Reading Activity or Reading Assessment?

Comment 1 Standard

In a Comprehensible Input classroom that uses Standards Based Assessment, we must format our question-based activities differently based on whether our goal is to provide further repetitions of the text and the structures that it contains (a ‘reading activity’) or to assess whether or not a student comprehended the text.

If the goal is to provide further repetitions of the text, both questions and any potential answers should all be in the target language. These are activities that we can add to our instruction in order to help us stay in the target language 90 percent or more of the time as recommended by ACTFL and renowned language acquisition experts. They also allow students to think about the text in a different way and to practice critical thinking skills.

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 8.27.49 AMIf the goal is to assess whether or not a student comprehended the text, the questions and any potential answers should be in English. 

To the veteran language teacher, this statement seems like sacrilege. Hear me out!

Consider, for a moment, that a student responds incorrectly to a question (gasp!) about a text. As the teacher sits down to analyze how the student could have possibly missed a question after all of the beautiful comprehensible input with which she  flooded that student in preparation for the assessment, that teacher must ask several questions:

  1. Did the student respond incorrectly to the question because she or he misunderstood the text? (This is the goal of the assessment.)
  2. Did the student respond incorrectly to the question because she or he misunderstood the question?
  3. Did the student respond incorrectly to the question because she or he was unable to produce his or her answer accurately in the target language.

Frustrated at her inability to answer those questions, the teacher is now so disillusioned with the assessment that she begins to look cross-eyed at the questions to which the student responded correctly:

  1. Did the student respond correctly to the question because she or he understood the text? (This is the goal of the assessment.)
  2. Did the student respond correctly to the question because she or he was able to ‘hunt and peck’ and match language chunks from the text with chunks from the answers, never understanding what any of it means?

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 8.39.06 AMUnable to answer these questions and having determined that the assessment is not a valid measure of the student’s reading comprehension of a target-language text, the teacher throws up her hands and chucks the exams out the window, then buries her head in her hands and wails in frustration.

This is why we assess comprehension in English. The only reason for which the student could have answered a question correctly or incorrectly is because she or he did or did not understand the text.

If this is blowing your mind, please visit Scott Benedict’s Teach for June website and visit my SBA archives.

Here are some different kinds of questions that you can use as reading activities or to assess comprehension–just be purposeful about the language in which you write them!

  • Read an event from the chapter, identify a character’s most likely emotion
  • Identify whether a statement about the chapter is a fact or an opinion
  • Read a list of events and identify which is not in chronological order
  • Match the first and second halves of statements about the text.
  • Read three statements about the text and identify which 1 of the 3 is false.
  • Put a series of events in chronological sequence
  • Match events from the text with the events or situations that caused them.
  • Identify whether an event happened in the past, present, or future
  • Determine which event in a pair happened first and which happened second
  • Read a passage, then identify which statement is the best paraphrase.
  • Identify the meaning of a specific word from a passage in the text.
  • Translate a passage or select which of several options is the best translation of a passage.
  • Determine whether a statement is true or false.
  • Respond to a multiple choice or open ended question about the text.
  • Recalling explicit information from the text.
  • Identifying the theme of the text.
  • Summarize the text.
  • Identify who said or would have said/thought each statement in a series.
  • Complete a statement by filling in the missing word or phrase.
  • Read a passage from the text and determine which of several conclusions is the most logical (or vice versa).

For more detailed explanations of many reading activities, click here.

Output

Comment 1 Standard

One common question that I was asked in my sessions was, “I thought that our goal is to provide students with comprehensible input…so why do so many of these activities contain output?” Great question!

No CI teacher thinks that output is bad. Output is a good thing and one of the end goals for our courses, but it is not the means by which we acquire language. CI teachers focus on input because research shows that students acquire language when they listen to or read language at L+1 (one step above their current level of proficiency). The main focus of our instruction, therefore, is to find ways to provide our students with comprehensible input using strategies like PQA, MovieTalk, Embedded Reading, Storyasking, and more.

That being said, we do not eliminate output from our classes. CI classes are filled with output! As Carol Gaab so brilliantly pointed out in one of her sessions at iFLT 2014, PQA itself–perhaps the most basic and essential tool to the CI teacher–depends on output. Teachers ask questions to students (input), then students answer the questions orally (output) before the teacher takes their answer and discusses it with the class. It is a constant back-and-forth of input and output!

