Assessment: fast and easy tools

Authentic Assessments like story retells, reader’s notebooks, and student conferences take more time than traditional tests.  Even so, low-accountability, no-test/no comprehension question stories and books make love of reading possible.  Here are some free, easy-to-use authentic assessment tools to save you time.



With the exception of sheltered instruction, 90% of my assessments require just 2-3 rubrics (here) which I use again and again.  For those rare times I need a new rubric, I don’t re-invent the wheel; I browse the free rubrics at Rubistar and adapt them.


Digital Reading Logs

Biblionasium and Bookopolis are two great tools for digital reading logs, and they are both alternatives to (which I would not recommend for K-12 as student information is not secure).



Since my students have switched to digital readers’ notebooks (readers’ blogs) and digital Story Listening journals, I just copy and paste to create an mp3 to listen to on my daily commute.  The audio support is also helpful if your students prefer to write in L1 and your espagnol is no bueno.



Sort of the opposite of SpokenText, this app takes speech and turns it into text for you to analyze.  Lower accountability for students by testing the input, not the child.  Simply click the red record button, tell your story as you normally would, then you end up with a text 1. to modify and read with students and 2. to evaluate using the Lextutor tool below.



This site has amazing tools based on Laufer and Nation’s Lexical Frequency Profiler.  Besides the quantitative text mentioned above, you create Cloze tests for occasional bench-marking or classroom research.  Another great feature is the recycling profiler, which I demonstrate here.



Avoiding Reader’s Conference Hell

In self-selected reading, “teachers holding regular conferences with students to discuss what was read” is a primary form of formative assessment (Krashen, 1993, p. 2).  A common mistake is to make reader’s conferences so formal students feel put-on-the-spot.  Beniko Mason avoids the word “conference” and thinks of these exchanges as “story talks.”  Here are some ways to avoid stressful readers conferences and inspire more genuine and joyful “talks.”

  1. Don’t grade readers conferences.
  2. Avoid “factual” questions.  Ask students  how they felt about books.
  3. Use Post-its while reading. As they read, students may use a post-it to bookmark their favorite part(s). Afterwards, use the flagged passage as a talking point.  Students may write on the post-it or let you write an important reflection for them.
  4. Don’t over-do the Post-its while reading.  Gallagher and Allington explain, “…no student ever achieved reading flow from placing a blizzard of sticky notes in a book” (65).   Allow students to stay lost in a book during reading,  then later add a Post-it or two afterwards.  Encourage students to simply record ideas at natural pauses in reading- at times they would have turned to a friend to exclaim “Wow, look at what just happened!”
  5. Chat in a natural setting.  Don’t march students across the room to conference at the teacher’s desk.  Keep it casual by going to where they are; sit on the reading rug with them or pull up a beanbag as needed.  If you can catch a confused student browsing the shelves, go to them and chat informally as you browse books.  Make it a natural part of the lesson to circulate around the room discussing books.
  6. Don’t use rigid timetables. You may have set “check in” times for the class, especially at the end of the class period.  But don’t mark your calendar for individual student “conference days.”  That is nerve-wracking, inauthentic, and not responsive enough to support students when they need help.
  7. Allow non-response as a response. Some days they will have less to say.  This may tell you they are not inspired by their book.  Don’t press them to talk, but do use this to decide how to guide them to books.
  8. Less paper. The less paper in front of you, the more relaxed and genuine the discussion.  After the conference, you may record notes to show parents or administrators, but not while talking with students.



Allington, R. & Gallagher, K. (2009).  Readicide : how schools are killing reading and what you can do about it.  Stenhouse Publishers: Portland, ME.

Krashen, S. (1993).  The Power of Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, and Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited (1st edn.).

Talking to Administrators About Questioning

Observers and administrators require teachers to use frequent comprehension checks and questioning.  Teachers who use “a high frequency of questions” are given a higher score on teacher evaluations; teachers who ask fewer questions are penalized (Tennessee, 3).  In the SIOP Model, a teacher is praised for asking a question, then literally covering her mouth until a child answers (Echevarria, 103).  The lesson will not move on until someone answers.


Continue reading Talking to Administrators About Questioning

Talking to Admin About Assessment

Students acquire best when they do not feel tested (Krashen, 85).  While summative tests may be needed occasionally, most assessments should be natural, authentic observations of how much students enjoy and comprehend input.  It is sometimes difficult to communicate and document alternative assessments.

Here is a simple primer with 15 commonly asked questions and answers teachers may face about authentic assessment for second language learners.

Assessment: A Simple Approach

Krashen, S. D. (2011). Free Voluntary Reading. Libraries Unlimited.

Readers Notebooks & Story Retell Notebooks

Story Retell Notebooks

For Newcomers who can not read independently, simply ask students to retell stories with words or pictures.  Here is more on story retells as early response to stories for beginners.  Students can watch their story retells build overtime.  Perhaps ELLs may want to pick their best retell or illustration to submit to The Great English Reading Project.

Readers Notebooks

Used with Free Voluntary Reading for intermediate learners, Readers Notebooks can be a safe place for children to respond to text when they are ready to start reading independently. Continue reading Readers Notebooks & Story Retell Notebooks

Grading Myth 3: Weighing Rubrics


The most common mistake in grading is to add up points earned on a rubric and divide by the total.  To grade with rubrics, scores should be weighted.

First, assess and score the rubric as objectively as possible, even if scores appear low.  Read the rubric descriptors and match what the student did and the descriptions as closely as possible.

Later  weigh grades to align with the instruction and curricular goals.  Grades reflect how well children are progressing toward the goals of a course. “Thus, ‘A’ …is the best one can reasonably expect for the unit and level of students in question…” explains John Biggs (1999  66).  Consider how much time children had to complete a product or performance, what the goals of the course are, the amount of exposure to L2, etc.  A Newcomer should not be scored the same way as a student who has been in US schools for years. 

There are two ways of thinking about doing the same thing:

  1. Adapting the rubric.  Modify the rubric for different ability levels. I used the SOLO taxonomy to develop my curriculum documents and rubrics so they align along a continuum, so my rubrics are already adapted and leveled.  I may mark “not applicable” or delete items or even entire rows or columns that don’t apply but this takes a quick stroke of a pen.
  2. Weighing the scores.  This is identical to 1, but you write out very simple math, which reassures some parents and students.  Here are simple step-by-step directions for (one approach to) converting rubric scores to grades.


When in doubt, just grade as compassionately as you can understanding that grades are a sometimes frustrating simplification of what children are acquiring.


Biggs, J. (1999). “What the Student Does: teaching for enhanced learning’, Higher Education Research & Development, 18 (1999): 1, 57 -75.

Popham, J. (1997). Scoring Rubrics: Maximizing the Value of Your Time. Educational Leadership, 55(2), 72-75.