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How to Assess a Novel

How to Assess a Novel

in a comprehensible input class



I was recently asked a great question by a reader about assessment. Libby's question was, "In your opinion, what makes for successful language assessment with novels?"

In my opinion, successful assessments of novel units allow students to show what they know about the novel, and the culture surrounding it. In my classes, these assessments are often performance based assessments, evaluated using a the language proficiency scale. Most often we will end a novel with both a presentational writing assessment, and an interpersonal speaking assessment. I like to keep these relatively open ended, giving students able opportunity to show what they know. This is opposed to having a typical test with multiple choice and true/false questions that sometimes try and trick students into second guessing what they actually know and remember. As a reminder, I am not an expert in teaching or assessing TPRS novels, just a teacher who is learning, growing, and figuring out what works and what does not for my students. Keeping that in mind here are some assessments that I have given at the conclusion of various novel units. 


Presentational Writing & Interpersonal Speaking Assessments

The most common way I have assessed novels is having both a presentational writing and an interpersonal speaking assessment at the end of a unit. My grade book is set up according to modes (Interpersonal, Interpretive, Presentational), so this allows two separate opportunities to show understanding of the novel unit. I have done this for the following novels: TumbaFelipe AlouEsperanza (year 2) and Cajas de Cartón.This is how as assessment week would typically be set up:

Monday - Review the novel - using communicative games and activities

Tuesday - Interpersonal Speaking Assessments
- I randomly draw two students to come back to my desk at a time. It has to be random, because if two people who practiced together are assessed that is presentational, not interpersonal, since there is not any negotiation of meaning. They will have been given a prompt the week before, but it is usually something like ask and answer questions about the novel and unit. They may have authentic pictures as well on my desk to draw inspiration from. They come back without any notes, sit in the comfy chair, and I just listen to them talk for the allotted time. If needed, I may jump in to help lower level students keep the conversation going. They know that there is a proficiency level that they are trying to work towards, as I grade them using a performance based rubric. For example A-Intermediate Low, B-Novice High, C-Novice Mid, below that try again. Students are usually terrified for their first one, because it is so different from assessments in most classes, but then realize they would much rather have this an open ended assessment and consider it easy, "you just listen and talk in Spanish!"

- The rest of the class has a list of tasks projected on the board that they should be working on quietly, so I can hear the assessments. This includes preparing to speak, preparing for the writing later in the week, free reading in Spanish silently, or working on choice homework. You may ask is it "fair" that some have more time to prepare to speak? I draw their book numbers randomly, so it is as fair as the lottery. They know to be ready on that day, and most would rather go right away to get it over with, so they can move on and do something else. 

Wednesday - Interpersonal Speaking Assessments - day 2
- Due to most of my classes being under 20 students, I can usually get them all done in two days. If you have larger classes, you can record them and listen later. If we finish early, we may do extra preparation for the writing portion, such as a practice free write. 

Thursday- Presentational Writing Assessments 
The students will have been given some ideas in advance of big picture topics that may be given as prompts. Students normally complete them alone, with only a pencil and the prompt paper, and write as much as they can in Spanish. There are usually a couple prompts (that may have multiple options) that cover the big themes and cultural ideas from the novel unit. Once again, they are asked to show what they know, that they read the book and to apply it. Obviously depending on the proficiency level goal, the prompts will vary in difficulty from level to level. 

Friday - El Internado (levels 3&4) or other fun end of unit activities (levels 1&2)


Experiential Assessment

This student used an old ceiling tile to make this stunning art.
Even better she used Spanish to describe the deep meaning and symbols included. 

My first time teaching La Calaca Alegre we did a presentational writing assessment and interpersonal speaking, but last year's class asked if we could do a project to end the year instead. I used the great idea from Carrie Toth in the teacher's guide to have a "Gallery Day." The students created projects that represented their identity, which was a main theme of the book. We then had a gallery walk day, where all projected were displayed in the room, each student explained their project, and everyone else will asked questions. This combined both a presentational assessment (the students describing their project and how it related to the book) and interpersonal (students asking and answering questions during the gallery walk). To make it more fun you can have light snacks like an art gallery event on that day. The students liked doing something different, and we were able to have some pretty deep discussions about the students' art, identity, and the book.


Choice Board Assessment

Student projects for Robo en la noche

Another option to assess a novel is a choice board. When teaching Robo en la Noche, we used two assessments, the speaking assessment found in the teachers guide
modified version of this Choice Board created by the author Kristy Placido. Choice boards allow a lot of possible diferentiation, as well as give students control in how they show their learning. When completing these projects, I usually have a little show and tell day where students do a quickie presentation of what they did and then everyone can play the games that were created (since that is always a popular choice). 

I have also used a choice board for the novel Esperanza. My first year teaching the novel we used an amazing choice board created by Sra. Dentlinger. At my particular school if you want high quality projects, you need to provide able class time, so to complete this you must have enough time for this particular assessment choice. 


Project Based Assessment


There are many true project based assessments that you could complete at the conclusion of a novel. I have seen many teachers work with their students to work on actual global issues and real world situation. While I have not done anything that intense, one project that novice students have complete after reading Brandon Brown Quiere un Perro, was creating a movie trailer. You can see more information in this post. You have to remember that this novel is often read with level one students, so your projects need to reflect what a novice level learner can do. 

Traditional Assessment

In the teacher's guide for La Llorona de Mazatlán, there is a traditional assessment included. This worked really well for a portion of an end of the semester exam when I did not have any time to make anything myself. It is unfortunate that such a quick turnaround is often needed for end of semester exams, since a traditional exam alone is a hard judge of a language performance level. I added a presentational writing component to the traditional test, which allowed students to reflect on the book and maybe make up for poor test taking skills in the other section. 

How to YOU assess novels? Please let me know in the comments!


For more information about teaching with novels, check out the links below:

How to teach your 1st novel 

Novel Basics Part 1 - Research & Find Funding

Novel Basics Part 2 - Organize & Plan for the novels

Novel Resources - sorted by book

all posts labeled novels

all posts labeled reading

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