Getting to Know You Part 2

27 Mar

In yesterday’s post we discussed the value of individual student conferences. As you begin to consider how you’ll structure conferences, you’ll want to think carefully about how much you know about your students already. What do you already know about their strengths and weaknesses as readers and writers? What can you do immediately to gather more information?

Here are a few suggestions for gathering more information for reading (in later posts we’ll talk about how to do this for writing). First of all, the most important thing you’ll do to gather information on your students as readers is to listen to them read. Whether they are in kindergarten or 5th grade you’ll have to listen to them read to learn about them as a reader! As you listen, note what errors they make. Do they skip words? Do they substitute words? Do they insert words? See if you can detect a pattern in their errors. Do their errors look similar to the text? Do the errors sound right (syntactically)? Do the errors make sense? Is there a particular word element the child struggles with (for example r controlled vowels or inflectional endings). Is the child missing many sight words? Doing a miscue analysis where you mark the student’s errors will help you note what reading behaviors a child is showing and will help you to see overall error patterns. If you need practice taking a miscue analysis, Marie Clay in An Observation Survey will explain it in-depth. Pat Johnson in One Child at a Time also give in-depth, easy to follow information on miscue analysis.  As you listen, you’ll also want to notice if the child is monitoring their understanding as they read. Does the child re-read and/or self-correct? Do they try to sound out unfamiliar words? What fix-up strategies does a child use? How does the reading sound? Is the reading smooth or choppy? Does the child read in long phrases that make sense? Does the child attend to punctuation? Is the reading expressive? Does the child laugh or smile at humorous parts or frown at sad parts? Is the child able to retell the main idea? If this type of assessment is brand new to you, you might want to audio or video tape the child reading so you can go back and listen again and again.

Initially, don’t try to observe too much. Keep your focus fairly narrow. For example, in the beginning you might want to just note what substitutions, insertions or deletions a child makes. Later on you could listen to a child read again to note how fluent the child is. As you gain proficiency, you will be able to deepen your ability to assess. Don’t stress too much about whether or not your initial “diagnosis” of the child’s reading is precise. You are looking for overall behavior patterns and strengths and weaknesses. The more you assess, the more you’ll get to know each child and the more accurate your picture will become.

In addition to the miscue analysis and the questions that you’ll be asking as you listen to a child read, you’ll also want to note other reading behaviors. What kinds of books does the child choose to read independently? Does the child know how to choose “just right” books or does the child routinely choose books that are too hard or too easy? Does the child choose from a variety of genres or is there one genre or series that the child returns to again and again? What is the child’s stance toward reading? Do they like to read or are they reluctant? You could give the child an interest inventory to complete, or you could compile this information by informal observation. What is the child interested in? Does the child love to draw? Is the child obsessed with baseball, princesses, horses or dinosaurs? Knowing what the child loves will aid you in helping the child choose the right books.

As you compile a picture of the reading behaviors of each child, you’ll use all of this information in your conferences to support the student. You’ll know exactly what a child is already doing well (and use this to push them to the next strategy) as well where they are weak and require support to go a little further.

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