When we teach a whole class novel, we have several traditional assessments to use with our students: response journals, tests, essays, etc. We know the novel very well, and we develop ways to keep our students accountable and on task. Marking is never fun, but we are in control and know what to do. Reader’s workshop assessment isn’t so clear cut. When all of our students read the same text, it’s easy to come up with a way to evaluate them. But what do you do when they are all reading different texts? How can we accurately assess them if we haven’t read the novel?
First of all, assessment for reader’s workshop should be organized in a way that doesn’t constantly interrupt the flow of reading. We want our students to build reading stamina and it’s hard to do that – and enjoy the reading process – if they have to put the book away to do an assessment. So how do we evaluate their progress while allowing them to enjoy the process?
- Student Conferences are a must. You need to carve out time to talk with students about their reading. This means that you can’t always read along with them (or mark while they do). Instead, you need to make it a daily practice to have short chats with students. During these conferences, you will be able to tell whether they are actually reading, as well as do a little one-on-one teaching if the student is having trouble with analysis. Conferences also allow you to do a quick assessment of their skills. For example, you might focus on their understanding of character development and ask them to discuss how the author is developing a character in the novel. They will need to answer by showing you evidence from the text. A well organized binder with checklists and rubrics will allow you to track each student’s progress.
- Decide what skills you want students to acquire and build in short assessments to measure them. My students use reader’s
notebooks and I will take them in regularly to give them some formative feedback. I also give short assignments that focus on the analysis of specific elements of fiction. However, I do not require students to complete these assignments for every novel they read. If a student has demonstrated an understanding of how an author uses setting to tell the story, then she doesn’t have to keep showing me that she understands the concept. I keep track of each student in my workshop binder, so I know who has mastered what skill and who needs to keep trying. If they score 3 or 4 on the rubric, they can move on; less than 3 means they will have to redo the assignment with the next novel they read. By the time reading workshop is over, I will total each student’s total score using the rubric shown here.
- Have students do some creative writing assignments to illustrate their understanding of both the novel and the techniques the author uses to tell their story. I have a variety of assignments that, again, focus on the elements of fiction. I handle these as above and don’t require a student to do one for every text they read. Instead, they must complete each one over the course of the time we spend on workshop.
The final tally: By the end of reader’s workshop, each student will have:
- Several formative assessments, either through our discussions in reading conferences or through the checklists I use for their reader’s notebooks
- A summative evaluation for each of the literary elements assignments
- A summative evaluation for each of the creative extensions they complete
- During workshop, we focus on specific elements one at a time. One day I will do a mini-lesson on tone. Another day I will do a lesson on how authors use figurative language, etc. After each lesson, students will look at how these elements are used in their own texts. They write a short assignment or reflection on it. This is a way to scaffold the skills they need to write an effective literary essay.
- After focusing on these elements, they can write a literary essay on one of the novels they have read, or if you are still doing a whole class novel study (as I do), you can have them write an essay at that time. My approach is to teach the skills during independent reading, in small, manageable bites, and then have them demonstrate their understanding of these skills with the whole class novel. If you do have them write an essay on one of their texts, don’t feel like you need to have read the novel. I always tell my students that a well-written essay will allow a reader who hasn’t read the novel to understand the argument. If their writing is organized and their ideas are well developed and supported by evidence, you can easily assess them.
That’s what I do to assess reader’s workshop. It is an evolving process and I know that by second semester this year, I will have tweaked it again. I’ll keep you posted!
If you’re interested in this approach, you can check out my Reader’s Workshop Teacher Planner. In it you will find lots of pages to help you organize and assess reader’s workshop.
You can read more of my blog posts about reader’s workshop HERE.