Extempore, The Speaking Practice App. That’s us! Teachers can create oral assessments in minutes and give personalized feedback to build student confidence and skills when speaking the target language. This has been our goal since the outset way back in 2016.
That’s us, but speaking is not everything we do. Far from it, in fact. The versatile nature of the platform can host assessments for all modes of communication (interpretative, interpersonal, and presentational) and all language skills (reading, listening, speaking, and writing). In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at one specific assessment in particular: interpretive reading. Let’s get going!
Why we need to assess reading
Language learning begins with input, hinges on input, and continuously relies on input for any sort of learner progress. Much of this input comes in the form of reading, and students have to understand what they are reading before they can begin to talk about it in the target language (and the shared language). Given input’s integral role in the language learning process, then, we should be assessing students' interactions with it actively and consistently.
Factors to consider for crafting A+ reading assessments
Before diving into ways to assess reading, let’s consider some important factors behind reading assessments.
Style of text
What type of text will the students be interacting with? Think of the different examples:
The type of text students students engage with will greatly influence the types of comprehension questions / tasks we should ask. Once we choose the type of text, we then have to determine how we want students to interact with this text. For example, for an infographic on healthy habits, students could make a decision about a lifestyle they can make based on the information; for a narrative, students could paraphrase the passage; for an informational text, students could pose two relevant questions related to the content; and for a dialogue, students could provide a logical conclusion.
What aspect of reading do you want to assess?
Assessing vocabulary can give us a good idea of what students do and don’t know, and hey, you have to know words before you can do anything else in a language. Vocabulary-based reading assessments lie on the easy end, but they can also serve as clear indicators of student progress.
Likewise, assessing the main idea of a text proves that students can capture the overall message of the passage, meaning they can accurately synthesize longer strings of language: phrases, sentences, even idioms.
Finally, you can elicit analysis of texts by asking implicit meaning questions whose answers are not directly stated in the text but instead have to be inferred by readers.
Pro tip! Avoid using the target language for questions + answers
Oh, one last thing. For comprehension questions, at least those which aren’t output-based (i.e., multiple choice), both questions and answers should be in the shared language of instruction, (for most of our readers, that language is English).
Why does this matter? Posing questions in the shared language as opposed to the target language prevents students from hunting for words and phrases that most closely resemble those in the question. I learned the importance of this early on in my student teaching experience: students who I knew struggled with the language were acing my reading assessments, simply because they were copying answers directly from the text! They did not have to illustrate any sort of understanding; they merely had to find the language in the text that was closest to the question. By answering questions in English, students have to illustrate that they comprehend the target language by writing about it in another.
Posing questions in the shared language as opposed to the target language prevents students from hunting for answers that are the most similar to the question.
Up to this point we’ve talked about why we should assess reading, things to consider when assessing, and a brief caveat on how we assess. Let’s take a look at some actual examples and hosting them on Extempore.
3 Different Output-Based Reading Comprehension Assessments
As we'll see later, multiple-choice questions are efficient and, when done right, effective for measuring comprehension. Yet it's equally important to provide different ways for students to illustrate their comprehension. The examples below involve students producing the language and are thus output-based strategies.
The concept of "say something" is simple: students have to produce language about the text in either the target language or shared language, depending. This could involve...
Continuing the text (say what happens next in the target language)
Saying what likely happened before the starting point of the text (also in the target language
Making a comment / connection about the text (TL or shared language)
Asking a relevant question about the text (TL or shared language)
Students can demonstrate reading comprehension by putting the text into their own words in either the target language or shared language. Though frankly, I hesitate to have students paraphrase in the target language simply due to the tendency to pick out phrases directly from the text, as mentioned above. Once again, responses in the shared language become a more accurate measure of student comprehension.
Tip for paraphrasing: for consistency of student responses, try scaffolding using the sentence structure "[someone] wants _________, but __________, so __________." The students then have to understand the text and format their response in this pattern. Thus, a student might paraphrase a text by saying Xiaoming wants to go to the park, but he realizes it's going to rain, so he decides to stay home. It's simple, but it allows students to capture, for example, the plot arc of in a narrative text.
5 Different Effective + Efficient Multiple Choice Questions
Here are those multiple choice questions I was talking about! If you're ready to go beyond who, what, and where, keep scrolling.
Questions about characters' moods or the overall tone of the passage elicit answers that cannot be found by simply knowing key vocabulary. Students have to synthesize information and go beyond what's written in the text.
Choose a Title
These are a more advanced yet practical replacement for 'main idea' questions, where students choose an appropriate title for the text given its contents. Tip: don't be afraid to put more than four options in your answer choices, so long as they are distinct enough to not be confused.
Mood / Tone Inferences
Inference-based questions allow students to demonstrate a deeper level of understanding then factual who/what/where questions. Questions about characters' moods or the overall tone of the passage elicit answers that cannot be found by simply knowing key vocabulary. Students have to synthesize information and go beyond what's written in the text.
Flip the script! What questions can be answered?
Instead of students answering the question (okay, technically they still are), they are choosing the right question to ask. In the video above you can see an example of this. The student reads the text, then has to decide what question can be answered based on the text. What these questions assess is a student's ability to determine what information is and is not present in a given text.
True / False
Self-explanatory, yes, but with one caveat. Instead of having students simply marking T/F on an assessment (giving them a 50% chance of a correct answer), provide 5-6 answers instead in a multiple choice formate. Have all but one be true (or false) and have the student determine which is false (or true). These sentences should be in the shared language, not the TL of the text.
If you are a follower of our blog or our webinars, you have likely heard me faun over oral readings and dictations. While they have not earned their own blog yet, cloze assessments are also one of my favorite efficient assessment types. All the student has to do is know the words and fill in the blank. If they know the vocabulary and understand what they are reading, their responses will reflect that. Likewise, it's immediately apparent if they don't. And it takes all of 10 seconds for me to see that in a completed cloze assessment.
If you like these question types, feel free to import the assessment found in the video into your Extempore class and modify it however you'd like!
It's worth mentioning that I've found it worthwhile to have students complete these assessments on their devices during class time. There’s something about students doing Extempore assessments in the physical classroom, where they are focused on solely what's on their screen, that makes it feel more personal and as a result, more authentic.
And there you have it! We've gone beyond the who, what, and where to share with you authentic and effective ways for assessing student comprehension. Which is your favorite? How might you adopt these for your classes?