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Posts Tagged ‘Teaching Reading Strategies’

Reader-Response Theory

Reader-Response Theory

Reader-Response

Reading specialists talk a lot about automaticity. Simply put, automaticity means putting together all of the reading concepts and skills, such as word recognition, word identification, vocabulary, and comprehension strategies to read a text effortlessly and fluently.

However, regarding automaticity, the Jedi Master is right, “Both light and dark sides of the Force there are.”

Good readers need to learn how to enhance the benefits of automaticity and eliminate or minimize the drawbacks. One important way to do so is through engaging the the author-reader relationship.

One reading theory and body of research which attempts to describe the author-reader relationship is Reader-Response Theory. And, as is usually the case with any construct which attempts to explain a complicated relationship, there are plenty of variations on this theory.

The mainstream reading-response theory was developed by Louise Rosenblatt in her 1938 book, Literature as Exploration. In this and subsequent books, research, lectures, and articles, Dr. Rosenblatt explored what she termed, the transaction, which takes place between the text and readers. Think of a transaction in terms of a business deal made between two parties which results in a certain outcome.

For reading, the transaction is the give and take interplay between the author’s words and the reader’s input. The outcome of this transaction produces the meaning of the text.

The key point to understand about reader-response theory is that meaning exists outside of the author’s text and outside of the reader. For our purposes, meaning is another way of saying reading comprehension. So, how does this text-reader transaction affect what you understand and remember as you read?

When you sit down with a cup of coffee and your phone to read the morning news, you scroll down and click on an article headline which interests you, and you begin to read the text. All the input of the author, such as her research on the news story, her past experience and biases, her on-the-scene interviews, the facts of the event, her writing style, and her word choice are combined into the text that we read. The text acts as a stimulus to which you respond as a reader.

Some of your reader response will, undoubtedly, be the same as other readers. For example, if you are reading an article on a school shooting, everyone reading that same story would feel sad, angry, and perhaps a bit helpless. Certain words in the text, such as “tragedy,” or “heroic” would evoke similar connotations. No doubt, each of us will make a mental connection to a previous mass shooting. If we read the article byline and see that a teacher at that same school wrote the article, we would be especially empathetic to the writer’s experience. If a pop-up ad interrupted our reading, we would all be briefly annoyed. If our spouse or friend is in the room, we most likely would say, “Did you hear? There’s been another school shooting.”

However, your reaction to the article will differ from that of other readers, because your input as an individual reader is different. Personal associations, experiences, opinions, and feelings certainly influence how you understand and react to the text, as well what else you’ve read or watched on television. If you’ve read a few articles by the reporter and tend to disagree with her reporting or point of view, this will influence your personal reaction. Environmental factors may also affect your reader-response, If you woke up grumpy or the coffee is cold, your response to the stimulus produced by the article may be different than if the sun is shining and you have the day off.

If the Reader-Response Theory is accurate, the meaning that the author’s text and your reading produces entirely depends upon the circumstances of the transaction. In fact, Dr. Rosenblatt claims that both the author’s text and the reader are equally important and necessary in the production of meaning. In other words, the meaning of any novel, poem, song, article, or even this lecture is a co-creation of both what the author has to say and what the reader hears. Both the text and reader are partners in this transaction. So, if the good doctor is right, I’m not the only one to blame if you haven’t found this lecture to be scintillating so far!

As I previously mentioned, Dr. Rosenblatt’s position is in the mainstream of reading-response theorists. While she stresses the important role of the reader in shaping the meaning of text, particularly in terms of the reader’s emotional response to the author’s stimulus, she also values the role of the author’s text. The text serves as a blueprint to guide and and a check-point to restrain the reader’s response, so that the subjective experience of the reader is balanced with the objective text.

Now, a few of the buzzwords I just used to summarize Dr. Rosenblatt’s theory may have have stimulated your critical response. Good, we’re supposed to be partners in this transaction! Some of you may have wondered about the phrase, “equally important and necessary.” You may be asking, “Is the reader really just as important as the author’s words in determining meaning?”

You might think back to reading Act 2, Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet. Is your interpretation of Romeo’s “But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?” soliloquy of equal value in determining what the character means as what the author of the text, William Shakespeare says and intends? I’m thinking that you would feel a bit unimportant, or at least uncomfortable, sharing your literary insights and interpretations if Will happened to be in your book club. Doesn’t Shakespeare’s play remain objective, despite your subjective interpretations?

You aren’t alone in your questions about Reader-Response Theory. But even more extreme positions regarding the transaction between text and reader have come in and out of fashion since Dr. Rosenblatt’s first publication. I’ll briefly describe two of these sub-camps.

Some reader-response theorists have trotted out George Berkeley’s “If a tree falls in the midst of the forest, and no one hears it, does it make a sound” conundrum to question whether the author’s text has any meaning whatsoever apart from that of its reader. So, according to these reader-centered theorists, the text only exists as it is being read in the mind of the reader, just as the tree makes no sound unless some one hears it. No right; no wrong interpretations because there is no objective benchmark. So, every student would get an A+ on their Romeo and Juliet final exam.

Others have expanded the reader-centered position and would argue that the social nature of reading has an important impact on the creation of meaning. Of course, we don’t read in a vacuum solely of our own experience. As literacy critics we all have somewhat of a herd mentality. Think about how social media creates meaning.

*****
FREE DOWNLOAD TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING RESOURCES: The SCRIP (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict) Comprehension Strategies includes class posters, five lessons to introduce the strategies, and the SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

I just visited your website and, oh my, I actually felt my heart leap with joy! I am working with one class of ESL students and two classes of Read 180 students with behavior issues and have been struggling to find methods to address their specific areas of weakness. I am also teaching three senior level English classes and have found them to have serious deficits in many critical areas that may impact their success if they are attending college level courses in a year’s time. I have been trying to find a way to help all of them in specific and measurable ways – and I found you! I just wanted to thank you for creating these explicit and extensive resources for students in need. Thank you!

Cathy Ford

By the way, I got Sam and Friends a few weeks ago, and I love it. I teach ESL in S Korea. Phonics is poorly taught here, so teaching phonics means going back to square one. Fortunately, Sam and Friends does that and speeds up pretty quickly. I also like that I can send it home and not charge the parents – we all love that.  I like it a lot! It’s also not about something stupid, like cats and dogs. 

