Assessing Independent Reading


A common question comes up when launching independent reading programs, how do we hold students accountable?  I asked Laura to share some thought about independent reading and how or if we should hold students accountable.  Her insights are excellent!

Studies have shown that students who receive rewards such as points and pizza parties in elementary and middle school, turn away from independent reading in high school when rewards stop. However, as much as possible, the reward for independent reading should not be extrinsic—it should be intrinsic—meaning the learning and enjoyment should be enough.  Teachers and parents can encourage independent reading by celebrating a book completed as well as asking the child to talk about the book and why it was a terrific read.

For independent reading to flourish in schools, administrators, teachers, and parents need to recognize its importance and understand that extrinsic rewards can ultimately result in negative returns.  However, there are authentic assessments teachers can use that advertise beloved books within and beyond the walls of a classroom.

Four Authentic Ways of Assessing Independent Reading

The suggestions that follow are top notch ways for your students to advertise books they enjoyed reading.  Always allow students to choose their independent reading materials.

Book Logs. Tape these in the back of readers’ notebooks. Keep the format simple and have students write the title, author, and the date completed or abandoned. Every six weeks or so, set aside twenty to thirty minutes and invite students to select a favorite book from their log to share with their group. Now, students have opportunities to talk about a book but also give group members ideas for books they want to read.

Book Talks. Reserve two consecutive days during the last week of a month for students to present a book talk. I recommend that the teacher selects the book for the first round of talks, then turn choice over to students. If you do a book talk a month for the ten months of school and you have twenty-five students in your class, students will hear about 250 books! And, it’s their peers who are doing the recommending!

Written Book Reviews. The book report is a school-invented assignment. Book reviews are authentic: The first paragraph is a short summary and the second paragraph is the reader’s opinion. Have students study sample book reviews as mentor texts—reviews from journals such as The Horn Book and School Library Journal. Post students’ reviews on a class and school website so others can learn about books they might enjoy reading.

Literary Conversations. Literature circles, book clubs, and partner discussions all encourage students to talk about books. You can organize these discussions by genre. It doesn’t matter that students have different books because their discussions can focus on genres structures, literary elements, and themes.

Lingering Thoughts

It’s impossible to assess every book a student reads. Nor should you consider this for even a fleeting moment. It’s a matter of trusting that students are reading. Moreover, continual assessment discourages students who read voraciously, for they have to do much more work than students who read less. Most important, let students choose books, share some with classmates, and eventually, they will develop literary tastes and build a personal reading life that lasts a lifetime!

For further understanding, I suggest Laura’s book Differentiated Instruction