Story Retelling: Linking Assessment to the Teaching-Learning Cycle

By Eileen Kaiser, Ph.D.

Story retelling is an effective teaching and assessment tool that enables the reader to focus on specific elements of story structure. When the reader is aware of the important aspects of the story, there is a purpose and sustained focus for reading. Most of the research on retelling has explored its effectiveness as an assessment strategy that has not been linked to instruction and practice (Stein & Glenn, 1979; Irwin & Mitchell, 1983; Gambrell Pfeiffer, & Wilson, 1985; Astingson & Olson, 1988). However, Gambrell, Koskinen & Kapinus (1991), explored the use of retelling following four practice sessions with fourth-grade proficient and less-proficient readers. Gambrell et al. found significant increases in the number of propositions and story structure elements recalled. The number of questions answered correctly also increased significantly after the four practice sessions.

Gambrell et al. argue that the results of her study suggest practice improves the quantity and quality of information supplied by the reader. The opportunity to practice retelling is a crucial feature, because performance expectations for the assessment task are clearly linked to the instructional activities. Learning objectives are then defined and the language of the learning task is consistent with the language of the assessment tool. O'Malley (1996) points out that when assessment mirrors instruction, students become more self-directed and reflective about their learning. Teachers use assessment information to fine tune and improve the quality of instruction.

Story retelling can play an important role in performance-based assessment of reading comprehension. Gambrell et al. (1991) argue that their research documents retelling as a more effective post-reading activity than teacher questioning. It prepares students for real-life tasks such as selecting, organizing, and conveying essential information. Retelling is more authentic than teacher prompted recall in its application and transfer to the ways in which readers store, recall, and utilize information.

Readers need to be aware of the structural elements of a story in order to become proficient at retelling. Instruction and practice in attending to story structure using a story map such as the example provided here enables the reader to distinguish between essential and nonessential information. The reader then becomes more efficient in processing and storing information so it can be retrieved easily and conveyed systematically.

Example:

STORY MAP

SETTING Time:
Place:

CHARACTERS Main:
Other:

PROBLEM(S) TO BE SOLVED:

EVENTS:
Steps to solve the problem(s):
1.
2.
3.
4.

RESOLUTION

THEME

This story map can be introduced by the teacher and completed in a whole class teacher-guided activity. It sets a purpose prior to reading, it serves as a metacognitive tool to self-monitor comprehension during reading, and it guides recall and discussion after reading. Students can work on the story map in pairs as a cooperative learning activity or independently after several teacher-guided instruction sessions.

Story retelling as a component of authentic assessment can be introduced when the reader demonstrates proficiency in identifying key story elements. The reader needs to be aware that the purpose of the retelling is to obtain assessment data for self and teacher evaluation. The conditions of the retelling and the language used to frame the experience should replicate the instructional context. Therefore, the reader is provided with a copy of the story map to guide comprehension. After reading, the retelling should be taped by the teacher. If the reader is unable to recall a key element of the story, the teacher asks a question to cue recall. The retelling is played back and the teacher provides feedback. The teacher and the reader then set goals to be accomplished prior to the next assessment interval. The model scoring sheet included here can be reproduced and adapted to fit the classroom context.


Story Map (50 points maximum): Independent (full credit) Teacher Prompt (half credit)
SETTING (4 points):
Time:
Place
(score) (score)
CHARACTERS (8 points):
Main:
Other:
(score) (score)
PROBLEM(S) TO BE SOLVED (8 points):
(score) (score)
EVENTS (10 points):
Steps to solve the problem(s):
1.
2.
3.
4.
(score) (score)
RESOLUTION (10 points):
(score) (score)
THEME (10 points):
(score) (score)



References:

Astingson, J. W. & Olson, D. R. (1988). Literacy and schooling: Learning to talk about thought. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association. Washington, DC.

Gambrell, L., Koskinen, P. S., & Kapinus, B. A. (1991). Retellling and the reading comprehension of proficient and less-proficient readers. Journal of Educational Research, 84, 356-362.

Gambrell, L., Pfeiffer, W., & Wilson, R. (1985). The effects of retelling upon reading comprehension and recall of text information. Journal of Education Research, 7, 216-220.

Irwin, P. I., & Mitchell, J. N. (1983). A procedure for assessing the richness of retelling. Journal of Reading, 2, 391-396.

O'Malley, J. M. (1996). Using authentic assessment in ESL classrooms. (Reprinted from Scott Foresman monograph series). Glenview, Ill: Scott Foresman.

Stein, N. L., & Glen, C. G. (1979). An analysis of story comprehension in elementary school children. In R. O. Freedle (Ed.), Advances in discourse processes, Vol. 2: New directions in discourse processing. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Eileen Kaiser, Ph.D., is a training and research specialist at the CC-VI. Her areas of interest are literacy, authentic assessment, and bilingual education.

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