Slice of Life: Does He Pass?

It’s that assessment time of year when benchmarks and report cards start to put pressure on students and teachers. Assessments that say whether you have it or you don’t. In elementary schools, we look for a particular kind of growth over the year.  All are moving. But some aren’t to where we want them to be — yet.

I sit down with kid after kid, needing to know, where are you now and what can we do next. Some beg to do this work. Others ask to postpone.

I listen to them. Most students know where they are as readers. But sometimes I push.

Tyler* looked at me as I handed him the text. “I just did this” A resistor. He’s afraid. Afraid of failure.

I’ve watched him do smart reading work in read aloud and in his own reading. I’ve watched him figure things out that others couldn’t. I believed he had it in him.

“I know,” I said, “but I think you can do this. I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t believe that you could do this. Just give it a try.”

Being a good sport, he smiled and started reading aloud.

He stumbled. Word after word. Missing 8 of the 100-word passage. An unacceptable accuracy. Kicking myself silently, I let him read on.

Then I asked him to retell the story and followed up with comprehension questions. Tyler did what some students who struggle with fluency do. He nailed the comprehension.

This happens. Kids develop pathways to understanding that aren’t reliant on all the words. Knowing this, I asked him how he did it.

“It was easy to read but hard to read out loud. There were a lot of words I wasn’t sure of.”

“So how do you figure it out when you don’t know a word?”

“I write them down and look them up.”

“But what just happened? You didn’t look up any words.”

“I kinda read ‘around’ the words. Putting in words that seemed to make sense.”

So smart. Exactly what readers do.What we practice in class, looking for contextual clues. We infer the meaning of words when we are unsure and read on.

He has gaps. Gaps that can and probably will get in his way. Holes that need to be filled. But can he understand this level? He’s a self-aware reader. He can negotiate meaning. In many ways, his understanding exceeds readers who are very fluent. Fluency is not the key or the barrier to his understanding yet.

So, does Tyler “pass” this running record?  Strictly speaking no, because of fluency. But how does his fluency sideline him as a reader? That for me is the bigger question to consider.

Just a slice of classroom life. Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of life Tuesdays. Read more here.


9 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Does He Pass?

  1. We have this discussion often amongst colleagues and I maintain comprehension is way more important than fluency and should not hold Tyler back from “the next level”. I like the slice- well told.

  2. Thank you for this — this teaching moment. It’s insightful and humanizes the ways we gather “data” about kids, and how unpredictable that is.

  3. I’d probably have passed him. Reading aloud is not a skill that everyone will hone, but comprehension is so key to everything. I have so many kids who could read that aloud with feeling and inflection better than a teacher, but they can only share the basic details. That’s not reading, right? I so related to that wanting to kick yourself feeling when you’re trying to figure out if you can write his reading level from this or if you have to make him do another one. The worst.

  4. This is a conundrum that I often see too. If the purpose of reading is to make meaning and understanding, can we overlook fluency if it doesn’t interfere with that purpose? I was a horrible out-loud reader when I was a kid so I can relate. I loved looking inside your conference with Tyler.

  5. I’m with Kimberly. I’d probably have passed him. Reading aloud comes with so much baggage: there is so much more to think about than just the reading. I can read an entire chapter to my daughter at night and won’t be able to tell anyone what is about at the end. I’m too busy thinking about making the reading sound good.

  6. We all appreciate the value of this routine assessment taken seriously, detailed, reflected upon.
    It was worthy of your writing work, to set it – and your thoughts and questions-down.

  7. I remember hearing Pernille Ripp say at a conference that a fast reader isn’t always a good reader and I have tucked that deep in my literacy heart. Sometimes we just have to look at what WE know about our readers and not what the data always shows.

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