It is important for us to give students opportunities to practice output because, ultimately, we want them to be able to communicate in the target language. If we never give them those opportunities to build their confidence and competency, all of the language that they acquired so effortlessly in our classes will be utterly useless. The key is to limit, structure, and scaffold the output, especially in novice levels:

  • Karen Rowan suggests setting time limits for your output activities. Even though students may be able to spend 25 minutes on a communicative activity, it would be better to limit it to just 5 minutes in a novice class. As students move on into upper levels, they can spend more time with output because they will have built up their fluency.
  • Many of the output activities that I use in novice classes are extremely structured. In many of the examples from my PQA Hooks presentation at iFLT14, students are using plug-and-play phrases to share their ideas (like “I’m going on a trip, and I’m going to bring ___”, in which the only original component of the sentence is a noun). This way, students have an opportunity to speak and form an original idea, but the risk for inaccurate language is minimized. Then, I….
  • Smother the output in input. Anytime a student shares an idea with the class (produces output), take that idea and smother it in input by asking circling questions, comprehension questions, and fishing for details.
  • Output generates input. It is worth it to allow even novice learners the opportunity to produce output before they are really comfortable with a structure in order to generate compelling input. Students have great ideas. Often, they are much more interesting than we are! The ideas that they express via output are often our best inspiration for input. One sentence of output could generate an entire class period of input!
  • Front-load the input. When you introduce a new set of structures, spend time doing PQA, Storyasking, and input-based story activities, and then assign an output-based activity. Consider basing the activity on questions that have already been discussed in class so that students know the answers to explicit recall questions and have already had an opportunity to formulate personal responses to opinion or analytical questions. (This is what I usually do for the Fan N Pick activity.)
  • Output activities keep the class engaging. If all they ever did was listen and read, they would not stay in our classes. Limited output allows us to use many different activities that will help maintain engagement.

Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 1.20.46 PMI also received a lot of questions about how I manage and assess the output. As far as management goes, please read this post about the hole puncher police. With regard to assessment, it depends on the level and on the activity. I do not begin to formally assess speaking until late in Spanish 1, and even then it is a very small percentage of students’ overall grade. (I use Standards Based Assessment, and my grading categories are based on skill–speaking, reading, writing, listening.) I do, however, strive to complete a minimum of three formative speaking assessments per marking period, even in my novice classes. As students advance into upper levels, I strive for an additional three summative speaking assessments–key word being strive, since it doesn’t always happen. To do this, I simply make marks on rubric cards during output activities. I might not get around to every student during every output activity, but by spending a small amount of class time each day doing structured (oral) output, I am able to get to each student 3x throughout the course of the marking period. To download the rubrics that I use and an explanation of how I use them, click here (they’re free). The file contains five levels of ACTFL Proficiency-Level based rubrics and one Six Traits of Writing (yes, writing) based rubric.

CCSS Aligned L2 Reading Comprehension Questions

Comments 4 Standard

About two months ago, I wrote a post explaining how second language teachers can use the Common Core Anchor Standards for Reading to give depth to their reading assessments and challenge students to think critically in the target language. Read it here. Understandably, some readers were left wondering what an assessment composed of CCSS Aligned questions would look like. And so, I give you this: A 15 page packet full of explanations and examples (I’m posting the information from the packet on this page, but it will be much easier to read (and print) if you just download the packet!)

So that teachers could see specific examples of each question type, the questions are written based on a text that is commonly used in language courses. The novel Brandon Brown quiere un perro was written by Carol Gaab, and it is written with just 100 unique words, making it perfect for novice language learners. It is available in Spanish here and French here. The first two chapters of the novel are available on the TPRS Publishing, Inc. website as a free preview, and they were used with written permission from the publisher.

Considerations for the L2 teacher

  1. Write questions in English – When assessing reading comprehension of target language texts, we almost always ask the questions in English so that an incorrect answer can only be attributed to a misunderstanding of the text, as opposed to a misunderstanding of the question or an ability to ‘hunt and peck’ to find the answer. There are a few exceptions, and they are noted throughout this packet.
  2. Choose what you want to assess – When creating an assessment that includes critical thinking questions, the L2 teacher must consider whether s/he wants to assess reading comprehension in the TL, the ability to support conclusions with textual evidence in English, or both. A student may understand the language of a text very well, but still be unable to process the information in a way that would allow him or her to accurately respond to the question. Unless the question requires that the student explain his/her answer, the problem with assessing two things at once is that the teacher cannot know whether a student’s incorrect answer was due to a deficit in reading comprehension or critical thinking ability. For this reason, the teacher may choose to formally assess students using very basic comprehension questions (explicit recall, for example), and choose to save the critical thinking questions for class discussion.
  3. Visit Teach for June – If you are not familiar with Standards Based Assessment, I highly recommend visiting Scott Benedict’s website, http://teachforjune.com. He has articles, webinars, and additional materials to help all teachers, and L2 teachers in particular, learn why and how to use Standards Based Assessment in their courses.

