Supporting Reading Assessment

By Margaret Allen

This primary teacher had guided reading,
This primary teacher had a whole class,
This primary teacher used an iPad,
This primary teacher did not,
And this primary teacher went wee wee wee all the way home… to spend hours marking!

Obviously, this is intended as a bit tongue in cheek, but hopefully, it illustrates my point that reading can be approached very differently in primary schools – in the same way, that any two children can have a very different starting point when it comes to their reading ability. Star Assessments are designed to help teachers assess children quickly, accurately, and efficiently providing teachers with reliable and valid data instantly. The use of data from Star Assessments from monitoring progress to providing children with the most appropriate books and reading materials are key but obviously planning suitable intervention is at the heart of any assessment strategy. For all primary school teachers, books will be at the heart of the curriculum and a number of approaches and activities will support a strong reading implementation.

During my most recent time in the classroom, I taught at a school where guided reading was the preferred approach, and while it was very labour intensive (even with the support of Teaching Assistants) it was, without doubt, an extremely effective teaching method. The one-to-one reading time gave me the opportunity to better understand the progress individuals were making and identify where they needed support.

I’ve also seen whole class reading used as a productive and engaging way of inspiring a love for reading. A whole class reading approach affords the opportunity to stimulate group discussion and a fun forum where you can also hold group quizzes on various parts of the book content. In these circumstances, it is harder to determine individual pupil progress, which is why programmes like Accelerated Reader can really help as the children can take the quizzes after reading a book and the feedback on progress can be provided by the technology.

In my experience, somewhere between guided and whole class reading probably best balances good practice and practicality… and based on this, I wanted to share a few pointers that I have found particularly useful over the years:

  • Create a culture of reading in the classroom – encourage the class to read anything and everything. Have several book boxes which each contain a different type of book (fiction and non-fiction, picture books, comics and cookery books). Each day during a quiet reading period, ask the children to choose a book from the box. The next day rotate the boxes around the tables. In my experience, this approach helps to support reluctant readers and children who need help “getting started”.
  • Try something different – children will naturally seek out the more popular authors like Road Dahl and David Walliams… introduce lesser well-known authors and promote a termly focus on them. Encourage this “lesser-known author” by reading the end of the day story/book from them. Their enjoyment of the book with you reading it will not only encourage them to reread it but ask the children to read from one of the books once a day. it will help broaden their horizons and help them be more adventurous in their future choices to realise they like more than they realise. Don’t forget to use Accelerated Reader Quizzes as a whole class discussion to really enhance the opportunity!
  • DEAR – Drop Everything And Read. Admittedly I only tried this a few times, but it was only effective when I also read with the children, as the ‘modelling’ effect came into play.
  • Lean on your library – these days it is not as easy to arrange a trip out to the local library, so why not invite your local library in to visit you? They are crying out to get involved with communities and schools, so ask them what they can do to support your reading activities.

Regular reading, offering a range of material to develop a child’s comprehension at the same time as ensuring that children are reading at the right level will support them as they begin to develop as readers: reading to learn rather than learning to read.  Although as demonstrated above, reading should also be about enjoyment and pleasure, benchmarking a child’s ability is crucial.

Star Reading assessment is reliable, valid, and time-efficient, assessing reading through short comprehension and skill-based questions. Its quick and accurate results provide teachers with specific benchmarking, screening, and progress-monitoring information and help the teacher determine if the achievement is heading in the right direction. The information needed to determine the correct answer is given within the assessment question and the only prior knowledge needed is an understanding of the words in the text and answer choices. So often reading is based on end of term assessments which have no bearing on the books read and whether they have been understood, unlike writing and maths which has “visible” written evidence for assessment purposes.

At the heart of any primary school are the teachers and it is only with a strong and robust reading assessment programme that the development of children’s reading can be truly understood.

In the meantime, this little piggy is off to make a cup of tea!

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