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.

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Arm Blending

I use this technique with my pre-k and kindergarten students. My elementary school aged bodily-kinesthetic learners also respond well to this technique. Arm blending helps students develop phonemic awareness. Arm blending involves sweeping one arm down the length of the other as words are being pronounced (Fox, 2000). For example: the teacher’s hand starts on his or her shoulders and the student mimics. For the word scrape the teacher says, “S-C-R, S-C-R, /skr/ /skr/ /skr/” and the student echos. Then, the teacher moves their hand to their elbow and says, “A-E, A-E, /ā/ /ā/ /ā/” and the student echos. Afterwards, the teacher moves their hand to their wrist and says, “P, P, /p/ /p/ /p/” and the student echos. Finally, the teacher and student move their hands to their shoulders and say the whole word while moving down to their wrists, “/skr/ ! /ā/ ! /p/ ! scrape!”

Fox, B. J. (2000). Word identification strategies: Phonics from a new perspective (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Thoughts on Vocabulary

As an ESL instructor, rarely do we have an entire class period that does not have time devoted to direct vocabulary instruction or guided practice. This emphasis on vocabulary acquisition is necessary for my students to comprehend text. Every student comes to school with a different sized word bank and varying levels of word knowledge. Through instruction, we can grow our students’ vocabulary base of known words. There are many strategies educators can use to help students learn content area language.
The first step is choosing words to teach. Our content area textbooks contain boxes of key words that we should focus our attention on. Since most of my classroom’s textbooks are designed for students whose first language is English, there are often additional words throughout each chapter that also require direct instruction. It is essential to select words that are important for understanding a reading selection or concept and words that are generally useful to know and likely to be often encountered in reading.
I frequently teach new vocabulary words through directive context and using the Talk Through technique. We can give students a rich understanding of new vocabulary by connecting with students’ lives to make complicated concepts within reach of our learners. Providing opportunities to encounter vocabulary words frequently and in more than one context is also essential for learning vocabulary (Diamond & Gutlohn, 2017). This could be accomplished through field trips, the use of different mediums, and by using a variety of practice exercises. The use of semantic gradients can help students distinguish the between the meanings of related words and help students (Wolfe, 2016). I find that these help my students become more imaginative in their writing and help them grow out of using tired words. Guiding students to classify and categorize vocabulary words helps students understand word relationships so that a new word becomes known.

References:
Diamond, L., & Gutlohn, L. (2017, February 13). Teaching Vocabulary. Retrieved February 25, 2017, from http://www.readingrockets.org/article/teaching-vocabulary

Wolfe, L. (2016, May 11). Using Semantic Gradients in the Classroom. Retrieved February 25, 2017, from http://www.reallygoodstuff.com/community/semantic-gradients-and-the-common-core-standards/

Change a Word / Change the Sentence

Language Skill/Content: Reading and writing – allows students to develop an understanding of parts of speech, syntax, semantics, synonyms, and antonyms.

Level: Novice to Advanced

Preparation Time: Minimal

Implementation Time: About ten minutes

Teaching Materials/Equipment: Paper

Procedures: Students and teacher sit in a circle at a table or move desks to create a circle. Can be done with small or large groups. Teacher asks students to write a sentence. Students pass their papers to the right, read the previous writer’s sentence, and rewrite the sentence changing one word. Once the papers have rotated all the way back to their original owner. The teacher or students can read their first and last sentences on their papers. Teachers can use this activity to assess their students’ understanding of parts of speech, syntax, semantics, synonyms, and antonyms.

Options: Lower-ability students may benefit from partnering with a higher-ability student, a teacher, or teacher’s aid.

Adapted From: Gipe, J. P. (2014). Multiple paths to literacy: assessment and differentiated instruction for diverse learners, K-12. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Example:

The children rode the scary rollercoaster.

The children rode the scary donkey.

The children rode the friendly donkey.

The children fed the friendly donkey.

The teacher fed the friendly donkey.

The teacher kissed the friendly donkey.

The dinosaur kissed the friendly donkey.

The dinosaur ate the friendly donkey.

Comic Book-Style Summaries

LostWorldChapter4
A student’s summary of The Lost World – Chapter 4

One activity that my students really enjoy is creating their own comic book pages to summarize chapters in our class readers. For my beginner to lower-intermediate level students I supply the narration boxes and have the students create their own artwork along with speech bubbles and thought clouds. I find that my mid to upper-intermediate level English language learners have no difficulty deciding what to write in their own narration boxes. At the end of the reader, students use their chapter summaries to create their own graphic novels.

Text Messages

PhoneChatLayout

During a discussion of teaching techniques, a classmate of mine shared Senora Holeman’s blank iPhone texting template. There are several similar templates out there but hers is free. The photo above contains a few slight modifications I made to the original design so there’s only one template per page making it better fit my printing needs. These templates can be used in a variety of activities, such as:

  • Making plans
  • Invitations
  • Conversations between story characters
  • Giving advice

After reading a short story in The Real McCoy and Other Ghost Stories about a ghost that used instant messages to encourage the main character to follow her dream, I had my third grade ELLs use texting templates to create their own conversations.

IMG_1610.jpg

Skimming and Scanning

Skimming and scanning are two rapid reading techniques. Anyone teaching young or weak readers will notice that they tend to read every word. Skimming and scanning are essential techniques for learners to develop as they become more proficient readers. Scanning is fast reading used to find the answers to questions while skimming is fast reading to find the general idea of a text.

A good way to illustrate to students the importance of these techniques is to ask them to find a word in the dictionary. Any student with basic dictionary skills will first flip till he or she finds the page with the correct first letter, followed by looking for the entry based on the guide words, followed by scanning the page for the correct word. Unless students have no experience using a dictionary, they will very unlikely start reading the first page to find the definition of the word preposterous.

Students can probably think of other times that they skim or scan material outside of school: movie times, restaurant menus, troubleshooting guides, ect.

Here are a few techniques from Gipe’s Multiple Paths to Literacy: Assessment and Differentiated Instruction for Diverse Learners, K-12 that I have found useful for helping students develop scanning and skimming:

  • Give students menus and ask them to find items that cost below a certain amount of money.
  • Ask students find a certain number of verbs (or another part of speech) from a passage within a certain amount of time and continually decrease the amount of time or increase the number of words they need to find with each practice.
  • Grab books from the library and have students skim the books then share the general idea with a group.
  • Give students questions they need to answer from the classified section of a newspaper. For example: How much does a 2006 Dodge Stratus cost? Or what is the cheapest riding lawnmower available?
  • Prepare questions related to the table of contents or the index in a content area book. For example, which page has information about Eugene Debs?