STANDARD R.1: Recall explicit facts

These questions are the easiest to write because they are based solely on the information contained within the text. Students must be able to find the answer to the question within the text without adding in their own opinions or knowledge from other sources. With reference to QAR (Question Answer Relationships) the questions can be “Right There” questions (for which the answer is located in one specific place in the text) or “Think and Search” questions (for which students must combine information from several places in the text in order to answer the question).

Multiple Choice Who has a rat?

  1. Brandon
  2. Brandon’s sister
  3. Brandon’s friend
  4. A family on TV
What does Brandon want?

  1. a hamster
  2. a cat
  3. a rat
  4. a dog
True/False True or False? Brandon wants a dog like Beethoven.
Short Answer/Free Response Describe the kind of a pet that Brandon wants. Include at least three details. 

Where is one place that Brandon sees a dog that he likes?

 

Fill in the blank: Brandon wants a ____. 

STANDARD R.1: Make logical inferences

A question to assess this standard should require that students recall information from the chapter and then use that knowledge to make an inference. When students are asked to make logical inferences in the target language, it is difficult to know whether an incorrect answer is due to a deficit in reading comprehension or a deficit in critical thinking skills. For this reason, an L2 teacher may wish to have students explain their answer even on a multiple choice or true/false assessment. See “Choose what you want to assess” (page 3) for more about the L2 reading comprehension vs. critical thinking dilemmma.

Multiple Choice Which activity would Brandon most like for his dog to do, based on the information provided in Chapter 1?

  1. sit comfortably in Brandon’s lap
  2. spend all day in a kennel
  3. obey commands
  4. not shed
If Brandon cannot have his first choice animal, what might be his second choice, and why? 

  1. a fish because fish are easy to take care of.
  2. a cat because cats are smart.
  3. an potbelly pig because potbelly pigs are unusual pets.
  4. a lizard because lizards are small.
True/False True or False? Brandon would like to watch the movie “Homeward Bound”, which stars two dogs and a cat. 

True or False? After the conversation with his mom in Chapter 2, Brandon decides that he should just give up on his birthday wish.

Short Answer/Free Response What is a pet that Brandon’s mom would likely allow him to have? Please explain your answer using information from Chapter 2. 

For his birthday, would Brandon like to receive a guitar? Please explain your answer using information from Chapter 2.

STANDARD R.1: Support conclusions with textual evidence

If the teacher wants to solely assess reading comprehension in the target language, then the teacher would need to provide three options with false information about the text and only one option that contains true information from the text, all of which are logically sound. If the teacher wants to solely assess critical thinking ability, then all four options must be factual based on the text, but only one can be logical. (Keep in mind that the student would be able to respond to the question based on logic even not having read the text.) If the teacher wants to assess both, consider including two false and two true statements about the text. Both of the false statements should be logical, but only one of the true statements from the text should be logical. The student can eliminate the false statements based on reading comprehension in the TL, and then s/he must use logic to choose between the two true statements that remain. In this way, the teacher can look at the incorrect answer that the student chose and know which skill is lacking. These questions do not make good true/false questions.

Multiple Choice What information from Chapter 1 best supports the conclusion that Brandon watches a lot of TV?

  1. Brandon is watching TV when he first decides that he wants a dog. (false, logical)
  2. Brandon watches several movies and TV programs about dogs. (true, logical)
  3. Brandon compares the park dogs to the TV dogs. (false, logical)
  4. Brandon doesn’t want a red dog. (true, illogical)
Short Answer/Free Response Does Brandon prefer large or small animals? Copy TWO quotes from Chapter 1 that support your answer. You may leave the quotes in Spanish.

STANDARD R.2: Determine central ideas or themes

These are among the few questions that can be asked about target language texts in the target language. Because the central idea or theme will contain similar language to the language of the text itself, the teacher can know that an incorrect answer is due to the fact that the student does not understand the language used in the chapter. When writing multiple choice questions in the target language that assess this skill, it is important that all four options contain language that appeared in the text itself, so that students cannot eliminate options by simply recognizing that the language contained in a potential answer did not appear anywhere in the text.

Multiple Choice Which of the following statements best expresses the main idea, or ‘theme’ of Chapter 1?

  1. Brandon wants a dog.
  2. Brandon doesn’t like his friends’ pets.
  3. Brandon watches a lot of TV.
  4. Brandon loves animals.
True/False True or False? An appropriate theme for Chapter 1 is “Brandon loves to go to the park!” 