Joseph Curd

I work with a large ELL population at my school.Through my research in best practices, I know that spelling patterns and word study are so important. However, I just couldn’t find anything out there that combines the two. The grade level spelling program and remediation are perfect for my students. 

Heidi

Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills , , , , , , ,

Reading is Like Driving

Good Drivers Multi-task

Driving is Like Reading

Reading is a lot like driving. Let’s stick with a car for the purposes of our comparison.

Everyone knows that driving a car is a complicated process. No one jumps into the driver’s seat and begins driving without some sort of instruction. Driving is especially challenging because it involves multi-tasking. To be able to drive, the driver must understand how the car works, know how to use the machine, remember and apply the traffic rules, and interact safely with their driving environment all at the same time!

Good drivers understand each of these four components and remember to apply each of these tasks simultaneously and automatically. Bad drivers don’t understand or don’t remember to apply some or all of them. However, the good news is that even bad drivers can learn the concepts and skills to improve their driving with good teaching and practice.

Unfortunately, good drivers often develop bad habits over the years. Of the four components, the most frequent bad habit involves how drivers interact with their

Distracted Driving with Phones

Distracted Driving

environment. Let’s face it, sometimes we choose to add a multitude of distractions to our driving environment, even though we know we shouldn’t. Other times, we unintentionally fail to interact with our surroundings.

For example, most of us who have been driving for years have had a similar experience: We get on a familiar road to a familiar destination and our minds begin to wander. We arrive with the realization that we have absolutely no memory of driving to that place. We were truly on autopilot.

Of course, we must have had some degree of environmental awareness in order to arrive safely at our destination; however, most of us would agree that the interaction with our environment must have been less than optimal and the lack of any driving memory is certainly troubling.

So, let’s see how the driving process compares to the reading process.

Like driving, reading is a complicated process—more so than many of us realize. Decades of reading research have refuted the popular notion that reading is a natural, developmental process akin to oral language development (Gough & Hillinger, 1980; Lyon, 1998; Wren, 2002; Moats, L, & Tolman, C 2009). Simply put, children do not learn to read as they learn to speak, through natural exposure to a literate environment.

We now know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that reading is taught, not caught. No child, nor adult picks up a book, article, newspaper, or poem and reads without having had some form of instruction. Now, of course the quantity and quality of instruction varies, and many adults will not remember how they first learned to read, but they certainly were taught to do so.

Now, let’s return to our two-fold definition of reading, which we developed in our first two lectures: Reading is reading comprehension and reading comprehension is understanding and remembering what we read.

Good Readers are like Good Drivers.

Reading is Like Driving

To be able to understand and remember what is read, the reader must know how reading works, apply the phonetic tools, understand the meaning and order of words, and monitor the reader-author relationship. And, yes, like good drivers, they can multi-task.

Good readers apply these four components simultaneously and automatically. Struggling readers don’t understand or don’t remember to apply some or all of them. The good news is that both weak and strong readers can learn and practice the concepts and skills to improve their reading comprehension and retention.

However, like good drivers, good readers often develop bad habits over the years. Of the four components, the usual culprit is how readers interact with their reading environment and author’s text.

For example, most of us, like the distracted driver I spoke of, have had this experience infrequently or frequently while reading: We turn the page in a book or scroll down on our phones and our minds begin to wander as we read. We finish reading and come to the realization that we haven’t the foggiest idea about what we just read. We did read the words, but we did not understand them, nor remember any of the information or ideas. Some of us would swear to having read, say Beowulf, in the same manner when we were high school seniors.

Now you may have noticed that I used italics for the words reading and read, because although we pronounced the words, we really didn’t read them, using our definition of reading comprehension. If we don’t understand or retain what we have read, we really haven’t read.

*****

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

I just visited your website and, oh my, I actually felt my heart leap with joy! I am working with one class of ESL students and two classes of Read 180 students with behavior issues and have been struggling to find methods to address their specific areas of weakness. I am also teaching three senior level English classes and have found them to have serious deficits in many critical areas that may impact their success if they are attending college level courses in a year’s time. I have been trying to find a way to help all of them in specific and measurable ways – and I found you! I just wanted to thank you for creating these explicit and extensive resources for students in need. Thank you!

Cathy Ford

By the way, I got Sam and Friends a few weeks ago, and I love it. I teach ESL in S Korea. Phonics is poorly taught here, so teaching phonics means going back to square one. Fortunately, Sam and Friends does that and speeds up pretty quickly. I also like that I can send it home and not charge the parents – we all love that.  I like it a lot! It’s also not about something stupid, like cats and dogs. 

Joseph Curd

I work with a large ELL population at my school.Through my research in best practices, I know that spelling patterns and word study are so important. However, I just couldn’t find anything out there that combines the two. The grade level spelling program and remediation are perfect for my students. 

Heidi

 

FREE DOWNLOAD TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING RESOURCES: The SCRIP (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict) Comprehension Strategies includes class posters, five lessons to introduce the strategies, and the SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills , , , , , , , , , , , ,

ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts #6

Ah… the final episode of ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts. Will they or won’t they kill off the hero? Of course, in the movies or on television, a final episode may or may not be the last. With the plethora of reunion shows (Roseanne last year and Murphy Brown this year) we all take the word final with a grain of salt. If you’ve missed one of the following got-to-see episodes, check it out after you watch this one.

In case you were up in the lobby for part or all of the previous five episodes, we’ve previously covered the following assessment topics in Episodes 1–20:

Episode 1

  • Do use comprehensive assessments, not random samples. 
  • DON’T assess to assess. Assessment is not the end goal. 
  • DO use diagnostic assessments. 
  • DON’T assess what you won’t teach.” 

Episode 2

  • DO analyze data with others (drop your defenses). 
  • DON’T assess what you can’t teach. 
  • DO steal from others. 
  • DON’T assess what you must confess (data is dangerous).

Episode 3

  • DO analyze data both data deficits and mastery.
  • DON’T assess what you haven’t taught.
  • DO use instructional resources with embedded assessments.
  • DON’T use instructional resources which don’t teach to data.

