The Comprehensible Classroom

Reading Activity or Reading Assessment?

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.

If 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?

Unable 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!

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