True or False? La idea principal del Capítulo 2 es que Brandon va a cumplir 9 años.

Short Answer/Free Response Read the following excerpt from Chapter 1, then summarize the main idea of the passage with a single statement: “Su amiga, Jamie, tiene un hámster, pero Brandon no quiere un hámster. Los háms- teres son horribles también1. Brandon no quiere un hámster horrible. ¡Brandon quiere un perro! Su amigo, Jake, tiene un perro. El perro de Jake es grande y es inteligente también. Brandon quiere un perro como el perro de Jake. Quiere un perro grande e inteligente.”

STANDARD R.2: Summarize details and ideas to support theme development

Students that are proficient in this skill area of standard R.2 are able to identify the information from a text that supports the theme. They can separate the ‘meat’ (the theme-based content) from the ‘potatoes’ (the filling that adds interest and depth to the text). They are able to summarize texts concisely because they have developed the ability to accurately assess the difference between essential and non-essential information as it relates to the purpose of the text. These questions can be asked in English or in the target language for the same reasons listed under “R.2 Determine central ideas or themes”.

Multiple Choice Which of these statements from Chapter 2 support the main idea of Chapter 2?

  1. “El teléfono interrumpe la conversación”
  2. “La mamá de Brandon está irritada”
  3. “No quiero un Xbox® y tampoco quiero un teléfono celular”
  4. “Brandon es muy inteligente”
True/False True or False? In Chapter 1, one of the most important things that we learn is that Brandon does not want a hamster. 
Short Answer/Free Response Chapters 1 and 2 inform us that Brandon wnats a dog, and he thinks that his birthday is the perfect time to receive one. What are THREE things that we learn about Brandon in the first two chapters that support this idea?

STANDARD R.2: Summarize details and ideas to support theme development

Students that are proficient in this skill area of standard R.2 are able to identify the information from a text that supports the theme. They can separate the ‘meat’ (the theme-based content) from the ‘potatoes’ (the filling that adds interest and depth to the text). They are able to summarize texts concisely because they have developed the ability to accurately assess the difference between essential and non-essential information as it relates to the purpose of the text. These questions can be asked in English or in the target language for the same reasons listed under “R.2 Determine central ideas or themes”.

Multiple Choice Which of these statements from Chapter 2 support the main idea of Chapter 2?

  1. “El teléfono interrumpe la conversación”
  2. “La mamá de Brandon está irritada”
  3. “No quiero un Xbox® y tampoco quiero un teléfono celular”
  4. “Brandon es muy inteligente”
True/False True or False? In Chapter 1, one of the most important things that we learn is that Brandon does not want a hamster.

 

Short Answer/Free Response Chapters 1 and 2 inform us that Brandon wnats a dog, and he thinks that his birthday is the perfect time to receive one. What are THREE things that we learn about Brandon in the first two chapters that support this idea?

STANDARD R.2: Analyze theme development

These questions are best asked after students have read a significant portion of a long text. For this reason, it is difficult to write theme development questions based on just the first two chapters of a simple text. To write them, the teacher should think about how the theme of each segment of the text fits into the theme(s) of the text as a whole. How does the main idea of the text as a whole manifest itself in each chapter? How does the key point from one chapter influence the key point of the next?

Multiple Choice Which of the following events from Chapter 2 happens as a result of Brandon’s strong desire to have a dog?

  1. Brandon tells his mom what he wants for his birthday.
  2. Brandon’s conversation with his mom is interrupted by a phone call.
  3. Brandon’s mom talks about rats.
  4. Brandon’s mom says that Brandon is 8 years old.
True/False True or False? The most significant similarity between Chapters 1 and 2 is that Brandon’s sister has a rat.

 

True or False? Brandon’s concept of an ideal birthday gift is influenced by the many great dogs that he sees in real life and on TV.

Short Answer/Free Response How does Brandon’s desire for a specific pet influence his actions in Chapter 2?

STANDARD R.3: Analyze development of characters, events, or ideas

Like theme development questions, these questions are best asked toward the end of a text; however, the beginning of a text is a great time to lay the foundation for later analysis by asking questions that establish a ‘baseline’: What is a character like at the beginning of a text? What are his/her priorities? What is happening at the beginning of a text that you, the teacher, know will have an impact on the later events of the text? What idea presented at the beginning of a text will reappear or change as the reader continues on in the text? Later on, you can ask students to compare those characters, events, or idea that were highlighted at the beginning of a text to themselves later on.

Multiple Choice Which of the followings adjective best describes Brandon, based on his thoughts, words, and actions in the first two chapters?

