Weighing a pig won’t make it fatter.
Testing our children won’t make them smarter.
Recent research on classroom assessment has focused on the interaction between assessment and learning with a hope that improvement in classroom assessment would result in effective learning. As a result, a variety of alternatives in assessment have been proposed and researched. Alternatives in assessment have become popular for that they require students to perform, produce, and create; focus both on processes and products; tap into higher level thinking and problem-solving skills; and provide information on both the strengths and weaknesses of students (Brown & Hudson, 1998, p.654). They are also popular as they establish an on-going interactive association among three significant aspects of education: teaching, assessment and feedback. The interactive relationship is shown in figure 1.
Figure 1. The interaction among instruction, assessment and Feedback
As shown above, teaching is followed by continuous assessment which offers continuous feedback, which in turn guides the process of instruction. In this model, teaching, assessment and feedback occur interactively as an ongoing process. Alternatives in assessment include portfolios, journals, conferences, interviews, observations, and self- and peer- assessment. These tools, if used effectively, assist students to learn more effectively and teachers to teach more efficiently vis-a-vis standard tests that narrow the effects of testing on teaching and learning.
In line with the developments in assessment in general, reading assessment has also been researched with both product and process approaches. Though, earlier research into reading assessment followed the product approach, ‘product approaches to reading have been unfashionable in recent years as research efforts have concentrated on understanding the reading process, and as teachers of reading have endeavoured to improve the way in which their students approach text’ (Alderson, 2005,p.5). In addition, it is difficult to address the variation in the product and to measure the product using valid and reliable measures (Alderson, 2005). Consequently, though not as an alternative but as a complementary approach, the process approach to reading assessment gained significance. However, the process approach to reading assessment is challenging since ‘the process is likely to be dynamic, variable, and different for the same reader on the same text at a different time or with a different purpose in reading’ (p.3). In spite of the limitations, the process approach offers noteworthy data on how the reader, the text and the context interact and impact the construction of meaning. The process approach also integrates the three aspects of teaching reading: teaching, assessment and feedback into an on-going comprehensive process. Hence, the process approach can be adopted for classroom assessment and by a teacher who wishes to have flexible and interactive assessment procedures that offer different types of mediation for each student depending on their specific needs as revealed by the students during the assessment.
The basic goal of reading assessment in classroom is to design more effective instruction by gaining information on student’s strengths and problems in reading. However, much of the current reading assessment is limited to verify whether readers understand the text or not by asking comprehension questions after they complete their reading. The incongruity between the goal and the practice was not just limited to reading assessment but permeates among other subjects too; and this has been precisely recognized by the Central Board of Secondary Education which has introduced Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE hereafter). CCE has been recommended by different committees on education to reduce stress on learners and to emphasize that the process is as significant as, in certain cases more significant than, the product. And in fact CCE has been made mandatory under the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009. CCE can be defined as assessment before, during and after instruction using multiple assessment techniques to evaluate all round development of students’ personality. The National Focus Group’s Position Paper on Examination Reforms listed four objectives of CCE:
- To reduce stress and anxiety
- To make evaluation regular and comprehensive.
- To allow teacher to be innovative both in teaching and assessment.
- To make diagnosis and instruction dependent on each other.
In light of CCE, assessment of reading is not just assessing reading comprehension through comprehension questions but it includes assessing students’ interest in and attitude to reading; their approach to reading; their reading habits; their reading strategy use and their reading of other than prescribed materials. Consequently, reading teachers are in need of assessment tools that can capture the ‘authentic, continuous, multidimensional, interactive’ aspects of reading assessment (Valencia, 1990, p.339). Reading journals can be one of the options reading teachers may explore in classroom assessment.
Reading Journal: what and why
Use of reading journal in educational settings started relatively recently when there was a widespread recognition of the importance of alternatives in assessment that focus on the formative nature of learning. Reading journal, which had no place in the second language classroom erstwhile, occupies at present a ‘prominent role in a pedagogical model that stresses the importance of self-reflection in a student’s education’ (Brown & Abeywickrama, 2011, p. 134). Journal writing has been recognized as a significant retrospective tool in language research. In general, a journal, as defined by Brown & Abeywickrama (2011), is ‘a log (or ‘account’) of one’s thoughts, feelings, reactions, assessments, ideas, or progress toward goals, usually written with little attention to structure, form, or correctness’ (p. 134). Reading journal, which provides insight into the reading process, is a useful tool as it promotes reflection on the nature of reading and on the problems encountered by the reader during reading. Journals have been recommended for strategy training purposes to assist learners develop metacognitive awareness of their strategy use, learning and thinking. However, it is not without concerns. Some critics express concern over the cultural issues as revealing one’s inner self may not be a practice in certain cultures. It is also argued that it is difficult, if not impossible; to construct valid and reliable criteria for evaluation since journal writing involves potential variability. Despite the fact that self-reporting through journal writing may be inaccurate if learners do not report honestly or cannot recall their thinking or report what they ought to do rather than what they do, it is the only way to develop an insight into learner’s mental processing. It is not possible with the present technology ‘to get inside the ‘black box’ of the human brain and find out what is going on there. We work with what we can get, which, despite limitations, provides food for thought’ (Grenfell and Harris, 1999, p.54). According to Valencia (1990), reading journal is based on:
|a philosophy that demands that we view assessment as an integral part of our instruction, providing a process for teachers and students to use to guide learning…a philosophy that honors both the process and the products of learning as well as the active participation of the teacher and the students in their own evaluation and growth. (p.340)|
Journal writing has been argued for in this article given the receptive nature of ‘reading skills’ and given the fact that ‘journals, perhaps more than portfolios, are the most formative of all the alternatives in assessment’ (Brown & Abeywickrama, 2011, p. 138).
