Giving and/or creating reading formative assessments should be a painless task for teachers; however, that’s not always the case. As teachers, we have a tendency to overanalyze things….at least, I do. Last year, I was working with a teacher and I was inspired by how easy it can be to administer a formative assessment to your entire class at once, all while gaining insightful data that you can use immediately after for further instruction.

Check for Understanding

For this specific type of formative assessment (intended to check for understanding), the only thing that needs to be prepped ahead of time is to select the text(s) that you will assign to your class. You could choose to do it in a whole group scenario where everyone gets the same text, or you could pick different texts for each of your small groups. Whatever method you choose, the questions don’t change.

I’ve come up with a question template that can be used for any text you pick (4 questions for a fiction book and 4 questions for a non-fiction book). These questions were created with the purpose of being able to determine different areas of need for your students (note: some questions may need modification depending on the grade level). They will be assessing several core components of comprehension: characters, theme, plot, and author’s craft.

FICTION

  1. What are the three most important moments of the story? Why?

    This allows you to see if students are able to grasp critical parts of the plot throughout a story, and the importance of those events. 

  2. Analyze the main character.

    Students can take this question in a number of ways: character development in a story, identifying character traits, or character relationships. Any of those would provide you with valuable information. 

  3. What themes does the author develop in the story?

    Having students identify the theme in a story requires a lot of deep thinking and inferring. This will allow you to see which students are able to infer and look for deeper meaning throughout the story. 

  4. What author’s craft techniques do you notice and what are their purposes?

    This question really lets you know who may be ready for enrichment lessons. Being able to identify author’s craft is a hard skill and seeing if students are able to do this, gives you a strong basis to work from. 

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NONFICTION

  1. What’s the central idea of this article? The main idea of each section?

    Being able to identify a central idea is key to understanding what you’re reading. If students are unable to identify the main idea, then additional direct instruction needs to happen first.

  2. What ideas do I learn from the different text features?

    Non-fiction authors use text features to add additional information about the topic. Asking students to summarize what was learned gives you an idea if they understand how to successfully use those features while reading. 

  3. What text structure does the author use in this article?

    Identifying a text structure is a hard skill and takes a lot of practice. This question should only be given to students in 4th grade and above. If you have students reading lower than a 4th grade level, just skip it!

  4. What is the author’s purpose for writing this? What perspectives do you notice?

    Not only do students have to identify the author’s purpose with this question, but they should be inferring with the text to identify the different perspectives the author is, or is not, including. 

After they read the text, have them answer the 4 questions and turn it in. Then, while you’re binging the latest Netflix show, read through their responses and start grouping them based on how they answered. Maybe you’ll have three piles: students that nailed it, students who are on their way, and students that missed it completely. I would also suggest just focusing on one question at a time when you’re sorting them.

The data you gathered from reading your student’s responses helps you easily form small groups for targeted, intentional instruction. I would suggest using Serravallo’s Reading Strategies book to find ideas and anchor charts that will help provide the scaffolding or enrichment, your students need.

Hopefully, this will provide some direction and clarity to reading formatives. Remember what the purpose of a formative assessment is: to check in on your students’ progress with the content. Don’t overthink it!

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Liz Janusz

Liz Janusz

ELA Instructional Coach

Note: Fresh Ideas for Teaching blog contributors have been compensated for sharing personal teaching experiences on our blog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.

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