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How to Use a “Test Prep” Book: The pre and post test model

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With the testing season approaching, test preparation seems to be in full swing. While I am not a proponent of test preparation books…or test prep for that matter, I do appreciate that many families and teachers take special measures to prepare students before the big day(s). That is why I want to share a special way to use test preparation materials to ensure maximal growth.

The Problem With Test Prep Books: Where to start?! There are a ton of issues with test preparation. Firstly, test prep books should not be used to TEACH new material, but rather to REVIEW and REINFORCE material that has already been covered. That being said, each student has different strengths and weaknesses so naturally each student will benefit from review of different topics. It can be challenging for both teachers and families to know where to begin in the book, and what to cut out. Test prep books cover a lot of material and if you start using them a month or two before the test, it can be hard to fit in all of the units. The model I am about to propose can act as a solution in this situation.

Last year I worked at a school that used the “pre-post test” model to assess student growth throughout the year. In this model a teacher gives the students an assessment before teaching each unit. Scores on the pre-test can guide instruction by letting the teacher know where to start in the curriculum to meet the needs of the class. After the unit of study is complete, students are given the same exact assessment, which is now referred to as the post-test. This gives an accurate measure of growth.

I have been using this model with test-preparation materials lately and it seems to be having a positive effect on my students so I thought I would share about it today. What I love about this model is that it is simple to use at home…so if you feel like your child isn’t getting what they need in school, you can work with your child at home to support their needs.

The “Pre-Post Test” Model: The very first step is choosing a test-prep book. At the top of the page, I have shared links to some test-prep books that I have found useful over the years, although again, I stress that I am not a fan of test-preparation through test prep books. I believe that the true preparation comes with strong teaching. That being said, I am not naive to the fact that families and teachers are using these materials with students. The process that you will find below will NOT work with books that include only practice tests. This process works with books that offer instruction,  sample problems, practice questions and unit tests.

  1. Once you have decided on a test-prep book, look through the table of contents with your child. Work with your child to rate each of the units. I recommend using a 1-3 rating system where 1 means “I really get it!” and 3 means “I really struggle!”
  2. Once your child has rated the units, use your knowledge of your child’s strengths and weaknesses to choose a starting point. It should be one of the units that your child rated as an area of struggle.
  3. Photocopy the practice test at the end of the unit.
  4. Have your child take the practice test (this is the post-test). Grade it. If your child scores very high, try a different one. You don’t want to spend too much time reviewing what your child already knows, especially since you may not have time to go through the whole book before testing day. If your child scores low or mediocre, it is probably a good starting place.
  5. Work with your child to read through the lessons, sample problems and instructional materials. Most students cannot do this alone. Reading aloud usually helps.
  6. When you and your child have worked through the unit of study (perhaps 2-5 days depending on the unit and test book), have your child re-take the test as a post-test.
  7. Grade the post-test and compare the pre-post test scores. If your child scores higher, great! If your child’s scores are not where you would like them to be, the work around that unit is not over…read below!
Isn’t this concept simple? Why waste time teaching someone what they already know? Instead, use the pre-post test model to assess where to start, what to teach, and to measure growth after the material has been taught!

Special Note: Just because a student completes a unit of study in a test book, doesn’t mean they are prepared for the test. If a child still does not have mastery over the topic, you will want to find other practice problems, worksheets, etc. to support his/her learning. If you need help finding resources, please refer to these two previous articles or feel free to submit a question. Have resources or experiences that you think might be helpful to EdGeeks readers? Share by leaving a comment!

If At First You Don’t Succeed…Try, Try Again. And Then Again!

Use the News!

 

 

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Organic Strategies for Test Prep: Math Short Response

Preface: This post belongs to a series of posts that discuss organic strategies for test preparation. State testing is always a sticky issue and I want to steer clear of the “stickiness.” This series of posts does not aim to discuss the controversial issue of teaching to the test, but rather aims to inform both families and teachers of options for more organic ways to approach test-prep in the classroom and/or at home by finding ways to integrate testing strategies into strong teaching.

Special Note: While reading, please keep in mind that my teaching has been done in New York City so my background knowledge lies mostly with NYS tests. While some of the specifics may differ from your state, I believe that the strategies and ideas will be applicable regardless of location.

What Is So Complicated About Math? The thing that I love and hate most about math is that it is such a large content area with so many distinct topics. This can be a good thing because there are so many different topics that everyone can be great at something! It can also be detrimental because since there are so many topics, if a student struggles with one, they seem to generalize it as “being bad at math.” We need to support students in realizing their mathematical strengths and in understanding that math is comprised of so many of the things around us. It is our job to make math possible for our students.