  1. responsible
  2. determined
  3. jealous
  4. easily frustrated
True/False True or False? Brandon’s concept of what it’s like to have a dog is based solely on his observations of dogs at the park.
Short Answer/Free Response How does Brandon’s desire for a dog influence his actions in Chapter 2?

 

 

How would you describe Brandon? Provide at least three adjectives.

STANDARD R.4: Analyze word choice

Questions that analyze word choice help students to think critically about why the author chose to use the words that s/he did. They are excellent to use in an L2 classroom because they help students consider all of the options that they have to say the same thing. With regular use, students will produce more fluent language as they incorporate a wider range of vocabulary into their speech and writing. Since Brandon Brown quiere un perro is written with extremely basic vocabulary, it is more difficult to write word choice analysis questions for this text than for more advanced texts, which employ a broader, deeper, less repetitive vocabulary.

Multiple Choice Why might the author have used the word “exclama” instead of “dice” in the following excerpt from Chapter 1?

“En el parque, hay muchos perros. Brandon ve los perros y exclama: «Yo quiero un perro!».”

  1. To express Brandon’s inability to keep his voice down
  2. To express Brandon’s sense of humor
  3. To express Brandon’s enthusiasm
  4. To express Brandon’s anger
True/False True or false? In this passage, the author used the phrase “con entusiasmo” to show that Brandon was frustrated: “Brandon exclama con entusiasmo: «¡Quiero un perro como Beethoven!».

 

Short Answer/Free Response Which words and/or phrases in the following passage does Brandon’s mother use to exaggerate the situation in order to support her argument? Explain your answer.

“Brandon, tú sólo tienes 8 años. Un perro es una responsabilidad enorme para un niño de 8 años.”

 

Which word does the author use to communicate the fact that Brandon is not a fan of rats? “Las ratas son horribles. Brandon no quiere una rata horrible.”

 

STANDARD R.4: Interpret meaning of words or phrases

These questions are an excellent alternative to traditional grammar quizzes. Because they require students to interpret the meaning of specific words and phrases, the teacher is instantly able to identify the point (or points) at which L2 comprehension breaks down. By aligning these questions with the target structures and constructions from a course, a teacher can use this question type to determine with what specific course content a student needs additional support.

Multiple Choice Which word in the following statement is most similar in meaning to the word “says”?

“Brandon es muy inteligente. Él considera el comentario de su mamá y le responde, –  Mamá, ¿no quieres un perro porque los perros son problemáticos?”

 

  1. considera
  2. comentario
  3. responde
  4. quieres
True/False True or False? In this excerpt from Chapter 2, the word ‘como’ is best translated “how”:

“Brandon exclama: «¡Marley es un perro perfecto! Quiero un perro como Marley».”

Short Answer/Free Response Which phrase in the following excerpt from Chapter 2 tells us that Brandon is excited to talk about this topic with his mom?

La mamá de Brandon está irritada. Ella no quiere un perro y no quiere continuar la conversación. Pero Brandon continúa la conversación con mucho entusiasmo

What is the difference in meaning between “soy” and “eres” as used in this excerpt from Chapter 2? 

–  Ji, ji, ji. Brandon, tú eres muy inteligente –le dice su mamá. 

–  Sí mamá. ¡Y soy responsable también! 

STANDARD R.5: Analyze text structure

If you are unfamiliar with the text structure as it relates to the Common Core State Standards, I recommend viewing this slideshare slideshow. Questions that assess students’ ability to analyze text structure help them to focus on the strategies that the author employs in his or her text to communicate the desired message. While an author will typically use one main text structure, elements of other structures will likely be included within it.

Multiple Choice Which text structure best describes the first two chapters of Brandon Brown quiere un perro?

  1. Chronological order
  2. Compare and contrast
  3. Description
  4. Problem and solution
The author’s main purpose in Chapter 1 is to…

  1. describe Brandon to the reader.
  2. establish that Brandon is discontent about something in his life.
  3. contrast Brandon with his sister.
  4. explain an event.
True/False True or false? In Chapter 2, Brandon tries to solve his problem by calling one of his mom’s friends.

 

True or false? In Chapter 2, Brandon tries to solve his problem by calling one of his mom’s friends.

Short Answer/Free Response Give one example from Chapter 1 in which the author uses compare/contrast to communicate an idea:

STANDARD R.6: Assess point of view

Questions that assess point of view are an excellent tool to use in the L2 classroom because they give students an opportunity to think critically about grammatical constructions other than the traditional third person narrative form. It is important that students know the difference between first, second, and third person perspective in order to respond to many of these questions, so take time to explain the perspectives in English before administering any assessments that include those terms. Don’t assume that students have already learned it in their English classes!

