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Reading Activity or Reading Assessment?

July 26, 2014

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. Asking questions and giving answers in L1 isolates the reading skill and ensures that students are responding based on their comprehension of the text, not their ability to match word chunks (which is a great test taking skill!)

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!

What does an incorrect response tell us?

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.

What does a correct response tell us?

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. Assess comprehension in English to guarantee that the data you gather is about reading comprehension--not production or test taking skills!

Ask comprehension questions in L1

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.

Learn more!

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

Reading activities or assessments

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. The purpose of reading determines the kinds of questions that a teacher asks and the way that they are asked. Learn more about reading in world language classes in this post!

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