What Are Some Common Challenges When Taking the Math Test? Math tests are often made up of two portions: the short response and the long response. Here are some common issues that come up for students while taking the test.

  1. Show What You Know! Many students think they must only show work for the long response but this is not true! The more work students show, the better chance they have of catching a mistake and answering a question accurately. Of course there are problems that “we just know,” but we need to be careful not to let students use that as an excuse to get out of showing work for those problems that require it.
  2. Struggling Readers A math test can be daunting for a struggling reader. Many of the directions are wordy and students can lose confidence and shut down if they feel that they cannot read the directions. Word problems are also a large component of the test so we need to be sure to prepare our students for this ahead of time.
  3. Math Vocabulary Mathematical vocabulary is a huge issue for students, even those who demonstrate strengths in math. Words can get in the way of process in math. If you don’t understand what the question is asking, you cannot begin to solve it. We need to incorporate math vocabulary into our teaching on a daily basis.
  4. Double Checking Being careful is not something that is innate for everyone. Therefore we need to teach students how to be careful in math! Often times, students are able to retrace their steps in a problem and find their error when they double check. Many students feel like this is a waste of time, but it is not. We cannot afford to make it optional! Students must be double checking their work during class, at home and on the test.
  5. Using the Time Pacing is an issue for many students during a math test. Some students move very quickly and then sit around twiddling their thumbs for the rest of the time. Others zone out and cannot stay focused (partially an issue of focus and stamina) and do not finish the test. We can support students throughout the year by making sure we discuss what an appropriate amount of time is for each activity we do at home and in school. Giving auditory time warnings can also help. For older students, teaching them to wear a watch (and use it) is another helpful strategy. My greatest concern is with the students who race through the test and do not double check. This can be avoided with discussions at home and in school.

How Can We Help In regards to the 5 areas of challenge above, there are many things we can do in the classroom and at home to support our children.

  • Demand that your child shows his/her work. To do this, we must offer some incentive for showing work clearly. For some, positive praise is enough. Others need a more tangible incentive, for example 5 extra points on your homework or a reward (I suggest something that is not materialistic like extra free time or eating lunch with a teacher.) Making the “show your work” rule a portion of the grade can really motivate students.
  • We know there is going to be reading on the test, so let’s prepare our children for it! Sometimes preparing a struggling reader means practicing reading math problems and directions, but other times it means reminding them that they CAN read it on their own if they slow down and read carefully! Confidence counts!
  • Whether you are a parent at home or a teacher at school, use a math word wall to teach and maintain vocabulary. The worst thing that can happen is that your child comes home and says “I knew what that word meant but I couldn’t remember.” Saying it once isn’t enough – the words need to be on visual display for long periods of time. Students can also be given incentives for using math vocabulary. You can make it engaging with a word of the week…anytime a student uses the word, the class gets 1 minute of free chat time.
  • Practice pacing at home and in school by openly discussing what an appropriate length of time is for each activity. It might be different for different children, but students should begin to be more independent with their pacing.

The following section, including the posters were created by a great friend and colleague, Jason Skeeter, who I deem to be a math expert. He has inspired many of my math posts thus far. Skeeter excels in offering visuals such as posters and charts, creating tactile and auditory tools for learning and in offering multiple opportunities to practice the same skill in different ways. Today’s post is a collaboration, and I want to thank Jason for all of his input at EdGeeks.com!

Building Independence

“My main push for all students has been around practicing skills that build independence:
– Work must be shown on all problems even if it is “easy”
– Work must be shown on all multiple choice problems
– Students must explain why an answer is correct or incorrect
– Students (who are high-level math thinkers) must write an explanation for why their answer is correct
These posters were created to help maximize independence and to strengthen work ethic. Feel free to click for download.”

How to be An Independent Worker Poster by Jason Skeeter

What Does Hard Work Look Like Poster by Jason Skeeter

Do you have other tips about preparing students to be successful on the math test and tying it into your teaching? Share your ideas on EdGeeks by posting a comment!

Check out the rest of the Organic Test Prep Strategies strand here:

Organic Strategies for Test Prep: Listening Comprehension

Organic Strategies for Test Prep: Reading Comprehension

Organic Strategies for Test-Prep

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Tracking Progress Using Portfolios

For better or worse, “tracking progress” has become a buzz phrase in education. As teachers, we are constantly being asked how we are tracking student progress across the content areas. I have mixed feelings about the current state of assessment in education, but one thing is for sure – I don’t think we ask our students to track their own progress and self-reflect nearly enough.

