Assessing Comprehension Of Novels
This is the eighth and final installment of my video series on using novels in the classroom.
I’ve really enjoyed spending this time sharing with you how important it is to use novels in the classroom.
In this video, I talk about how to assess comprehension of novels.
Want to watch all the videos again? You can click here for the entire series!
Watch below now!
Transcription of Video
Hi, I am Amy Mezni from TeachingIdeas4 and I am here today in our final video on teaching with novels to talk to you about assessing student comprehension of novels. I have always taught with novels, now that I homeschool we still read novels and talk about them.
So I’ve learned over the years that the way I used to do them probably wasn’t the best way to do them. And so I want to talk to you about how you can assess student comprehension of novels while not having to create 4 million things yourself and also while not making it such a chore that the kids end up not liking reading.
So let’s go ahead and get started and talking about what can you do that makes it easier for you to assess what you need to assess and also still allow all of you to enjoy the book.
Determine The Purpose
So number one, the very first thing that you need to do before you pick a book, before you start planning the book, before you do anything, is to determine the purpose. Why are you reading this book? What is it that you want the kids to be able to do or get out of this book?
Are you reading it to support a skill that you’ve already taught, or are you trying to increase students’ love of reading? Are you going to organize them by reading levels? Do you need a book within a certain reading level? Or are you looking at student interests? You’re trying to pick a variety of books so that different kids can pick which book they liked better.
There’s a lot of reasons and ways that you would have a reading unit and how you would organize it. And those are things that you should decide before you get too far into the assessment.
Now look at your novel activities. My advice to you is to start with the end in mind. If you’ve ever done planning by design I think it is really brilliant.
That’s the best way really to start planning a unit. If you’ve ever planned a thematic unit or you’ve planned a unit out, you need to really figure out what is it that you want the kids to do at the end so that you know how to support them throughout the unit.
You know, if they have to create some sort of video on ancient Greece, then you need to be teaching them not only about ancient Greece but also how to make the video.
So that’s what you want to do with the book. You want to say to yourself, what is it that kids should be able to do? Should they be able to make aplotlinee and an arc of the story?
Should they be able to explain how events affect characters? Should they be able to talk about how characters interact with each other and how the narrator affects what the story tells? Think about all these things.
Know Your Goals
What is your overall goal? What standard or standards are you trying to hit? And then what are you going to be asking kids to achieve at the end? So know that first and then you plan the activities to support that goal.
Then you’ll know I need to do this, I need to be assessing this to know that they’re understanding it. And then you can also spiral in previously taught skills. That way you’re reminding kids of what they’ve learned before so that they don’t forget it.
Also introduced new vocab. A big part of reading is trying to help kids expand their vocab. A lot of kids today I find do not have really strong vocabularies. These are things that I always try and work in.
Asses, Don’t Drill
Assess, don’t drill, you know, don’t drill and kill basically. So think about all the different ways that you can assess and be mindful of how long this is going to take.
If you are a very good reader and you have always been a good reader, because this was kind of my issue, don’t look at 10 questions and say I can answer that in a half hour because honestly, very few of your kids are going to take just that half hour.
A lot of them are going to take more like two hours or a lot longer. So you really need to be mindful of making your workload accessible to all students in your class. If you really feel like you need this long assignment, how can you break it up for the kids who absolutely will not get that finished? So this is just something to think about.
I want you just to consider when we make assessments, drudge work, we make the book drudge work and a big goal whenever you read a book should be to help kids love reading or just to show kids that reading can be fun.
It is not fun to answer 20 questions on a chapter, it’s just not. And it’s not necessary either.
I think back to when I used to give kids a list of like 10 questions at the end of every chapter. I mean who wants to read another chapter when they got, they know they’re going to have to come up with another 10 questions.
I probably could’ve picked three of those questions and learned what I needed to learn. Consider how much is necessary, how much is overkill.
Consider How Long Students Need To Do The Work
And, and this is what I kind of talked about, the student workload, you really need to consider how long it actually takes, not how long we think it takes, but how long does it really take?
How Long Does It Actually Take?
I know sometimes when parents would say to me, “this took hours”, I would think really did it really take hours? And I will tell you now that I have kids, like yes, it really can sometimes take hours. So every kid is different, every kid has strengths.
Not every kid is going to be able to write quickly, to look through the book quickly to find answers. And I’m not saying that they shouldn’t have to do the work, I’m just saying you might need to assess like were all 10 of those comprehension questions that you wrote down necessary?
Because I have found that honestly three to four is enough to get me what I need.
Focus Assessments On The End Goal
So another thing is if you really focus on that end goal, what is it that kids have to do at the end? You’ll find that you can minimize some of these questions because a lot of them aren’t getting kids to the end goal.
So again, it’s okay to spiral in previous skills and make sure that you touch base on those. But look at where you want to end up and ask yourself of all these assessments that you’re doing, do they really lead to that end goal that you have?
Because if they’re not support for your end goal, then you probably don’t need them.
So let’s talk about grading. I know when I went through student teaching, you had to grade every single thing the kids ever touched. That’s ridiculous. You don’t have to do that.
And in fact, it’s not even beneficial for kids because really you have that end goal you have that they’re supposed to do at the end, that assessment. Well, if they could already do that and be doing well on it throughout the unit, then it shouldn’t be your end goal.
So for us to be grading every little practice piece they had is kind of silly because the end goal is that we’re giving them this practice to do well on the end goal.
If you put it in sports terms, it’s like saying, well I don’t know how to pole vault, but I’m going to get scored on every, every jump I ever do.
It doesn’t make sense, right? Like you’re going to practice, practice, practice, and then you’re going to go to the meet and see how you do. So when we grade every little bit of practice that the kids do, that’s what we’re doing to them.
We’re saying, we know you don’t know this and we’re learning this skill, but we’re gonna you know, grade you on all of it. It just doesn’t make sense. So instead of grading, score the assessments that support the end goal, that are the practice.
So did they do it? Did they participate in the discussion? Give them some points. So maybe you have like five points for each assessment just to make sure that they are doing the practice instead of grading, taking home a slogging home, all the grading.
Maybe you give four comprehension questions and you’re grading one of that four the one that really targets into what you want kids to do at the end and maybe you’re grading their answer out of five points.
Helping Students Prepare For Their Future
So again, really focus on what do you need to check. What could just be checked in class, like what could the student’s score, because students should be self analyzing their work. They should be self-assessing. We need to teach them to do that.
When they get to be adults and they don’t know how to write a check or pay their bills on time, they need to go, gosh, I don’t know how to do this. If we don’t ever allow students to take that ownership of knowing they don’t know something, then they’re going to fail as adults too.
This is something we have to do. Some things they need to assess and go, oh, I didn’t know that. Or if they’re in a small group discussion, they can have the bells go off that their friend realized something that they didn’t. Or if it was something that was a fact based question, they could say, oh, I didn’t understand that. Now I get it. You know, sometimes there’s a lot of benefit to allowing the kids to self assess. And that doesn’t mean that you’re not doing a good job.
So again, I’m going to emphasize score the practice, grade the final assessments. Grade the quizzes. I would give classwork, maybe 10 points quizzes, maybe I’d make 25 to 50 points tests or big projects I’d make 100 points.
So I would, you know, change up the value of what I was grading depending on whether it was practice, a practice assessment or whether it was an end assessment, you know, a sumative assessment.
So you need to start thinking about how can you divide up the weight of your formative assessments and your sumative assessments.
Let me give you some of my best recommendations. Having used a lot of novel units with kids.
And what I’ve realized really just didn’t work. You really need to look at a giant list of reading questions and say, are these all necessary? Again, three to four for me usually is plenty.
I think if you consider, have I hit the different skills I’m trying to get, if you’re doing character development, plot, maybe you’re talking about narrator. Okay, so maybe you want to make sure you have one question on each of those.
You check that there are different levels of higher order thinking skills. They’re not all like low level rote memory type questions.
You don’t need to 10 in a chapter, that’s 20 questions to come up with 10 meaningful questions is actually kind of hard. And then you know, ask them to support it with text evidence. Don’t let them just put down a two word answer.
So think about that. If they’re writing a two sentence, three sentence answer that they had to go back in the chapter and really find the evidence for tastes a lot of time. So three to four questions that can be for some kids, a 30 minute or more assignment. So if you give them 10, they’ll just never finish.
Then you’re going to get garbage because they’re just going through it, trying to go fast. I would rather have three to four well done questions than 10 that they flew through it just to get it done.
How To Help Your Students Read
My son on the other hand, we went through years and years of screaming about reading and I mean screaming like I didn’t, I really didn’t think that was true. You know, you see some of this stuff in the movies or parents tell you and you think really like it can’t be, but I am here to tell you that yes, yes.
Kids will actually scream for three or four hours instead of reading for five minutes. And so after third grade we finally figured out that he had a vision processing issue and he was scream about reading because he literally couldn’t focus on the words his, his eyes don’t track and they would bounce around the page and he would just never know what you were talking about cause he couldn’t find it.
So answering comprehension questions for a kid like that or a kid who’s dyslexic can be awfully hard. I mean we always tell kids, oh look back in the texts in the texts in the text, I told kids that for years, for years, I’m like, it’s in the text.
Why didn’t you look for it? And our vision therapist actually told me that my son would never be able to do that very easily. I mean he can hardly read it going forward. He really isn’t going to find it skimming backward to look for it.
