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A project to make literacy achievement visible and measurable is in to its third year at Ecole Elmwood School in Altona. It's part of a broader effort within Border Land School Division that saw the introduction of performance-based reading assessments.

The one-on-one conversations are conducted three times a year with students in grades 1 through 3 at the school in order to measure each student's growth. The students start off by reading aloud from the same book or text, followed by a short interview to gauge their understanding about what they've read, and ending with the completion of a 'thinking paper' that requires them to show what they've learned by drawing a picture or answering a series of questions.

Robin Martens, vice principal at Ecole Elmwood School, explained these one-on-one assessments are unique in they allow teachers to build classroom profiles based on what students can do.

"We look at the data and we code each student in terms of what kind of reading, comprehension, (and) analysis strategies they're showing us."

From there, each student is plotted on a graph in order to illustrate the literacy strengths and gaps within a classroom.

This approach has allowed teachers at the school to better focus their teaching plans. Martens added it has also required teachers to change their instructional time to allow students more time to practice reading in an authentic way.

"We're trying to prepare kids to be life-long readers and learners," she said. "We often talk about how if you're reading a book as an adult and you want to talk authentically about it with somebody else, you're not talking about what colour his shirt is, you're talking about what you thought about your book - your thoughts, feelings and opinions."

Principal Chris Hicks noted students have gained a bigger appreciation for reading through this approach. He added there has also been a deliberate effort to stock the school libraries with materials that interest the kids.

"It's been very well established that children will engage when interested, and so part of our job is to offer that, to encourage it (and) to promote it," he explained. "That brings out skills and comprehension that we might not have understood."

Hicks added this new system has also fostered more collaboration among teachers looking for ways to improve their teaching.

"The way that you're going to expand your own mind and your own ideas for improving your teaching is to talk to your colleagues, to network and meet, and compare notes."

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