Reflection: a thought, idea, or opinion formed or a remark made as a result of long consideration

Great teachers work towards a constant goal of instilling a sense of intrinsic motivation amongst their students. In order to encourage students to want to push themselves to their potential, we must show them what progress feels like. We must teach them to recognize growth in their own learning and to engage in personal goal-setting. This comes from studying their own work over time. Students should constantly be asking themselves these 3 questions:

  1. What was my work like when I first started?
  2. What is my work like now?
  3. Where do I want my work to be in ________ (fill in the blank by setting a reasonable amount of time.)

While this process of reflection is important, there is no doubt that it is a challenge for us educators as well as our students. Depending on the age of our students, we must support the reflection process at different levels. Youngsters (more specifically, birth-Grade 3) will need maximal support throughout the reflection process, while older students will be able to work towards greater levels of independence with appropriate modeling and practice.

There are a number of different ways that we can support students in reflecting on their growth as learners. Today, I am going to focus on one method which I have found to have a strong impact on my students throughout the years. The method is using the reflection process with a portfolio.

Portfolio: A collection of materials which are representative of an individual’s work

Many administrators request (or even demand) that teachers keep portfolios for their students in different content areas. In many classrooms, the portfolio is a teacher-based tool. The teacher creates the portfolio by compiling student work samples and the teacher has access to the portfolio. Today, I am suggesting that we teach our students to organize their own portfolios for different academic areas such as writing, math, reading, science and social studies.

Students can keep a portfolio in a number of different ways but my favorite is the folder. While many teachers (including myself!) have found that students struggle to organize their folders, I think we can all recognize that maintaining an organized folder is an important skill in itself. With explicit modeling, this skill can be taught. I have always had my students keep a folder for each subject. On the inside of the pockets of the folders, they would write labels such as: “What I’m Working On” and “What I Have Finished.” Adding labels to the pockets of a folder can help a student stay organized.

Sample Science Portfolio

I always liked giving students a cover sheet for their folder. The cover sheet would be different for each grade level and each subject area. For example, for first grade I might only include date and title of work. In sixth grade I might add other categories such as progress and goals. Here are two sample cover sheets available for download. Feel free to modify them. I had my students glue them to the cover of their folders.

Sample Math Portfolio Cover Sheet (Click to Download)

Sample Writing Portfolio Cover Sheet (Click to Download)

The Reflection Process

  1. At the end of every month, choose a week to be “Reflection Week”
  2. Assign one subject area to each day of the week (ex: Math Monday, Reading Tuesday, etc.)
  3. On the corresponding day, during the corresponding period, use the time to lead students through a reflection activity as well as “spring cleaning” (see below).
  4. On the following Monday, repeat the cycle by handing out new portfolio cover sheets for students to glue/staple onto their folders.

Possible Reflection Activities:

  • Students make a timeline of their work and fill out a graphic organizer describing how their work has changed over time.
  • Students look over their pieces and choose their least mature and most mature work from the pile. Then students get to post both pieces up in the room and do a gallery walk where they can see everyone’s work. This can also be displayed on a bulletin board in a “before/after” style.
  • Have students choose their most mature piece of work and fill out a goal-setting sheet for how they hope to improve their work in over the next month.
  • Do a portfolio scavenger hunt (ex: “Find a piece of work where you have at least 3 spelling errors,” “Find a piece of work where you added at least two details to make your story stronger,” etc.)

Through looking over past work, students can see how they have grown over time. They can better understand the importance of care and hard work. Even a disorganized, careless portfolio can teach a strong lesson. A student who cannot find a “most mature” piece of work needs the most support through the reflection process. It can feel overwhelming for a student who views his/her portfolio as “weak” to set goals, so it is our job to support them  as best we can.

I always liked setting goals as a class. The most important way that we can support our students is to ensure that the goals being set are measurable, appropriate and most importantly reachable within a month’s time. Setting goals as a class is helpful because it allows the teacher time and space to model what makes a goal strong. Vague goals can be overwhelming, so choosing one small category can really help. Some vague goals might be: “I will read more,” “I will get more math problems right,” or “I will spell better.” These goals are not easily achievable or measurable. Here are some super specific goals that my students have set in the past…and been able to achieve over time:

Do you have ideas about other reflection activities, goals or methods for self-tracking progress? Share them by posting a comment!

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Organic Strategies for Test Prep: Listening Comprehension

Preface: This post belongs to a series of posts that discuss organic strategies for test preparation. State testing is always a sticky issue and I want to steer clear of the “stickiness.” This series of posts does not aim to discuss the controversial nature of teaching to the test, but rather aims to inform both families and teachers of options for more organic ways to approach test-prep in the classroom and/or at home by finding ways to integrate testing strategies into strong teaching.

Special Note: While reading, please keep in mind that my teaching has been done in New York City so my background knowledge lies mostly with NYS tests. While some of the specifics may differ from your state, I believe that the strategies and ideas will be applicable regardless of location.

