Measuring Meaning with Dictocomps

A dictocomp is an assessment tool that focus on meaning. To give a dictocomp the teacher must prepare a paragraph or short story containing vocabulary and key sentence structures that the students have already been exposed to. The teacher reads the selection several times at a normal speed. Students do not write until after the teacher has finished reading for the last time. Students try to write the story as they remember it while trying to keep the original meaning and event sequence.

Below is an example of a dictocomp as well as scoring criteria:

Preparing for the Storm

Mr. Huang is the proud owner of a beautiful bed and breakfast across the street from a popular beach in Pingtung County. Last summer, a large typhoon was forming in the Pacific Ocean and heading slowly in his direction. A week before its expected landfall, he made several phone calls to families who booked his bed and breakfast and cancelled their bookings. One family accepted a refund and two families rescheduled for later that summer. He spent the next few days preparing for the storm. He took in all the patio furniture, he cleared storm drains, and he trimmed the trees on his property. A day before the storm arrived, he closed his storm shutters and locked his doors before he drove to his sister’s apartment in Taichung City.

While at his sister’s apartment, he had fun. He played UNO with his niece and nephew. After the children fell asleep, Mr. Huang played Mahjong with his sister, her husband, and their family friend.

After the typhoon left, Mr. Huang said goodbye to his sister’s family and drove back south to Pingtung County. He was relieved that his bed and breakfast wasn’t damaged. He worked hard his first day back cleaning debris from his property and helping his neighbors.

This dictocomp was designed for a group of fourth grade English language learners at a private language school central Taiwan. This group had been learning English since they were five years old and received eight hours of supplemental English instruction per week. The less-frequently encountered words in this dictocomp were key vocabulary items in two related units in their Oxford Discover 4 textbook that they were completing at the time (Unit 15 – Forces of Nature and Unit 16 -Safety and Supplies). This dictocomp was designed to assess students on key vocabulary and concepts of the two most recent units of their textbook.

The following key concepts were what I felt would be essential in a student summary:

  1. Mr. Huang owns a bed and breakfast [across the street from a beach] [in Pingtung county].
  2. A large typhoon formed [last summer].
  3. Mr. Huang cancelled bookings [one family accepted a refund] [two families rescheduled for a later date].
  4. Mr. Huang prepared for the storm [took in patio furniture] [cleared storm drains] [trimmed trees].
  5. He [closed the storm shutters] [locked the doors] drove to his sister’s apartment [in Taichung City].
  6. At his sister’s house he had fun. [played Uno (with his niece and nephew)] [played Mahjong (with his sister, her husband, and their family friend)].
  7. After the typhoon left, he [said goodbye to his sister’s family] drove back to Pingtung County.
  8. The bed and breakfast wasn’t damaged.
  9. He worked hard his first day back [cleaning debris] [helping neighbors].

Since this group of students had no experience with dictocomps, I used this as a learning experience and recording grades simply as a means of measuring improvement the next time we used a dictocomp. The information in the brackets are additional information about each key concept. Students received full points if they included all nine of the key elements in their summary. Information from any of the brackets were used for make up points for each key concept a student missed in his or her summary. For example, if a student included 7 out of 9 key concepts (missing concept #3 and #7) but included information from two of the bracketed material he or she would have received full points.

Advertisements