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Engaging With Literature: A Workshop for Teachers, Grades 3-5

Reacting to Students’ Work

In this session, you will see various ways to evaluate students, use that information to influence strategies, and communicate expectations to students and families. This session also addresses high-stakes assessments, deciding when to assess and when to evaluate, and suggestions for helping students assess their own work and the work of their peers.

“Success looks different to me with each student. For some students, just being able to talk about a book at all is a plus. And then other students are able to come up with questions that go beyond the book.  They are able to talk about meanings, about interpretations…and that’s success.”

-Latosha Rowley, 4th- and 5th -Grade Teacher,
Indianapolis Public Schools Center for Inquiry, Indianapolis, Indiana

Identifying appropriate and useful assessment tools is a complicated task in any classroom. In envisionment-building classrooms finding relevant means of assessment becomes even more complex. How do teachers fully assess students’ understandings of literary texts or students’ abilities to participate in discussions about those texts? How do they judge the richness of student thinking? Clearly many quantifiable paper and pencil tools—true/false or multiple-choice tests, for example—provide inadequate representations of the intricate and nuanced web of knowledge and skills that students bring to literary discussion. Out of necessity, teachers devise other means of representing student progress and identifying directions for further instruction.

Focused as much on students’ developing understandings and interpretations of texts as on their understanding of any single text, teachers in envisionment-building classrooms rely heavily on ongoing means of recording student progress. Habitual note-taking, focusing on developments in student performance, areas of difficulty, and ideas for later discussion; checklists; anecdotal records; informal conferences; and portfolio collections of student work all contribute to building a richly refined portrait of each student’s abilities as a reader of literature. By and large, the activities commonly a part of envisionment-building classrooms and instruction help students perform well on state standardized tests with only a modicum of explicit test preparation.

Additionally, in this video you will listen as the workshop teachers describe ways in which they have developed procedures that involve students and parents in their assessment processes. Appreciating the power of authentic assessment and valuing their own on-going professional development, several of these teachers reverse conventional patterns and ask students for feedback on their teaching as well.

Key Points

Informal Assessment:

  • Informal note-taking capturing developments in student performance is a useful assessment tool in envisionment-building classrooms.
  • Informal individual conferences provide teachers with an opportunity to assess student understandings and abilities as well as an occasion to offer one-on-one support and coaching as needed.
  • Teachers in envisionment-building classrooms sample student behaviors when students are in the processes of reading, thinking, writing, and talking about literature to provide authentic assessments.
  • Authentic assessments guide teachers’ on-going instruction because they reveal areas where individual students or groups of students need additional coaching and encouragement.
  • Sharing observations of what individual students or groups are doing effectively helps other students develop as well.

Formal Assessment:

  • Recording on-going observations of student performance and comparing them with earlier observations gives teachers a sense of students’ developing abilities.
  • Teachers connect assessment tools to their explicit instruction. If they have been helping students learn to make connections, inferences, and predictions as well as ask questions, those are the behaviors they look for while observing students discussing literature.
  • Writing—both informal responses and formally crafted pieces—provides additional assessment opportunities.
  • Assessment rubrics give students a clear idea of what they need to know and do to succeed.
  • Explicit discussion of assessment standards and guidelines helps both students and parents know what is expected while helping develop students’ intrinsic motivation.
  • Many teachers are learning to understand assessment as a partnership between student and teacher, designed to support the growth of the learner.
  • Teachers can help students prepare for state-mandated high-stakes assessment tests by helping them understand how the test works, what it evaluates, and what it expects in terms of successful responses; they can then apply what they have been learning every day to the demands unique to the testing situation.


  • Offering students opportunities for self-assessment supports their learning as well.
  • Honest self-assessment, although difficult, helps teachers grow as professionals. Some keep a daily teaching journal; others make notes of classroom successes (and failures). Others ask students for feedback on what is or is not working, using that feedback to guide their development.

Learning Objectives & Background Reading

Learning Objectives

After participating in this session, you will be able to:

  • Understand a range of authentic assessment tools appropriate for envisionment-building instruction, and integrate those you find useful into your assessment procedures.
  • Consider ways to involve parents and students in assessment processes.
  • Use self-assessment strategies to support your professional growth.

Background Reading

In preparation for Workshop 8, read “Strategies for Teaching” in Dr. Judith Langer’s Envisioning Literature from the Teachers College Press, 1995.

A compendium of resources and articles about Dr. Langer’s research and the envisionment-building process can be accessed from the National Research Center on English Learning and Achievement’s Web site.

Explore the “Envisionment-Building resources” to access articles and guides to fostering literary communities in your own classroom.



Respond to the following in your journal:

What informal assessment tools do you use in your teaching? How do you use them and how successful have they been? When do you use formal assessment tools?

In preparation for Workshop 8, read “Strategies for Teaching” in Dr. Judith Langer’s Envisioning Literature from the Teachers College Press, 1995.

For additional resources, refer to the Additional Reading section of this workshop’s materials.


In an envisionment-building classroom, students feel safe in offering personal impressions and ideas about a text.Classroom Connection

Student Activities

Try these activities with your students.

Teacher as a Reflective Practitioner

What are your strengths in assessing your students? How would you like to improve your assessment skills? If you are not already in the habit of self-assessment, think about making one or more assessment strategies part of your professional practice. You may find Self-Assessment Strategies for Teachers (PDF), included in the workshop resources for this program, a useful starting point.


Additional Reading

Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators
In addition to an entire section on assessment and evaluation, this site offers lesson plans, teaching tools, discussion groups, and many other resources designed to help teachers.

Newbery Medal Homepage
This site lists all the Newbery winners and authors as well as providing information about the selection process.

This non-profit site collects booklists, authors, reviews, and “must reads.” The children’s literature section of the site features a wide variety of links and author lists, grouped by age.

This Web site is created by teachers to provide support materials for teachers. It’s “Assessment” section provides useful information for viewers of this video.
This site offers a number of resources for teachers, including information on assessment and rubrics.

Professional Journals About Literature Instruction:

CELA Newsletter
The National Research Center on English Learning and Achievement, State University of New York, Albany, publishes a newsletter in the fall, winter, and spring. The newsletter addresses a wide range of issues concerning literacy.

The National Council of Teachers of English
The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) publishes many subscription journals including Language Arts for the elementary school level. Many issues are available online to members.

Texts mentioned by teachers or students in this workshop program:

Sounder by William Howard Armstrong
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
The Color of My Words by Lynn Joseph
You Are Special by Max Lucado
Mick Harte Was Here by Barbara Park
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
Dangerous Skies by Suzanne Fisher Staples
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy