It is quite fortunate that the word “assessment” begins with the letter A. Good reading instruction begins with assessment, and it is a happy coincidence that it is the first topic to be addressed at BalancedReading.com.
The need for assessment stems from the fact that children are not all identical. If all children were identical, instruction would be a whole lot easier — we could just figure out what lessons need to be given in what order, and teachers could simply deliver the same curriculum to all of the students in the same way. One reading program would work for every child.
Alas, children arrive in class with a maddening diversity of understandings and experiences, especially when it comes to reading. The teacher cannot make any assumptions about what the child knows and what the child still needs to learn when it comes to developing literacy skills. To be effective, teachers must be adept at making a quick assessment of each child’s reading and pre-reading skills, and further, teachers must be adept at using that assessment information to make decisions about what instruction each child should receive.
Some children may need instruction in letter knowledge, while other children may not. Some children may need phoneme awareness instruction, while others may already have phoneme awareness. Effective teachers teach children what they are ready to learn, and do not waste time teaching children what they already know. Assessments help teachers to keep track of the zone of proximal development for each child, so instruction can be designed which is neither too easy nor too challenging.
The type of assessment that informs instruction does not necessarily need to be a formal reading test that was purchased from a publisher, although it certainly can be. Assessment can be a simple observation of a child’s behavior when writing; it can be an observation of how well a child plays a word game; it can be an observation of a child’s oral reading fluency. Every observation has the potential to be an assessment.
It is a good idea, however, to combine teacher observations with more formal and objective assessment information — the two complement each other, and give the teacher a much better informed picture of each child’s reading-related skills.
At BalancedReading.com, we are providing a variety of selections on the assessment front.
First, there is a full, criterion-referenced early reading assessment, called the Abecedarian (pronounced “ABC-darian”), that you can download free of charge.
Second, I have created a Simple Formative Reading Survey to help teachers (grades 2-8) assess their students’ basic reading skills.
Third, I have reproduced a collection of free “quick and dirty” assessments which can be downloaded free of charge.
Fourth, you can download an overview of early reading assessment that describes all of he various approaches to early reading assessment available to teachers. (Currently only available in PDF format)
And finally, we have a collection of web links to take interested parties to other reading assessment related resources available through the internet.