Putting it together

I was really surprised by the article that I ended up reviewing because it only tangentially referred specifically to reading assessment and it was rooted more in the field of psychology. The article was surprisingly accessible, but more importantly it helped to focus my attention on the process of reading. That in turn helped me to identify what I truly hoped to measure in the assessments that I plan for my reading and writing students.

As I mentioned, the assessment that I use currently would be considered holistic in that it’s contextualized and asks students to complete a task that is authentic. They pre-read an article, then summarize it. I use the annotations they make during pre-reading to assess their prereading/reading skills and their summaries to assess their comprehension. The problem that I faced with using summaries is that it depends entirely on their writing skills. I didn’t grade for grammar or spelling in their summaries, but rather how well they were able to write about their understanding of the main idea. This dependence on writing made me somewhat wary of how valid the test was in terms of giving me information about their reading comprehension.

I have all of these books on reading and they all offer a host of options when it comes to assessing reading, but until I read the article about Dynamic Text Comprehension, I don’t feel that I had an appropriate lens with which to evaluate the assessment tools presented in the book. Often the purposes of the assessments are not clearly articulated. In many cases, the creators of the tasks simply assert that they are not traditional as though that were sufficient to make them useful. I want an assessment that provides washback, that is it gives students’ some insight into where they may have a gap in their process. It should also specifically focus on their reading process, though I do understand that writing is a necessary part of reading instruction, I felt that all of my assessments relied on students’ abilities to write which may or may not have a disproportionate effect on their performance.

Ultimately, I want the best of both worlds. My students have many more traditional assessments ahead of them and I want them to be able to maintain those test taking skills that they’ll need to reach the next level of their education. But I want the tests to provide more useful information to me and to them about where gaps in their knowledge or process exists so that we can address them. To this end, I want it to look like a duck, but not to quack like one.

When I went back to look at the assessments available to me, I had a fresh way of looking at them and this is what I decided on. This first comes from Zully G. Tondolo and is included in the book, New ways of classroom assessment.  Students are given a passage with sentences that are in the wrong order and they must first order the sentences, and then they are given a few short answer questions. Here’s an example from the book:

Directions: Number the sentences in logical order from 1 to 6.

A. Devi and the Tree

_____Sometimes she also liked to climb the trees and sit there in her secret place.

_____One of the trees was Devi’s special reading tree.

_____Five hundred years ago, a young girl called Devi lived in a town in the mountains in India.

_____Her family’s house had a big garden.

_____In later life, Devi liked to sit under the beautiful trees in the garden and read a book.

_____Sometimes Devi and her friends had picnics or played games together there.

The content may seem simple, however, I think that is one of the benefits to this task. It can easily be manipulated for the level of my students which varies a great deal from semester to semester. In fact, what I like about this activity is that I can control the content, vocabulary, grammar and other features. Following this activity, I can check in with students to find out why they ordered sentences the way they did and might be able to see what’s helping or hindering them.

The next activity is a little more complicated, but also focuses on reading with little need for students to write. It comes from the same text from a teacher by the name of Patrick Rosenkjar. For this it is important to use a self-contained reading passage, a short article of ten to fifteen paragraphs. Between one-third and one-half of the paragraphs should be paraphrased by the teacher to accurately reflect the main ideas, but should carefully avoid using key words contained in the original. Students must then decide which paragraphs were paraphrased by the teacher.

I particularly like this last assessment because it too can be modified depending on students’ levels and also reinforces other skills that they learn later in the semester. It is also focused on asking students to understand the text in order to complete the task without asking them to take on the additional cognitive burden of writing. Like Amber said in her post, I’m not in the business of reinventing the wheel. The activities are out there, but now that I have a better understanding of what I want to actually test for, I can judge which of these activities will suit the goals established in my own class.

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