Learning, Leading, and Loving Literacy


It’s assessment time here at NSES and therefore is a perfect time to talk about one of the ways we assess reading comprehension with our younger students.  As part of the quarterly reading assessments, your child’s teacher will be asking your child to read a new text (this will reveal the child’s ability to orient themselves towards a new story, decode new words, use fix-up strategies when things get tricky, and monitor for meaning) and then retell the story (this will reveal how well the child comprehends).

Of course, kids need to be able to read grade level text accurately.  Even more importantly however, is the ability to understand grade level text.  Reading is constructing meaning from the words another person wrote and if a student is not able to understand the message of a text, it is merely word calling.  This is why it is so important, even in the earliest grades, to assess for comprehension.

The way we assess comprehension is to ask for a retelling, where a student is expected to (with the book closed) start at the beginning of a story and retell the major events in sequence, adding details, and using character names.  The more specific and detailed the child can be, the better.

In their book The Power of Retelling, Vicki Benson and Carrice Cummins explain that “Retellings can reveal

  • what a child remembers;
  • what a child thinks is important to remember;
  • what a child thinks he or she should retell;
  • how a child organizes and sequences information;
  • how a child does not organize or sequence information;
  • the child’s ability to infer from the text;
  • the child’s connections from the text to the child’s personal world;
  • the child’s language development;
  • how a child constructs meaning; and
  • whether or not a child’s organization matches the text.

Research confirms that practice in retelling improves comprehension, concept of story, critical thinking, and oral language development”.

On the surface, retelling seems pretty simple yet it is not a natural process for our kids.  Imagine that you are a student and you just read a text to an adult and then they ask you to tell you everything that was just in that text.  You can almost imagine the question going around in their head…”Why do you want to know that?  I just read it to you!”  We need to let our kids know that although you just had this shared experience, you want to know what they understood from the text so please, “retell it to me like I’ve never heard it before”.

Like anything else, this takes lots of repeated practice and modeling before students can do this independently.  At home, when you read a story, close the book and ask your child to retell the story to you.  Say “pretend like I never heard that story, start at the beginning, and tell me what happened”.  Notice if your child includes character names, important events and details, and if they tell the story in order.  You may need to remind them, “you forgot to mention when…..” if they left out an important part.  Ask them “what does this story remind you of?” and see what types of connections they make.  If they say “I don’t know”, model the process for them.  “Well, when I heard this story, it reminded me of the movie we saw last week because both characters had a problem that they had to solve by themselves and they both learned the lesson to try your best”.  This type of talk can encourage students to make links from known experiences and information to new information, which will make their learning “stick”.

The more you practice retelling, the more natural it will become and the better your child will start comprehending everything they read, which is truly the meaning of being a reader.

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