The Missouri Reader Vol. 41, Issue 2 - Page 39

Children who struggle to learn phonics knowledge will often be delayed in their overall reading ability.

Blue: Questions

Pink: Unknown words Orange: Something funny



Teachers who differentiate instruction in a reading workshop seek to provide support for students as they engage in reading skill development and the exploration of concepts. This support optimally takes place within a zone of proximal development (ZPD), which is commonly defined as “the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem-solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86). Support focuses on the difference between demonstrated performance and learning potential (Kozulin, 2003).

Assessment is key to instruction within a ZPD. Each student has a different ZPD for a given task, making it critical for a teacher to differentiate instruction according to student needs. Teachers should seek to identify the following qualities about a student’s way of learning to differentiate instruction and improve the student’s literacy skills:

● In what areas does the student exhibit confidence and competence? How can the student be provided with a sense of challenge within the student’s existing skill level?

● What goals should be set? Focus on clear and immediate goals.

● How can we provide ongoing meaningful feedback to the student?

● What activities promote the possibility of the child being intrinsically motivated, focused, and engaged?

Strategic Content Literacy Assessments (SCLA; Brownlie, Feniak & Schnellert, 2016) are formative assessments designed to be teacher-generated and to actively promote metacognitive thinking related to literacy skill development. The SCLA assessment shown in Figure 1 (page 35) tracks a student’s ability to comprehend texts. I created this rubric while drawing on the work of Brownlie (Brownlie, Feniak & Schnellert, 2016).

Dialogue between a teacher and student about progress in skill areas shown in Figure 1 promotes the ability of students to understand the reasoning behind the assessment and take responsibility for progress. An SCLA Assessment is intended to be modified according to instructional needs (Brookhart, 2013). Learning objectives should be linked with standards in forming the rubric

I recommend using the same SCLA multiple times in a test-teach-test cycle and using results as part of a portfolio to track progress. By using a Reading SCLA as shown in Figure 1 as a pre-test, the teacher can gauge a students’ skill at reading a text prior to instruction. Pre-tests help teachers to determine appropriate learning goals by shedding light on students’ prior knowledge and current skill level. After the students takes an SCLA as a pre-test, they then engage in activities within the reading workshop guided by the teacher.

The same reading SCLA shown in Figure 1 is later administered after participation in a reading workshop. I recommend use of the SCLA after multiple reading workshops to track progress over time. A teacher uses this SCLA to monitor the difference between a student’s unassisted performance level as a reader and a student’s assisted performance level, enabling the teacher to track learning as it occurs. Throughout the workshop activities a teacher monitors progress in reading skills and behaviors associated with reading including responsiveness to prompts. As the SCLA is used over time after the student receives guidance from teacher, typically the student will demonstrate gains on the SCLA.

The student and teacher should together decide which one skill area to focus on during each reading time or assignment. Addressing all five skill areas at once when working one-on-one with a struggling student is not recommended. For example, after the teacher briefly monitors the student while the student reads silently, the teacher can ask the student a couple of questions related to the skill area that is being addressed. If addressing summarizing with supporting details, ask for a summary and follow-up with questions that draw upon supporting details or if working on making inferences, the teacher should ask inferential questions.


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Dr. William Kerns is an Assistant Professor of Education at Harris-Stowe State University, where he is program coordinator of middle and secondary education. Dr. Kerns worked in

Central Florida as a high school reading teacher, reading specialist, English teacher, and a curriculum specialist prior to entering higher education.


The approach to formative assessment presented in this article promotes differentiated instruction through the development of clear goals and instruction based on feedback from assessment.