Episode 4

  • DO let diagnostic data do the talking. 
  • DON’T assume what students do and do not know. 
  • DO use objective data. 
  • DON’T trust teacher judgment alone.

Episode 5

  • DO think of assessment  as instruction. 
  • DON’T trust all assessment results. 
  • DO make students and parents your assessment partners. 
  • Don’t go beyond the scope of your assessments.

*****

ELA and Reading Assessments

Do’s and Don’ts: Assessments

Today’s topics include the following: DO use both diagnostic and formative assessments. DON’T assess to determine a generic problem. DO review mastered material often. DON’T solely assess grade-level Standards.

Let’s kick your feet up (if you’re in one of those new theaters) and grab a handful of popcorn to read further. And make sure to stay until the end to download our FREE reading fluency assessment with recording matrix.

DO use both diagnostic and formative assessments.

Good teaching begins with finding out what students know and don’t know about the concept or skill before instruction begins. So often we assume that student do not know what we plan to teach. We start at the beginning, when a brief diagnostic assessment might better inform our instruction. You wouldn’t hire a contractor to remodel a bathroom without seeing the existing bathroom. Nor would you think much of a contractor who insisted on building a new foundation when the existing foundation was fine and ready to build upon.

When teachers complete a diagnostic assessment and find that 1/3 of their class lacks a certain skill, say commas after nouns of direct address, they have three options: 1. Skip the comma lesson because “most (2/3) have mastered the skill.” 2. Teach the whole class the comma lesson because “some (1/3) don’t know it and it won’t kill the rest of the kids (2/3) to review.” 3. Provide individualized or small group instruction “only for the kids (1/3) who need to master the skill” while the ones who have achieved mastery work on something else. As a fan of assessment-based instruction, I support #3.

However, if we just use diagnostic assessments, we miss out on an essential instructional component: formative assessment. Formative assessment checks on students’ understanding of the concept or skill with the context of instruction. Following instructional input and guided practice, brief formative assessment informs the teacher’s next step in instruction: Move on because they’ve got it. Re-teach to the entire class. Re-teach to those to have not mastered the concept or skill.

Need an example of an effective formative assessment?

Write three sentences: one with a noun of direct address at the beginning, one in the middle, and one at the end of a sentence.

DON’T assess to determine a generic problem.

Let me step on a few toes to illustrate a frequent problem with teacher assessments. Most elementary school teachers administer reading fluency assessments at the beginning of the year. Yes, middle and high school ELA teachers should be doing the same, albeit with silent reading fluencies. However, teachers select (or their district provides) a grade-level passage to read. Teachers dutifully compare student data to research-based grade level norms. Some teachers will re-assess throughout the year with similar grade-level passages and chart growth. All well and good; however, what does this common assessment procedure really tell us and how does it inform our reading instruction? Answer: The fluency assessments only tell us generically that Brenda reads below, Juan reads at, and Cheyenne reads above grade-level fluency norms on a grade-level passage. 

All we really know is that Brenda has a generic problem in reading grade-level passages. What we don’t know (but would like to know to inform our instruction) are the following specific data: Brenda has a frustrational reading level with grade 5 passages, but is instructional at grade 4 and independent at grade 3. Brenda. That specific data would inform our instruction and pinpoint appropriate reading resources for Brenda’s practice (as well as for Juan and Cheyenne).

Of course, you could follow the initial assessment with other grade level assessments to get the specificity, but why would you if an initial assessment would give you not only grade-level data, but also instructional level data? You’ll love our FREE download!

In other words, if you’re going to assess, you might as well assess efficiently and specifically. Knowing that a student has a problem  is okay; knowing exactly what the student problem is is much more useful.

DO review mastered material often.

The Common Core State Standard authors speak often in Appendix A about the cyclical nature of learning. Beyond the normal forgetting cycle, students often require re-teaching. Once mastered, always mastered is not a truism.

Additionally, Summer Brain Drain is all-too-often a reality teachers face with a new set of students each year. Frequently, last year’s assessment data provided by last year’s teacher may seem to indicate starting points higher that what the students indicate on even the same assessments given on Day One. Sometimes the new teacher may assume padded results from the previous year’s teacher to impress parents and administrators. However, who loop with their students are often surprised by how much re-teaching must be done to get students up to where they were.

The Test-Teach-Test-Teach-Test model is what assessment-based instruction is all about.

DON’T solely assess grade-level Standards.

I once taught next door to an eighth grade teacher whom the kids adored. He was funny, bright, and cared about his students. He was also glued to the Standards. So much so, that he only taught grade-level Standards. Irrespective of whether students were ready for the individual Standard; irrespective of whether students were deficit in much more important concepts or skills (such as being able to read); and irrespective of whether students already knew the Standards.

His philosophy was “if every teacher taught the grade-level Standards, no remediation would be required.” He said, “I’m an eighth-grade teacher and I teach the eighth-grade Standards, nothing more and nothing less.”

One day I got up the nerve to ask him, “Wouldn’t it make more sense if your philosophy was “if every student learned the grade-level Standards, no remediation would be required”?

His middle and upper kids did fine, although I suspect they had some significant learning gaps. The lower kids floundered or were transferred into my classes.

*****

I’m Mark Pennington, ELA teacher and reading specialist. Check out my assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources at Pennington Publishing.

*****THE FREE READING FLUENCY ASSESSMENT*****

The “Pets” expository fluency passage is leveled in a unique pyramid design: the first paragraph is at the first grade (Fleish-Kincaid) reading level; the second paragraph is at the second grade level; the third paragraph is at the third grade level; the fourth paragraph is at the fourth grade level; the fifth paragraph is at the fifth grade level; the sixth paragraph is at the sixth grade level; and the seventh paragraph is at the seventh grade level. Thus, the reader begins practice at an easier level to build confidence and then moves to more difficult academic language. As the student reads the fluency passage, the teacher will be able to note the reading levels at which the student has a high degree of accuracy and automaticity. Automaticity refers to the ability of the reader to read effortlessly without stumbling or sounding-out words. The 383 word passage permits the teacher to assess two-minute reading fluencies (a much better measurement than a one-minute timing).

