In my last blog, I wrote about the four reasons why many of my secondary students couldn’t learn science through reading. The four principal reasons were fluency and accuracy, general vocabulary, science knowledge and the style that science texts are written in.
In this blog, I describe what I have learnt from my primary colleagues about assessing reading. There is no substitute for a 1:1 read out loud. Try it with you best readers and your worst. The four obstacles can be identified quickly and easily.
1: In a 1:1 read aloud, you will know in a minute if your reader is fluent and reading accurately. It isn’t always who you expect. Some pupils who are very articulate and insightful verbally, struggle with reading. They will find it difficult to progress unless they continue to practise reading in your subject.
2: Vocabulary is often a surprise. I had assumed that any level 4 reader will be able to understand common functional language like however and furthermore. The truth, however, is that this knowledge isn’t always embedded. Functional words obscure the meaning of the text if learners have to work out what they mean each time. The way to find this out is to ask – I make it part of the 1:1 and plan these questions before the assessment.
3. The next obstacle is the background knowledge. It is simple and instructive to ask questions about the key vocabulary – often these words are known because they are taught well. But many students get stuck on the concepts. As part of the 1:1, ask your reader to tell you what the text says. This is the single most revealing part of the 1:1 and it doesn’t take long. With a little questioning, you will learn a lot about what each pupil really needs to be taught next.
4. Finally, the read out loud will tell you whether your reader understands how the text layout works. Science texts are often fragmented and scattered like a jigsaw across the page. I find text boxes and labeled diagrams often confuse readers – it is very hard to make sense of a text if you read it out of sequence. Assessing and then teaching students how to sequence their reading makes simple texts understandable.
Assessing your students’ reading skills shouldn’t take long. The whole assessment can take less than 5 minutes. I always learn something interesting and I change my lesson plans as a result. Investing class time reading helps develop life-long independent learners.