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Assessing reading ability

Some freshmen students read fluently and enthusiastically, some don’t.  Some students have the skills to read and understand an academic article; others struggle to make sense of an op-ed piece.  Students may not only have difficulty understanding the vocabulary of a piece (“ideology”, “institution”, “parameter”), they may also not understand references made to times, places, events and ideas that instructors (who read a lot) assume to be common knowledge (e.g. “the Great Depression”, “the Nuremburg Trials”, “trickle-down economics”).  Click here for an example of a few of the words and references that were problems for a typically “good student” who came to the writing center for help with her reading assignment.

Below are some suggestions for how to assess students reading ability:

  • Ask the students (“Do you like reading? Do you read much?  How hard or easy was this article?  How long did it take you?)
  • Ask students to read a short article in class and summarize the argument in writing (you can also use this to get a sense of their writing skills)
  • Ask the students to highlight all the words and references they don’t understand in a short piece and hand it in anonymously
  • Give the students a list of key words and terms and ask them to write definitions
  • DON’T test their reading skills by asking them to read aloud.  It’s humiliating for those with the poorest reading skills and tells the instructor more about problems with pronunciation than comprehension.
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Deirdre Egan,
Jun 28, 2011, 12:02 PM
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