Get the The Pets Fluency Assessment FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts #5

Do's and Don'ts of ELA and Reading AssessmentsNotice how movie theaters have jumped on the rewards bandwagon? Yes, we earn points of our rewards card toward a free popcorn or soda. I’m all about the rewards, but we now have a desk drawer full cards.

However, for my Do’s and Don’ts of ELA and Reading Assessments series, you “don’t need no stinkin’ card” (Mel Brook’s Blazing Saddles) to get our FREE assessments, audio files, progress monitoring matrices, and lessons.

If you’ve missed one of the following got-to-see episodes, check it out after you watch this one.

  1. Episode 1
  • Do use comprehensive assessments, not random samples. 
  • DON’T assess to assess. Assessment is not the end goal. 
  • DO use diagnostic assessments. 
  • DON’T assess what you won’t teach.” 
  1. Episode 2
  • DO analyze data with others (drop your defenses). 
  • DON’T assess what you can’t teach. 
  • DO steal from others. 
  • DON’T assess what you must confess (data is dangerous).
  1. Episode 3
  • DO analyze data both data deficits and mastery.
  • DON’T assess what you haven’t taught.
  • DO use instructional resources with embedded assessments.
  • DON’T use instructional resources which don’t teach to data.
  1. Episode 4
  • DO let diagnostic data do the talking. 
  • DON’T assume what students do and do not know. 
  • DO use objective data. 
  • DON’T trust teacher judgment alone.

Now, sit back in your plushy seat and enjoy the flick. In Episode 5 we are taking a look at the following:

DO think of assessment  as instruction. DON’T trust all assessment results. DO make students and parents your assessment partners. Don’t go beyond the scope of your assessments.

Wait ’til you download the featured assessment and matrix. It’s worth the wait.

DO think of assessment  as instruction. 

So often teachers view assessments as extraneous got-to’s, not as integral instructional components. I’ve heard, “I got into teaching to teach, not to assess” more times than I can count.

I kindly suggest that we should re-orient our thinking. No teacher would want to use an instructional resource that provided inaccurate information. No teacher would want to hand out a worksheet that her students had already completed. No teacher would want to waste time teaching something that her students already had mastered. Yet, teachers do so all the time when they have not assessed what students know and what they don’t know.

Diagnostic and formative assessments inform our instruction. No one would trust a doctor who would write a prescription without a diagnosis. Diagnosis is part of the exam. The same is true for teaching. Assessment is an integral component of instruction.

If they know it, they will show it; if they don’t they won’t. So don’t blow it; make ’em show it.

DON’T trust all assessment results. 

Even the best of doctors will suggest a second opinion. This is sound advice for teacher diagnosticians as well. Sometimes it makes sense to use an alternative assessment to double-check what students know and what they don’t know, especially when the results seem inconsistent with other data.

When I was in fifth grade, I was pulled out of class to be tested for the gifted program. The assessment consisted of a timed test of orally delivered questions. After the second or third question, I hit upon a strategy to give me more think time. After each oral question, I asked, “What?” I got the question again and had twice as long to answer the question. I don’t remember if I qualified for the program, but I do remember being referred to the audiologist for hearing loss.

When in doubt, double-check with a different assessment.

DO make students and parents your assessment partners. 

Test data shouldn’t be secret. Both students and parents need to know what is already known and what needs to be known. Most elementary teachers share some form of data at student-parent-teacher conferences, but secondary teachers rarely do so.

My suggestion is to share both diagnostic and formative assessment data on a regular basis with students and parents. Both are encouraged and motivated by progress. Share progress monitoring matrices with your partners.

Don’t go beyond the scope of your assessments.

Good assessments are limited assessments. They test specific concepts and skills, not general ones. Teachers over-reach when they try to make assessments walk on all fours. In other words, when teachers make assessments prescribe generalizations or treatments beyond the scopes of their applications.

For example, a student who fails to correctly punctuate an MLA citation on a unit test, may not need further instruction in what and what not to cite. Or a student who does not know when and when not to drop the final silent when adding on a suffix, may not need to practice reading silent final sound-spellings (the former is a spelling skills; the latter is a phonics skill).

Effective assessment-based instruction sticks to the limits of the assessment and does not generalize.

Glad you dropped by to watch Episode 5? Before you re-fill that unlimited re-fills popcorn on your way out, better grab your ticket for the next installment of ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts: Episode 6. This once could sell out! Also get more 15 FREE ELA and reading assessments, corresponding recording matrices, administrative audio files, and ready-to-teach lessons. A 99% score on Rotten Tomatoes! Here’s the preview:

  1. DO use both diagnostic and formative assessments.
  2. DON’T assess to determine a generic problem.
  3. DO review mastered material often.
  4. DON’T solely assess grade-level Standards.

*****

I’m Mark Pennington, ELA teacher and reading specialist. Check out my assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources at Pennington Publishing.

Get the Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment, Audio File, and Recording Matrix FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts #4

ELA and Reading Assessment Do's and Don'ts

Assessment Do’s and Don’ts

I’ve been using a silly movie theme to weave together a series of articles for my Do’s and Don’ts of ELA and Reading Assessments series. So far I’ve offered these suggestions over the trailer and first three episodes:

    1. Episode 1
  • Do use comprehensive assessments, not random samples. 
  • DON’T assess to assess. Assessment is not the end goal. 
  • DO use diagnostic assessments. 
  • DON’T assess what you won’t teach.” 
    1. Episode 2
  • DO analyze data with others (drop your defenses). 
  • DON’T assess what you can’t teach. 
  • DO steal from others. 
  • DON’T assess what you must confess (data is dangerous).
    1. Episode 3
  • DO analyze data both data deficits and mastery.
  • DON’T assess what you haven’t taught.
  • DO use instructional resources with embedded assessments.
  • DON’T use instructional resources which don’t teach to data.

Permit me to tell a brief anecdote. As a junior in high school, I got my license on my sixteenth birthday. At last, I could take my girlfriend out on a real date! Where to go? The movies, of course. Just one problem.

Friday night was guys’ night. My group of buddies and I always got together on Friday night. When Richard called me up after school to tell me that he would pick me up at 7:00, I quickly lied and told him that I was sick. Of course, I had already called my girlfriend to ask her to go to the movies.

