Friday, October 7, 2016

The Test That's Not Really a Test: Reflecting on our Reading

This week marked the end of our first unit, which was centered around the following learning goal:

Students will be able to select and comprehend good-fit books, build their reading stamina, and show their thinking in writing and conversation.

When thinking about the best way to assess this unit, I knew that a test in the traditional sense would be at odds with the work that we'd done this year. The only approach that felt authentic and worthwhile to me was to have students do some heavy reflection on what work they'd done in their reading lives so far this year. I decided that the best way was to have students do just that: take some time to reflect in a letter or audio recording to me. 

I really wanted my students to be authentic while still digging deep to do some thinking about their own progress. I realized that I needed to give students some options for paths that they could explore in their letter--a variety of optional questions that would help them discuss their own work towards the learning goals. 

Through collaboration with my fellow 7th grade ELA teachers, we designed a planning sheet for students to use to prepare to write or record their letters. One option we gave students to help get their thinking flowing for what they wanted to say in their letters was to invite them to make a visual reading life that showed their journey so far this year through the moments that stood out to them. 

We did this at the beginning of the year with our reading life up until 7th grade. Having the students do it again with moments from just this year was neat to see! 

The planning sheet also broke down the three parts to the learning goal by asking some questions that they could potentially answer in their reflection letter. 

Selecting and comprehending good-fit books:
  • What books have you started, abandoned and/or finished this year?
  • How did you know those books were or were not good-fit books for you? 
  • Did you meet your reading growth goal that you set for yourself this year? 
    • Why did you choose this goal?
    • How has this goal helped you as a reader?
    • What work are you doing towards meeting this goal? 
  • What are you most proud of regarding your reading life from August 18th, 2016 up until now?
Building reading stamina
  • How often do you read at home?
  • Where do you like to read?
  • How long are you able to read at once without getting distracted or interrupted? 
  • Have you met your page goals? Why or why not? 
Showing thinking in conversation and writing
  • How many jots have you done this year to capture your thinking about your reading?
  • What do you notice about your jots?
  • How has your thinking about your reading changed? 
  • Tell me about a jot that you really liked. What were you thinking? How did you show it? 
When it came time for students to write or record their letters (using Kaizena, which I also plan to use to leave audio feedback for my students), I told them that I intentionally wouldn't be giving them an example letter or a model, simply because I wanted them to reflect for themselves, not write a letter that checked all of the boxes. Similarly, I told them that the questions were just starting points. Their reflection was entirely up to them--what was most important was that they were thinking about their reading lives and reflecting on how they had grown. 

I'm excited to hear about how my students are growing as readers. I love this type of assessment because it asks students to reflect on their learning while also giving them the space to tell me what they think. Building a reading life is a process, and letters like these give me a glimpse into the individual journeys of my students. 


  1. Love this! Planning to use a variation of it with the students in my after school book club.

  2. Awesome! Please let me know how it goes!

  3. Great ideas- foundational principles of a strong balanced literacy program. Thanks for sharing.
    Dr Kendra Strange

  4. Thanks for this! Love your questions that students can ponder, and I really like how you first have them visualize their reading life so far. That would be a good stepping stone for my kids. Look forward to trying it next year!

    1. Glad you found it useful! I'd love to hear how you use it in your classroom.