Reader's Workshop Assessment - Room 213

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Reader's Workshop Assessment

When we teach a whole class novel, we have several traditional assessments to use with our students: response journals, tests, essays, etc.  We know the novel very well, and we develop ways to keep our students accountable and on task.  Marking is never fun, but we are in control and know what to do. Reader's workshop assessment isn’t so clear cut.  When all of our students read the same text, it’s easy to come up with a way to evaluate them. But what do you do when they are all reading different texts? How can we accurately assess them if we haven't read the novel?

Tips and ideas for assessing reader's workshop in middle and high school.

First of all, assessment for reader's workshop should be organized in a way that doesn't constantly interrupt the flow of reading. We want our students to build reading stamina and it's hard to do that - and enjoy the reading process - if they have to put the book away to do an assessment.  So how do we evaluate their progress while allowing them to enjoy the process?

Once again, I'm no expert, but after much experimenting, I have found a balance that works for me:
  1.  Student Conferences are a must. You need to carve out time to talk with students about their reading.  This means that you can't always read along with them (or mark while they do). Instead, you need to make it a daily practice to have short chats with students.  During these conferences, you will be able to tell whether they are actually reading, as well as do a little one-on-one teaching if the student is having trouble with analysis.  Conferences also allow you to do a quick assessment of his/her skills.  For example, you might focus on their understanding of character development and ask them to discuss how the author is developing a character in the novel.  They will need to answer by showing you evidence from the text. A well organized binder with checklists and rubrics will allow you to track each student's progress.

  2. Decide what skills you want students to acquire and build in short assessments to measure them. My students use reader's
    Tips and ideas for assessing reader's workshop in middle and high school.
    notebooks and I will take them in regularly to give them some formative feedback.  I also give short assignments that focus on the analysis of specific elements of fiction.  However, I do not require students to complete these assignments for every novel they read.  If a student has demonstrated an understanding of how an author uses setting to tell the story, then she doesn't have to keep showing me that she understands the concept.  I keep track of each student in my workshop binder, so I know who has mastered what skill and who needs to keep trying.  If they score 3 or 4 on the rubric, they can move on; less than 3 means they will have to redo the assignment with the next novel they read.  By the time reading workshop is over, I will total each student's total score using the rubric shown here.
  3. Have students do some creative writing assignments to illustrate their understanding of both the novel and the techniques the author uses to tell his/her story.  I have a variety of assignments that, again, focus on the elements of fiction. I handle these as above and don't require a student to do one for every text they read.  Instead, they must complete each one over the course of the time we spend on workshop.
The final tally: By the end of reader's workshop, each student will have:
  1. Several formative assessments, either through our discussions in reading conferences or through the checklists I use for their reader's notebooks

  2. A summative evaluation for each of the literary elements assignments 

  3. A summative evaluation for each of the creative extensions they complete
But what about the literary essay?  Doesn't it still have a place? Don't students going to post-secondary studies need to learn how to write one? Yes.  They do.  And using a reader's workshop approach doesn't prevent that.  In fact, I think it is a better way to help student build the skills necessary to write one.  Here's how I do it:
  1. During workshop, we focus on specific elements one at a time. One day I will do a mini-lesson on tone.  Another day I will do a lesson on how authors use figurative language, etc.  After each lesson, students will look at how these elements are used in their own texts.  They write a short assignment or reflection on it.  This is a way to scaffold the skills they need to write an effective literary essay.

  2. After focusing on these elements, they can write a literary essay on one of the novels they have read, or if you are still doing a whole class novel study (as I do), you can have them write an essay at that time.  My approach is to teach the skills during independent reading, in small, manageable bites, and then have them demonstrate their understanding of these skills with the whole class novel. If you do have them write an essay on one of their texts, don't feel like you need to have read the novel.  I always tell my students that a well-written essay will allow a reader who hasn't read the novel to understand the argument.  If their writing is organized and their ideas are well developed and supported by evidence, you can easily assess them.
That's what I do to assess reader's workshop.  It is an evolving process and I know that by second semester this year, I will have tweaked it again.  I'll keep you posted!

If you're interested in this approach, you can check out my Reader's Workshop Teacher Planner. In it you will find lots of pages to help you organize and assess reader's workshop.

You can read more of my blog posts about reader's workshop HERE.

Do you have any great tips or ideas for workshop assessment?  Please share them in the comments!


  1. I love this concept! I do novel choice groups (they select their top 5 choices and are placed in groups) and Book Talks (they have to read 250 pages of any book each quarter and the chat with me about them). So here are my questions/thoughts: 1. What about reading level? My kids try to get away with books that have 12 year-old main characters. Do you set any parameters for their choices? And 2. When kids are allowed to choose their own books, yet are being asked to analyze them in these various literary ways, do you notice whether that turns them off (yes they had a choice but now they still have to "do work" with this book)? Any thoughts appreciated!

  2. Hi, Barb! I don't get too worried about reading level, especially at first--just as long as they're reading. The idea behind workshop is that by building more stamina and through conferencing with the teacher, they will start to choose different books. I will start nudging them along if I think they are making a lazy choice, rather than one that matches their reading level. Also, because they are doing shorter assignments, I don't find it's too big a turn off. I don't require that they do each one for every book, so if a student is devouring books, s/he doesn't need to slow down to "do work" all of the time. As long as they complete each assignment once, I'm happy. If they've shown me they know what they are doing, no need to keep doing it.

    I hope that helps!

  3. Hi! Thank you so much for writing this blog-I am currently transitioning to a workshop classroom and am overwhelmed. I am reading all of the professional books about it, but the actual implementation is tough. A few questions-do you covert these grades to letter grades for a report card? How many grades do you end up with in a marking period with this system? And when do you teach the whole class novels-while they are still reading their independent novels? BTW great stuff on TPT-definitely buying a few pieces today!

    1. I know just how overwhelming it can be. Just remember, the most important part is that the kids are reading. Focus on that when you get overwhelmed. We don't use letter grades, just percentages, so I either use the number on the rubric, or a grade range. Re how many grades in a marking period, we are encouraged in my district to do a lot of formative assessment, so I would have 1-2 formative marks for each thing they do (conferences, creative assignments, etc), and then 1-2 summative. This way, they can practice and get feedback before it counts. I know you found my blog post about balancing this with the full class novel, but I also have several about formative assessment as well. Here's one that may help:

  4. Thanks so much for taking the time to respond. You are my beacon of hope right now as I am struggling to make this transition : ) I got your Reader Workshop Bundle and am currently organizing it to see how I will make it work. Do you describe how you use the handouts specifically? The one that says Independent Reading Assessment- Is it one page for each student? And It says increased page "s-Book Talk and Task 1...are the tasks the creative writing you give? The grade goes there? What are the blank spaces on the side for? And are you tracking how many pages they read since last time? Sorry I have so many questions-I am trying to process it all....

    1. Send me your email at and I'll try to answer your questions!


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