How it can be used
Students may be asked to describe their reading processes when they read a text. Selection of text may be made by the teacher considering the proficiency level and interests of the students. Over a period of time, teachers may integrate different types of texts in their choice of selection to examine and to let students understand how type of text shapes the process of reading. The focus on the process can be kept intact by providing students with prompts such as ‘I did this before I started reading’; ‘I did this while I was reading’; ‘I did this after I completed reading’; ‘I did this to deal with unfamiliar words’ and ‘I did this to deal with the difficult parts of the text’. During the initial days, students may be asked just to describe their thinking processes when reading. To begin with, they may be asked to describe what they did and how and why they did. Students may be asked to reflect, evaluate and regulate their approach to different aspects of reading a text and their deployment of tactics and strategies only after they are able to comfortably describe the processes. In executing the reading journal in classroom assessment, a special consideration is required on the following two aspects: teachers’ response and self- and peer-assessment.
Teachers’ response: Journal entries may be responded to by the teacher in a non-judgmental written dialogue to support the process through close interaction. The response to the journal entries may be as immediate and supportive as possible to sustain students’ interest and energy in maintaining a reading journal (Wollman-Bonilla, 1989). While responding, teachers may avoid correction of structural or spelling errors of the students, instead they may attempt to motivate them by linking students’ journal accounts to teachers’ experiences of reading. Teachers may also offer better reading strategies. For example, if a student frequently refers to a dictionary to know the meaning of unfamiliar words, s/he may be encouraged to use the contextual clues to infer meaning. However, pragmatic understanding of the Indian education system and teacher-student ratio especially in government schools would puzzle the reader of this paper: how a teacher can respond to all the students’ reading journals on an on-going basis? Hence, the frequency of reading journal writing and the response to it by the teacher may be programmed on a monthly or bi-monthly basis, if not daily or weekly, depending on the resources available to the teacher.
Self- and peer- assessment: Considerable advantage of reading journal lies in how the teacher encourages the students to participate in self- and peer- assessment of the journal accounts they write. With regard to self-assessment, the teacher may guide the students as it might be unfamiliar to them and they might find it difficult to execute. Although the teacher-student relationship is addressed through teachers’response, it is the peer group which plays a significant role in shaping the reading of a student. Hence, incorporating peer assessment only maximises the benefit of maintaining a reading journal. However, forcing students to share their personal thoughts and strategies with others might not work with some students as they might feel shy to reveal their private side to others. Rather, asking students to share and discuss voluntarily on their reading processes and strategies using their journal entries during the initial days might gradually motivate others to follow suit.
In conclusion, this paper briefly highlights the importance of alternatives in assessment, compares the product and the process approaches to reading assessment, and deliberates on the relevance and objectives of CCE in Indian education system. Subsequently, the paper discusses what a reading journal is, the rationale for it, and how it can be executed in classroom assessment. It also proposes reading journal as a significant means to assess authentic, continuous, multidimensional and interactive aspects of reading development.
Alderson, J.C. (2005). Assessing reading. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.
Brown, H. D. & Abeywickrama, P. (2011). Language assessment: Principles and classroom practices. Pearson Education
Brown, J. D., & Hudson, T. (1998). The alternatives in language assessment. Tesol Quarterly, 32(4), 653-675.
Grenfell, M., & Harris, V. (1999). Modern languages and learning strategies: In theory and practice. New York:Routledge.
Position Paper of National Focus Group on Examination Reforms. (2006). New Delhi: NCERT.
Valencia, S. (1990). Assessment: A portfolio approach to classroom reading assessment: The whys, whats, and hows. The Reading Teacher, 43(4), 338-340.
Wollman-Bonilla, J. E. (1989). Reading journals: Invitations to participate in literature. The Reading Teacher, 43(2), 112-120.
Lakshmana Rao Pinninti
Lakshmana Rao is a PhD (ELT) student at the University of Hyderabad. His research interests include reading strategies and sociocultural theory of language learning.