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How do I assess Extensive Reading?

Teachers often feel they should check learners’ understanding through tests and quizzes. In Extensive Reading, as long as learners are reading a book at their level there is then no need to test them. Why? because if they should be reading things they already have a high level of comprehension with.  Extensive Reading is not about testing. It is about helping learners to build their reading speed and fluency – and become more confident readers in English.

However, schools often need numerical data to assign to grades. As each student will be reading self-selected books, it's hard to have a test for each person each week. A short cut to this is the ER Moodle which is an online system whereby students take online tests with test data going to the teacher..

Many teachers use several informal ways to assess their learners’ Extensive Reading. This section includes a few common ideas.

1. Book reports and summaries

Learners can write a short book report and summaries. These can be general, such as a short summary of the book, or more specific, such as comments on one character in the book. The complexity of the report depends upon the level of the learner.

They are handed in to the teacher and graded, and/or used as aids for spoken reports. The time spent writing a book report or summary should be no more than 15 minutes per week. Some ideas for book reports on the worksheets page.. Two example photocopiable book reports are also on the worksheets page

2. Giving grades

Some teachers need to find ways to give grades for reading. Here are a few ways to do this.

bulletAssign learners a number of pages or books to read per term and then grade them on what they have achieved. For example, learners who read over 800 pages get an A; those who read over 500 get a B, and so on.
bulletGrade learners’ reading reports, using A, B, C and so on.
bulletGrade learners on the number of books they’ve read over a period of time.
bulletGrade learners on how many reading levels they increase over a period of time.

3. Measuring reading speed

You can measure learners’ reading speed at the beginning of the term, and then again at the end. At the start of the term, ask each learner to read the first three pages of a suitably leveled book. Record how long it takes them to read them. Count the number of words on these three pages and how many minutes it took to read them. This gives you the number of words read per minute (Wpm). Then at the end of the term, ask them to read three different pages from the same book and record their reading speed. It should have increased if the learner has been reading regularly.

4. Wall charts

Create a large reading chart to be put on the classroom or library wall, the purpose being a way for students to record books they read over a period of time. This has each student’s name down the left side. Across the top leave spaces for students to fill in the name of books they read. Students fill in the chart as they finish books. You may wish to have different charts for the number of pages read, number of books read or the number of reading reports with an A. At the end of the term, you may wish to offer some kind of prize for certain achievements, such as most books read.

5. Informal monitoring

One of the most effective ways to check students’ understanding is to have a silent reading time. This can be once a week, even if for just a few minutes. It gives the teacher a chance to walk around the class watching students as they read silently, to assess if they enjoy the story, if it is too easy, or too difficult. The teacher can also ask what types of readers students like to read, and make recommendations.

Informal ‘body language’ tests

To get a rough idea of whether learners understand, ask yourself:

bulletDo they look like they understand? Or look bored or disinterested?
bulletDo they smile when they read funny parts of the story, or look a little apprehensive in exciting moments?
bulletAre they sitting in a way to enjoy the book, or trying to hide that they are sleeping?
bulletDo they turn pages often? Do they seem to be reading slowly (say, by moving their finger along the page)?
bulletDo they have to re-read parts of their readers? Do they use their dictionary a lot?


Informal comprehension checks for during or after reading a book

When asked, sometimes students try to please the teacher by saying they understand when they don’t. At these times the teacher can ask questions (even in the learner’s L1). Here are a few examples.

bulletCan they re-tell the story with little trouble in their own language?
bulletCan they react to the story freely by saying what they liked or disliked?
bulletAsk ‘What is it about?’ ‘Who are the main characters?’ ‘What’s happening on this page?’
bulletAsk how it ended.  Was it a sad or happy ending? Why?
bulletAsk which characters they liked best and why.

If a learner can’t answer questions like these the book is too difficult or they haven’t been reading it.  You can just suggest they find something easier or more interesting next time. But keep a closer eye on them in case they need support.

6. Assessing their library

As learners read more books they can identify which books appear to be either harder or easier than other books at the same level; which are interesting to them; and so on. Ask learners to tell you and then you can buy new books accordingly.