Saturday, April 27, 2013

Stress-Free Test Prep

It's officially that time of year... I have put it off long enough... Time to prepare for our end of the year tests. If you know me at all, you know I am not a fan of standardized tests or the preparation that comes along with them.  I was amazed when I moved from New York to North Carolina almost two years ago. I can remember one school that I interviewed in... They were in complete test-prep boot camp. All of the teachers had camo-tees with catchy slogans, the students had just had a "test-prep rally," and all anyone could talk about were the upcoming End-of-Grade Tests. This was completely new to me.... I never once saw this in New York. When I accepted a job at my current school (not the one mentioned above), I vowed never to place that kind of emphasis on a few summative assessments at the end of the year, whether or not my performance as a teacher is evaluated using test scores. 

A part of me feels that if I have successfully taught my students everything they need to know, they will be equally successful when they test.But then again, no standardized test is designed to match the way I teach. My students never encounter a multiple choice question until this time of year. I am, like most of you out there, spend the year assessing with formative assessments and through authentic experiences. So, I have come to realize that I DO need to help them prepare by showing them how to use everything they have learned in order to answer the kinds of questions they will face on a standardized assessment.

Reading Test Talk in My Classroom
At my school, we teach "Test Talk." Glennon Doyle Melton and Amy H. Greene have written an excellent guide, Test Talk, that shows teachers how to embed test preparation into reader's workshop. 

The focus of my unit on Test Talk is not to teach anything new, rather help students recall everything they have already been taught and applying that knowledge to a new genre of reading- The Standardized Test! 

Beginning a Test Talk Unit
This week, I launched my Test Talk unit. Because North Carolina, like most states, is implementing new assessments based on the new Common Core State Standards, I launched a bit differently compared to last year. This idea actually came from a colleague of mine, an amazing teacher who has truly inspired me since I began teaching in North Carolina (Tarheel State Teacher). We began by looking at sample passages and questions that have been released for this year's test. As a class, we created a T-chart to track our noticings of the new test. One side we listed what we noticed and on the other side, we explained what this means for us. For example, one of my students noticed that most of the non-narrative passages lacked subtitles, but had numbers in place of them. This means that we will be required to determine what they should be, which ultimately is relying on our ability to identify main ideas.  Another student made a comment about the number of questions that ask us about the meanings of words or phrases (language questions). I got a kick out of the girl who raised her hand and says, "OH!.... Is that why we have spent so much time with on context clues and figurative language this year?" Another student even picked up on the fact that there are so many questions that require deeper thinking (inference, main idea, theme, etc...) and very few "right-there" questions. Just the fact that they picked up on all of that made me much more at ease about the test itself. I think they were much more at ease too, they realized that they were going to be tested on the very things we have been working on all year... Go figure!

Thinking About Genre and Predictable Questions

My Test Talk  unit is about reminding students all they already know about the elements of realistic fiction and teaching them ways that questions might be phrased that ask about these elements. It is also about helping students to see connections between genres, for example, reminding them to use all they know about story structures in fiction to identify important elements in fantasy. My work, then, will be to support students in reading passages and holding on to meaning, to review strategies students already know for each genre, to teach strategies to quickly identify genres, and to teach predictable question types for each. I organize my teaching around genres, teaching narrative structures, non-narrative (expository) structures, and poetry, coaching students to bring forward all they know, giving tips for identifying the genre, and teaching predictable questions for each genre.

Checkout posters I have created for Thinking About Genre. I use these when we talk about previewing test passages. The first thing students know to do is to identify genre. This will give them an idea of what to pay attention to. For example, if a student identifies a test as realistic fiction, he/she knows to pay attention to character, theme, and setting. If a student identifies a text as informational, things like structure, main idea, and author's purpose are key. 

Thinking About Types of Questions
I have found that determining question types can be very effective for some students. Strategies for multiple-choice questions differ depending on the type of question.
For example, for questions that ask about details in the passage, test-takers who have
the time and know-how to scan and find passages should go back to the section
being referenced to find the answer so they won’t be swayed by wrong answer choices that are especially tempting (and written to lure readers away from the right answer). But on main idea questions, test-takers should predict the answer based on
what they believe to be the main idea.

Checkout posters I have created to teach students about Main Idea, Detail, and Inference questions. Something I do with students is have them read a passages and write their own questions (with four choices). They love this and don't even realize they are working on their comprehension skills and their ability to identify question type.

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely love the book test talk. I think it can work with all levels of teaching. I'm a NC blogger too (that's how I found you). I'm your newest follower. Follow me too at Mrs. Harris Teaches Science!

    Mrs. Harris