I have a love/hate relationship with the word authentic.
A few years ago when I participated in the North Star of TX National Writing Project, I wrote my action research goal to align with North Star’s definition of authenticity: “authenticity is connecting student learning with significant audiences, tasks, and purposes.” Of course, I still believe in this definition; I just struggle with redefining it for the individual students in my classroom.
Let’s take self-selected, independent reading for example. How do we ‘authentically’ assess this reading? Shana’s written about this topic lately in posts about too much measurement and alternatives to reading logs. She even started this google doc, a resource for assessing independent reading sans reading logs. There are some great ideas there.
I’m still not satisfied.
A few weeks ago I wrote about shifting control to invite more learning in which I write about shifting the finding to my students, giving them the opportunity to find mentor texts and create text sets we will study in class. I know this empowers students — they want to feel some element of control.
I decided to take the same idea of shifting and apply it to how I might assess student choice reading. Quite simply, I asked students to help me figure it out.
First, I reminded my readers why I am so adamant about independent reading and determined to hold them accountable. Then, I invited students to talk about how I might actually do it and asked that they write down their ideas. They seemed eager to help me figure it out. I listened in — grabbing my camera just in time — to capture some pretty rich conversation.
These are the ideas my class generated.
- have reading partners that check each other
- write a summary of what we’e read once a week (Me: “You really want to write more? Them: “No.”)
- talk about our books for a minute or two*
- record ourselves reading aloud (I asked: “The whole book?” They said smiling: “Why not?”)
- read together
- summarize in a Google Classroom Q & A
- pick a line from the page and write about how you feel about the line*
- write about first impressions when we start a book
- set reading goals then determine if we meet them by our reading rates*
- write small summaries (Me: “You really want to write more? Them: “No.”)
- talk about our books*
- check for annotations
- find our reading style
- do book talks*
- read novels in groups (Me: “We already do Book Clubs six times a year.” Them: “Oh, yeah.”)
- write a blog post every week — what page we’re on and something we learned, not a summary because we can find those online
- require us to finish at least one book every two weeks
- book talks with our table — explain it to them*
- write book summaries (Me: “What’s with the summaries?”)
- check annotations
- expand on quotes*
- keep a reading log
- write a one page summary every week (Me: “For real? a summary?”)
- keep a reading log
- create a sticky note system where we mark each hour, a start and end for that day
- provide an incentive — candy? (Me: “This will never happen.”)
- give us due dates, but some will find this stressful
- give grades to persuade and motivate (Me: “Exactly what I don’t want to do.” and under my breath: Can we give grades a rest already?)
- write summaries? (Me, sighing: “At least you questioned it.”)
- show progression through a book rather than setting a due date
And then these two responses:
- The only way to actually PROVE someone is reading is if they read aloud.
- You can’t really force [reading] upon someone; people need motivation.
Honestly, I was hoping for more. Something more — shall I say — authentic.
See? Students don’t really know how to assess pleasure reading either. Maybe that’s the whole point.
On that list above, the ideas with the asterisks? — those are things we already do. Plus, more. We study craft in our choice books: sentences and passages. We pull ideas for expository and argumentative writing from our books. We review literary terms and analyze ways writers use them to enhance and craft meaning. We even occasionally swoon over a particular passage (well, I usually model swooning. It’s hard to get 17 year olds to swoon.)
I still do not know how to “grade” choice reading, and I’ve decided that it’s okay. Maybe I’ll take participation grades when I see students moving through their books at a fairly decent pace or after I confer with them and check for understanding. Maybe I’ll just keep listening in as my readers talk about their reading and lean over shoulders reading as they update their book lists in their notebooks.
I do know this: The more I make everyday a reading day, a day we celebrate our lives as readers, the more students want to identify as readers.
And somedays they surprise us with their enthusiasm:
Michael came to class on Monday raving about his book. I pretty much shouted “Stop talking until I get my phone and can record you!”
How’s this for authentic reading assessment?
Please share your thoughts on assessing readers in the comments. Have you shifted yet?
Amy Rasmussen loves to read, and she loves her readers. The first book she remembers falling in love with was Anne of Green Gables, but her first memories of recall vaguely The Boxcar Children. Amy models her reading life with her senior English and AP Language students by reading about books, talking about books, writing about books, and spending money on books for her readers to explore and enjoy. She firmly believes: “It takes just one right book to make a reader. It’s just that every reader probably needs a different just right book.” Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass and @3TeachersTalk