Listening Comprehension can be assessed in a variety of ways. This post will discuss ways to prepare students for listening comprehension assessments that are composed of fill-ins, short responses and multiple choice questions. A large focus will be on how strong note-taking skills play a large role in the success of students on listening comprehension assessments. I will have a future post on writing in response to literature/extended response.

What is Listening Comprehension? Listening comprehension is the ability to understand words that are spoken aloud. I love teaching listening comprehension because it gives those students who struggle with decoding a chance to comprehend texts on a much higher level. Listening comprehension is what “saves” some students in terms of reading confidence. For example, I worked with a sixth grader who demonstrated the ability to read independently at a second grade level due to difficulty with decoding and fluency. This student, however also demonstrated the ability to comprehend texts at grade level when they were read aloud. For this student, we made sure to balance listening comprehension and reading comprehension during instruction to make sure that we encouraged him as a reader and boosted skills in both areas. Listening comprehension is a very important skill for many students and as always, it must be explicitly taught, practiced and reinforced!

How is Listening Comprehension Assessed? As always, there are formal and informal ways to assess. Many of the informal classroom assessments involve the teacher reading a text aloud and asking students to “retell” the text and answer comprehension questions. In an ideal classroom setting, a teacher sits with each student individually to listen to their oral retell of a text. Often times, we must rely on a student’s written abilities when we assess listening comprehension. For most formal assessments such as standardized tests, listening comprehension is often assessed by having students listen to a text read aloud, and then using their written skills to communicate their understanding. One problem with this method of assessment, is that students who struggle with writing, often come across as though they are unable to comprehend a text. In actuality, if they had been given the opportunity to demonstrate their comprehension using their oral skills, they might have scored much higher. That being said, we must still give students the skills they need to experience success with listening comprehension through boosting their writing skills.

Why Are Listening Comprehension Assessments So Challenging For Students? In my experience, the key reason that listening comprehension assessments are so challenging for students is that most readers rely on the fact that they can go back into a text to look for information. On a listening comprehension assessments, the student usually hears a story one or two times, and must rely on memory or note-taking skills. The student may not go back into the text. The key here is teaching students how to take notes effectively, which is a challenging skill to teach. Too often, we assume that note-taking is obvious and does not need to be explicitly taught. That is incorrect. Students need to see note-taking modeled and even receive feedback on their own note-taking skills in order to become a stronger note-taker.

How Can We Help? We can do a lot to help! Most students don’t take notes naturally during a listening comprehension assessment (unless they have been taught to do so). That means, most students do nothing to ensure that they will remember information at a later time. If we can teach them how to take some format of notes, even if it isn’t perfect, we are helping them a great deal! I suggest doing this in the classroom on a daily or at least weekly basis. Students should not practice taking notes specifically for a test, this skill should be integrated into all aspects of their learning. If we explicitly model note-taking for our students, and hold them accountable for taking notes regularly for class assignments, we are indeed preparing them for the test. Here are 4 things you can do in your classroom to engage students in organic test prep for listening comprehension.

  1. Balance Reading Comprehension with Listening Comprehension: Make sure that your activities are varied. If students are asked to read independently on Monday, make sure they get to listen and respond on Tuesday, etc. Students need practice in both areas.
  2. Model Note-Taking for Students: Whether you have a Smart Board, a white board, a chalk board or chart paper, be sure to model note-taking for your students. DO NOT expect that if you say “okay class, now take notes” that they know what to do. Model how to prioritize information by thinking aloud. For example, you might say “Hmm, I am going to skip over that piece of information and write this one instead because it is more important.” Then discuss why it is an important piece of information. Eventually, you can and should be teaching short hand note-taking to improve efficiency.
  3. Collect and Offer Feedback on Student’s Notes: Offer feedback to students regularly, just as you would on their writing assignments. Students need to know when they are on or off track. Some examples of feedback:
    • Great short-hand. Next time really think about which details are most important.
    • Excellent job prioritizing information. Next time, try using your own words.
    • I love your information, let’s work on organizing your thought by using this simple chart!
  4. Teach Students How to Create Their Own Simple Graphic Organizer: Offer students a simple graphic organizer that they can create before listening to any text that is read aloud. It should be simple enough that a student can remember it and be able to independently recreate it on a blank page in under 1 minute. That way on the day of the test, they can get their page setup and be ready to take notes by the time the text is read aloud. I suggets including the following words somewhere in your organizer: Where? When? Who (characters)? Problem? Solution? and I often have a section that says “extras”.

Here are some ideas and strategies to improve Listening comprehension. Explicitly teach these strategies and demand that students use them on all classwork and homework to get extensive practice before the big day!

