We had the pleasure of having Damian Cooper present to more than 1400 Regina Public School educators on August 31. His messages regarding assessment and instruction were motivating and inspiring. I love how Damian uses analogies to support his work. Using them with students is also a powerful way to make a point. As we begin the year, let’s think about the baseball pitcher. Pat, a 2013 graduate of Campbell Collegiate, has been pitching since he was eight years old. I asked Pat how he knew he was a good pitcher. He immediately replied number of wins, number of strikeouts and earned runs against. I asked him when he became aware of this and he replied “a long time ago”. You see, every pitcher in the world knows and understands that this is important criteria by which they are evaluated.
If we relate the ideas above to RAD, we must make sure our students know why we are evaluating them (purpose) and the criteria we are using to evaluate them (rubric criteria). This is critical because ultimately we want our students to self-assess and become independent learners. In regards to RAD, I often get the comment that kids don’t engage with the assessment. I have delivered many, many RAD assessments and I can honestly say that I have been able to get my students to engage with it. Here is what I do.
Set a Purpose
Before doing any assessment, talk to students about what it means to assess (to sit alongside) and why teachers assess. I generally begin by speaking about what it was like when I went to school…..that my grades were based mainly on tests that were written at the end of a study or assessment of learning; that I really didn’t understand the importance of reading in all subject areas and so when I got to the hard stuff (the science text books, Shakespeare, reading that I wasn’t interested in) my strategy was to avoid it; that I thought reading was about getting all the words right instead of making meaning with and out of the words on the page.
Understand the Student as a Reader
Explain that RAD is a reading assessment to help the student and the teacher get a deeper understanding of three aspects of reading as follows:
a) Decoding – This is how a reader reads the words on the page. As students read, the teacher codes what is read. This is done during a read aloud of 100 words. I explain the following miscues to the students and how I will code them on the paper. Explaining these examples to the students takes away the mystery of what I am doing as I listen to the students read.
|Miscue||The reader:||How coded|
|omission||Omits a word(s)||Word(s) omitted are circled|
|Insertion||Inserts word(s) that are not in the text||Inserted words are written on the text|
|substitution||Says a different word than the word in text||Substituted word is written on top of original word|
|Self-correction||Substitutes for word in text and self corrects||Substituted word is written on top of original word with check or SC on top|
|Repetition||Repeats a word or phrase||The repeated word or phrase is underlined|
I explain that reading research says that in order to independently understand what is read 95% accuracy is needed. I further explain that it is my job to find ways and tools that will help them understand the reading in this course and that this information will help me do that. It is important to note to students that this is only one piece of information gained from the assessment.
b) Fluency – Explain (better yet ask students what they think fluency is) and begin a discussion of this important aspect of reading. Fill in misconceptions or misunderstanding as follows:
- Phrasing, or grouping words through intonation, stress, and pauses as well as through emphasizing the beginnings and endings of phrases by rise and fall of pitch or by pausing
- Adhering to the author’s syntax or sentence structure, reflecting comprehension of language
- Expressive; the student’s reading reflects feeling, anticipation, and character development
- Using punctuation to cue pausing or altering the voice
Information gained by listening for fluency enables the educator to plan for teaching any of the above skills.
c) Comprehension – When I first started administering oral reading records to students, hardly any of them could tell me that comprehension was important. Now I find that students know the word comprehension but many cannot tell what it means to understand what is read or heard at a deeper level. I explain that there are key strategies one uses to help understand what is written, what is heard as well as visual materials. I give a brief description of the strategies that RAD assesses as follows.
- Prereading – This has to do with setting a purpose by using the text features presented to make predictions and ask questions about the passage.
- Retrieving Important Information – Determining the overall big idea as well as important details helps us to use other strategies. Summarizing text in our own words shows that we understand it.
- Inferences – It is important for the reader to go beyond the text and make interpretations. The reader uses information from the text and from their own experience to come up with new ideas.
- Connecting – The reader connects what is written to their own life, other text or the world around them.
- Use of Reading Strategies – Readers are asked to explain what they do when they come to text that is hard to read and what they do when they do not understand what is written.
I tell my students that the information I collect from this part of the assessment will help me understand what they know about using strategies to help understand what is read.
Planning For Instruction
If we go back to our baseball example, we know that coaches do not just examine the leader board to make decisions about who will be on their team. They drill down into the data with precision. Statistics are looked at that show how many innings have been pitched, the ratio of strikes to balls, how many walks, number of hits, number of strike-outs. Other information about the pitcher such as the pitching of a no-hitter is also valuable information.
In reading, this is the heart of why we assess these important skills in the RAD….to drill down into the test scores and figure out the reader’s strengths and opportunities for growth and to plan instruction that will help them become more proficient readers. This is what coaches of athletes do so well….they observe and assess the child and then provide opportunities for instruction and practice of needed skills. With respect to reading, the instruction that students are given and the work or practice that students do will hopefully help them move towards being on top of the Leaderboard with respect to reading.
I have found that students understand when I am simply administering an assessment and when I am giving it to respectfully gather information that will help me provide instruction to help them improve as readers. So… as we begin the year let’s make RAD more than just a test. Let’s make it an “Assessment for Learning”.