It's about time for me to assess text structure! What should students know and be able to do? What should we look for? These are some tasks that I've used for both formative and summative assessments.
Identifying the text structures of paragraphs
When teachers are just starting to work with text structure, this kind of assessment seems the most logical. And there is merit to it. Present students with multiple well-written paragraphs, all on the same topic, and have students identify the text structure of each one. This can show if students are sensitive to the cue words that authors use to identify various structures.
But this shouldn't be the only assessment of text structure. While it does measure if students can identify different text structures, it doesn't show how a reader is using a text structure. Tasks like completing graphic organizers, answering multiple choice questions, and answering open-ended questions can help to show what students can do with a text.
Completing scaffolded graphic organizers
For early readers, it's helpful to provide a graphic organizer that goes along with the structure of a text. You can even provide sentence starters within the parts of the graphic organizer. Last week, my students read a short text about the Great Peshtigo Fire, and then completed a partially filled-in cause and effect graphic organizer. Their struggle with the graphic organizer showed that they were still having big difficulties with navigating a cause and effect text.
Creating graphic organizers from scratch
Older readers can be asked to create a graphic organizer from scratch. Asking kids to create their own graphic organizers is always a worthwhile task--as a teacher, I learn so much about how they are representing ideas in their minds. For example, many of my students try to use webs for everything. If a student reads a compare and contrast text and tries to represent it with a web, this gives a good indication that the student is not noticing the dual topics of the text.
Answering open-ended questions
Open-ended questions can help teachers to see how kids are using text structure to go back to find details from a text. Often, the text will suggest a good open-ended question. Here are some stems that you can use help you think about framing questions.
Chronological Order: Explain the process of _____ .
Cause and Effect: What were the effects of ____?
Problem and Solution: According to the author, what are some possible solutions for the problem of____?
Compare and Contrast: How are ____ and ____ different?
Answering multiple choice questions
Of course, this is the old standby. But the right questions can give you some good insight into what kids are able to do. What I like about multiple choice questions is that you can ask both global (related to the whole text) and local questions. I also like to include synonyms for different text structures to help kids think flexibly--for example, sequence for chronological and result for effect.
Multiple choice questions do put some struggling readers at a disadvantage. These readers often have significant problems when they are posed with distractors that are all true. (I wrote more about this in The Forest and the Trees) This is why I like to supplement multiple choice questions with other kinds of tasks.
Chronological Order: Which event came before _____? (Note: These questions proliferate on standardized tests and are very difficult for kids! Teach students how to mark the named event in the text and use the chronological order to find the events in the choices.) Which event happens first in the text? Which event occurs last?
Cause and Effect: Which is an EFFECT of _____? (I like to put in some causes as distractors. This tells me quickly which kids are having trouble with the order of cause and effect.) Which event did NOT cause ______?
Problem and Solution: Which best explains the cause of the problem____? Which is a solution for _____?
Compare and Contrast: Which is a similarity between ___and ____? Which is a difference between ____ and ____?