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Evaluating Comprehension

Comprehension and conceptual development are becoming a significant factor in the choice of teaching methods and learning patterns in schools. The question sooner or later comes as to how to evaluate student progress when verbal exchange and skill practice are major elements in the learning process.

The teacher is guiding children through a process of understanding. Assimilation of concepts and practice skills are required before mastery can be evaluated. The teacher not only needs to determine when mastery is expected but must determine how effectively students progress through each phase of the understanding process.

Subjective analysis is a key ingredient in determining a grade for comprehension. How do you give a grade for depth of thought, consistency of progress towards understanding, and retention if ideas? Besides developing a long-term mental picture of a child's progress in comprehension, recorded comments on 3 x 5 file cards provide data to support and firm up your analysis. Selecting just a few students each day for recording information will minimize the task but still provide adequate information.

Specific comments like, "Bobby was unable to arrive at any answer beyond literal recall," or "Jim responded with a thoughtful idea," will help you see patterns for analysis.

Students also have the opportunity to display their comprehension through visual and written activities. These, of course, are more easily evaluated on an objective basis. Most often there will be a high correlation between the verbal and written responses but in some cases not. Regardless, it is helpful to evaluate both aspects to determine the most accurate evaluation.

A mistake many teachers make with written assignments is to give a grade on every paper. Since there is a practice learning curve, the initial attempts should only be used to point out to a student what he understands and where and how he is making errors. Only after sufficient time has been given for mastery is it beneficial to assign a letter grade.

The goal is to establish a pattern where understanding precedes performance. Teachers find security in assigning grades from a compilation of homework, quizzes, and tests. However, extra effort to develop a system to include an analysis of comprehension development will pay big dividends.

 by Jim Davis. Updated October 21, 2015.

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