In school, I think that we’re used to formal assessments. If you want to find out a student’s reading level, many educators do a DRA or try a running record. This provides an accurate starting point, and even some suggestions for next steps. But what happens in a summer program, when there are classes of 20+ students, most instructors don’t know any of them, there are only small pockets of small group and 1:1 time, and exactly 15 days to make a difference?
This is the reality for Camp Power, and now comes the need and possibility for creativity. Over the past week of training, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about assessment. While we might not need to know exact reading levels for the K-1 students, instructors need to have an approximate idea of where each child is at to plan well for them. We know that learning happens in that sweet spot just before independence, where the scaffolding and supports will allow for the most growth. Camp Power is targeted at students who just finished kindergarten and Grade 1, so in many ways, they are our first readers. When I look at supporting staff in figuring out starting points for each of their students, I think about what I might do if I was in their place.
1. I would get kids writing. Children show us a lot about their reading behaviours through their writing. Are they using letter-sounds? Are they hearing sounds at the beginning, middle, and end of words? Are they using any conventional spelling in their writing? Are they writing using predominantly scribbles and/or random letters? If students are not linking sounds to text, they are probably not decoding text yet. Figuring out if they know all of the letters and sounds could be a great starting point. If they are using some letter-sounds in their writing, I might try a simple text with them. If I added one of these texts as part of a provocation for learning, could I get them to read some of it? How is their fluency? For those using more letter-sounds and conventional spelling in their writing, I would assume that they might be a stronger reader. I would try to find some more complex words or even a slightly more challenging text to include as part of a provocation for the day. Could they read this text? Are they self-correcting their errors? Using the writing as a basis for understanding these children as readers, I could still manage to assess a lot about them, even in a larger group.
I think it’s important to remember that this writing doesn’t need to be a journal entry or a response to a picture prompt. I guess that it could be, but it could also be more than that. It could be signs for a building, labels for a LEGO creation, or a title for a drawing or a painting. Sometimes when students write outside of more conventional options, they also experiment more freely with letter-sounds than they might if doing a journal entry. This can also tell me a lot about them as writers, for their use of a few sight words in a journal could be indicative of them really knowing those words, or it could be indicative of them remembering the pattern of how they start sentences when writing at school. If these same children start to use sight words when writing their parents a note for some materials, creating a sign for their creation, or titling their artwork, I start to think that they have a better grasp of these sight words. Does this then transfer to their reading of these words?
2. I would try some unconventional assessments. Having taught kindergarten and Grade 1 for many years now, I’ve gained a further understanding of the progression of reading skills. My parents are/were both in education, so that helps a lot. My mom is a retired speech pathologist with a Masters in Language Learning Disabilities. She knows reading well. My step-dad is a teacher, and he has worked a lot with teaching struggling readers, how to read. He was the one that introduced me to an informal assessment that he created: The Frog and Toad Assessment. I think that almost all Grade 1 educators know Frog and Toad well. Why? Because a Frog and Toad text is about at an end-of-Grade-1 reading level. My step-dad once suggested to me pulling a couple of pages from one of the texts and having children read it. Their fluency and comfort with reading Frog and Toad, could help us determine if they are around a Grade 1 decoding level. Plus, it only takes a couple of minutes to do this assessment, so it could be done during one of the small group times.
If you paired this Frog and Toad Assessment with a page of even simple word family sentences (e.g., I see the cat. The cat is big and black.), you could have an option for those students who find Frog and Toad too hard. Then depending on how they do with the word family sentences, you could see if you need to focus in on some letter and sound identification instead. Maybe this doesn’t give you an exact reading level, but it could give you a really good starting point.
3. I would make good use of our screeners. Our Board’s Reading Specialist Team has developed Kindergarten and Grade 1 Screeners that focus in on Phonological Awareness Skills. One of the greatest things about these screeners is that you don’t need to do the assessment in isolation. Educators can note what skills students are demonstrating during play, and then provide instruction around these skills also during play. In a big group, having children tell me the initial sound in the word they suggested or clapping out the syllables in one of the words in the title of a text, show me a lot about what they already know and where they might need support. I can then provide extension opportunities for them in the full group and small group instruction around these areas of need. This Early Literacy Guide For Families suggests options that could be beneficial in the classroom as well.
What would you do if you were one of the educators here? I would love to hear more about other quick assessment options that could tell instructors a lot about where their children are at and what they need to move forward. I know that back in the classroom, we might have more time for my formal assessment options, but I keep thinking about the value in some of these informal methods. The sooner that we understand our learners, the sooner that we can best program for them and support them. Will creative problem solving this summer lead to even more creative possibilities for these educators come September? Maybe what educators used in the past will not be the only thing(s) that they continue to use.
My thinking is about the non importance of a reading ‘level’ and the importance of discovering what reading STRATEGIES the child is using and might not YET be using.
This is a really interesting point, Joanne. Could this understanding also help us with determining what to teach next? Your point about reading strategies makes me think about the mixed level guided reading groups that I did many years ago in Grades 1/2. It’s a neat way to have children join together based on a single reading strategy, but with different texts. Hmmm … More to consider here.