Monday, February 21, 2011

How are students using context clues?

Recently, I wrote about using a cloze to find out how students are using context. The results were so interesting! As I flipped through the student responses, it was easy to see what students were thinking as they read. Here are some things to look for as you score a cloze:

Global Reading: Younger readers tend to read sentence by sentence, linking each idea only to the one right before it and right after it. In a cloze, readers sometimes have to take ideas from one paragraph and connect them to ideas from another paragraph. In the salamander text, for example, students needed to remember the idea "rainy March nights" from the first paragraph to fill in a blank in the second paragraph.

By checking to see which readers were able to do this, I could learn a lot about my students.  Students who filled in "days" instead of "nights" had not made this connection between paragraphs. They might not be taking a global view as they read.

Going back: There are many readers for whom reading is a one-way activity. They go forward, and that's that. But skilled readers often will look back in the text, often to clear up a problem. Cloze activities are a perfect opportunity to model the benefits of looking back in a text. In the second paragraph of the salamander text, readers can use the given word "driving" to fill in the missing "roads" in a previous sentence. Some of my students were able to do this. Others did not. This gives me a good chance to model going back in a text to show that reading is not just a one-way street.

Tricky words: In the last paragraph, students had great difficulty with this sentence: "In one town, people have ___built a tunnel!" Only one student had it correct (even) while about four put in words like "actually" that would fit in the sentence. But many others left it blank.

This shows me that they probably need help with understanding and using adverbs. As fourth graders move into more academic text, adverbs are used more frequently. But can students understand them? If they can't come up with even or actually to fill in this sentence, a word like however is probably beyond them.

Cleverness: Okay, so this isn't a technical term. But three of my students had the most adorable response. They put the word "cloze" in a blank. At first this troubled me. Where was this coming from? Then I thought about it from a reader's perspective. The top of the page reads "Salamander Crossing Cloze." These students didn't realize that cloze was the name of the activity. Instead, they thought it had meaning for the text, and were wringing every clue they could from the title. Clearly a "cloze" must have something to do with the salamander crossing!

This is why I like looking at what students put in the blanks--each time, I can learn something new about my students and what they are thinking. The "Salamander Crossing" cloze is embedded below. Download it here to try with your students. 

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