  • Read aloud a story and have students create a graphic organizer to take notes on the main idea, character, problem and solution.
  • Read aloud a non-fiction text and have students take notes on a graphic organizer to practice fact-collecting.
  • Read aloud a non-fiction text and teach students how to take bulleted notes without a graphic organizer for efficient fact collecting.
  • Doing a science experiment? Read aloud the procedure and have students take notes in sequential order.
  • Practice re-phrasing ideas through group discussions to support students with their note-taking.
  • A great teacher I knew taught students how to take “caveman notes,” which is in essence short-hand. He taught them that even though cavemen did not speak in full sentences, the main idea was always there. I thought it was brilliant!

Listening Selection, Grade 5, 2010

Questions, Grade 5, 2010 (Some questions are multiple choice, some short response)

Families and Teachers: You should know that there are a ton of resources out there to help you prepare for different kinds of tests. I must say from experience that many of these resources are bland and are not highly engaging for students. I recommend looking at prior tests to familiarize yourself with the material, and then using more exciting resources to tailor your practice. I usually take a text that I would like my students to read anyway (ie: news article or story) and read the text aloud the first time before giving it to them to read on their own. That way they can practice taking notes, but they can also refer back to the text for more details. Here are a few resources that I use:

EdInformatics (A website where you can find prior NYS tests in all areas and use them for practice)

NYSED APDA (A website where you can find prior NYS tests in all areas and use them for practice)

Scholastic Printables (Reading Comprehension passages)

Use the News (A previous article from EdGeeks about how to use non-fiction publications such as newspapers and magazines to increase engagement in reading.)

Do you have other resources or strategies that you use to practice listening comprehension? Share them here by leaving a comment!

Do you have further questions? Submit your question by leaving a comment and I will get back to you with a prompt response!

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Guest Blog for The Cooke Center: Writing in Response to Literature

I am so fortunate to have recently joined the team at Cooke Center for Learning and Development as an instructional consultant. I love what this organization is doing in inclusive special education! If you haven’t heard of them yet, be sure to stop by and visit their site to see what Cooke is all about. The Cooke Center has a blog that shares out about teaching strategies and tools that work and today’s post was written as a guest post for The Cooke Blog.

Writing in Response to Literature: A Step-by-Step Process

My name is Marisa Kaplan and I have recently joined the team at the Cooke Center Institute as a consultant, where I work with faculty in general education schools to improve classroom instruction. Certified in special education, my main area of expertise is in modifying curriculum and learning strategies to meet the needs of all students.

What I have learned throughout my career is that one size does not fit all.  Why is this?  Because every child is different, and all children have unique life experiences that shape their learning.  All children learn differently, and there is really no such thing as “general” education.  Therefore, I hold fast to the belief that all education should be special education.

Simply put, Special Education means that

  • All students get what they need to learn – not just the so-called “middle tier”
  • Curriculum is tailored to meet the varying strengths, interests and abilities of all students in the classroom.
  • Teachers present material in a variety of ways.
  • Student may demonstrate their understanding of a topic in many different ways.

A special education teacher might:

  • Model the task that is expected before asking students to work independently, in partners or in groups
  • Eliminate unnecessary distractions in the classroom environment
  • Take a hands-on approach to learning
  • Use manipulatives in math
  • Label and organize classroom materials to increase student independence
  • Give friendly reminders and time warnings during transitions
  • Use positive praise as an approach to encourage desirable behaviors
  • Break down tasks in a manageable way

My blog EdGeeks.com allows me to explore many of these topics, and I hope you’ll read and join in the discussion.  In the meantime, today I’d like to focus on one crucial genre of writing: writing in response to reading, also known as writing in response to literature. I call it crucial, because it is a skill that many of our students will carry with them and use in their futures. Most of the adults I know today must read and offer either a verbal or written response on a daily basis…even sending an email depends on an ability to read, comprehend and form a response to written text. We need to support students in developing this skill at an early age and continue honing in on it throughout their academic careers.

Of course, being that it is an important writing genre, it is difficult to teach because at the root of this writing genre lies one of the most challenging areas of learning: reading comprehension. The ability to offer a meaningful response to literature, depends on a few different things:

  • The ability to deeply comprehend the text
  • The ability to give a verbal response that pulls from or refers back to the text
  • The ability to convert that verbal response into a written response

Take another glance at that list…each skill has its own challenges, which is why I propose teaching, practicing and fostering them separately before together. I strongly suggest teaching this skill through read aloud, before relying on independent reading. While both are important, teaching through read-aloud offers students who struggle with decoding a chance to demonstrate comprehension of a more challenging text.

The step-by-step process that you are about to read is applicable and can be modified to any grade level (ranging from pre-school to high school.) For the sake of meeting readers in the middle, I will write the steps in regards to a sample elementary lesson.

