As Lucy Calkins reminds us in The Art of Teaching Reading, "Once you really pull in close to consider children's understandings (and misunderstandings), it quickly becomes clear that 'simply' giving children time to read, texts they can understand, and conversations that hold them accountable to the text is a gigantic thing. An absolutely mind-blowing number of skills are needed and developed by anyone who reads with engagement and interest" (p. 357). We want our students to be reading books they enjoy and to be able to stick with the book until they are finished. We know that the first step for all children is getting into books.
Observation During Independent Reading
For the first several days of independent reading, we don't administer assessments in the traditional sense. Instead, we watch, listen, and learn about what students do in the routines. This is an important time for informal assessments. This work is so informative. For example, we may learn that a few children are struggling and others are quite secure in their reading. We try to notice as much as we can about our new students, including the following:
The Kind of Book Each Child Chooses to Read
- Haylie had a stack of books that were thick and difficult.
- Alyssa chose picture books that we read to the class.
- Conner was comfortable with nonfiction books that had lots of photos.
- Madelyn had a book in a series that she had been reading.
- Alex read Boxcar Children.
- Brennen brought all of his books from home and had no interest in books from the classroom library.
The Level of Engagement of Each Child
- Jonathan got up to use the restroom at least once each day during independent reading time.
- Shannon looked engaged but finished books very quickly.
- Matt got up to get tissues and drinks of water often.
The Location Each Child Chooses to Read
- Jessica always found a spot by herself and started reading.
- Kai seemed to like to read near friends. He often stopped to share something with a friend he was sitting near.
The Extent to Which Each Child Sticks with Books Over Several Days
- Carly quit several books during the first few days.
- Brennen finished a Magic Treehouse book during the first week.
The Extent to Which Each Child Browses Books Thoughtfully
- Maggie chose books very quickly by looking at the cover.
- Sam seemed to be looking for something in particular on the shelves.
We need to avoid making big judgments about students' reading during the first few weeks. Rather, we need to watch for patterns, ask ourselves new questions, and get to know children the best we can by observing them in the process of reading. After we have observed them for several weeks, we can compile the information and plan instruction more effectively.
Students use a reading log to write for a few minutes each day about their independent reading. These logs are on separate sheets of paper so that we can collect and analyze them as we build profiles of each student. Later these logs will change to something more focused on the child's individual goals. But for now, we want to see what happens when they can respond to anything that seems important to them. They are free to write whatever they choose – perhaps a note on why they chose the book, where they decided to read, connections to other things they've read. At the end of each week, students answer two questions in their logs:
What did you learn about yourself as a reader?
What goal do you have for next week's independent reading?
The logs serve two purposes. First, they provide us with a glimpse of how students are using their time and what they think about their reading. We can quickly see when students start a new book. We can see the types of responses students write when given little or no direction. We can identify the kinds of goals they are setting. We can note how they write about themselves as readers.
Second, reading logs allow students to be in charge of their own reading lives and to set goals accordingly. If they did not have these logs, we would be the ones to say, "Joey, you quit three books today. You need to stick with one next week." Instead, the log is a tool to help students make discoveries like these on their own.
We collect the information from logs in many ways. We look over students' shoulders as they are writing. We often read them to get a sense of how the whole class is progressing. We lead whole-class conversations based on reflections from reading logs.
What We Look for in Reading Logs
- What kinds of comments are students making about the book?
- Are they finishing books?
- Are they reading a single book over several days or bouncing around?
- What genre do they seem to be reading?
- Are they thoughtful about their book choice?
- Do they set goals? What kinds of goals do they set?
- How do they see themselves as readers?
During the first six weeks, we help students who are having difficulty reading to build their identities as readers. We need to allow them to act like readers even if they don't see themselves as readers. We always have some students who pretend to read, but we know that will change. We are comfortable with children choosing books that are not necessarily right for them (too easy, too hard, not interesting) because we are confident they'll make wiser choices over time. For example, Franki noticed that Kelsie was busy with long, hard books, but her eyes wandered often and she didn't actually seem to be reading. At this point in the year, Franki didn't want to interfere because she knew from experience this issue would resolve itself in the first few weeks. Franki continued gathering information about Kelsie. When Kelsie exhibited behaviors like these, Franki new that she needed to find a way to place value on easier less demanding books. We are giving students big messages about their role in the reading workshop and letting them know that we see them as readers. The less we control students' reading, the more we can watch and learn about who they are as readers.
Note to readers: This feature is an excerpt from Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop, published by Scholastic. All rights reserved by the publisher.