Reading Your Students’ Reading Lists by Amy Estersohn

guest post iconThe words “reading assessment” sound about as charming as “dental prophylaxis,” especially if you’re committed to free-choice independent reading and feel under pressure to prove to yourself that the kids really are growing.

A list of finished books is one of the best reading assessments there are.  Here are four questions I always ask when I review a list:

  • Is the student reading books that were published recently?   If students are reading fresh and contemporary titles that are hot off the bookshelves, that’s a sign that this student is already in the “in crowd.”  He isn’t waiting for the librarian to do a book talk to go ahead and finish The Fifth Wave series.  He probably visits bookstores and libraries on his own, has a sense of the kinds of books he enjoys, and has a stable of authors he trusts to create compelling stories.  
  • Is this student reading across a variety of complexity levels, and does the time it takes to finish the book scale to the complexity of the title?   My seventh grade students’ reading lives often mirror the myriad feelings and experiences they have over the course of the year.  In my case, I have students who might pick up a elementary-level comic book/ text hybrid like Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading and follow it with  the adult book Unbroken.  It might take her one week to finish Charlie Joe and six weeks to finish Unbroken.   If she were only reading books that took her six weeks to finish, I’d wonder about her ability to self-select appropriate titles.  However, given that she has found “popcorn” books like Charlie Joe, I’m more confident that she understands herself as a reader to know what reading is like when it is easy and what it is like when it’s slower going.
  • Is this student listing a lot of series books?  If the student is clustering series books on a list in groups of 5 or more, I start to wonder about the authenticity of the list as well as the self-confidence of the reader.  Is this reader in love with Lisa McMann’s action-adventure series, or did he just write down “Unwanteds 1, Unwanteds 2, Unwanteds 3, Unwanteds 4” because he saw others reading the books? (Not to mention that the books in the Unwanteds series all have different titles.)   Students claim to stick very closely to series books are students I want to get to know early on.
  • Is this student listing books that are also movies or books that have a large online presence?  If her list prominently features Hunger Games, Divergent, and Maze Runner series, I also wonder if she has enjoyed these books for their own sakes or if she put the books on the list because she is relying on the movies to assist with comprehension.  Even without the movies or Spark Notes for assistance, a quick google search will get you the summaries and main ideas of many contemporary bestselling titles, enough so that a student could have a passable reading conference if she relied on this information instead of on the text.  You want to be aware of what’s out there when you see what books your readers are holding.

2008readinglistOkay, so how do you collect all this information on what books readers are reading?

Some of the teachers I work with rely on the Penny Kittle clipboard method, where a clipboard circulates around the room during independent reading time and students self-enter the book and page number they are on.    Others take the Nancy Atwell approach and record the book title and page number as part of the conference routine.

I did both and neither: last year I had students self-manage this information in their reading notebooks by giving them class time to do a reading log every day.   I did occasional graded notebook checks to keep students on target.   I also surreptitiously chose about 3-4 students per class to watch carefully over a period of 2 weeks or so to see if my notes and their notes lined up.

One of my goals for this coming school year is give my students more opportunities to find their books completed data as helpful as I do.

Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher in Westchester County, NY.   She also reviews comic books for   Follow her on twitter at @HMX_MSE




One thought on “Reading Your Students’ Reading Lists by Amy Estersohn

  1. Amy September 14, 2016 at 5:21 pm Reply

    These are good questions to consider, even when helping students select their next books. If our aim is to develop readers, we must help all students think and act the way readers think and act. Important thinking here. Thanks for sharing this post, Amy.


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