There are already quite a few reading assessment resources on the market, which have been produced by some very respectable companies; but nearly all of them seem to be lacking something. Many have been designed to take away the drudgery of individual pupil assessment, but they are offputting for children because they look very much like tests.
Not so Fluency Tutor by TextHELP. This new reading assessment resource recognises the value of a traditional approach that’s familiar to us all: a child reads a passage of text out loud while the teacher records any errors on a corresponding copy.
However, Fluency Tutor revamps this technique for the technological age, retaining some of the tried and tested methods of assessment, whilst offering massive benefits in terms of efficiency and keeping track of pupil progress.
The resource is hosted online, and has a separate point of entry for teachers and pupils. Logged in as a teacher, it is possible to select levelled texts from a large and expanding list and assign these to an individual child or group as either a practice or assessment exercise.
When pupils sign in, they can see which exercises have been chosen for them. However, children don’t have to dive straight in and, before tackling the texts themselves, can listen to passages being read aloud by the computer. Any unfamiliar words can also be checked in an instantly accessible dictionary.
If a text has been set as an assessment, a computer microphone is used to record the child reading this aloud. This recording is then made available to the teacher to review at a convenient time.
To assess the child, the teacher listens to the recording and highlights errors in an accompanying copy of the text on screen, annotating it as to the type of error. As well as carrying out a summative assessment, he or she can also mark the work for prosody, award stars and leave a comment for the child to read.
When the pupil accesses the test again, they can look at the incorrect words and see what kind of errors they have made. Children can also monitor their progress over time by looking at an ongoing results graph.
The teacher has their own version of these charts, which can be manipulated to show different comparisons, such as error types, over time. Additionally, vocabulary lists of mispronounced words can quickly and easily be produced for the child to practise.
I only have a couple of concerns. The first is that the content of some texts seems to have an American bias, and thus include subjects and vocabulary that will, perhaps, be unfamiliar to UK children. The second is that when texts are read aloud to children by the computer, the speech is made up of prerecorded words joined together, which lack the fluidity of tone and expression of natural speech.
This aside, Fluency Tutor will be a god send to teachers and enable effective, time efficient development and assessment of reading skills.
The product is superb, both in terms of accessibility for the child and ease of use for the teacher. It truly does save time and produces a meaningful record of reading progress.