Multiple Choice From whose perspective is this statement written?

Mi hermana tiene una rata y mi amigo tiene un hámster.

  1. Brandon’s
  2. Brandon’s mom
  3. Brandon’s sister
  4. Brandon’s friend
True/False True or False? “Quiero un perro para mi cumpleaños” is written from Brandon’s point of view.

 

True or False? To change the statement “La mamá de Brandon está irritada” to be written from first person perspective, the only thing that you need to do is replace “está” with “estoy”.

Short Answer/Free Response From which perspective (1st, 2nd, or 3rd person) are Chapters 1 and 2 written? Copy one sample sentence (in Spanish) from the text, and explain how it proves your answer.

 

Re-write the statement, “Brandon es muy inteligente” from the first person perspective, as if Brandon were making the statement about himself.

STANDARD R.8: Evaluate argument and specific claims

These questions are easier to write about non-fiction, expository and/or persuasive texts. Within a fiction piece, questions of these type should focus on arguments presented by the characters in the text or even details that an author uses to support statements that s/he makes in the text. For example, if an author states that a character is a bad influence, what details does s/he included in order to support that statement? Notice that some of these sample questions do not force students to evaluate the argument and specific claims on their own, but rather assess reading comprehension while helping the students to focusing on the evaluation of arguments and claims already contained within the text.

Multiple Choice What is the problem with Brandon’s argument that his sister is allowed to have a pet?

  1. His sister is older.
  2. He wants a different pet than his sister has.
  3. Girls are more responsible than boys are.
  4. Brandon’s parents only allow one pet.
True/False True or False? Brandon’s mom would be more likely to agree to let Brandon have a small dog than a big dog.
Short Answer/Free Response Copy three statements from text that the author uses to reinforce the idea that Brandon is not interested in other pets or gifts; only a dog:

 

In your opinion, what is Brandon’s best reason for wanting a dog? Please explain your answer in English using information from the text.

 

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Comprehension Checks

Comments 3 Standard

Note: Much of my knowledge about comprehension checks has come from Betsy Paskvan, a Japanese teacher here in Anchorage, AK. Betsy has presented many times on checking for comprehension at state and national language conferences (she’ll be at NTPRS this summer), and she often travels to other school districts to offer them professional development on comprehension checks and other essential TPRS®/CI skills.

___________

It is important for all teachers to informally assess students’ comprehension throughout any lesson. We use students’ answers to decide whether to move on to the next topic or to spend more time on whatever we are studying at the moment. Comprehension Checks are one of the essential tools in a TPRS®/CI teacher’s toolbox. When they are used effectively, the input provided by the teacher will remain comprehensible to all students, and therefore all students will further their language acquisition.

There are five keys to comprehension checks:

  1. Check for comprehension continually.
  2. Check for comprehension in English.
  3. Check for comprehension in different ways.
  4. Check for comprehension quickly.
  5. Modify instruction as needed based on students’ responses.

It is important to keep your finger on the pulse of your students’ comprehension so that you do not lose students (cognitively or emotionally) by venturing into incomprehensible territory. This requires continual checking for comprehension. It must be done in English so that a wrong answer can only be attributed to a lack of comprehension of the content in question and not a failure to understand the question itself. You must ask different kinds of questions to different populations (individuals and groups) in order to gather accurate data. Comprehension checks should be quick so that they do not distract from the content. Finally, comprehension checks are only valuable when you use the information gathered to inform your instruction–spending more time on a topic, backtracking, or moving forward based on your students’ needs.

Here are four basic meaning-based questions that can be used during storytelling, PQA and other discussions, and read-alouds. These questions can be asked to individuals or to the entire class. When asked to individuals, the teacher should try to match the difficulty level of the question to the students’ language ability:

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 11.56.25 AM

Those four questions are all meaning-based and require an oral response. However, there are many other ways that students can give feedback (both general and specific) during instruction. Some are more accurate than others, so it is important that you do a variety in order to gain a complete, accurate picture of your class’s comprehension:

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 11.53.42 AM

In addition to comprehension checks completed during instruction, there are many ways that teachers can informally assess comprehension after instruction: exit slips, post-it notes, pop quizzes, etc. These checks can be used to plan instruction for the next day, but they’ll have to wait for another day :)

What other comprehension checks do you use during instruction in your classes, and what strategies do you have to develop the habit of checking for comprehension?