We were munching on popcorn, half-way through the movie, when an obnoxiously loud group of guys entered the theater. Yes… my friends. I slumped down in my seat and told my girlfriend that I needed to see all the credits before leaving. When I assumed my friends had left the theater for their next Friday night adventure, my girlfriend and I slowly made our way up to the lobby.

Richard was the first friend to greet me. Let’s just say I paid dearly for that lie.

This article’s focus?

DO let diagnostic data do the talking. DON’T assume what students do and do not know. DO use objective data. DON’T trust teacher judgment alone.

The FREE assessment download at the end of this article includes a recording matrix and two great lessons… all to convince you to check out my assessment-based ELA and reading program resources at Pennington Publishing.

DO let diagnostic data do the talking.

One of the first lessons new teachers learn is how to answer this student or parent question: “Why did you give me (him or her) a ___ on this essay, test, project, etc.?”

Of course, every veteran teacher knows the proper response (with italics for speech emphasis): “I didn’t give you (him or her) anything. You (he or she) earned it.

A less snotty and more effective response is to reference the data. Data is objective. Changing the subjective nature of the question into an objective answer is a good teacher self-defense mechanism and gets to the heart of the issue.

Diagnostic data is especially helpful in answering why students are having difficulties in a class. Additionally, the data in and of itself offers a prescription for treatment. Going home from the doctor with a “This should go away by itself in a few weeks” or a “Just not sure what the problem is, but it doesn’t seem too serious” is frustrating. Patients want a prescription to fix the issue. Parents and students can get that prescription with assessment-based instructional resources.

One other application for both new and veteran teachers to note: A teacher approaches her principal with this request: “I need $$$$ to purchase Pennington Publishing’s Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLE. Our program adoption does not provide the resources I need to teach the CCSS standards.”

Answer: “Not at this time.”

Instead, let diagnostic data do the talking.

“Look at the diagnostic data on this matrix for my students. They need the resources to teach to these deficits.”

Answer: “Yes (or Maybe)”

DON’T assume what students do and do not know. 

We teachers are certainly not free of presuppositions and bias. As a result, we assume what has yet to be proven. In other words, we beg the question regarding what our students know and don’t know.

He must be smart, but just lazy. His older sister was one of my best students. They’re in an honors class; of course they know their parts of speech. I have to teach everything as if none of my students knows anything; I assume they are all tabula rasa (blank slates). You all had Ms. Peters last year, so we don’t have to teach you the structure of an argumentative essay.

Effective diagnostic assessments eliminates the assumptions. Regarding diagnostic assessments, I always advise teachers: “If they know it, they can show it; if they don’t, they won’t.”

DO use objective data.

Not all diagnostic assessments are created equally. By design, a random sample assessment is subjective, no matter the form of sampling. Those of you who remember your college statistics class will agree.

Teachers need objective data, not data which suggests problem areas. Teachers need to know the specifics to be able to inform their instruction. For this application, objective means comprehensive.

The “objective” PAARC, SWBAC, or state-constructed CCSS tests may indicate relative student weaknesses in mechanics; however, teachers want to know exactly which comma rules have and have not been mastered. Teachers need that form of objective data.

DON’T trust teacher judgment alone.

After years of teaching, veteran teachers learn to rely on their judgment (as they should). After a few more years of teaching, good teachers learn to distrust their own judgment at points. Experienced teachers look for the counter-intuitive in these complex subjects of study that we call students. What makes them tick? Kids keep our business interesting.

Diagnostic and formative assessments bring out our own errors in judgment and help us experiment to find solutions for what our students need to succeed. Assessments point out discrepancies and point to alternative means of instruction.

For example, a student may score high in reading comprehension on an un-timed standards-based assessment. Also, she was in Ms. McGuire’s highest reading group last year. Most teachers would assume that she has no reading problems and should be assigned to an advanced literacy group.

Yet, her diagnostic spelling assessment demonstrates plenty of gaps in spelling patterns. A wise teacher would suspend her initial judgment and do a bit more digging. If that teacher gave the Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment (our FREE download at the end of this article), the student might demonstrate some relative weaknesses. She may be an excellent sight-word reader, who does fine with stories, but one whom will fall apart reading an expository article or her science textbook.

Like my dad always told me… Measure twice and cut once.

Thanks for watching Episode 4. Make sure to buy your ticket for the next installment of ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts: Episode 5 before you sneak out of the theater with your girlfriend or boyfriend. Also get more 15 FREE ELA and reading assessments, corresponding recording matrices, administrative audio files, and ready-to-teach lessons. A 94% score on Rotten Tomatoes! Here’s the preview: DO treat assessment  as instruction. DON’T trust all assessment results. DO make students and parents your assessment partners. Don’t go beyond the scope of your assessments.

*****

I’m Mark Pennington, ELA teacher and reading specialist. Check out my assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources at Pennington Publishing.

Get the Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment with Audio File and Matrix FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts #3

ELA and Reading Assessments Do's and Don'ts

Do’s and Don’ts: ELA and Reading Assessments

The thing about movie sequels is that we feel a compulsive necessity to see the next and the next because we’ve seen the first. I’d be interested to know what percentage of movie-goers, who saw all three Lord of the Rings movies, watched both Hobbit prequels. My guess would be a rather high percentage.

If my theory is correct, I’d also hazard to guess that the critic reviews would not substantially alter that percentage.

Of course my hope is that I’ve hooked you on this article series and the FREE downloads 🙂 of assessments, recording matrices, audio files, and activities in order to entice you to check out my corresponding assessment-based products at Pennington Publishing.

In my Do’s and Don’ts of ELA and Reading Assessments series, I’ve offered these bits of advice so far:

    1. Episode 1
  • Do use comprehensive assessments, not random samples. 
  • DON’T assess to assess. Assessment is not the end goal. 
  • DO use diagnostic assessments. 
  • DON’T assess what you won’t teach.” 
    1. Episode 2
  • DO analyze data with others (drop your defenses). 
  • DON’T assess what you can’t teach. 
  • DO steal from others. 
  • DON’T assess what you must confess (data is dangerous).

DO analyze data both data deficits and mastery.

