To assess for independence, probably the most important assessment is observational: what do you notice when you sit back and simply watch. You might come up with a checklist to guide your observations, something that would work across subjects areas, such as:
- Is the student able to make plans to guide his work during independent work time?
- Is the student able to determine what materials she needs, and does she know how to procure these materials?
- Does the student have strategies to rely upon when he gets stuck? Does he fall back on the same strategy or two, or does he have a repertoire?
- If the student ultimately needs help from a teacher, can she articulate the kind of help she needs?
- Is the student able to study his own work and determine ways to make it better?
When assessing for independence, it’s important to sit back long enough to allow kids to struggle a bit. To illustrate why this is so, consider running records. A key in conducting running records is to keep assessing at higher and higher levels until you reach a child’s instructional level, and then the child’s frustration level. If you don’t do this, if you stop assessing at a level that a child can read independently, you won’t know a) whether the child can read independently at an even higher level, and b) what strategies the child draws upon when the going gets really tough. It’s the same with assessing for independence - if we step in the moment a student seems unsure, we miss the opportunity to see what they can do when faced with working things out on their own. It can be okay to let students get a bit frustrated at times. You might even let them in on why you’re doing this - you might let them know that you will always be there to support them and help them do their best work, and that working through frustration is how they will outgrow ourselves. Frustration is an important part of getting better at something, and you are giving them the chance to get better, because you believe that they can do it. Students as young as kindergarten can understand this lesson.
After assessing your students’ independence, make a plan for how you’ll shore up any weak areas. For example, if many students are unable to make plans to guide their work time, think about how you might bulk up the Link portion of your minilessons to offer tips about this. For students who are not able to rely on a repertoire of strategies when they get stuck, plan a series of small groups. Consider too how you might help students transfer what they know about working with independence to other subject areas. Some students carry on beautifully with their writing, only to sit stymied during science or math.
At this week’s TCRWP Twitter Chat, Cornelius Minor and Gabby Vega will lead a discussion on checking on students’ independence at this point in the year. Join this chat to get ideas on how you might check-in with your students, and how you might make plans to take students’ to the next level of independence in the new year.
Each Wednesday night at 7:30pm easter, the Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project hosts a Twitter chat using the hashtag #TCRWP. Join @gvega_tcrwp and @misterminor to chat about assessing students' independence tomorrow evening.
Not on Twitter? Take Heinemann’s free Twitter for Educators course here.
Anna Cockerille, Heinemann Editor and Coauthor of Bringing History to Life (Grade 4) in the Units of Study for Teaching Writing Series, was a teacher and a literacy coach in New York City and in Sydney, Australia, and later became a Staff Developer and Writer at TCRWP. She also served as an adjunct instructor in the Literacy Specialist Program at Teachers College. Anna has been a researcher for Lucy Calkins, contributing especially to Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement (Heinemann 2012), and the Units of Study for Teaching Reading, Grades 3–5 series (Heinemann 2010). Anna is currently serving as an editor on the forthcoming Phonics Units of Study series for grades K-2, and previously served as an editor for the Units of Study for Teaching Reading, K–5 series.