itToday my co-teacher and I started to assess students during the Daily Cafe. We use a running record from Wonders Reading. We each sat with one student at a time and asked the student to read the text as beautifully as possible. We asked that they read at an appropriate rate, paying close attention to punctuation. We asked that the children back up and reread when they think they may have miscued. Finally, we asked that the students attend to the meaning of the text as they read because we'll be asking a few comprehension questions when they've finished.
I had an opportunity to read with two very good readers today. Neither was as fluent as I know they'll grow to be this year but both had some excellent strategies and skills. We so often measure students' fluency with running records. I sometimes feel bad asking kids to do a cold reading. I know some stress out about it. In actuality, how often do we really read aloud as adults? When we do, we're typically able to practice beforehand by reading the text silently or aloud prior to the real read. While fluency and accuracy are important, I always look at comprehension as the best indicator that students are on track as readers.
Running records do give us a window into a child's comprehension but the data, particularly at the beginning of the school year, can be misleading. Some kids find it awkward, uncomfortable, and just plain miserable to sit down beside an adult who they don't know all that well and read. Kids can react to this situation in a variety of ways. Some have thoughts in their heads that play over again and again like, "please let this be over." Others simply fly through the reading so that they can just be done. Others could care less about having to sit and read with someone who is practically a stranger. As you can imagine, when a child does find the situation stressful, results are impacted. Stress has a negative impact on learning. Therefore, early running record results are not always a valid reflection of each child as a reader.
Still, we do like to start to understand our kids and their strengths and challenges as early as possible so we forge ahead with those awkward running records. I've been using the same reading passage in my September running records for a little bit now. There is a question I ask at the end of the read that asks children to use details from the text to make a reasonable prediction. This particular passage is about a set of twins. One twin is athletic and one is more focused on academics. The question asks what the reader thinks will happen when the twins grow up. Over the years, countless readers have told me that the athletic twin might move away. This has always been a head scratcher for me. After many reads, I see what has prompted this response. The text says, "Lucy's athletic talent is awesome and is going to take her far." Often our fourth-graders interpret figures of speech, idioms, and the like in a literal way.
It sure has taken me a long time to catch on! This shines a light on a critical point: listening to kids read and asking them about their thinking is just as important as watching kids do math and asking them about their thinking. In an instructional setting, I'd definitely follow up with a kid who said they thought Lucy would move away by asking, "I'm curious, what makes you think so?" Had I done this, this common response would have made so much sense to me, and I could have planned future instruction around language. Sometimes, the informal work we do with kids is so much more powerful than the one-size-fits-all, standardized (not personalized), formative, and summative assessments we rely so heavily upon.
In the end, it really is all about balance. So, I'm going to trust myself a little more this year. I'm going to talk to kids as much as I possibly can with a focus on deep listening. I'll use those required assessments but I'll use the information gleaned from them with care and weigh it against what I already know about each child. I'll try to learn about children and their skills and strategies in an authentic way. I'll measure learning with each child. They'll be the most important member of the team when it comes to making judgements about their learning.
Putting kids first is important. There are a zillion ways to do this every day. I'm uncovering new way slowly and improving my practice day by day.