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Assessing Reading, Using an Independent Reading Rubric

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The Book Whisperer ideas in the ELA classroom

Having recently finished The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller (I know I’m behind the times!) my interest in infusing my ELL classroom with more independent reading time is renewed. This coming year I hope to use more of a workshop model for my classroom.

The difficult part of using a lot of the ideas in The Book Whisperer is adapting them for middle and secondary use. In particular, how to both keep kids accountable for their reading in class, but also assign grades to kids when they are spending a large chunk of time in class simply reading.

Miller advocates for having students track the number of books that they read, having conferences with them in which they discuss the books and using a reading response notebook. I like all of those ideas, but I also think it is important to have some accountability for reading behaviors during independent reading.

The Reading Rubric

To help with this I thought to use a reading rubric. This reading rubric is divided into two separate pages that can be used together or separately. The first page is all about the level of engagement of students during the actual reading time. Were they on task? Did they actually get any reading accomplished? The second page is focused on whether or not the student understands the basic and most important aspects of what they read. This gets a little tricky if you have no read the book they are reading, but you can generally tell if a student has no idea what the setting of the book is, or who the main character is. In addition to providing me with a graded assessment, it also really helps me see which students are not in good fit books so I can think hard about what books might be more on their level.

The Difficulty with Independent Reading Time

Miller asserts that she doesn’t have many off-task reading behaviors in her room. I bow down to her as the goddess of teaching, because frankly, I cannot get everyone in my room into a book that they are enjoying at all times during independent reading. Her position is that getting all kids into books they enjoy will eliminate these problems. In large part, she is right. I can get most kids on task most of the time with books– but not all. I have often wondered if this is because ELL classes are a more homogenous mix of students– mostly all struggling readers or non-readers– and if this creates an environment where it is “okay to struggle with reading or dislike it altogether”. I also teach in smaller classes in a more intervention-like setting. This often means that many of my students are those that are the most resistant to starting a reading life. Both of these factors contribute to the off-task reading behaviors I see in my room despite my best efforts and intentions to follow Miller’s advice.

Those are mostly excuses even if they are true. I still hold out hope of becoming a super-hero teacher who reaches all students and instills in every single one a true love of reading.

It’s good to be aspirational.


I like using a rubric for this because in middle and secondary, it easily translates into a grade while simultaneously providing me with good instructional feedback. It also holds kis accountable for their behavior during reading time. Some kids who would be off-task assign it more of a value when they know they will be graded.

I collect the rubrics and file them in students portfolios, but they are also easy to transfer into data for a student progress reports. If you haven’t already, subscribe to the Freebie Library to get my progress monitoring templates!

Happy teaching,


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