Alternative Methods in Reading Assessment for Young Learners
Reading is one of the arduous tasks to teach in the early childhood subject. At the same time, it is also a very interesting process. As mostly believed, the beginning of the language learning process always involves enthusiasm and the joy of the subject going through trial and error, recognizing the closest parts of their life. It goes through that way - until one day the process becomes a real and conscious workshop.
As children start getting their formal education, they need to go through the development process with a series of goals, which mostly are carefully set up for them, in order to obtain an addressed achievement in a given time schedule. As the result, they may look a little bit nervous and reluctant to show their real competence, as the process of assessment considered threatening.
This issue has been a long time discussions among teachers and educational institutions to decide on types of applicable assessment to test the competence of the young students. As young learners may find school test puzzling sometimes as it is drawn way from their daily circumstances, including in learning how to read.
Questions also arise whether it is effective to assess students of the very young ages, as the bias may occur on the ignorance of the subjects toward the test. Some researchers also wondered if children have a minimum requirement of age to be eligible to be tested in their reading ability.
In the chapter entitled "Should You Teach Your Preschooler to Read?" In her book, Beck (1999) made an interesting note. In the past people had succeeded applying various approaches to teach reading to preschoolers, such as using phonetic emphasis, combination of visual methods, and even for simple procedures without any researched method. However, the past evidence witnessed any degradation in the reading competence progress for kids under five years old, which possibly was caused by the absence of the observation of the environment effect towards children mental development.
Beck showed that Montessori method was then started to apply based on the fact that it was not because preschoolers were not capable of going through the course of reading, but an inappropriate atmosphere of the learning scene would possibly cause the reluctance. In fact, even younger kids (under five years old) would enjoy the learning process and made their own self-development after being exposed to enough comfortable learning instruments for them to explore.
There were enough examples to show how kids start learning to read and enjoy this progress. Five years old was not the minimum showcase to show the mental capacity in learning reading. With proper assignment, based on the reason that it should be a fun and unthreatening environment, children were showing positive attitudes towards what they were holding. For example when they had to arrange puzzles with pictures and one- or two-syllable words, their visual acceptance recognized the object they had known, and the rest were just the fun of searching the letter blocks to arrange the word. The subjects showed eagerness and attention for the new words and made utterance of the new learned object. Some had shown active movement and positive attitude, even asking for help from the teacher to find the letter block.
Norris (2000) said that language assessment is "the process of using language tests to accomplish particular jobs in language classrooms and programs." In order to create the correct testing tool for the assessed factor, teacher should first decide "what is being tested" and "what is the purpose of the test." Some subjects may respond differently on similar application of testing instruments and procedures, depending on the degree of achievement they have gained through the development. It is important to make careful study about students' particular abilities that support the students to perform best in the assessment.
Shabaan (2001) put this principle forward, that assessment should be carried out to facilitate the learners. This is especially need to be done with the "effective selection and use of appropriate tools and procedures as well as proper interpretation of students' performance."
Although school should be the independent institution that needs to provide guidance on the instructions including the manuals for teachers, the system has moved into "learner-centered and communicative teaching methodologies."
This positions teacher with a broader role and authority to make a test themselves of applying different methods in assessing the students. From abundant resources on applicable assessment methods and instruments that available, teacher should find one that facilitates and addresses the specific learners' condition in the particular class. Teacher may also invent new approaches from the daily performance that shows progress of the learners.
Young learners at first would find reading quite threatening. This is why teachers need to bring them a relaxing atmosphere, or even something that does not look like a classroom at all. Latha (1999) said, "Learners should be able to identify closely with the teacher as a reading mentor who is willing to share his or her own early reading experiences with young learners."
As the process is going, young learners might find appealing initiation through different exposures on materials. It is advisable that teacher uses enjoyable materials that student are familiar with or at least with something that has the background knowledge.
Such materials are easy to develop. The library may provide abundant resources as focused on. The most important is that teacher should allow the students to choose their own preferences of reading materials. For example, early learners may enjoy picture books, colorful flyers, cartoons, comics, magazines, postcards, labels, or even cereal boxes. Any cooperative aid from other parties like the school or parents can be precious assets to create complete room while it also prevents boredom from children during their study.
It is also possible that students identify their own preference of materials based on cultural factors. A community where the students live may enjoy adventure stories while the others don't. As a critical factor, Latha explained, teacher needs to possess reasonable understanding of the cultural factors, that he or she can help students "overcoming obstacles that may deter them from developing positive attitudes toward reading."
To find the good form of the test, teacher may need to question about what the test will give the proportional result of the factors being tested. In the traditional view, Meisels (1995) mentioned, it is important also to take a look at the effectiveness of the test. Group-administered tests for example might be suitable in several occasions but did not facilitate enough for individual assessment. This type of test would show the students' grade on "simple facts, low-level skills, surface memorization, and isolated evidence of achievement." Children might also find a problem in understanding complex instructions therefore give a biased result on the skill they have accomplished and being tested.
Sacks and Mergendoller's research (1997) result also showed how different competence improved with different approaches. Both low and high scoring children showed high reading improvement in "whole language oriented classrooms," while high scoring children showed great performances also in "phonic oriented classroom."
It was a little bit difficult for low scoring children to achieve the level in the phonic oriented class. This was because a whole language oriented class invited students to participate in using non-threatening materials like invented spelling and stories dictation. Once they have gained the phonic skills they would enjoy the phonics oriented class although students would spend more individual time with book reading, copying letters, and sentences.
Alternatively, Meisels said, teacher can use performance assessment that allows children to engage on daily basis activities. Moreover he mentioned this as "flexible enough to reflect individual academic achievement and designed to evaluate many elements of learning and development not captured by standardized tests." In this test, children would be valued as their performance that incorporates "skills, knowledge, behavior, and accomplishments."
Katz (1997) offered some approaches of assessment that both develop learners' self-awareness and the convenience of the teachers to score the skills. Children could also be encouraged to assess their own work. Such criteria may include "clarity, comprehensiveness, or aesthetic qualities of work." Children could also be offered to judge their own progress.
In this case, it could be storytelling on materials that have been taught previously using picture storybooks for example. Alternatively, teacher may tell different version of the story in which children come up with their correction. Depending on what skill to be assessed, teacher may score their performance based on fluency, attitude, opinion or imagination they use to incorporate their thought to the stories. Some students may able to correct themselves after second reading to perform full understanding of the reading materials.
Shabaan (2001) also noted that the assessment process could be incorporated into the teaching-learning process to lower the anxiety level that the word "test" usually interpreted as.
However, it is considered wise that this alternative assessment method is not used as an exclusive procedure in class. This would be valuable for young learners to…