So you know, having my son really chased the way I thought about some of my reading activities and what I needed to really get a good picture of. Do they really understand what they’re reading?
So sometimes you know, having a discussion on a longer activity, like one thing I like to do is have them track character development.
How did this event affect the character? How did the character change from the beginning of the book to the end of the book? What caused those changes?
These are things that you can have kids track somewhere. Like, if you keep a reading journal, you can have a section two or three pages where all they do after every chunk that you read that might work with a partner.
But they talk about what did they learn about the character in this chapter? Did the character changed all? What did they notice about the character?
So that is something where they might have to look back in the book, but a kid who can remember details cause they’re good at listening auditorily, they can also write down details as well.
I’ve really changed up from just comprehension questions like, and killing kids with comprehension questions to targeting to fewer questions that are focused on the skills I’m trying to teach and assess and make sure they understand.
And then having one or two longer activities so that kids can kind of get the big picture of the book and I can see that they get the big picture of the book. The other thing I do is we’ll cap vocab vocab.
So that is something to consider. Um, if you’re doing a novel study, I would rather have a list of vocab this way than a list of spelling or I would use spelling as vocab.
It can get kind of confusing for kids to learn. A list of spelling words and a list of vocab words and, and, and uh, and that’s just something else to how many lists you’ve got going in your classroom and um, how many might be manageable for kids.
So just something to consider there too. Final assessments, I’m going to talk all about assessment tomorrow. I’m going to get more into some of this information, but I did want to hit organizing a final assessment.
You need to decide one, if you even want a final assessment in my novel units that I make and I sell, I don’t include a final test, like a comprehension test because honestly, if I’ve been asking comprehension questions throughout the book for me to give that to kids and just regurgitate comprehension questions, I’ve already checked them on that.
Another thing is think about how much vocabulary you’re giving them. I feel this way about spelling too. And again, I really came to these conclusions watching my son struggle with his vision processing issue because I was an excellent speller who was a great reader.
None of this was ever hard for me. And I realized that I didn’t really understand how hard it was for some people, but even when we were doing vision therapy, because we did therapy for a number of years, and I told the therapist that he was coming home with 20 spelling words and I said, we can practice every day for hours and the next day he doesn’t know them.
And he just looked at me and he said, 20 is way too many, and even 10 was a challenge. And I feel that way with vocabulary words too. You know, I will develop novel units and I’ll go through some things and I’ll come up with 20 words that I think might be new words for kids in a chapter.
I would never ask kids to try and learn 20 words out of a chapter because in the end they’re going to copy all the definitions down. They’re not going to remember them, they’re not going to use them, they’re not going to apply them in their writing and then they’re never going to remember them.
I try and go through and I really look at which vocabulary words do I think could be understood from context or that I could just talk about because they’re words that honestly you don’t hear very often anyway.
Which words are words that they see maybe frequently in the book or that they’re words that we actually say quite often that they should know. I’ll narrow my list down and I try and keep it under 10 but I never go over 10 really unless I absolutely somehow can’t figure out how to get under 10 because at 10 you can make activities, you can have them apply those words in their journals. You can tell them they have to use the vocabulary word when they’re talking about the book. But when you start to get more than 10 it gets to be very overwhelming.
If this is your very first novel unit in the year, or if you know kids need it, the best way to really assess kids is to first model, model, model, model, model, all your expectations.
So let’s go back to text evidence. I didn’t grade those first assessments that I asked for text evidence. I would just say to them, text evidence, text evidence, and I would send them back.
I would have kids bring it to me and send it back. And that way I gave them a chance to fix it. I would also show them like let’s do an answer together. And I would put my own text evidence to give them what I’m looking for. But you have to model, model, model your expectations.
You never know what they’ve done in the years past. We assume sometimes that they know how to do things that they don’t know how to do. But if you don’t really teach them what a good example is or what text evidence looks like in your classroom, they may not be doing that because they just don’t understand what you want.
So you need to take the time to model, model, model, model, model that is my best advice for you to make sure that the kids are doing well and they understand what to do.
So I hope this was helpful to you.
I hope that you got a lot out of this today and that it helped you to understand how to better assess and how to make an assessment more meaningful in your classroom.
If you have missed my previous sessions, I’ve done seven other sessions on different topics on using novels in your classroom.
I’ve talked about how to find funding, where to find good books, how to pick a book and how to organize your units.
So they are available on Youtube and on my blog. And I hope that you really enjoyed this and that you got a lot out of it. My name is Amy Mezni from TeachingIdeas4U.
Please connect with me on Facebook, on Instagram, Pinterest, youtube, um, my Teacher Pay Teachers store and my blog, www.TeachingIdeas4u.com. Thank you so much for coming and I’m glad to have you.
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