REALLY assess reading comprehension

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Scott Benedict is the king of assessment, so if you have never before pondered accurate assessment, standards-based assessment, etc., you should probably hop on over to his site, Teach for June, and spend the next few weeks there before you come back and finish reading this post. If you have already reached the conclusion that it is essential to create and administer assessments that accurately demonstrate whether or not students have mastered whatever skill you are assessing, then you can keep reading :)

Strengthen coreThe Common Core has a bad rep (with good reason, I would say), but much of its content is quite good! One of the things that I love are the 10 Anchor Standards for Reading. I love them because they have made it much easier for me to write excellent reading assessments! In order to truly determine whether or not your students have understood a text, it is essential to ask high-order thinking questions in addition to your basic fact regurgitation questions. If a student truly understands a text, whether fiction or non-fiction, that student should be able to answer questions that require them to summarize the text, apply what they read to a new context (for example, “Which of the following is an example [not given in the text] of the concept described?”), interpret selected portions of the text (“What is another way to say [excerpt]?”), evaluate portions of the text (“Which of the following statements did the author best support?”), and more. Writing these questions isn’t difficult, per se, but it does require intentionality and forethought. The CCSS have done this for us, woohoo! I have a list of the standards posted near my computer, and I reference them whenever I write a reading assessment. If the assessment consists of five questions, I try to hit five different standards with my five questions. The end result is a challenging assessment; but that is because it is a quality assessment. When I first began to administer assessments with varied, high-order thinking questions to my students, their reading scores plummeted. Part of this was due to poor test-taking ability, but part of it was because my view of my students’ reading comprehension was inaccurate due to my formerly poorly designed assessments. The greatest benefit of changing the way that I wrote assessments was that it forced me to be a better teacher (continuing instruction until my students had truly acquired whatever material we were studying), but a nice side benefit was that my students “strengthened their core”. By this, I mean that they improved their test-taking ability effortlessly as I incorporating higher-thinking questions into my daily instruction through comprehension checks and discussion. (Side note: While I always administer reading assessments about Spanish passages in English (see Scott’s website for the reasoning behind that), we discuss many of these questions in Spanish throughout each unit as we talk about stories and other input that we work with.) I don’t really care about improving their test-taking ability other than it was a really great ‘brag’ for my Spanish program when it came time to defend my request to add an additional language teacher at the end of the school year!

I created this handy-dandy infograph for you to use when creating your own reading assessments, both formative and summative. Since the first two Anchor Standards for Reading contain multiple tasks, I broke them down a bit. Standards 7 and 9 are not included because they apply only when working with multiple texts, and Standard 10 is not included because it is too general to be helpful when writing an assessment. Enjoy :)

 

 

What did I say?

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A good teacher is always looking for ways to vary his or her assessments. Administering varied assessment types allows for differences in student strengths and weaknesses and provides novelty. Novelty is important because it makes the assessment feel less like an exam and more like an activity, which reduces anxiety and lowers the affective filter, allowing the students to be more successful. I’ve posted several kinds of listening assessments before, and here is yet another!

1973297-manuel_que“What did I say?” Listening Assessment

STEP ONE: Read aloud a short text to students in the target language. This can be fiction, non-fiction, original, or authentic.

STEP TWO: Have students draw a picture of what they heard.

STEP THREE: Have students write a sentence or short paragraph to describe their picture in English. They should write it in English so that any error in their work can only be attributed to a misunderstanding of what they heard and not an inability to produce correct language. By describing their picture instead of writing explicitly about the text, they are required to summarize and use their own words.

Turn it into a writing assessment…

STEP FOUR: If you want to turn it into a writing assessment as well, you could then have students translate what they wrote in English into Spanish. You will then know that students understood or did not understand what you said originally and whether or not they are able to produce original language by describing the picture (summarizing the original text) in Spanish.

Spanish II Final Exam, Take 2

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La_llorona_by_TsukiNoYumeMy maternity sub is unavailable on one day during finals week, so I needed to develop a new final exam for Spanish II that did not involve the use of the computer. (Last year, I gave my students this exam based on the video La leyenda del espantapájaros.) Wanting to do as little work as possible, I turned to the Embedded Readings blog to see what pre-made readings I could find and turn into a test. I found a reading by Matt (don’t know his last name) about La Llorona that I could work with. Two hours later (so much for saving time, right?), I had a new final exam with a past-tense reading. Since a Spanish speaker will not be administering the exam, it consists only of reading and writing. Download the pretty PDF of the exam here, or download the not-so-pretty Microsoft Word version here. (Since I do all my word processing with Pages, the files often get screwy when I convert them to Word. Sorry!) Both documents are FREE–my Teacher’s Appreciation gift to YOU! The final includes target structures from the storytelling units that I use to focus on the preterite tense (in addition to vocab that we’ve studied since Spanish 1), so check out those students if you are looking for how to adequately prepare your students for the final.

