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Teachers should assess reading directly

 The best assessments are ones that are authentic and directly tied to the skill being assessed.

For example, if you’re a pianist, the best assessment is a piano recital. If you’re a football player, the best assessment is a football game. And so on.

In schools, teachers often do a great job linking skills with assessments. Writing is a good example. We want students to improve as writers, so we have them write. To assess speaking, we assign speeches.

With reading, however, teachers don’t know what to do. We give pop quizzes, which often test recall. We assign reading questions, which involve writing (and guessing what we find important). Or we have students do Socratic seminars, which assess discussion skills. In short, teachers haven’t found a direct way to assess how students make meaning of what they read and what they understand from a text.

That’s why I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about how to assess reading. Doing so is not easy. After all, reading is private and usually done silently. Reading is thinking. And there’s a lot of fake reading, a lot of hiding. By the time they enter high school, many students (and some teachers) have a fixed mindset about reading. You either have it or you don’t.

Reading needs to get out there, to become public. Over the next few months, I hope to figure out ways to assess reading directly. I want to find ways that students can show me how they made meaning of a text and what they understood from it.

Here are my two initial ideas:

1. Teach students a consistent way to annotate texts and then assess their reading from their annotations. There would be two layers of annotations: process and meaning. In the process layer, students would demonstrate how they made sense of a text. In the meaning layer, they would show what they understood, the connections they made, the significance of the reading.

The good news is, My colleagues and I already have done some work on annotations. The next step is to streamline the system and come up with a consistent way to teach it (almost like the five-paragraph essay).

2. Teach students how to talk about texts and do recorded think-alouds. Instead of asking students to participate in a Socratic seminar, which comes later in the reading process, teachers could capture students’ initial thoughts, either while they read (process) or right afterward (meaning). It’s pretty easy now to record audio using a smartphone. Using ipadio or Evernote or another application, students could collect their thinking about their reading without having to stop to write down annotations. These short clips could offer teachers another way to assess how their students are reading.

* * *

I know, I’m early in my thinking about this. There’s much to do. But I think something is certain: We need to make reading more public, to unveil what’s happening with our students (or what’s not happening) when they read, and to assess reading more directly, instead of throwing upon additional layers of reading questions or pop quizzes or double-entry journals or other extraneous assessments that drive students away from the reading task.

Please tell me what you think. 

One comment

  1. John at TestSoup

    I’m interested to see how this progresses. I’ve never even thought about this. Guess I’m one of those people that just think you either know how to read or you don’t. But you’re definitely right. There are lots of levels here, and properly assessing reading level seems very difficult. Keep posting!

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