Learning and assessment are integrated.

The traditional model for assessment is to present information and have students do some type of learning activity; give the students an assessment, whether a test, quiz, or demonstration task; and score the assessment to determine how well students learned the information. At this point, one of several things happens.

  1. The teacher might score the assessment, give a grade, and let the students know what grade they received.
  2. The teacher might review the assessment with the students to provide the correct answers, with or without explaining why some answers are right and others are wrong.
  3. The teacher might make corrections, provide some additional instruction, and give the students a chance to try again.

Of the three options, the third option gives students the best chance to learn from their mistakes and improve their skills. But there is a different approach altogether.

Learning and Assessing at the Same Time

In reading instruction, it is possible to integrate assessment into the learning activities. Most of the learning activities based on effective strategies are self-correcting and, therefore, self-assessing. You do not need to do instructional activities and then do assessment activities: they are one and the same. By the time the learning activity is complete, the students have made and corrected mistakes, identified problem areas and worked to solve them, and recognized and mitigated weaknesses. By the time the activity is complete, you will have a sense of students’ progress towards meeting expectations, which is the purpose of assessment.

This concept is particularly important for struggling readers. Struggling readers often view reading and reading assessments as something to be feared because they produce a sense of failure. When we combine instruction and assessment, however, every student is able to succeed. In a well-designed lesson, participation leads to learning the skills and passing the assessment at the same time. This approach leads to a sense of engagement, purpose, and success, leading to improved motivation and self-confidence that too many students lack.

As you reflect on your learning activities, consider the following questions.

  1. Will students understand the degree to which they have mastered the skill or knowledge?
  2. Will students be able to identify their own gaps, weakness, errors, etc.?
  3. Does the activity include the opportunity to fill in missing information, expand knowledge, or increase skill levels?
  4. Will the students be able to recognize that their skills have increased, from the beginning to the end of the activity?
  5. Is the activity sufficiently challenging to provide meaningful instruction, yet designed so that every student can succeed?

Here are a few sample reading activities to demonstrate what this looks like in practice.

Sample Activity

How it is self-assessing

Choral Reading
(for fluency, phonics, and comprehension)

Students choral read a text multiple times within their small groups until they are able to read the text aloud accurately, and with appropriate pacing and expression.

“Head Words”
(for vocabulary and oral language development)

One student places a vocabulary card on his head (so he can’t see it), and a partner tries to explain the word well enough for the first student to guess the word. The partner keeps explaining and describing the word/concept until the first student guesses correctly.

(for comprehension and oral language development)

The teacher keeps asking probing questions until students can express a defensible interpretation of the text.

(for phonemic awareness and vocabulary)

Students continue to hunt for (or guess) the object with the correct sound until they find it.

Later chapters on the six components of reading will provide many strategies, and sample activities, to help you implement this principle of reading instruction. The sample lesson plans, too, will demonstrate what this looks like in practice.

One advantage to integrating instruction and assessment is that you will not need to put anything in your grade book. By the time the activity is complete, the students will have met the expected level of mastery for the activity.

One of our reading tutors relayed an anecdote related to this topic. At the end of a tutoring session, she asked her students what they enjoyed the most about the session. One of the students told her that the best part was the guided oral reading because he was allowed to keep trying until he got it right! If the tutor were to assign grades for the activity, every student would receive a 100%.