Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Golden Days: Assessing Readers Individually

Link up and share your slice today.

"This is gold, Miss. GOLD! I poured my soul into this," Chris tells me as he staples his independent reading essay question/rubric to the essay he has just finished writing during our exam time.

Students in my high school classroom read. Because I need to build or re-establish a reading habit with the teens I teach, we read everyday for 12-15 minutes. Students log their reading on our digital Reading Record: a shared Google spreadsheet. Twice a year I ask them to do something formal with their independent reading: write an essay and deliver a book talk or trailer. I know who is reading and who is not based on the conversations I have and over-hear--accountable talk bubbles up once students become readers.

The second task sometimes shifts, but the essay as part of students' semester exam remains.  I wrote about the essay questions and linked to samples in this prior post. I love crafting the questions for students. Because teens' tastes in stories overlap, sometimes questions do too--so after more than a decade of writing these individual assessments, I have a large question bank to help me write new questions.  Every year, students tell me the individual attention makes a difference. Little do they realize how I've differentiated the questions too, but I'll get to that later.

I give students their questions a week prior to our exams. I build up to it. I talk about the kinds of questions I've written in the past and soon my enthusiasm rubs off on them. We spend question day reading student samples from prior years. We talk about other students' questions and how they approached them. We discussed what writers did well and what we can do better. After that review I ask, "are you ready for me to give you your questions?" This year one class yelled "Yes!" in unison. I got goosebumps.

I pass out the questions as quickly as I can and do a lot of kid watching to gage reactions. This year I heard a lot of students say, "I LOVE my question!" A few said they were excited to write their essays because as Karla mentioned, "I can actually write about my topic and it's interesting!"

After the questions have been read, reviewed and shared, I teach.  I show students how to prepare for their essays by taking notes on the books they have read. I model a chart. I model how I would plan for such a synthesis essay. Students are allowed to use their notes as they write their response. Why wouldn't I let them? Not taking notes and feeling unprepared and being unsuccessful on the exam is a natural consequence. Natural consequences are powerful motivators.

So I have my first set of essays to grade now. It will be a tight turn around to have everything graded by Thursday and the semester's grades finalized Friday,  but it is worth it. Imagine ending an exam period with this comment from a student,  "Miss, I wish we had more time! I was having so much fun writing my essay. I could have said so much more."

Chris was right, this is "gold."

*          *          *
Note to self: I don't have time today, but I'd like to also write about: 
how differentiating levels of analysis or synthesis supports student writers;
how such questions enable students to show what they know in a myriad of ways;
how I can assess essays for specific students' learning (start to finish comparing cases);
how there are an infinite number of right answers.

Already I can see how Shelley is developing as a writer--this is her first analysis piece and she was able to synthesize ideas from several novels into a coherent whole AND she's freed herself from the confines of formulaic writing. Hooray! Written in an hour, her growth is obvious to me.

Everyone's Questions in a Grid

4th Period's Essay Questions with Scoring Rubrics (two to page)


  1. This is indeed gold! I look forward to reading about the other topics you listed. I'm also already thinking of ways to adapt these ideas for my 7th graders.

  2. I echo Kay, Lee Ann, this is gold to me to. What terrific differentiation for your students (what hard work, although you have long experience which I know helps). I love hearing that your students love this too. What a wonderful gift to give them, to love synthesis & real writing! Thanks for the primo share!

  3. Wow. Saved, faved, and shared (as my kids would say!). Thank you for sharing the great work you do, Lee Ann.

  4. Thanks for sharing your gold!

  5. Wow x 2! We have two weeks until exams. Then I am sharing this with my students! Thanks for sharing!

  6. These questions are amazing. I like that you have linked the whole and independent reading so elegantly and invitingly. I think this might be a way for me to work in independent reading into exams, and it's something I had not even considered before.

    I like what you've done with the reading record this year. I had trouble with the books and pages before, but putting them on different spreadsheets is a simple solution.

  7. I can't even tell you how much I love this idea.

  8. I echo everyone else -- this is pure GOLD! Wow, Lee Ann. Amazing work here that is differentiated and specific for each student. You know each one of your students as individuals, as readers, as learners. Lots of time and energy and thought is put into the question formulating, but look at the outcomes! Your students are excited about sharing their learning about the books they chose to read! What more can we ask for? Brilliant! (As Tara said, saved, faved, and shared!)