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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.
Deirdre Egan,
Jun 28, 2011, 12:02 PM