Sunday, October 13, 2013

Getting to Know Your Students as Readers

Schoolchildren reading, 1911. USA Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons.

A first step in helping students become better readers is to identify their strengths and needs as readers. Building on student strength is a great way to address needs (as I have learned through the appreciative inquiry model). We need to start reluctant adolescent readers where they are and work from there. To do this, surveys and self-assessments are important tools.

The following is a worksheet assessment for students found in Appendix 1 of the Ontario Ministry of Education's  Guide to Effective Literacy Instruction, Grades 4 to 6, Volume 2: Assessment. It clearly targets Junior level students, but could easily be adapted for Intermediate / Senior students.

Self-Assessment Survey: A Portrait of Myself as a Reader, Writer, and Speaker

Think about yourself as a literacy learner and indicate the number beside each statement
that best reflects you as a learner.
1 – not at all like me 
2 – sort of like me 
3 – a lot like me

I enjoy discussing ideas and issues with others. ______
I enjoy doing oral presentations. ______
I can explain ideas and information clearly. ______
I am comfortable presenting in front of others. ______
I would rather talk about ideas than read or write about them. ______
I speak clearly and can easily be heard by others. ______

I am a good writer. ______
I like to use lots of description and new words in my writing. ______
I like to write in point form or fill in charts. ______
I only write in school. ______
I use e-mail and chat rooms on the computer. ______
I like to write things like newspaper articles or informational pieces. ______
I like to write imaginative narrative stories. ______
When I write I try to spell all the words correctly the first time. ______
I keep changing and improving my writing. ______

I am a good reader. ______
If I have trouble reading I use lots of different strategies to understand. ______
I find reading non-fiction texts easier and more interesting. ______
I take a long time to read things. ______
I read outside of school. ______
I read more on the Internet than in books. ______
I read sports books or how-to books to learn about things that interest me. ______
I would rather read magazines than books. ______
When I read I see pictures in my head. ______
When I read I worry about saying the words just right. ______

Circle the types of reading you enjoy.
Fantasy            Mystery books      Comics
Adventure       How-to books       Sports stories
Riddle and joke books                 Real-life stories            Stories set in the past
Humorous stories                         Newspaper articles      Fact books
Magazines                                    Animal stories              E-mails
Romance stories                           Legends and poems      Websites
Copyright: Olybrius, Wikimedia Commons
I do like that the inventory includes electronic versions of reading and writing (emails and chat rooms), but it does so in a very limited way. Many of today's teens are avid users of internet tools and we need to be asking questions about their online use as it applies to reading. I would add to the list of types of reading: blogs, websites, Facebook, Twitter, texting, and online discussion boards. It is especially important to validate the reading choices of reluctant readers.

Another approach is to question students about their reading habits and materials with a series of questions; this requires students to write out responses, which could be useful is you are also attempting to get a sense of student writing. However, it might be challenging for some students; a great accommodation would be to complete it as an interview. This particular survey, from Nancie Atwell, via, will likely work with intermediate students, but may not with reluctant readers.

Reading Survey
1. If you had to guess…
How many books would you say you own? _____
How many books would you say are in your house? ____
How many books would you say you’ve read in the past year? _____
2. How did you learn to read?
3. Why do people read? List as many reasons as you can think of.
4. What, in addition to books, do people read?
5. What does someone have to do in order to be a “good reader”?
6. What kinds of books do you like to read?
7. What, besides books, do you like to read?
8. How do you decide what you will read?
9. Who are your favorite authors/writers?
10 Have you ever re-read a book? List the title(s) of anything you’ve read more than once.
11. Outside of school, how often do you read?
12. In general, how do you feel about reading?

I also like the approach posited by Frank Serafini in his book, Classroom Reading Assessments: More Efficient Ways to View and Evaluate Your Readers. He includes tools for observation of students, which are important to supplement self-assessments by reluctant adolescent readers. Many reluctant readers will have difficulty filling in an inventory (or may simply refuse to do so). Thus, observation becomes very important to garner more data about students.

Observational Guide for Reading and Readers (circa 2009)

General Info
___ is able to choose an appropriate text for independent reading
___ reads daily, chooses to read
___ carries a book each day
___ explores a variety of genres (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, magazines, etc.)
___ is able to sustain reading for an extended period of time
___ uses library frequently
___ uses computers for information
___ uses reference materials for inquiry

Reading Strategies
___ attends to paratextual elements (title, cover, end pages, etc.)
___ recognizes miscues
___ draws inferences from texts
___ understands directionality, concepts of print
___ draws upon prior knowledge
___ makes predictions based on experiences with texts and life
___ does not over-rely on decoding strategies
___ exhibits effective sampling of visual information
___ confirms, cross-checks information
___ monitors comprehension and self-corrects when necessary
___ adjusts rate of reading depending on text and purpose
___ is able to visualize when reading
___ can summarize what has been read
___ knows various purposes for reading
___ asks questions when reading
___ notices elements in design and illustrations
___ makes connections to other literary texts
___ uses context clues appropriately
___ reads fluently with expression
___ is able to read most/all high-frequency words

Response to Reading
 ___ is able to talk about what has been read
 ___ discusses details about text
___ notices illustrations
___ can connect with character’s actions/motives
___ reads other connected texts
___ makes recommendations for other readers
___ is able to conduct book talks

I'm hoping to explore the topic of reading inventories further in my new Reading Specialist course; it's particularly important to find resources that will work for intermediate/senior students.

Ontario Ministry of Education (2006). A Guide to Effective Literacy Instruction, Grades 4 to 6, Volume 2: Assessment. Toronto: Queen's Printer.

Atwell, Nancie (1998). In the Middle. 2nd ed. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.

Serafini, Frank (2010). Classroom Reading Assessments: More Efficient Ways to View and Evaluate Your Readers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

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