Monday, April 1, 2013

Assessing Figurative Language

We are finished with our short study of poetry, and are now looking at a week of preparing for state testing.

This year, I created three different assessments for figurative language. I wanted a closer look at how students were doing at different points in the unit. The first assessment focused on personification; the second, on metaphors and similes, and the third, on comparing poems. (The first two are available in the Figurative Language unit.)

What did I learn? Well, quite a bit. As you read my general statements, keep in mind that this is all anecdotal, and based on just my experiences in my classroom.

Figurative language skill does not seem to match up with overall reading comprehension.
This was fascinating. I separated out the questions that measured figurative language from the questions that tapped general comprehension. Some kids did well on both. Others did poorly on one measure but not on the other. Some students who are highly skilled readers overall had trouble with the figurative language questions, while others who are lagging 1-2 grades below grade level were able to answer the figurative language questions with ease.

So what is going on here? Where does skill in interpreting and recognizing figurative language come from? How does it correlate with other reading skills? These are important questions to think about.

Kids can improve quickly with recognizing and interpreting figurative language.
If you have read scientific studies of teaching reading, you have probably noticed how hard it is to improve overall reading comprehension. Short interventions just can't seem to nudge overall reading comprehension skills far enough to make an impact on standard measures of reading comprehension.

But the curve for recognizing and interpreting figurative language can go up pretty steeply. I found this very encouraging news for a three-week unit! Some students who did poorly on the first assessment could answer every figurative language question correctly by the final assessment.

This also shows the power of multiple assessments, even in a short period of time. Because we did go over each assessment, students were able to find their mistakes or misinterpretations and make corrections for the next time. If we had done only one assessment, students would not have had this chance.

The use of scaffolds such as charts and response frames is beneficial.
I used charts for comparing texts and response frames for writing open-ended responses. Students used these to write some nice responses. Because I have a document camera this year (awesome!), I made a big deal out of punctuating poem titles correctly when I modeled writing responses. About half of the students did this independently on the first assessment. For fourth grade, this is pretty impressive.

On the first assessment, I also projected the response frame for one group of readers. This was a middle level of scaffolding. They weren't just filling in the blanks, but they could look up at the response frame to see how to structure their response. By the last assessment, I took away this scaffold, and students were still able to use some of the structure of a formal written response.

Decoding problems can be disastrous.
Of course I know this already. In a short poem, every word matters. Some kids who can plod through a longer piece and get the right answers because of their strong background knowledge really struggled with poems. On one of the assessments, the word "miniature" caused a problem for one of my readers, and he didn't answer any of the questions correctly.

But maybe this wasn't such an awful thing. At the outset, some of the students equated "short" with "easy", and didn't engage with the text in a meaningful way. Quick feedback helped them to see that short does not equal easy, and that they needed to exert some more effort.

Notes for this week
-If you have to teach urban, rural, and suburban in social studies, Google Maps is a great resources...we've been looking up places across the country and categorizing them. Vacation sites, where an aunt lives, where someone is moving--they all make great searches. The only problem is it gets too interesting and then no one wants to move on to other things!
-Don't forget to check out the peregrine falcon cam, especially if you have read the texts in Introduction to Text Structure.
-It's been too cold and rainy to look for tadpole eggs this weekend, but I'm hoping to get some soon! If you have never raised tadpoles in your classroom, you really should give it a try. It's magical.

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