Students are like fixer-upper houses.

Kids are fixer-uppers, waiting to be fixed and flipped.

Teachers are fixers. In some sense we view our students as “as is” houses or fixer-uppers, waiting for us to determine what needs repair and updating so that we can flip them in market-ready condition to the next teacher.

Teachers should use diagnostic assessments in this way. Most all students need to catch up while they keep up with grade-level instruction.

However, we miss some of the value of diagnostic assessments when we don’t analyze data to build upon the strengths of individual students. For example, teachers are frequently concerned about the student who has high reading fluency rates, but poor comprehension. Yes, some students are able to read quickly with minimal miscues, but understand and retain little of what they have read. Just weird, right?

Looking only at the diagnostic deficit (lack of comprehension) might lead the teacher to assume that the student is a sight word reader in need of extensive decoding practice to shore up this reading foundation. However, if we look at the relative strength (fluency), we might prescribe a different treatment to build upon that strength. It may certainly be true that the student might have some decoding deficits, but if the student is able to recognize the words, it makes sense to use that ability to teach the student how to internally monitor text with self-questioning strategies.

Both relative strengths and weaknesses matter when analyzing student assessment data.

DON’T assess what you haven’t taught.

Teachers love to see progress in their students. Our profession enables us to see a student go from A to B throughout the year with us as the relevant variable. Assessment data does provide us with extrinsic rewards and a self-pat-on-the-back. I love our profession!

But we have to use real data to achieve that self-satisfaction. Otherwise, we are only fooling ourselves. As the new school year begins, countless teachers will administer entry baseline assessments, designed to demonstrate student ignorance. These assessments test what students should know by the end of the year, not what they are expected to know at the beginning of the year. Often the same assessment is administered at the end of the year to determine summative progress and assess a teacher’s program effectiveness.

Resist the temptation to artificially produce a feel-good assessment program such as that. Such a baseline test affords no diagnostic data; it does not inform your instruction. It makes students feel stupid and wastes class time. The year-end summative assessment is too far removed from the baseline to measure the effects of the the variables (teacher and program) upon achievement with any degree of accuracy.

Test only what has been taught to see what they’ve retained and forgotten.

DO use instructional resources with embedded assessments.

In my work as an ELA teacher and reading specialist at the elementary, middle school, high school, and community college levels, I’ve found that most teachers use three types of assessments: 1. They give a few entry-level assessments, but do little if any thing with the data. 2. They give unit tests once a month, but do not re-teach or re-test. 3. They give some form of end-of-year or term summative test (the final) with little or no review or re-teaching of the test results.

As you, no doubt, can tell, I don’t see the value in any of the above approaches to assessment. It’s not that these tests are useless; it’s that they tend to be reductive. Teachers give these instead of the tests they should be using to inform their instruction. Diagnostic assessments (as detailed in the previous section) are essential to plan and inform instruction. Also, what’s missing in their assessment plan? Formative assessments.

My take is that the best method of on-going formative assessment is with embedded assessments. I use embedded assessments to mean quick checks for understanding that are included in each lesson. Both the teacher and student need to know whether the skill or concept is understood following instruction, guided practice, and independent practice. For example, in the FREE diagnostic assessment (with audio file), recording matrix, and lessons download at the end of this article, the lesson samples from my Differentiated Spelling Instruction programs are spelling pattern worksheets. These are remedial worksheets which students would complete if the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment indicated specific spelling pattern deficits. Each worksheet includes a writing application at the end of the worksheet, which demonstrates whether the student has or has not mastered the practiced spelling pattern. These are embedded assessments, which the teacher can use to determine if additional instruction is unnecessary or required.

Use instructional materials which teach and test.

DON’T use instructional resources which don’t teach to data.

The converse of the previous section is also important to bullet point. To put things simply: Why would a teacher choose to use an instructional resource (a worksheet, a game, software, a lecture, a class discussion, an article, anything) which is not testable in some way? Of course, the assessment need not include pencil and paper; informed teacher observation can certainly include assessment of learning.

Let’s use one example to demonstrate an instructional resource which does not teach to data and how that same resource can teach to data: independent reading. This one will step on a few toes.

Instructional Resource: “Everyone take out your independent reading books for Sustained Silent Reading (SSR).” Okay, you may do Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) or Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) or…

Practice:  20 minutes of silent reading

Assessment: None

The instructional resource may or may not be teaching. We don’t know. If the student is reading well at appropriate challenge level, the student is certainly benefiting from vocabulary acquisition. If the student is daydreaming or pretending to read, SSR is producing no instruction benefit. Following is an alternative use of this instructional resource:

Instructional Resource: “Everyone take out your challenge level independent reading books for Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), your

SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks

SCRIP Comprehension Strategy Bookmarks

SCRIP Comprehension Strategies Bookmarks, and your pencil for annotations (margin notes).”

Practice with Assessment:  Read for 10 minutes, annotating the text. Then do a re-tell with your assigned partner for 1 minute, using the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies Bookmarks as self-questioning prompts. Partners are to complete the re-tell checklist. Repeat after 10 more minutes. Teacher randomly calls on a few readers to repeat their re-tells to the entire class and their partners’ additions. If the checklists and teacher observation of the oral re-tells indicate that the students are missing, say, causes-effect relationships in their reading, the teacher should prepare and present a think-aloud lesson, emphasizing this reading strategy with practice. This practice uses data and informs the teacher’s instruction. Plus, it provides students with a purpose for instruction and holds them accountable for learning.

Thanks for watching Episode 3. Make sure to purchase your ticket for the next installment of ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts: Episode 4 before you walk out of the theater. This episode will sell-out fast! Also get more 15 FREE ELA and reading assessments, corresponding recording matrices, administrative audio files, and ready-to-teach lessons. A 98% score on Rotten Tomatoes! Here’s the preview: DO let diagnostic data do the talking. DON’T assume what students do and do not know. DO use objective data. DON’T trust teacher judgment alone.

*****

I’m Mark Pennington, ELA teacher and reading specialist. Check out my assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources at Pennington Publishing.

