(How) Should I Use Questions to Assess Reading?

Yesterday I found a kid in my English class copying this from her neighbour.  It is post reading assessment– in Q&A form– for the novel Les yeux de Carmen. TPT is full of things like this, as are teachers guides,, workbooks, etc.

The idea here is, read, then show your understanding of the novel by answering various questions about it. It “works” as a way to get learners to re-read, and as what Adminz like to call “the accountability piece,” ie, “the reason to do it is cos it’s for marks.”

Before I get into today’s post, I should note, I (and every teacher I know) uses some kind of post-reading activity.

Q: Should I use questions to assess reading?

A: Probably not. Here’s why.

  1. How do we mark it? What if the answer is right, but the French is poor? Or the reverse? Half a mark each? Do we want complete sentences? What qualifies as acceptable and not for writing purposes? What if there is more than one answer? What’s the rubric we use for marking?
  2. It can (and, basically, should) be copied. This is the kind of thing that a teacher would send home to get kids to re-read the novel. Fine, but…it’s boring, and it takes a long time. It doesn’t use much brain power. If I were a student, I would copy this off my neighbour. If you don’t get caught, you save a bunch of time, and the teacher has no way of noticing.
  3. It would totally suck to mark this. Do you actually want to read 30– or 60!— of these?!? I dunno about you folks, but I have a life. We have to mark, obviously, but these, ugh, I’d fall asleep.
  4. It’s a lot of work for few returns. I asked the kid who’d lent her answers to her friend how long it took (btw, there is one more page I didn’t copy), and she said “about 45 min.” This is a lot of time where very little input is happening.  The activity should either be shorter, or should involve reading another story. As Beniko Mason, Stephen Krashen and Jeff McQuillan (aka The Backseat Linguist) show us, input is more efficient than input plus activities (ie, instead of questions about a story, read another story).  As the great Latinist James Hosler once remarked, “for me, assessment is just another excuse to deliver input.”

So…how should we assess reading? Here are a bunch of ideas, none of them mine, that work.

A. Read the text, and make it into a comic. Easy, fun, useful for your classroom library and requires a bit of creativity.

B. Do some smash doodles. This is basically a comic, but minus any writing. As usual, Martina Bex has killer ideas.

C. Do a discourse scramble activity. For these, take 5-10 sentences from the text, and print them out of order (eg a sentence from the end of the text near the beginning, etc). Students have to sort them into correct order, then translate into L1. This is fairly easy– and even easier if a student has done the reading, heh heh–, as well as not requiring output while requiring re-reading.

Another variant on a discourse scramble is, have students copy the sentences down into order and then illustrate them.

For C, they get one mark per correct translation (or accurate pic), and one mark for each sentence in its proper place. Discourse scramble answers can be copied, so I get kids to do them in class.  They are also due day-of, because if kids take them home others will copy.

D. If you have kids with written output issues, you can always just interview them informally: stop at their desk or have them come to you and ask them some questions (L1, or simple L2) about the text.

Alrighty! Go forth and assess reading mercifully :-).

 

 

 

5 comments

  1. Hi Chris,

    First of all, great ideas! It always helps to remember that there are better, easier, more CI ways to grade–if we have to grade. I like asking kids to pick x number of sentences that are the big ideas from the story/chapter/novel and illustrate, copying the sentence they are illustrating below the picture.

    I am not sure whether what you describe counts as a discourse scramble, at least as described by BVP. It sounds more like a “put the events in order,” but it’s equally as wonderful for checking whether students understood the language and read the selection.

    I found the following description of discourse scrambles by someone at MSU — sounds like one of the BVP team.

    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1gRndUPGvJ5sTfoPy-g0FgH-a78XrpWjbD7K0DU0rCQA/edit#heading=h.7em69oqd1vm

    When I recently used discourse scrambles, I found that they were also easy to grade, because I just took x number of points off (depending on how many I started with and what seemed fair…not too scientific, I know) for every sentence that didn’t follow the previous one. That way, it was okay if some were not in precise order. When using discourse scrambles as practice in class, I discussed them with the students as we found the ways that the paragraphs could go back together.

    If sections are short enough, it is even possible to use Kahoot to practice discourse scrambles or order of events. (Until your section C, I hadn’t thought of using Kahoot with order-of-events though. That was a great idea!)

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