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.