Content Literacy 101

"Diagnostic teachers want and need to discover as much as they can learn about their students' identities, their educational histories, their aspirations, their values, and their interests."                          Norman Unrau 

Assessing Readers' Interests

Getting to know students better should be a goal for every educator. Surveys and inventories can be used to gain a better understanding of what makes students tick, as well as how they learn best. Before you assess what a student can or can't do, it is often helpful to assess what they like or don't like to do. 

The Student Learning Survey "is a tool for teachers to get to know students and is a reflection tool for students to assess their preferences. A downloadable copy of this survey is available here:
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This survey lists a variety of characteristics (from "Need quiet when I work" to "Enjoy drawing and creating"), and asks students to check either "Like Me!" or "Not Like Me!" This is useful for having a discussion about differences, and for getting a feel for what your students enjoy doing.

Another, more tailored tool is the Reading and Writing Interest Inventory. As the title implies, it is geared toward discovering what students prefer when reading and writing. You can download a copy of it here:
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A bit more in-depth than the Student Learning Survey, this inventory asks students to reflect on questions such as, "Write about a good experience you had with reading in [name of subject]." It is useful for addressing students' concerns about reading and writing, as well as incorporating their interests.

(Taken from Power Tools for Adolescent Literacy by Rozzelle and Scearce)

Assessing Readers' Abilities

Good readers use metacognition (thinking about their thinking process) as they are reading to check their understanding of the text. Students may not be aware of what these strategies are or how they can help their reading. The Metacognitive Awareness of Reading Strategies Inventory (MARSI) is a great tool for surveying students about these strategies.

Here is a downloadable copy of MARSI:
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MARSI identifies three categories of reading metacognition strategies: 

1. Global Reading:
"Include setting a purpose for reading, activating prior knowledge, and skimming to note text structure"
2. Problem-Solving:
"Include adjusting reading rates, rereading, and visualizing"
3. Support Reading:
"Include taking notes while reading, underlining, and asking self-questions"

MARSI has students indicate how often they use specific tools on a 1-5 scale. It then has them calculate an overall score to see how their metacognition skills rate. 

This inventory will help you get a broad idea of the types of skills your students need help with. Plotting their scores for each strategy in a chart will give you a useful starting point for your content literacy curriculum. 

(Taken from Content Area Reading and Writing by Norman Unrau)