Literature: Ish, by Peter H. Reynolds

(Choose a book you are passionate about, that can naturally lead to deep discussion questions.)

Step 1: Read Ish aloud to your students, preferably on a rug. Stop every few pages to engage students in a turn and talk (as a way to get kids talking about the book.)

Possible Questions for T&T: Have you ever drawn anything in a funny place like in bed or outside? How do you think Ramon felt when Leon burst out laughing? What feeling is Ramon having when he crumples up his drawing and throws it across the room? Have you ever felt like that?

Step 2: After the book, facilitate a whole group discussion. Ask students a series of questions and have students share out. If possible, take notes on their ideas using chart paper. Make sure to ask a variety of question types including both literal (in the text) and inferential (based on interpretation of the text.)

Possible Questions for Whole Group: What did Marisol have in her room? Why do you think she collected Ramon’s art? How did Ramon feel when he saw Marisol’s room? What does it mean when something is –ish?

Step 3: When you feel like most students have an understanding of the text, pass out a sheet with a question on it (or write one on the board if your students use a notebook.) Have students go back to their tables to write in response to the text. Remind students that they may refer back to the chart paper or talk to a neighbor if they need a reminder about something that happened in the story.

 

Ish Questions

Differentiate! Here is where differentiation comes in. Some students might not have shared out during the whole-group discussion because they didn’t really understand the book. Keep a small group of students who you feel like might benefit on the rug. Lead them through a shared writing experience. First, lead them through a re-tell of the book. Then pose a question and take responses. Finally, have them sequence their ideas in a way that makes sense and have each student come up and write one sentence on chart paper. Voila, you have included and engaged all students using the same book, same skill, varied task!

This is only one possible way to teach writing in response to literature. As your students become stronger at this skill, further differentiation will take place. You may have some students reading their books independently and responding to a question at their tables. You may have other students working with a partner who is reading aloud a text to them and they are sharing the task of writing. Still others might be working on the rug with you responding to a short story that has been read aloud. The important thing is to always be challenging student at their level to both deeply understand a text, as well as be able to respond to it (first verbally, then written.)

Possible extensions for older students: Re-stating a piece of the question in your answer, referring back to the text, using details from the text in your response.

If this helps you, you should read:

The Importance of Sharing: Feature pieces, gallery walks, spotlights and more

Incorporate Non-fiction Text Into Your Home or Classroom Book Collection

Top Secret! (Book leveling secrets)

Strategies and Tools for Topic Generation in Writing

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Organic Strategies for Test Prep: Reading Comprehension

Preface: This post belongs to a series of posts that discuss organic strategies for test preparation. State testing is always a sticky issue and I want to steer clear of the “stickiness.” This series of posts does not aim to discuss the controversial nature of teaching to the test, but rather aims to inform both families and teachers of options for more organic ways to approach test-prep in the classroom and/or at home by finding ways to integrate testing strategies into strong teaching.

Special Note: While reading, please keep in mind that my teaching has been done in New York City so my background knowledge lies mostly with NYS tests. While some of the specifics may differ from your state, I believe that the strategies and ideas will be applicable regardless of location.

Reading Comprehension can be assessed in a variety of ways. This post will discuss ways to prepare students for comprehension assessments that are short response and multiple choice. I will have a future post on writing in response to literature/extended response. 

What is Reading Comprehension? If you google “reading comprehension,” you will find many definitions, most of which are full of jargon. A simple definition: reading comprehension is the ability to understand written text.

How is Reading Comprehension Assessed? Reading comprehension can be assessed in a few different ways. There are informal classroom assessments that ask a student to read a text and respond verbally to a teacher. The student may be asked to give a verbal response to a question, and/or give a verbal re-tell (summary) of the text. In regards to formal testing, one popular form of assessment is to have students independently read a collection of reading passages and answer a series of literal and inferential questions. Literal questions are about basic facts that have been presented in the text. Inferential questions rely on student interpretation and ability to “read between the lines” and understand what is not necessarily written in the text.

Why Are Reading Comprehension Assessments So Challenging For Students?

Stamina is one key factor. Without stamina, students can tire easily, especially when presented with multiple passages in one sitting.

Confidence is another issue. If a student lacks confidence in reading and/or understanding texts, they may be overwhelmed at first glance of the amount of work…or even give up.

Vocabulary works together with comprehension. Students who possess a wide vocabulary often experience greater success with comprehension, because their knowledge of words and definitions supports them in making meaning of the texts they read.

Anxiety is another factor that impacts reading comprehension. Many students, whether they struggle in reading or not, experience high levels of anxiety over comprehension assessments.

How Can We Help?