Get the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, Mastery Matrix, and Sample Lessons FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts #2

English and Reading Assessments

ELA and Reading Assessments

You know how it is with movie sequels; the sequel rarely lives up to the promise of the original movie. However, there are exceptions and you’re reading one 🙂

In my Do’s and Don’ts of ELA and Reading Assessments series, I began with a trailer to introduce the articles, in which I argued, “Do use comprehensive assessments, not random samples.” I followed with the first episode, in which I elaborate on the following: “DON’T assess to assess. Assessment is not the end goal. DO use diagnostic assessments. DON’T assess what you won’t teach.” Both the trailer and first episode provide some of my 15 FREE ELA and reading assessments, corresponding recording matrices, administrative audio files, and ready-to-teach lessons. Take a look at these later, but you’ve got to read this article first and grab the FREE download.

As an ELA teacher and reading specialist, I believe in the power of ELA and reading assessments. However, as with many educational practices, appropriate use is often coupled with misuse (or even abuse); hence, the Do’s and Don’ts of ELA and Reading Assessments.

DO analyze data with others (drop your defenses).

We teachers love our independence, but it sometimes comes with a cost to our students.

My eighth-grade ELA colleague in the classroom next door has the reputation of being a fine teacher. She serves as our department chair and we’ve taught together for a dozen years. I can tell you all about her two kids and husband. Of course, I spell her once in a while for a bathroom break, but I’ve never seen her teach; nor has she seen me teach. I’ve found this scenario to be quite typical. Our classrooms are our castles. We let down the drawbridges a few times a year for administrative walk-throughs or evaluations, but rarely more than that.

Our department meetings are all business: budget, supply status, pleas to keep the workroom clean, schedules, and novel rotations. We also meet twice-per-month for grade-level team meanings. Again, more business with some curricular planning and the usual complaint-sharing about students, parents, the district, and administrators. Administrators want us to have common assessments, mainly to ensure consistent instruction. We do, but get around that requirement by adding on our own assessments and make these the ones that matter. We never analyze student data, except the Common Core annual assessment (and that data is aggregated by grade-level subject, not by individual teacher). Of course, that data is out-of-date (months ago) and so general as to be of minimal use.

At the beginning of the school year I sing the same old song: “Can’t we set aside time at each meeting to look at each others’ student work and learn from each other?” I mean assignments, essays, and unit tests… the stuff that we are now teaching. Everyone agrees we should, but we never have enough time. Why not?

We’re afraid.

What if she finds out that I’m just a mediocre teacher? What if he finds out that I have no clue about how to teach grammar? What if they discover that I really don’t differentiate instruction, though I have a reputation for doing so? Would I be able to or willing to change how I teach? My colleagues aren’t my bosses.

It’s time we take some risks and let the assessment data do the talking. None of us is as good or bad as we think. Everyone has something to contribute and something to learn. We need different perspectives on analyzing data; looking solely at your own data without comparison to others’ data may lead to inaccurate judgments and faulty instruction.

Let’s drop our defenses and let our colleagues into our professional lives. Data analysis as a community of professional educators can produce satisfying results and helps us grow as professionals.

DON’T assess what you can’t teach.

When teachers sit down and brainstorm what baseline assessments to give at the start of the school year, someone invariably suggests a reading comprehension test and a writing sample. I chime in with a mechanics test. Here’s why my suggestion makes sense and my colleague’s does not.

A mechanics test is teachable: 9 comma rules, 7 capitalization rules, and 16 italics, underlining, quotation marks, etc. rules. A reading comprehension test and a writing sample are not. Check out my article, Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension when you have time. Suffice it to say that the latter two tests will not yield the same kind of specific data as, say, that mechanics test. Want to download that mechanics test and progress monitoring matrix? The FREE download is at the end of the article; you can teach to this assessment.

Bottom line? You don’t have time to assess for the sake of assessing. Refuse to assess what will not yield teachable data.

DO steal from others.

Teacher constructed assessments provide the best tools. Work with colleagues to create diagnostic and formative assessments to measure student achievement and quick follow-up assessments designed to re-assess, once you re-teach what individual students did not master the first time.

Steal exercises, activities, and worksheets from colleagues that will re-teach. No better compliment can be paid to a fellow teacher than “Would you mind making me a copy of that?”

DON’T assess what you must confess (data is dangerous).

I would add an important cautionary note to sharing assessment data. First, students do have a right to privacy. Be careful to keep data analysis in-house. On my recording matrices I suggest using student identification numbers when posting results in the classroom. Second, ill-informed parents and administrators will sometimes misuse data to make judgments about the teacher rather than the student. Lack of mastered concepts and skills could be used to accuse previous or present teachers of educational malpractice. Some administrators will cite quantitative data on evaluations to comment on lack of progress.

Teachers should be judicious and careful in publicizing data. Most parents and administrators will welcome the information, understand it in its proper context, and recognize the level of your professionalism. Set some department or team-level guidelines for data sharing and test the waters before sharing everything.

To clarify, it’s not the data that is dangerous; it’s the misuse that needs to be avoided.

That’s it for now. Some of you will jump up into the aisle to head to the lobby upon seeing “The End.” Others will relax and let the theater clear out before walking out. Make sure to purchase your ticket for the next installment of ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts: Episode 2 and get more 15 FREE ELA and reading assessments, corresponding recording matrices, administrative audio files, and ready-to-teach lessons. A 87% score on Rotten Tomatoes! Here’s the preview: DO analyze both data deficits and mastery. DON’T assess what you haven’t taught. DO use instructional resources with embedded assessments. DON’T use instructional resources which don’t teach to data.

*****

I’m Mark Pennington, ELA teacher and reading specialist. Check out my assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources at Pennington Publishing.

Get the Diagnostic Mechanics Assessment with Recording Matrix FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts #1

Many movie theaters are now opting to sell you specific seats for a show time, rather than the traditional first come first served model. Although you have to pay a premium for this advanced purchase option, I think it’s worth every penny. Here’s why: If you time it right, you can show up to your assigned seat right before the start of the movie and skip the annoying previews (usually known as trailers for some reason). According to an editor on Reddit, these trailers (including commercials and warnings to “Please silence your cell phone”) average 15-20 minutes.

