Using Assessments to Plan Language Arts Instruction

Instructor: Sharon Linde
Teachers make decisions about what to teach and when from many sources. One of these is using assessments. How does this work? This lesson outlines using assessments to inform instruction in language arts.

Assessments as Tools

We're all familiar with taking assessments, those end of unit tests that reflect understanding of a topic. These summative assessments work well to determine a student's comprehension of a topic.

But what about assessments that inform teachers and let them know what students need to be taught? In education formative assessments are those used to drive instruction. Teachers use them to design lessons specific to student needs.

Take Jessie, for example. She's a language arts teacher who uses formative assessments almost daily. She knows the importance of using assessments to help her key in on her students and their ability levels. Armed with this information she can create lesson plans for small groups and individual students that help them become stronger readers and writers.

What Is Language Arts?

Before we get started let's make sure we're all on the same page about what language arts entails. We can break language arts into several subcategories such as:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Phonics
  • Grammar
  • Spelling

Teachers typically bundle subjects used in writing, like grammar, spelling, and sometimes phonics or word work. For reading, early education teachers show students how to decode using phonics and word work. They and other language arts teachers also teach comprehension strategies, ways to help students better understand what is being read.

Types of Reading Assessments

Jessie teaches reading in three ways:

  • Whole group
  • Small groups
  • Individual students

During reading time she teaches a lesson to the whole class. Students then practice the skill on their own. During independent work Jessie meets with small groups and individual students. She uses various formative assessments throughout her reading block time.

Whole Group Assessments

When instructing her students as a whole class Jessie checks in frequently with informal assessments; techniques like a 'thumbs up' for understanding, questioning, conversations, and participation. If she notices the group doesn't understand she can modify on the spot or decide to extend instruction in some way.

For example, when teaching students the strategy of creating mental images, she noticed the majority of her students seemed confused. Rather than moving ahead with instruction, Jessie asked the students several questions that helped pinpoint their struggles. Turns out the students were confused about vocabulary. Later that day she used this information to plan a new way to teach, using words the students would better understand.

Small Group and Individual Assessments

Jessie meets with students, either in a small group or individually, during independent reading time. She uses the same assessment tools during each of these times. One method, called a running record, is a way of identifying student reading levels as well as strengths and struggles. Jessie uses various recording marks to show a student's accuracy, or ability to read the words correctly, fluency, and comprehension. This information allows her to make sure her students are reading books on an appropriate level and are receiving instruction in a specific area of need.

Today she met with Julius. While reading with him and completing a running record she notices Julius has moved up one level. She knows this because his accuracy and comprehension are high. By asking him questions about the text, Jessie also notes he has gotten better at understanding what he reads. Julius still needs to work on his oral reading, or fluency. Jessie notes all these things in his folder and will look back at it when planning future lessons.

Assessments for Writing Instruction

During the writing time for Jessie's class, students follow a routine much like reading. Jessie teaches a lesson, and then students spend time writing. During this time Jessie meets with individuals and small groups. Just like she did with reading, Jessie uses informal cues to help inform her about her students' understanding when teaching a whole group lesson. During individual and group time she also keeps a folder on each student and writes down information she'll use to form future lessons.

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