As with each phase of the gradual release of responsibility framework, checking for understanding is essential. Doing so can seem to be more of a challenge in collaborative learning because so much of the activity is taking place outside the presence of the teacher. Yet the key to gathering this formative assessment information is to design individual accountability within the group work.
Formative assessments are critical in order to check for understanding as students begin to take on new concepts, skills, and strategies. A number of examples have been described in this chapter; we will augment them with other ideas. In guided reading, the teacher used anecdotal notes and observations as she listened to her students read. Another formative assessment for guided reading with emergent and early readers is the running record, a system for recording the reading behaviors used during an oral reading. This written record is analyzed later by the teacher to determine the systems a child is using well, partially, or not at all, especially as they relate to knowledge of letters and sounds, the syntactic structure of the language, and meaning cues.