Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

Monthly Update sign up
Mailing List signup



Big Ideas in Literacy


While there are many types of English studies assessment practices, they generally fall into one of two categories: formative or summative. Formative assessments happen during instruction; they help the teacher understand the impact of his or her reading instruction on the student and indicate instructional changes needed for one or more students. Summative assessment comes at the end of a book or unit of instruction and is intended to determine students’ level of mastery over what was taught. Because this course is about instruction, the focus is on formative assessment. Authentic assessment is an additional way to characterize assessment practices.

Authentic assessment offers an opportunity for a student to demonstrate learning in a real-world context. Currently, there is a range of ways that one might develop authentic audiences for writing:

  • Blogs (Readers of students’ blogs will comment on the blog and focus on highlights and/or points of interest and critique.)
  • Submitting for publication (Students can write op-eds for newspapers, volumes of Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, etc. Good writing will be more likely read, reviewed, and published. The National Writing Project has compiled a rich list of youth publishing opportunities.)
  • Editing or initiating wikis

Some examples of formative assessment of reading in English include:

  • Think-alouds (The reader reads aloud and stops at pre-selected sections of the text to articulate his or her thoughts at the point of stopping.)
  • Taxonomies (Rothstein, 2007) for vocabulary knowledge (This strategy can be used as a diagnostic, or pre-reading, during and after reading assessment. A taxonomy is a brainstormed A-B-C listing of vocabulary associated with a given topic or text. Students first brainstorm alone, then in pairs, and finally as a whole class, fleshing out their list with each phase. The taxonomy is assessed based on complexity and completeness. The taxonomy is then used as a resource for writing and a tool for instruction and study for future assessment.)
  • Reciprocal teaching (Although not always considered an assessment strategy, reciprocal teaching consists of four stages promoting classroom talk about reading: questioning, summarizing, clarifying, and predicting. The clarifying stage and prediction stage can be viewed as formative assessment opportunities.)
  • Unison reading (This strategy is demonstrated in two humanities videos. It incorporates elements of choral reading and read-alouds. A small group of students read a text aloud all at once. Whenever a reader has difficulty with any portion of the text, he or she knocks on the desk, calling a “breach” in the process. Students inquire about the student’s breach and assist him or her in moving forward with pronouncing and understanding the reading. The teacher observes and takes notes to inform instruction.)
  • Other examples include exit slips and thumbs up/down to provide the teacher with an immediate gauge on how students feel about a concept, self-assessment, quiz, etc.

These strategies can also be modified and used in other disciplines.

Students will likely still be tested in more summative and standardized forms at district, state, and other formalized instances. Summative testing is for a different purpose. The discussion above considers student performance information on authentic classroom tasks that will directly inform daily instruction.

Reflect: Describe one or two instances when your assessment of a student’s writing or reading influenced you or caused you to adjust your instruction.