The Power of Listening by Clare Landrigan
I was facilitating a professional development session focused on how to administer a reading assessment. A fifth-grade student just finished reading the text and I was beginning the part of the assessment in which we discuss the text together. He seemed a bit nervous with all of the observers, so I tried to calm him a bit by beginning the conversation with asking, “Did you like it?” This question is not technically part of the assessment, but it seemed like a more natural way to begin the conversation in this situation.
He looked me straight in the eye and replied, “Surprisingly yes. I don’t read, but this was pretty good.”
I was speechless. Fifteen teachers were observing me to learn the protocol of this assessment, but I had no interest in continuing with the assessment. I wanted to hear more about why he doesn’t read. I made eye contact with the group and they gave me a knowing communal nod… they were with me.
“What do you mean you don’t read?”
“I am not a reader. I never read. I remember exactly when I lost my reading life. I stopped being a reader when I was in second grade. That was the year we were only allowed to read books for guided reading. I couldn’t read nonfiction books on the topics I wanted or books from the series I loved. I never got to choose the books I read. I stopped reading in school and at home.”
I did finish the assessment and we determined this student’s accuracy, fluency, phrasing and comprehension were right on grade level. The numbers told us there was no need to worry. His words, however, told a different story. His words have stayed with me since the moment I heard them.
Becoming a lifelong reader requires skills and habits. We cannot forget the need to also assess the habits and dispositions of our readers. When we take the time to talk with students about their reading lives, we always get the most important information, often the information we truly need, to engage them. Formal, diagnostic, quantitative and summative assessments are only a piece of the puzzle. We need to also ask questions, listen, and probe further to get windows into our readers’ thinking processes, concerns, passions, and hopes. These moments in our classrooms must be seen as assessment and be used to inform the heart of our instruction.
As teachers, we have the power to ask any questions we want when we sit alongside our readers. Our conversations with them are what spark the love of reading and help them develop a reading identity. I think of this young reader’s words every day as I coach and learn with fellow educators. By remembering his words, I hope to create classroom communities in which no reader will ever have to remember the moment they lost their reading life.
Clare Landrigan is a staff developer who is still a teacher at heart. She leads a private staff development business and spends her days partnering with school systems to implement best practices in the field of literacy. She believes that effective professional development includes side by side teaching; analysis of student work; mutual trust; respect; and a good dose of laughter. She is the co-author of, It’s All About the Books published by Heinemann and Assessment in Perspective,published by Stenhouse. She blogs about books and the art of teaching on her website www.clarelandrigan.com