Sunday, January 31, 2016

In Which Language Should I Assess Reading Comprehension?

For the longest time, I struggled with this idea: when assessing reading comprehension on a test, should the questions/answers be in English or in the target language? In my early years of teaching, I used to assess purely in English, because that is how I myself had been assessed when I was in school, i.e., I did not know any other way. When I started to use more active Latin in my classroom, however, I switched over to only having the questions/answers written in Latin, because in my opinion, "This is a Latin class, not an English class! Having the questions/answers in English smells of translation!" (See one of my former blog posts which addresses the role of translation in a CI classroom). A few problems, however, began to arise:
  • I noticed that it was possible for students to answer questions correctly from the reading passage without ever having understod what they were reading, because they were savvy enough to know how to pick the correct answer.
  • When reviewing the test with students afterwards, I began to see that many students actually understood what they had read in the passage, but they did not understand the question or the answer choices due to mistranslation.
Leave it to the great Martina Bex to save the day! Last year I read a post on her blog which logically addressed this issue and every question which I had. As a result, I now assess reading comprehension only in English. Below is a link to her post.

I still do have one question which I am mulling over: If students are being assessed over a passage which they have read and prepared ahead of time, (i.e., you have explicitly told students which passage(s) will be on the assessment), should the questions and answers then be in the target language? My experience has been that when students know the passage ahead of time, in many instances, they end up memorizing it in English and then never refer back to the passage on the assessment if the questions/answers are in English. Is there a way around this? If students know prior to the assessment that the questions/answers will be in the target language, will they not pay more attention to the language itself during their re-reading of the passage in their preparation? The jury is still out on this one for me. Any thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. ...Is there a way around this?...

    Announced assessments and known passages mess with validity, especially with Google Translate readily available. Don't tell students about the passage ahead of time. That eliminates all possible invalid assessment results.

    Ask True/False comprehension questions about the passage. If False, students provide the original Latin and English of what you changed.

    Caesarem puerī vīdērunt.

    Statement = The boys laughed at Caesar
    Answer = False, vīdērunt (saw)

    Students must understand the passage they read. Memorizing an English translation won't do much good since the true/False statements can't be known ahead of time.