Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Assessing Readers

Thinking a lot about all of the different types of readers in my classroom over the past few days. Looking around the room I see kids that love graphic novels and kids who can’t stand them. Kids who always have three books (or more) going at a time and kids who finish one book before starting another. Kids who read faster than the speed of light and kids who read slowly and thoughtfully. In the 70 readers I have this year, not one is the same as another. And yet, with RTI and NCLB, these readers are measured against each other and against a bar set at a certain level.

To some extent I really do understand. We want to be sure our students comprehend what they read, that they are growing as students. As their teacher, I want to know that what I have taught has sunk in. I want to know that I have prepared them to move on from our classroom. So assessment, yes, I get it. But sometimes I question what we are assessing, what we are measuring.

Not only that, but sometimes the skills I find the most important can’t be assessed. One of my goals every year is to create life-long readers. I said that once in a professional development workshop and the presenter said that was a lofty goal, we should just shoot for kids that could read. I didn’t reply, but inside I thought to myself – no, I want them to love reading. Why does it matter to me so much? Because I know that kids who love to read are better readers. They score better in school. They will be surrounded by “friends” when they feel alone. That they can turn to a book to understand the world and understand themselves. My life is more complete because I am a reader – I cannot imagine my world without books. I want this for my students.

This goal is not on any standardized test. I don’t give a survey for RTI to see who reads and who doesn’t. But I can assess it. And I know readers when I see them – even when I’m not in my classroom. Over lunch on Sunday my husband was telling me he needed to get some books “on deck.” He said he wants to learn more about Thomas Jefferson and had found a biography of his he’d like to read. He’s also just beginning a Star Wars book. Finally, he had borrowed the next book in the Bone series from our son, Luke. When I asked why he had three books he explained that some were heavier than others; that occasionally he might switch to a different book when he needed a break. He’s a reader.

And tonight I was reading an Elephant & Piggie book to my son, Liam. I flipped to the end and saw this list with checks and lines. I asked Liam what was going on in his book. He explained he was trying to figure out which Elephant & Piggie book he still needed to add to his collection. He’s a reader too.

So I think in this time of assessments, data points, growth models, and more I need to be reminded that not everything I teach can be measured. And that often, what I place the most value in, can only be measured by me – teacher and student, sitting down and talking. Still, in my mind, one of the best ways to assess.