All educators know how to monitor student progress in the classroom and use the results to help inform instruction. With Junior Great Books®, teachers have many options for monitoring student progression, and this article will cover exactly how to collect and use the data from each activity within the Shared Inquiry™ sequence of activities.

In every Great Books professional development course, teachers learn about our program’s flexibility and how to implement each Shared Inquiry activity in the classroom. Teachers also practice making these activities work within their desired time frame and within the ever-changing demands of the school day, week, and year. But in terms of using the activities to assess and collect meaningful data, we must first explore them individually.

To start, let’s clarify the terms we are using. There are typically two types of assessment: formative and summative. Formative assessments help to form instruction as they help the teacher discern where students need more support and what instructional choices the teacher can make.1 Summative assessments are precisely what the name might suggest: a summary of what the student has learned and/or can do due to the learning environment and teacher/student efforts via a benchmark or rubric. Student learning spectrums and a grade-level appropriate critical thinking rubric are included in every Junior Great Books Teacher’s Edition. Download a sample unit for your grade level to examine these resources and assessment options.

The activities available to teachers and students in Shared Inquiry learning are incredibly adaptable and can be used to gather both formative and summative assessment data with careful planning and use. Let’s explore how in the sections below.

Series 3–5 Critical Thinking Rubric from a Junior Great Books Teacher’s Edition.
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Shared Inquiry Sequence of Activities


The prereading activity is designed to help students build common knowledge that improves their ability to access a complex text. Teachers lead a 5–10 minute activity or conversation about a concept relevant to the text and ask follow-up questions throughout to encourage students to share their ideas. Depending on how this activity is structured, teachers may be able to pull data from it to help them plan the remaining work to be done in regards to student comprehension. Consider the following examples:

  1. Teachers can use a seating chart to track student participation in a prereading discussion sparked by an included prompt or a teacher-developed one. By looking at participation data in this discussion, teachers can collect data on:
    • How often students use verbal strategies that may have been taught previously
    • How well students are listening to each other based on if and how they build upon each other’s comments
  2. With this activity, students can also accumulate artifacts that build background knowledge for the text. These can include:
    • Research on the author, time, or location of the text
    • Exploring the theme of the story through artwork or another media type

First Reading with Sharing Questions

Students will listen to the text once the optional prereading activity is completed. While listening, they can be asked to annotate the text and report on what they notice. These observations become the source of students’ questions after the first reading. Keep in mind that this can be used as a formative assessment since the questions students ask provide teachers with the data they need to evaluate student comprehension, vocabulary gaps, and the ability to identify interpretive issues within the text.

Teachers should refrain from steering students to ask a particular kind of question, as that would defeat the purpose of analyzing the students’ questions to help illuminate how to structure future lessons with the text.

Source of student’s question What it reveals about the student Next steps in the lesson
Comprehension gap They need more support to understand the facts of the text Spend some time identifying the comprehension issues and scaffolding the text more. May need to read the text more than twice.
Unknown vocabulary item Room for vocabulary growth Students work with vocabulary in context, using vocabulary journals or any type of vocabulary work that helps them understand rich lexical items.
Speculative curiosity Curiosity If time allows, let students explore their curiosity.
Background knowledge curiosity Curiosity If time allows, let students explore their curiosity.
Desire to interpret the text Ability to read closely and understand the text Try to keep the class from moving too quickly to interpret the text, but consider using these questions during the Shared Inquiry discussion.
Readiness to evaluate the text Deep thinkers who want to discuss essential questions Try to keep the class from moving too quickly to evaluate the text, but consider using these questions during a writing assignment.

Another assessment option for experienced students is to ask them to identify question types. For this assessment to be practical, the teacher should explicitly teach the different kinds of questions, use student-generated questions for the assignment, and have students sort and prioritize them. Assessing how well the students can do this gives teachers the needed data to understand not only their students’ ability to identify different types of questions but also how the students may approach answering them.