Running Dictation Extension

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IMG_9955.JPG copyJulia developed an awesome extension for running dictations (click here to read how to do a basic running dictation)! Instead of having students record the events on a single piece of paper, she had the secretary write each event on a separate square of paper. After the secretary recorded it, he or she passed the paper to another student in the group (one that was not currently the runner) to illustrate. By doing so, she added another role to the activity and increased the level of engagement! To put the events in order, then, students only have to stack the papers in order (the first on top and last on the bottom). They can staple them and hand them in very easily, instead of trying to re-write the list or number them on the side.

The best part about this extension, however, is that you now have illustrations to use for any number of activities. Julia used them for a listening assessment: she showed two pictures on the Doc Cam and read one of the statements from the dictation. Students had to write “A” if she was describing the picture on the left or “B” if she was describing the picture on the right. It lowered affective filters that usually go up during assessments because the kids got to see the drawings of their classmates…sometimes quite interesting!

Can I please have an intern ALL the time!?

Reading Comprehension Conundrum

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I continue to experience the same problem with each reading assessment that I assign, and I am wondering if anyone else experiences it as well and/or has input and suggestions.

When I administer a reading assessment, I make absolutely certain that it is comprehensible to my students. If there are any words that my students haven’t learned and shouldn’t be able to figure out with a few squints of concentration, I footnote it. The point is to assess whether or not they understand the structures that they are supposed to have acquired when read in context. So I get really frustrated when I grade an assessment and the scores average a Developing (C) or–worse–an Emerging (D)!

Occasionally, I can look back and see that I was trying to stretch them a bit too much. This was the case with my Spanish A kiddos last week. But those instances are few and far between because I am SO CAREFUL when designing reading assessments. The problem, I have discovered, is that my students are really, really, really bad at answering questions. I have discovered this pattern because I will often give papers back to students and have them write out the translations of the readings, and they translate the entire thing without significant errors. Then, I ask them to go back and re-answer the questions. Most of the time, they say, “OH DUH!” and correct their mistakes. Oftentimes, however, they still don’t get it. About a month ago, this sentence appeared in a reading for Ladrones: “The robbers robbed the same store four times”. The question was, “How many different stores were robbed?” The answer, obviously, was ONE. Even after students translated the sentence, however, many were unable to answer the question.

Do you think that my questions are just too hard??

Is this nothing more than a result of my students’ low ENGLISH reading comprehension?

Is it fair and accurate to accept a correct translation of the reading as proof of their Spanish reading comprehension, or is the fact that they can’t answer questions (in English) about a Spanish reading proof that their Spanish reading comprehension is low?

I need input, people!!!!!!!  Help!!

Conference Time!

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This week is conference week in Anchorage. At the middle school level, we do Student Led Conferences, in which students prepare a portfolio that includes work samples and self-reflections and present it to their parents. Teachers check in during the conference to see if parents have any questions, but the student is responsible for explaining his or her experience in the class to his or her parents.

I have struggled to create self-reflections that elicit honest, accurate responses from students, and I think that I have finally found the magical combination (until next year, I’m sure)!! First, students complete this self-reflection about their experience in the class. I have used this in the past, and it has proven a successful conversation starter for students and parents. Kids get to talk about what they like and don’t like, and consequently the areas in which they experience successes and struggles. Download a free, editable version of this document here.

The second piece is one that I added this year, and I am VERY pleased with its success. It is a self-reflection on behavior, work habits, etc. (their Citizenship grade, essentially). I found that by a simple re-phrasing of the questions (asking students what they think that I would say to their parents vs. simply what they think about their own performance), students produced more honest, well-thought out and defended responses. Knowing that I would later circle whether I agree or disagree with their thoughts held them accountable, and I added comments to support my agreement or dissent.  Download a free, editable version here (but beware–the font that I used in the original is most likely not on your computer, so you will probably need to do some re-formatting).

Students included this self-reflection in their portfolio with work samples and explanations of why they chose to include those samples. The final piece that I used was this “instruction sheet” for parents, so that they could speak with their students about the missing and incomplete components of their portfolio. It is helping parents to feel equipped to address concerns about work habits with their child and develop strategies and goals to address those concerns.

There are some benefits to Student Led Conference and some challenges, but I am thankful for the opportunity with which it provides students to have meaningful conversations with their parents about their class performance! It is also great for the MANY families in our school that do not speak English! What do you do for conferences??