1. Model, teach and practice stamina: Stamina doesn’t just happen! It is something that must be practiced and built up throughout the year. It’s like excersize…we need to push students to read for increased periods of time. If they come into school in September able to read for 15 minutes, we must push them to read for 20 minutes. Set goals with students, for example: “By January, you will be able to read independently for 30 minutes.”

2. Model and teach confidence: I know this sounds strange, but we can and must teach students, especially our struggling readers, how to demonstrate persistence when faced with a challenging text. The worst thing they can do is give up! We can teach students how to use what they do know to solve problems. We can teach students to take a mental break for a moment if they need to re-focus themselves. I have even given students a “mantra,” something they can say to themselves silently that will boost their confidence like “Marisa thinks I am awesome :-D.”

3. Explicit Vocabulary Instruction: There will be a different post on vocabulary test-prep but I think it deserves a moment in the spotlight in this post as well. Explicitly teach students to underline words they do not understand and to try a variety of strategies to figure out what it means. Strategies can be:

  • Using context clues (use the words surrounding the tricky word to figure out what it means)
  • Using root words (are there any other words that sound/look similar to this word and make sense in it’s place? ex: secretive)
  • Using prefixes and suffixes
Here are some strategies to improve reading comprehension. Explicitly teach these strategies and demand that students use them on all classwork and homework to get extensive practice before the big day!
  • Read the passage twice.
  • Underline crucial information the second time you read the passage (ie: Characters, dates, places, etc.)
  • When answering a question, go back into the text. Find the part in the text that supports your answer and underline it.
  • Underline the specific question right before the question mark! (Sometimes questions are packed in with unnecessary details. We want to help kids identify what the question is asking by simplifying it!)
  • A controversial strategy is teaching students to read the question before reading the passage. I am not agreeing or disagreeing philosophically with this strategy, but I will say that I have seen it improve student accuracy on comprehension assessments.
  • Offer practice with multiple choice questions in reading and teach students to use the process of elimination for challenging questions. Students should immediately cross out any answers which they know are absurd.
  • For short response questions, teach students to restate a piece of the question in their answer for example: Question: Does Elizabeth enjoy spending time on the farm? Response: Elizabeth does not enjoy spending time on the farm because…
  • Offer sentence starters to help students’ work flow for example, “In the passage it says…” or “The article states…”

Grade 6 NYS Book 1 2010 From http://www.nysedregents.org/ (Multiple Choice)

Grade 6 NYS Book 2 2010 from http://www.nysedregents.org/ (Long Response)

Families and Teachers: You should know that there are a ton of resources out there to help you prepare for different kinds of tests. I must say from experience that many of these resources are bland and are not highly engaging for students. I recommend looking at prior tests to familiarize yourself with the material, and then using more exciting resources to tailor your practice. Here are a few resources that I use:

 

EdInformatics (A website where you can find prior NYS tests in all areas and use them for practice)
NYSED APDA (A website where you can find prior NYS tests in all areas and use them for practice)
Scholastic Printables (Reading Comprehension passages)
Use the News (A previous article from EdGeeks about how to use non-fiction publications such as newspapers and magazines to increase engagement in reading.)

Do you have other resources or strategies that you use to practice reading comprehension? Share them here by leaving a comment!

Do you have further questions? Submit your question by leaving a comment and I will get back to you with a prompt response!

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Organic Strategies for Test-Prep

Preface: This is the first of a series of posts that will discuss organic strategies for test preparation. State testing is always a sticky issue and I want to steer clear of the “stickiness.” This series of posts does not aim to discuss the controversial nature of teaching to the test, but rather aims to inform both families and teachers of options for more organic ways to approach test-prep in the classroom and/or at home by finding ways to integrate testing strategies into strong teaching.

Special Note: While reading, please keep in mind that my teaching has been done in New York City so my background knowledge lies mostly with NYS tests. While some of the specifics may differ from your state, I believe that the strategies and ideas will be applicable regardless of location.

5 General Strategies for Test-Preparation: Here are 5 general strategies that support test-taking on all tests including reading comprehension, listening comprehension, writing, math, social studies and science tests. All of these can be practiced on a daily basis both in school and at home. There will be future posts in regards to strategies for specific tests such as the ones mentioned above.

  1. Underline or highlight important parts of the question
  2. Re-read everything including instructions and questions
  3. Make sure you understand  the question
  4. Take small breaks to improve stamina
  5. Double-check your work
Practicing these 5 strategies on a daily basis will improve test-taking abilities.