Do's and Don'ts of ELA and Reading Assessments

ELA and Reading Assessment Do’s and Don’ts: The Movie Trailer

In my Do’s and Don’ts of ELA and Reading Assessments series, I began with a trailer to introduce the articles. This preview, Do use comprehensive assessments, not random samples, focused on why teachers want quick, whole-class, comprehensive assessments which produce the specific data regarding what students know and what they don’t know about a subject and why normed tests and achievement tests, such as the PAARC, SWBAC, and other state CCSS tests don’t provide that data. As an enticement to read the articles (and check out my Pennington Publishing programs to teach to the assessments) I provided two assessments which meet that desired criteria: the 1. Alphabetic Awareness Assessment and the 2. Sight Syllables (Greek and Latin prefix and suffix) Assessment. Additionally, the respective downloads include the answers, corresponding matrices, administrative audio files, and ready-to-teach lessons.

But first, let’s take a look at the first three-part episode in the Do’s and Don’t of ELA and Reading Assessments series: DON’T assess to assess. Assessment is not the end goal. DO use diagnostic assessments. DON’T assess what you won’t teach. Plus, wait ’til you see the FREE download at the end of this article! Plus, a bonus.

DON’T assess to assess. Assessment is not the end goal.

A number of years ago, our seventh and eighth-grade ELA department gathered over a number of days in the summer to plan a diagnostic assessment and curricular map to teach the CCSS grammar, usage, and mechanics standards L. 1, 2, and 3. I was especially pleased with the diagnostic assessment, which covered K-6 standards and felt that the team was finally ready to help students catch up while they keep up with grade-level standards.

By the end of the first two weeks of instruction, every ELA teacher had dutifully administered, corrected, and recorded the results of the assessment on our progress monitoring matrix. I began developing worksheets to target the diagnostic deficits and formative assessments to determine whether students had mastered these skills and concepts. I placed copies of the worksheets in our “share binder.” My students were excited to see their progress in mastering their deficits while we concurrently worked on grade-level instruction.

At our monthly team meeting, I brought my progress monitoring matrix to brag on my students. “That’s great, Mark.” “Nice work. I don’t know how you do it.” No one else had done anything with the diagnostic data.

Somehow I got up enough courage to ask, “Why did you all administer, correct, and record the diagnostic assessment if you don’t plan on using the data to inform your instruction?”

Responses included, “The principal wants us to give diagnostic assessments.” “The test did give me a feel for what my class did and did not know.” “It shows the students that they don’t know everything.” “It confirms my belief that previous teachers have not done a good job teaching, so I have to teach everything.”

Class time is too valuable to waste. Assessment is not an end in and of itself.

DO use diagnostic assessments.

Let’s face it; we all bring biases into the classroom. We assume that Student A is a fluent reader because she is in an honors class. Of course, Student B must be brilliant just like her older brother. Student C is a teacher’s kid, so she’ll be a solid writer. My assumptions have failed me countless times as I’m sure have yours.

Another piece of baggage teachers carry is generalization. We teach individuals who are in classes. “We all talk about a class as if it’s one organism. “That class is a behavioral nightmare.” “That class is so mean to each other.” “It takes me twice as long to teach anything to that class.” “This class had Ms. McGuire last year. She’s our staff Grammar Nazi, so at least the kids will know their parts of speech.” We lump together individuals when we deal with groups. It’s an occupational hazard.

To learn what students know and don’t know, so that we can teach both the class and individual, we have to remove ourselves as variables to eliminate bias and generalizations. Diagnostic assessments do the trick. Wait ’til you download the FREE diagnostic assessment at the end of this article; it transformed my teaching and has been downloaded thousands of times over the years by teachers to inform their instruction.

Additionally, diagnostic assessments force us to teach efficiently. When we learn that half the class has mastered adverbs and half has not, we are forced to figure out how to avoid re-teaching what some students already know (wasting their time) while helping the kids who need to learn. As an aside, many teachers avoid diagnostic assessments because the results require differentiated or individualized instruction. Naivete is bliss. Diagnostic assessments are amazing guilt-producers.

Be an objective teacher, willing to let diagnostic data guide your instruction. Teaching is an art, but it is also a science.

DON’T assess what you won’t teach.

Many teachers begin the school year with a battery of diagnostic assessments. The results look great on paper and do impress administrators and colleagues; however, the only data that is really impressive is the data that you will specifically use to drive instruction. Gathering baseline data is a waste of time if you won’t teach to that data.

I suggest taking a hard look at the diagnostic assessments you gave last year. If you didn’t use the data, don’t do the assessment. Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t layer on that diagnostic assessment in the spring if you are willing (and have time) to teach to the data. Diagnosis is not restricted to the fall. Teachers begin the school year with high expectations. Don’t bite off more than you can chew at once.

Additionally, more and more teachers are looking critically about the American tradition of unit-ending tests. Specifically, teachers are using unit tests as formative assessments to guide their re-teaching. Rather than a personal pat on the back (if students scored at an 85% average) or a woe-is-me-I’m-a-horrible-teacher-or-my-students-are-just-so-dumb-or-the-test-was-just-too-hard response (if students scored at a 58% average), unit tests can serve an instructional purpose.

Now I know that teachers will be thinking, “We have to cover all these standards; we don’t have time to re-teach.” I’ll address this concern with a simplistic question that more than once has re-prioritized my own teaching. It really is an either-or question: Is teaching or learning more important?

For those who answer, learning, don’t add to your admirable burden by assessing what you won’t teach.

That’s it for now. The credits are rolling, but keep reading because the end of the credits may have a few surprises. Purchase your ticket for the next installment of ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts: Episode 2 and get more 15 FREE ELA and reading assessments, corresponding recording matrices, administrative audio files, and ready-to-teach lessons. A 92% score on Rotten Tomatoes! Here’s the preview: DO analyze data with others   (drop your defenses). DON’T assess what you can’t teach. DO steal from others. DON’T assess what you must confess (data is dangerous). Check it out HERE!

*****

I’m Mark Pennington, ELA teacher and reading specialist. Check out my assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources at Pennington Publishing.

Get the Diagnostic Grammar and Usage Assessment with Recording Matrix FREE Resource:

Get the Grammar and Mechanics Grades 4-8 Instructional Scope and Sequence FREE Resource:

 

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,