The Formative Assessment Question that EVERYONE Should Ask

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There are two kinds of assessments that are pertinent to teachers of reading and their professional decision making about children and learning. We hear about “Summative” assessments through news outlets. These yearly tests of achievement also end up on the transcripts of our students / children. They are used to gather evidence of a child’s progress toward grade completion and school graduation.Boy with books

“Formative” assessments on the other hand may or may not be a test as such, but they are much more frequently done and are much more valuable to the parent or teacher. These are the measures that indicate the direction that instruction / experiences should take to enhance the education of a given child or group of children, right NOW.

Today I would like to suggest a one item formative assessment that every teacher should be using every week for every child. In fact this “test item” should be used by all parents with children, from preschool through high school.

That blanket recommendation is because this assessment will offer the clearest insight into a child’s progress toward actually becoming fully EDUCATED.

The Question:

What do you love to read, right now?

It’s an open ended question that invites the child to let the parent or teacher know both whether a child has come to value reading, and what kinds of books or periodicals will KEEP a youngster on the path to the wonderful, lifelong education that avid reading provides.

Children who answer from a heart full of love for reading, show it in their eyes as they light up in recollection of where the love came from and in anticipation of the next interaction with that beloved text or that kind of book. They may excitedly pull this week’s “love” from their desk or backpack. From this single answer, parents and teachers know immediately what kinds of reading material those children must have within easy reach … at least for this week.

Children who don’t love to read will pause dramatically, stammer or wave around the same still-unread title every week.

As a  parent or teacher who is confronted with this kind of response I would  drop just about everything and begin the process of finding the book or other reading material that will connect (or reconnect) the children with a joyful ownership of their own learning.

Sadly, while this may very well be the single most important assessment that we adults can make of a child’s progress toward success in life and work, its statistics are never reported in the newspapers nor do they appear on their transcripts. That’s because this single, valuable formative assessment item is asked by only the few truly great reading teachers in this world … and rarely, if ever, shared beyond fellow teachers and the children’s parents.

That’s something to think about, especially if as parents and educators we really are more serious about providing a good education for our children than we are about competing for some fleeting school, state or country status or rating.


10 Responses to “The Formative Assessment Question that EVERYONE Should Ask”

  1. Richard Allington February 12, 2014 at 7:12 pm #

    I wish there was a “like” button on this blog.

  2. M-M Sulentic Dowell February 12, 2014 at 11:23 pm #

    GO MARK!! The only thing I might add is: How do you feel about writing?

    • Mark Condon February 13, 2014 at 9:53 am #

      Great question!! Literacy is breathing in and breathing out of course. I suppose I should be writing up a complementary formative assessment question like, “What do you love to write these days?”

  3. Mark Condon February 13, 2014 at 9:54 am #

    Dick, your comment was a lovely substitute for that. Thanks.

  4. Barb Kapinus February 13, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

    I am so pleased you posted this. It is great and I am forwarding the link to some parents who are concerned about their children’s reading.

    • Mark Condon February 13, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

      Thanks, Barb! Hope it helps.

  5. Nancy Knapp February 19, 2014 at 3:14 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more, BUT I am kind of glad this hasn’t become a question on official “formative” assessments, because then kids who don’t actually like to read will just learn how to make up a good answer to it (probably coached by their teachers . . . . ).

    I do interviews with kids on their concepts of reading, and I’ve learned not to ask them whether they like to read, because even by kindergarten, they have learned that they are supposed to like to read. Instead, I ask them what they like and don’t like to read. You can pretty well gauge their actual feelings about reading by the length, intensity and specificity of their answers to each.

    • Mark Condon February 19, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

      Right you are, Nancy. When it comes to things such as assessing “likes” politics come into play. I thought for a long time about how to frame the question. In order to make it valuable, the question had to be explicit and specific. So, that’s why I put LOVE in there and added, “right now.” That then serves as an opening for a real conversation that actually SHOULD change each time the question is posed.
      This candidate question could probably still use some work, but if it is asked as a real question (not a “gotcha”), and if the teacher or parent’s response to the answer is more than something like making a “check in a box” it could be very fruitful indeed.
      For example, a kid might reply, “Nothing right now.” If that is followed by a, “Well then, let’s see if we can find you something you will be just crazy about.” with follow through to do just that of course, this could signal a truly positive turning point in that child’s reading.
      The issue I have attempted to raise with all this is that teaching children to CHOOSE to read and to SELF-SELECT books that will support them in becoming avid readers is currently not part of the conversation about achievement and success in literacy.
      I’ll wildly assert that if it were, we could almost ignore the assessments of HOW they read, knowing that being Avid Readers, just about always, they’ll continue to get progressively better and better.

  6. Jim Erekson January 12, 2015 at 2:33 pm #

    Thanks for posting this, Mark. I’m really interested in combining this kind of self report of ‘love to read’ with what I’m doing with Susan Harter’s work. She has offered structures designed to minimize the socially acceptable answer by giving kids the chance to identify with one or another group. I will enjoy trying to find ways to construct a pair of group identification items, perhaps one that helps kids feel like it’s okay to identify that they are ‘still looking’ for something to love.

    • Mark Condon January 13, 2015 at 4:01 pm #

      It’s gratifying that so many professionals are looking to teach the whole child, the brain and the heart.