Two years ago I changed my grading practices from the traditional 0-100 scale model to Standards Based Grading (SBG). Making this change forced me to reevaluate how I measured my students' independent reading skills. Standards Based Grading finally gave me the perfect balance between encouraging a love of literature through independent reading and using independent reading as a tool for building literacy skills.
The first step in switching over to SBG was asking myself, what skills and standards am I measuring with each assessment? What reading standards must students master in 7th grade ELA?
Formative assessments are the measures of students practicing the skills I eventually require them to master. Formative assessments do not count towards students' grade point averages. In my district, we give our students effort grades, and formative assessment scores DO count towards students' effort grades. Formative assessments, by definition, also help prepare my students for more formal measurements of their skills (called summative assessments).
For independent reading, I do not believe in grading reading volume as part of a student's average, but I do give students a formative assessment grade as a measurement for the student, for parents, and for me. Formative assessment grades for reading give students a no-pressure measurement of what they should aim for each week in their reading.
Primarily, this formative assessment grade motivates students to keep up with independent reading, even when they have a really fun phone to play with, even when they are busy with 5,000,000 extra curricular activities, and even if they are a reluctant reader.
My grading policy is completely transparent to students, which is essential. They know that reading 100 pages a week equals mastery, a 5 on my 1-5 grade point scale. They also know this grade does not count directly in their averages. We talk A LOT about the ways reading 100 pages a week does count: it counts when they take a reading assessment and master it, it counts when their fluency improves, when they see their own vocabulary growing, when they become stronger writers, etc.
An essential part of our independent reading program is setting goals. When we begin independent reading, students read in a relaxed setting for 20 minutes and see how much they typically read in that amount of time. They use that number to set reasonable goals for their reading.
Students keep reading logs, which are signed by parents, and set their goals directly in their reading logs. On Fridays, our reading day, I check students' reading logs and jot down their formative assessment grades. Students also check in on their goals, noting if they met their goal or if they did not and determining why or why not.
While I do not believe reading volume grades should ever be a part of student's grade point average, I do believe students need clear expectations. Formative assessment/practice grades have given students a clear expectation for their reading. Goal setting gives them an opportunity to set their own expectations and evaluate them.
"We talk A LOT about the ways reading 100 pages a week does count: it counts when they take a reading assessment and master it, it counts when their fluency improves, when they see their own vocabulary growing, when they become stronger writers..."
I do not give students a formal grade for reading volume, but I do formally assess student's mastery of reading skills and standards. The Common Core State Standards clearly outline the standards my students should be mastering in 7th grade ELA.
On reading days, after a brief mini lesson and activities (see my post about teaching the power of literature through songs, poetry, and independent reading), students complete an exit ticket that measures one or two specific standards. Exit tickets always align with the standards students have either been practicing all year, or are practicing in our current unit of study.
Students' exit tickets are the perfect way to me to measure students' comprehension and their mastery of the standards. For example, in class, I might be teaching students how to identify theme and its development over the course of a text (RL 7.2). Students' exit tickets will ask them to identify theme in their independent reading novel and to describe how the theme has developed over the course of the text.
In addition to measuring students' understanding of theme, I'm often assessing their ability to cite evidence to support their analysis (RL 7.1). When students identify the theme, for example, I always require them to support their analysis with relevant evidence from the text.
Exit tickets encourage students to dig deeper into their independent reading. Even though my students are reading up to 90 different titles among all of my 7th grade students, I can still help them to peel back the layers of their texts and identify author's craft, literary elements, and author's purpose.
In each round of independent reading, we also end with a culminating activity that is directly linked to specific standards. Culminating activities usually measure four or five different standards that we have worked on building throughout our independent reading study. For example, after our current round of independent reading, students will write book reviews or complete a book talk that measures reading standards RL 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 7.6 and 7.10. Students recieve a rubric based on these standards when we start our independent reading.
Independent reading has been the perfect measure of many of the Common Core State Standards for reading literature (and sometimes informational texts). Students thrive in the land of choice and reading for authentic purposes, but I can still use that reading to help students learn skills that will help them to become more literate and purposeful readers.
Tools for Assessment
To manage students' independent reading, I have to be organized (and I am type B all the way!). I use a reading record for each class period that I teach (I teach five and currently teach 90 students). Reading records have students' names, the titles of the books that they are reading and the page number they are on. I clip reading records for all of my classes directly in my grade book. When I'm entering students' grades at the end of the quarter, I refer to my reading record to help me determine effort grades.
For students, I always, always, always give them an independent reading packet for each round of independent reading we do. Reading packets include weekly reading logs with goal setting and grading information, a description of our culminating assessment, and exit tickets for each week.
I design packets so exit tickets can be ripped off of the back of the packet and handed in each Friday for summative assessment grading. As students are working on the exit tickets, I'm circulating and conferencing with students about their reading logs, recording formative assessments.
Love of Reading
My primary goal with independent reading is that students become lifelong readers. To become lifelong readers, they need to have the space to escape into a good book, to enjoy the books they read, to get to know their characters and to feel sad when a book ends and leaves them wanting more. My proudest moments as a teacher occur when my students get excited about reading and learn to love the magic of it.
In order to enjoy the magic of reading, students also need skills to understand and appreciate literature. As a teacher, having clear expectations, organized and transparent assessments that are both formative and summative, help students to achieve all of these goals of independent reading.