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!!

15 comments

  1. Hi Martina
    Speaking from my limited experience, I think the question you gave as an example is a bit tricky for them. By any chance, did they answer “4 different stores”? Even if they thought they understood the text, that question may send them in a direction that they normally wouldn’t go, causing them to answer incorrectly.
    How would you feel about the question, How many stores were robbed, one or four? A question posed in that manner leads them to consider both the possibilities, 1 and 4, and may encourage them to re-read to see verify which one is correct. Again, keep in mind my limited experiene. 🙂

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    1. Yes, most students answered “four different stores”. The question was meant to be a little tricky so that they would have to really understand the text in order to get the correct answer (as opposed to just scanning for numbers), but I was concerned that it might be too tricky. I hesitate to ask either/or or multiple choice questions because the students could get the correct answer by mere chance (I suppose that could happen with an open-ended question, as well, but it’s less likely). I want to ask them questions that require that they really, actually understand the text in order to get the right answer, but I’m having a hard time finding the balance between challenging and tricky. What do you think about the fact that they can’t answer the questions in English? Our school’s reading comprehension scores are very low overall, so should I accept an accurate translation as proof of their Spanish reading comprehension? Maybe I should meet with their English teachers and see what kinds of questions they are asking in Language Arts classes so that I get a better idea of what they can handle…..

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  2. If they can translate it correctly, that would be enough evidence for me that they comprehend the text. Maybe they’re going too fast and being careless in reading the questions. I’ve had students that DON’T have low reading comprehension scores that read directions carelessly…even if the directions are in English.
    I admit I’m guilty of careless reading when it comes to the scores of e-mails I get throughout the school day.

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  3. You could try reading the questions to them aloud or asking the questions in English? They might have trouble with the actual question structure or not having a clear understanding of what was asked. How do they do with listening comprehesion? If they heard the same passage could they write the answers to the questions? Doing some of these things might help you figure out what they are struggling with. Answering more short answer questions like inferences—why is this character mad or What season is it and how do you know could help figure out if they know the main idea rather than specific details? It’s so hard to figure out. Good luck!

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    1. I do ask all reading comprehension questions in English. I wonder about the listening comprehension piece…that would be an interesting experiment to perform sometime–see if the kids could pull out the answers if I read aloud the text to them. Maybe next week 😉 Thanks for the suggestions!

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  4. I am torn on this one. On one hand, yes, if they can translate, they know the vocabulary and structures. On the other, it’s too easy – they just pull stuff rom memory and voilà. When you ask questions, they need to actually find this information in the text. May be you can do something like a three tier thing:
    1) Translate the paragraph of your choice – this will get them no higher than proficient;
    2) Ask factual questions – this may bring them to proficient+ or advanced (that’s up to you); 3) Give one or two “tricky” questions – synthesis, inference – for those really good kids to challenge them – this will get them all the way to advanced+.

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    1. I like it, Natalia! I think this is the best solution that I’ve heard. It addresses my concern that translation is not equal to reading comprehension, but allows students to receive credit for being able to translate because that IS proof of something. It all boils down to being very intentional about the questions that we ask!! THANK YOU!

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    2. I like Natalia’s idea, Martina. I have struggled with the same thing. It puzzles me how you can spend a solid two weeks on a story repeating the structures through all kinds of different activities and they still cannot get it. ARGHHHHHH! But the idea above gives them a goal to work for and I have many students that would find that a great challenge. It also gives attention to those who really work hard.

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  5. I used this same story (from your resource pack!!) My kids also answered “four stores.” I think that kids just jump the gun and when they see something like a number they just assume its right rather than taking the time to read all of the information. My kids didn’t get the word “veces” even though I had it as a footnote. They just didn’t bother to look. I don’t think the question was too hard. I think they just “skimmed.”

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  6. I have a question also, but more about writing assessment. I gave my students 10 sentences to translate using either gustar or querer as the verb. So far I have only been able to get through 3/4 of one class, and I can see already the kinds of mistakes they are making: adding extra words that don’t need to be there, not clarifying/emphasizing the subject(a mi, a ti,etc.) at the beginning of the gustar sentence,etc. I want to give them back as it is “only” a quiz grade and allow them to see the correct answers, grade their own in red pen and take off necessary points, and write out why they did them incorrectly……any thoughts on this?

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    1. I think that is a helpful activity to do every now and again, and I think that I even had a post on it at some point called Writer’s Workshop or something to that degree.The problem, however, is that many of the mistakes that they are making are because they are late-acquired, and no amount of intense study and correction will help them to acquire it sooner. When they are looking at a sentence critically and editing it, they may be able to recall it, but it will not flow naturally because the order of acquisition is set and can’t be upheaved. I think that the best solution is a little focused correction with a lot of correct, comprehensible input. Before you give back the quiz to them, consider having a discussion using the statements that appeared on the quiz. In particular, circle the errors that they made and emphasize the correct structure. ¿A ti te gusta el café? Clase, a Sarah le gusta el café! Sarah le gusta el café? NO! A Sarah le gusta el café. Then, when you go to correct the sentences as a class, you can ask THEM what the errors are, and hopefully having the good comprehensible input fresh in their minds will allow them to pick out some of the errors on their own. Let me know how it goes!

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  7. Another way to assess reading comprehension would be the following:
    “The robbers robbed the same store four times”
    1. Which word indicates that the store was robbed more than once? (The question would be written in English and the answer would be written in Spanish.)
    2. It can be reasonably inferred that the robbers a) find that the store worth going back to several times. b) can’t think of a better store to rob. c) are the owners of the store.

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  8. I should have added to the above post:….instead of always focusing on those who don’t study, don’t care, cause problems and make me wonder what I’m doing here! (I feel like the bright ones get left out sometimes.)

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