Saturday, January 22, 2011

Creating a Nonfiction Summarizing Assessment

As a group of fourth, fifth, and sixth grade teachers planned for interventions for next year, we decided to try some work with nonfiction summarizing. One of our first tasks is going to be to create some assessments.

This isn't as daunting a task as it might seem. In fact, making your own summarizing assessments is much easier (and cheaper) than buying an expensive set from a publisher. And, while a summary is a useful indicator of reading comprehension overall, the very act of summarizing encourages students to think about important ideas and may actually improve comprehension. An assessment that instructs--just what every teacher needs!

Here's how you and a team of teachers can create your own assessments:

1. Find a suitable text. I consider length, readability, and topic. The best texts are about a page long for younger students, maybe 2-3 pages for older students. You can run it through this tool from Intervention Central to find the readability. As far as topics go, I like to find something that I know will have moderate familiarity--maybe something that is related to a topic that we have studied in science or social studies. If a text is too familiar, some students might be tempted to skip the reading and summarize based on their background knowledge.

2. Find the important ideas. For this part, you need a team of 3-5 people. Each person should read the text silently and write down the most important ideas. Then, compare your lists. By working together, you should come up with a list of about 7-10 ideas for a one-page text. It's so helpful to have multiple people working on this, as you will find that each person has slightly different ways of putting the information. It can provide you with some insight about how hard it is for kids to summarize! If you can't come to an agreement on important ideas, discard the text and try a different one.

3. Give the assessment.  I usually just hand out notebook paper for students to use for their summaries. When I make pages with lines, I'm giving students an indication of how long I expect the summary to be. I want to see what they think.

4. Create your scoring guide. The most basic scoring guide can just be a listing of the important ideas from the article. As you read a student summary, check off the important ideas that are included in the summary. Gather the team of teachers back together to read summaries and set performance levels. What do you want to call a proficient summary? An exceptional one? Be prepared for some interesting discussions as you look at the summaries.

You may also want to consider how to score the summaries that go way overboard and include too many details.  An extra box at the bottom of your scoring guide is an easy way to do this.

Over time, you may want to look at other finer points of summaries--putting the ideas in the order of the text,  reflecting the text structure, or using key words from the text. Be cautious, though. Sometimes adding too many parts to your scoring makes the process too overwhelming. (I know this from exhausted experience!)

5. Use the results. What do your students need? Based on your results, you might make groups of students who need help with locating the important ideas from the text. You might also have students who write too many details, or students who include only topics from the text.

Creating your own assessments is a great way to find out about where your students are. Give it a try!

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