I teach my students that reading is thinking and if you're not thinking about what you are reading, then you are not really reading. Every year, I ask students if they've ever caught themselves reading only to realize they were not actually paying attention to what they were reading - leaving them with absolutely no idea what they just read. I use this to show that simply saying the words is not reading.
Mindfulness is required for real reading to occur.
I provide reading excerpts with zero questions because I ask my students to read and show their thinking. I double space the text and remove the lefthand margin almost entirely so that I can double or triple the right hand margin. This provides students with the space they need to show their thinking.
Here is an example of a student reading about the skeletal system:
Through out the year, I teach students to show their thinking in a number of different ways:
-make metaphors and other parts of speech
-make connections to other subjects, past experiences, books, movies, etc.
-identify difficult words & guess at their meaning (read in context, root word, etc)
-show emotions and feelings
-arrows to margin
This is not an exhaustive list, but you get the idea.
I encourage them to write with abbreviations and symbols with a key or legend. I encourage them to use colour coded highlighting systems if they are interested.
Here is an example of a student's final reading project:
To assess this, I observe my students very carefully while they are reading, thinking and showing their thinking. I stop and talk with them.
By the end of the year, my students have done this enough for me to already know where their reading skills are at; therefore, there is no need to "grade" this project. The purpose of this assessment is NOT to even assess the students - that's what the previous 10 months have been for. Rather, I observe and review these projects in order to guide my professional development and teaching practices.
I am currently working on having kids do this kind of project on the computer and with video and screencasting.
If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.
Any assessment, even the best assessments, can be over-done. Please use this kind of assessment sparingly. While this kind of reading strategy might be appropriate when reading non-fiction, it can literally sap the thrill of reading fiction. This isn't to say you can't use this with fiction, but use it sparingly. In my attempts to fine tune this assessment, I have, at times, over used it at the cost of starting to turn my students off of reading - I will never make that mistake again.
Showing your thinking with this kind of detail can take an immense amount of time, effort and patience. Gathering and sharing for assessment purposes must never trump our primary objective of maintaining a healthy desire within the child to go on learning.
We must concern ourselves less with making kids know things and more with inspiring them to want to know.