students from making progress in reading. When will schools see that differentiating reading instruction is the way to support all readers?
Laura Robb

Teaching Middle School Writers

At this point in the year, the state writing tests dominate instruction in many schools. For my new book, Teaching Middle School Writers, I conducted a national survey of 1500 students. The survey revealed that students have a rich writing life outside of school; they treasure this life because they can choose to write about topics they care about—topics they're passionate about. I think we can offer "test prep" along with choice in writing topics. I recommend that teachers simulate the state tests every 6 to 8 weeks by inviting students to respond to a writing prompt. Use their writing to identify what skills need reteaching and present mini-lessons on these topics. During interim times, students can choose topics, even within a genre such as persuasive or narrative writing. I find that students do well on tests when they plan in detail, use the writing process, and have been taught writing craft and technique.
Please weigh in with your thoughts and ideas.
Laura Robb

Conferring With Students

For me, one of the best ways to stay tuned in to students is by circulating around the room and pausing to chat with them while they read, write, or work with a partner or group. These kinds of informal conferences are a great ways to start meeting with students for short bursts of time on a regular basis.
I recommend that you jot down key points of these conversations on sticky notes. I usually give the notes to students so they have a record of our brief meeting and can use it to refresh their memories.
I invite you to ask questions about conferring and share some of your conferring experiences—both positive and negative.
Laura Robb

Please Bid Farewell to Round Robin Reading

As I travel around the country and work with teachers from K to grade 8, I still find many teachers wedded to reading instruction consisting of having students take turns reading a text aloud. Teachers tell me that they use “Round Robin Reading” because they need to hear students' patterns of error. A better way to use oral reading as an assessment is to take a running record or do an oral error analysis. Reading instruction should show students how to think with information in a text. Thinking might include making connections, inferring, finding themes and big ideas, and creating unique ideas. None of these can happen during Round Robin Reading.
Please share your thoughts and experiences on this controversial topic.
Laura Robb

The Power of Literacy Folders

Keeping key assessments in a literacy folder can add extra strength to our instructional decisions. A literacy folder can simply be a file folder with a student’s name on it. You can store these in crates or in a file cabinet. Having ready access to these dated assessments makes it easy to review them before you decide to intervene with scaffolding or reteach a lesson to one or a group of students. Here's what I suggest you keep in a literacy folder:
  • Results of reading inventories
  • Reading surveys and interest inventories
  • Documented conferences
  • Two or three photocopied journal entries that show progress or lack of
  • progress
  • Two or three photocopied writing workshop pieces
  • Tests and quizzes
  • Observational notes
Every few weeks, review a student’s work and then staple the pieces together along with your evaluation and recommendations. Then start collecting another round of assessments. You'll find these useful at parent conferences and when discussing adjustments with students and administrators.
Laura Robb

Assessment Drives Instruction

Without a doubt, the assessments we gather on each student can support the instructional decisions we make. Assessments include all the written work students complete, notes from conferences we have with them, as well as from our observations of students reading, discussing books with peers or in a teacher-led reading group, and their behavior in different situations. Let's take Robbie, a sixth grader. The Independent Reading Inventory Robbie's fifth grade teacher administered at the end of the year showed that he had gained a full year and was now instructionally at a mid-fourth grade level. This data made me realize I needed to observe Robbie in different situations. During the first class trip to the library, Robbie checked out one ultra thick Stephen King book and the first Harry Potter book—classic choices for a reader like Robbie. Instead of taking the books away from him, I honored his choices. Here's what I said: "Those are terrific books--but really long books. Here are three others I think you might like. Browse through all of them, then choose the one you'll enjoy."
Observations and data collection provide us teachers with tangible information that we can use to support our students. Please share an assessment story so we can all benefit from our teaching and learning experiences.
Laura Robb

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in The Laura Robb Blog are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.