Second Reading

The second reading of a text, done as a group or individually, is an opportunity for students to examine a text more closely and to look for answers to the questions they raised earlier. The different close reading activities prompt students to consider the meaning of specific passages or trace an idea throughout the text. Questions teachers can ask themselves to collect data from this activity include:

  1. How well can students annotate texts (after being taught this skill)?
  2. How well can students identify literary elements (for example, can students identify characterization, setting, or other literary devices in a text)?
  3. Can students explain how the evidence supports thinking?

Each activity in the Shared Inquiry sequence provides teachers with rubrics to use as they work to differentiate and support student learning.

Student Learning Spectrum
Differentiated Instruction

Shared Inquiry Discussion

At all grade levels, Shared Inquiry discussion takes place after students have read a text closely and have become aware of the issues and questions the text presents. Guided by the teacher’s follow-up questions, students work together to develop answers to interpretive questions, specifically, while practicing supporting their answers with evidence from the text. At the close of the discussion, students reflect on how their answers have changed or expanded due to their collaboration and discussion.

Before the Shared Inquiry discussion, teachers can provide instruction on the behaviors and skills they would like their students to exhibit and practice. The discussion then becomes an assessment of how well the students can use these new skills. During the discussion, students can practice their ability to:

  1. Use evidence to support thinking
  2. Respond to each other and build upon each other’s responses.
  3. Develop an interpretation of a text

Through the use of a seating chart, teachers can collect data on how well each student meets or exceeds the discussion objectives. This data collection tool can be used to assess a student’s performance in an individual Shared Inquiry discussion or throughout the semester or year to see how a student progresses. How a teacher takes notes, and which skills they want to assess, can vary from unit to unit. In one unit, the teacher may want to focus on students giving and explaining evidence, while in another, they may want to focus on how students build their answers off one another. Junior Great Books allows teachers to customize what they want to assess and how to use the data collected during the Shared Inquiry activities to determine which areas to focus on in the following lessons.

Student Self-Assessment

After discussion, students and teachers are invited to engage in self-assessment through the reflection forms provided in the Junior Great Books Teacher’s Editions. These forms allow students to reflect on their learning and how they can learn better. Students can reflect on any particular skill practiced during the sequence of activities, and teachers can use these reflections to help students develop executive functioning skills.

Written and Creative Response

Junior Great Books programs at every grade level provide opportunities for students to use writing to express and develop ideas raised throughout the Shared Inquiry process and creatively explore concepts related to each text. The programs include various post-discussion writing options, many of which can easily be integrated into an already-existing writing program. Writing tools, such as graphic organizers, essay and story organizers, and more, can help students state and develop textual evidence to support their claims.

Comprehension Tests

Alongside all the aforementioned forms of assessment, Junior Great Books also provides a more traditional form of assessment: reading comprehension tests. These tests include multiple-choice questions that assess a student’s ability to identify:

  • Explicit and implicit facts in the text
  • Word meaning within the context of the text
  • An accurate sequence of events in the text
  • A detailed summary of the text
  • A central idea or argument in the text

Let Us Help You Incorporate Assessment

Junior Great Books programs provide a variety of ways and opportunities for assessment, both formative and summative. This post was designed to look at the more nuanced way teachers can gather data around formative assessments. Tailoring these nuanced assessments to your students’ needs and teaching experience is vital. Mapping out time for teachers to meet, compare student work, and plan for assessment as an integral part of the curriculum is also crucial.

The Great Books Foundation’s professional development pathway provides advanced training and customized consultations to support schools and educators as they hone their craft, adding high-quality assessment of inquiry learning to their toolkits. Get in touch with your Great Books K–12 partnership manager to plan the next level of professional development and increase teachers’ skills in assessment and other critical areas of inquiry-based learning!


  1. “What is the difference between formative and summative assessment?” Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation, Carnegie Mellon University.