Teachers: Not all strategies are easily measurable. For example, there is no tangible way for you to ensure that a student is re-reading the directions unless you physically ask them to re-read them out loud. There are however, specific things you can do in your classroom that will exercise these skills such as demanding that students use strategies #1 and 5 on all class activities. Both are simple to model and give feedback on. Students should be underlining key or important parts of reading and math questions. This is something that should be explicitly modeled during lessons and perhaps even scored. Students will begin independently underlining key parts when they realize that you are taking it seriously. Double-checking work is extremely important, particularly in math. Make sure to model double-checking your work for students as much as possible and demand that they do the same on their class work. I have seen teachers give extra credit for showing and checking work on class assessments. Finally, if you notice there are students who are using these strategies independently in your classroom, showcase their work! Try starting a lesson by collectively looking at an exemplar work sample that has been done by a classmate. This will encourage other students to use the strategies.


Families: Home is a perfect place to practice strategies 2, 3 and 4. Working with your child on homework can offer opportunities to make sure they are truly understanding what question is being asked through taking their time, repeat reading and stopping to think. Having short conversations about the instructions for a particular task can help your child to become more independent and accurate on their school work. You can also encourage your children to take small breaks when they are getting tired or frustrated. It is okay to take breaks, adults do it all the time to refocus and “get in the zone.” Another great thing about doing homework with your kids is that homework is often (and should be) practice of what is already being worked on in school so you can see where your child excels and/or struggles. Basically, it will help you become more informed about your child.

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Classroom Response Systems…or Clickers!

Clickers

Last year I met an amazing math teacher named Skeeter. He is one of those teachers who has a strategy for everything. One of the million amazing things about him is that he is a truly amazing listener, which helps him stay in tune with his learners. Skeeter used a neat tech tool to support him in figuring out where his students were functioning in the classroom. The tool is usually referred to as a “Student Response System” but Skeeter called them “Clickers” and that always stuck for me. Today, there are quite a few different companies making Clickers. Here are a few!

A Clicker is something that looks like this:

[amazon-product image=”http://ws.assoc-amazon.com/widgets/q?_encoding=UTF8&Format=_SL160_&ASIN=B0018RRSOU&MarketPlace=US&ID=AsinImage&WS=1&tag=edg0b-20&ServiceVersion=20070822″ type=”image”]B0018RRSOU[/amazon-product] [amazon-product image=”http://ws.assoc-amazon.com/widgets/q?_encoding=UTF8&Format=_SL160_&ASIN=B004OALMLS&MarketPlace=US&ID=AsinImage&WS=1&tag=edg0b-20&ServiceVersion=20070822″ type=”image”]B004OALMLS[/amazon-product]  [amazon-product image=”http://ws.assoc-amazon.com/widgets/q?_encoding=UTF8&Format=_SL160_&ASIN=B003Z1S5KS&MarketPlace=US&ID=AsinImage&WS=1&tag=edg0b-20&ServiceVersion=20070822″ type=”image”]B003Z1S5KS[/amazon-product]

Some companies are even coming out with web-based mobile versions that have the capability to turn any computer into a classroom response system. These versions allow students to use laptops, computers, phones, etc. as response devices. Check this out!

Here is a first-hand account of how Skeeter uses Clickers to support the learning in his classroom!

Description

I use the [amazon-product text=”CPSPULSE CPS PULSE RESPONSE PAD by eINSTRUCTION” type=”text”]1881483819[/amazon-product] because they have a variety of functions. They have a multiple-choice function, short answer function, numeric function, true/false function, texting function and cold call function. I can even think of questions on the spot and ask the students with the clickers!

Expectations

The expectation in my class when we use Clickers or any other kind of technology is “we use technology we don’t let technology use us.” I want my students to understand that the Clicker is a tool not a crutch. I always like to keep in mind that I should be able to teach any class without clickers and the lesson should be just as informative and smooth.

Clicker Rules for the Classroom

1. Students must keep Clickers either in their hands or in the bucket on their desk

2. If a student answers a problem incorrectly, they may not move on until they understand their error and can answer the question correctly

These simple rules teach students how to be self-sufficient and to check their work.

Why We Use Them

As I mentioned earlier, the use of Clickers should be a tool not a crutch. I use them to help students become self-sufficient when solving problems and to instill the importance of not rushing. I do not want my students to move ahead before they are ready. They definitely impact my instruction as well. For example, I can create “Do Nows” that are based on how students did on the previous days’ activity. This will allow me to see in real time if they understood the objective or if I need to repeat any instruction. Most importantly they breakdown data and results in many different ways. My personal favorites are student percentage, question responses, and wrong answer responses. With this data I can correct mistakes in real time and see a trend of wrong responses so I can help with common misconceptions.

-Skeeter

You might not believe this but there is an entire blog dedicated to student response systems and if you are interested in learning more about them you should absolutely check it out.

As always, if you have further questions, feel free to

submit them on the Parent-Teacher Conference page!

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