Three Pre-Assessment Strategies for CLD Learners
Karen A. McCay
1 July 2017
Pre-assessing the prior knowledge of students before a cycle of instruction is the best way to plan individualized and successful growth-based units for each class of students instructors teach on a given year. CLD learners are no exception to this rule. The most important areas to pre-assess CLD students in English Language Arts are for prior knowledge of academic vocabulary for upcoming lesson skills, for challenging content vocabulary in upcoming reading content, and for upcoming reading and writing strategies in lessons, which may not be familiar depending upon their prior learning experiences. If instructors can pre-assess for these these skills prior to teaching lessons, then CLD students and ALL other students will master content knowledge more effectively. Students will learn more easily during instructional units because teachers can modify lesson plans based on their students’ prior knowledge and fill in the gaps based on the holes in that knowledge for a more efficient instructional plan.
Pre-assessing CLD students’ prior knowledge of academic vocabulary concepts in their L1 and L2 for upcoming lessons is essential for English Language Arts (Herrera & Murry, 2016, p. 29). CLD students may have no prior knowledge of “imagery” for a poetry lesson but FULL understanding of the concept of imagery in their L1 language and need no instruction in the concept whatsoever. A QHT chart, which asks students to sort their words into columns for words they could teach to others, words they have heard, and words they do not know (or question completely), could serve as the pre-assessment (Cho, 2015). Instructors could check for prior knowledge of academic vocabulary in both languages prior to instruction as a pre-assessment, which would provide instructors with essential planning information and allow for differentiation for each student’s needs during the unit of instruction. A simple 6-step vocabulary lesson with differentiated steps for students, who do not need the entire process, would accommodate the entire class, including grade-level students.
Instructors should also have CLD students preview challenging content vocabulary in their reading content for upcoming lessons. A simple strategy for pre-assessing content vocabulary is the 3-Read strategy, also called the multi-read strategy, which allows students to engage in one text multiple times and use that familiar content to practice several skills. Each day students read the text again to look for another specific target skill as their focus activity. One day one, they simply read, and during that first reading, they circle unfamiliar words--this reading serves as the pre-assessment and allows instructors to visually see how many terms are unfamiliar. According to Reutzel and Cooter (1999), “when a teacher preteaches new words that are associated with a text the students are about to read, better reading comprehension results.” 21st century translation assistants can help students access the text on the first day to ensure comprehension for the whole group as needed, as well. On successive days, students can look for more challenging skills--symbols, metaphors, whatever skills instructors have targeted in the lesson. The familiarity with the text has provided the scaffolding to allow CLD students enough comfort to relax and concentrate on complex skill instead of worrying about the difficulty of navigating through translating unfamiliar content. “Effective teachers know that instructional decision making should include time for the pre-assessment of CLD students in order to determine the potential impact of the affective filter on the comprehensibility of that instruction . . . instruction for CLD students, no matter how well planned or well delivered, will not affect the student if it or the surrounding circumstances of instruction raise the affective filter” (Herrera & Murry, 2016, p. 26). This strategy also allows faster skill mastery for grade-level students, who learn new skills with familiar content faster than they do with unfamiliar content. Unfamiliar content is much more appropriate for summative assessment of skills, not for teaching them.
Teachers also need to pre-assess CLD students’ knowledge of learning strategies, which are essential to upcoming units: “Learning strategies are the patterns of thinking or goal-driven activities that help the learners attain targeted learning outcomes. The notion of a cognitive approach to learning strategies is grounded in a constructivist perspective on learning as a proactive and dynamic process. According to this view, learning involves selecting information, organizing it, relating it to prior knowledge, using it in appropriate contexts, and reflecting on the process” (Herrera & Murry, 2016, pp. 42-43). Depending upon CLD students’ prior learning experiences, they may have significant mastery of upcoming learning strategies for particular instructional units and even serve as mentors during the unit, helping peers, who struggle with newer strategies. Many CLD students have particularly strong critical thinking and creativity strategies, which help them analyze text and write original responses in divergent ways. Their innovative approaches are assets in the English Language Arts classroom, especially in the areas of voice and style. A creative way to pre-assess upcoming instructional strategies is to provide the Embedded Assessment--the primary writing prompt--along with the rubric or proficiency scale--and ask students to unpack it into a list of skills and knowledge they will need in order to be successful during the unit of instruction. A collaborative group, who have a long list of skills probably don’t need a lot of strategies to be successful during the unit, but a group, who can’t generate a long list, or seem to need instructor's’ attention during the brainstorming activity even to get started, will need instruction in the lesson strategies. The pre-assessment has clearly shown they lack the skills to analyze a specific question, break it into parts, understand its global dimensions as well as its personal connections to self, and determine how to answer it along with what skills they need in order to do so along the way, not to mention how in the world they will organize all that thinking between their fluent language and the language they speak in varying degrees of proficiency: “The most important understanding that teachers can gain from this theoretical framework is that what may appear to a teacher as a relatively simple task may actually be quite demanding in a cognitive sense for the CLD student. This is often the case for a student who does not have the prior knowledge and the second language capacities necessary to successfully complete the task” (Herrera & Murry, 2016, p. 41).
These three skill areas are the most essential to pre-assess in English Language Arts, not only for CLD students, but for all learners, to ensure efficient mastery of new content. Checking for prior knowledge in these areas ensures more effective engagement to previously mastered content and processes into which students can synthesize new material and transfer their new learning into other domains: “[T]he elaboration of a student’s prior knowledge is critical to cognitive development and transformative learning. When classroom instruction does not explicitly teach and encourage CLD students to make connections between their prior knowledge and the key content concepts they are learning, these students face formidable challenges to their academic success and to their ongoing cognitive development” (sic, Herrera & Murry, 2016, p. 37). If we remember that pre-assessment is informative about all students, then we will help our CLD students and our grade-level students grow in our classrooms.
Other Pre-Assessment Pages:
Multiple Intelligences Inventory
Or Back to Pre-Assessment Tools
Cho, J. (2015). QHT Strategy. Weebly.
Herrera, S. G., & Murry, K. G. (2016). Mastering ESL/EFL methods: Differentiated instruction for culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) students, 3rd edition. Boston: Pearson.
Reutzel, D. R., & Cooter, R. B. (1999). Balanced reading strategies and practices: assessing and assisting readers with special needs. Upper Saddle river, NJ: Merrill.