Evaluation: Mine

Evaluation: Mine

Most schools require some sort of baseline assessment of children’s reading skills at the beginning of the year, and mine is no exception. In first grade we use the Reader Observation Survey developed by Marie Clay and the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) to evaluate early literacy achievement. The survey assesses letter identification, concepts of print, sight words, writing vocabulary, and dictation. The DRA measures a child’s reading level through running records and retellings.
We administer the Reading Observation Survey as needed and the DRA at the end of the year as well as at the beginning, in order to give teachers, children, and parents a clear indication of how children have grown as readers in the areas mentioned above. But how do we measure a child’s developing expertise in other areas of reading comprehension? It’s very different than evaluating a child’s skills in decoding. I can’t give comparative levels or numbers to parents and say they represent how their child has grown in his or her ability to comprehend. I can share what I’ve learned from children during conferences, observations I’ve written in my notebook detailing what I’ve seen and heard the children say, and artifacts that show how children acquire new knowledge and construct meaning.
You’ll find examples of these kinds of responses in the “Evidence of Understanding and Independence” sections at the end of each strategy chapter. These sections include a wide range of artifacts – children’s work, their comments and strategy definitions, and classroom charts we’ve constructed together. You’ll notice that examples of comprehension ability or development aren’t tied directly to a child’s ability to decode. A child with few decoding skills can make an amazingly complex inference while reading a beginning picture book. Likewise, a child who is an accomplished decoder may struggle to make even the simplest connections from his reading to his life experience. You’ll notice from the syntax and spelling in the classroom artifacts that the children are clearly beginning readers, yet they are able to use their developing comprehension skills in sophisticated ways.
I’ve experimented with many different ways of record keeping, and have finally settled on small 4-by-6 inch notebooks that I keep in a basket near my desk. There is a notebook for each child, and every day before our literacy workshops I scoop up four or five from the front of the basket. Throughout the work sessions, I confer individually with these four or five children and make notes about what I’ve learned about them as readers, writers and learners.
Entries might include words that the child wrote on a sticky note, oral responses, a quick running record, and/or strategies the child uses for decoding and comprehension. I also make note of a child’s specific strengths and areas where he or she needs more support. Listing specific examples from conferences and observations keeps my comments real and in context, and puts me back in the scene when I need to refresh my memory.
At the end of each week or so, I look at these notebooks, along with notes from my own notebook and the children’s response sheets, and determine if there are children with similar needs who would benefit from additional support. I meet with small, needs-based groups for fifteen to twenty minutes during the independent practice part of the workshop. Small groups may need additional instruction, modeling, and practice making relevant connections, sounding out words, or working with vocabulary development. Or a small group may need to challenge themselves by choosing more sophisticated texts, applying a strategy in a new genre, or sharing their thinking and learning with others. In these lessons children most often use the same text, but I also ask them to bring a book they are reading independently. We use like texts so we have the same point of reference; they bring the books they are reading independently so we can make a plan for independent practice. In this lesson, I model what I want them to practice, and we discuss why it’s important.
Small groups like these give children opportunities to teach and learn from each other as they work together to apply and practice strategies for comprehension, decoding and meaning of words. We chart our learning and children share their new insights during share time. Groups stay together for one, two, or three work sessions over a one- or two- week period. I meet with just one small group a day as needed, ensuring time to confer with individual children, too.