Workshop as Test Prep?

Today my students finished the NJASK standardized test for 6th grade.  Well, they didn’t really finish- math is tomorrow and Thursday.  But the language arts section is done now!  This afternoon I took an informal, conversational survey of my students.  They were all really happy because they felt that the test was “So easy! Much easier than last year!”.  I didn’t notice anything different from years past, so I asked them what we had done this year that they thought best prepared them for the test.  Needless to say, I was thrilled with their answers.

  • Our weekly Article of the Week.  They said that reading the articles helped them feel more confident about informational text, and the written response each week gave them more confidence.
  • The Forty Book Challenge.  Requiring them to read 40 books increased their speed and fluency.  A lot of them said it was the first year that they didn’t struggle to finish the reading selections.
  • Using boxes and bullets for the persuasive essay (a la Calkins)
  • Our read alouds.  They had a wide range of texts to draw on, and they remembered a lot of conversations while answering the multiple choice questions.  One student told me that he just imagined the questions being read in my voice, like they were a part of our read aloud conversation.
  • Letter-essays.  Again, they felt confident about writing a lot in a set amount of time.  And they told me they had a lot of strategies to draw on when they got stuck.
  • Our one week of test prep before the test.  They really liked that we focused on test writing as a genre, because they felt that they really understood the ins and outs of the test better.  Also, they loved the “hamburger method” (from Better Answers) for answering open-ended reading response questions.

But my favorite answer?  “The old ladies!”  See, I tell my classes that the written responses to the NJASK are hand-graded by old, retired teachers who are locked in a conference room for an entire weekend and do nothing but grade tests.  They get cranky, their coffee gets stale, and they don’t want to read messy or bad writing.  They don’t want to have to struggle to understand what the writer means.  I say this jokingly, asking my students how many of them have to explain technology to their grandparents in great detail when all they want is to tell a story about a Youtube video.  This always bring laughs but a lot of nods.  Turns out, you need to explain the same amount in your writing!  I remind them that the cranky old teachers only have the answer sheets in front of them, so you need to explain in DETAIL.  Not just glossing over facts or opinions!

Imagine my surprise when one student raised her hand today and told me that made all the difference in the world for her.  Suddenly, she had an audience in mind when writing.  She didn’t make assumptions that her reader was going to be a teacher who knew her well and could make assumptions about what she meant.  As she told me this, I watched the rest of my class nod in agreement.  Who knew?!  Just picturing an old, cranky teacher was enough to remind them to elevate their writing.  We talk about audience all the time, but this time it clicked.

Needless to say, I am thrilled that everything I do as a part of workshop translated to the test for my students.  I don’t do months of test prep, I don’t focus on the test as the be-all end-all of the year, but they all took it seriously.  What I saw as I was walking around thrilled me!  Of course, I won’t see results until the end of the summer, but I feel confident that they all did their best work.  :)

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10 Responses

  1. What a GREAT post! I love finding out from students what helped them the most. You mentioned a few things here that I am going to have to research now. Thank you so much for sharing.

    P.S. Please tell your students that this old cranky lady just learned from their reflections. ;)

  2. wow – I love it when happens. can you explain how your 40 book challenge works. I haven’t heard you refer to it before now…but maybe I missed it.

  3. The old ladies bit is awesome! I never would have thought about telling them old ladies are reading their test…whether they are or not doesn’t even matter. Very cool!

  4. Jen- Exactly! It doesn’t matter who reads the tests, as long as the kids have a picture of their physical audience and adjust their writing to that audience. Cranky old teachers were the pickiest audience I could think of. :)

    Breanne- My forty book challenge is courtesy of Donalyn Miller. Check out her awesome book, The Book Whisperer.

  5. I love the idea of old women reading the passages, and agree, it definitely gives them an audience! :) Congratulations on a great year, Sarah!

    Have you read Test Talk? I found it helpful a few years ago when I was trying to convey to my kids that test taking is an entirely different GENRE. Although, you probably wouldn’t benefit from reading it since you already know about preparing kids in authentic ways.

    I plan on incorporating the Aricle of the Week next year when I add writing to my curriculum *(officially, anyway). Kelly Gallagher is awesome!

  6. Congrats!

    We recently finished testing here in Ohio as well. I did two weeks of test prep which the kids hated! But they understood that looking at the test as a different genre for two weeks was much better than dwelling on it throughout the whole year! Still, they couldn’t wait to READ again!

    Like you, I told my students that an old lady (in Pasadena, California) grades their tests. Handwriting for some of my students is an issue, and I kept telling them they needed to write clearly for her.

    Thanks for sharing this post. Now we all await the results…

    I’m looking forward to doing more Articles of the Week next year. I will hear Kelly Gallagher speak in August so that will rev me up for the new school year!

  7. [...] an author http://skypeanauthor.wetpaint.com/ 10. The power of scary old ladies – love you all http://thereadingzone.wordpress.com/2010/05/04/workshop-as-test-prep/ Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Oct 09 Ecard and Hogwarts comes to [...]

  8. This was very encouraging. I now know what I will try with my students next year. Test taking is very stressful (for teachers and students), but it sounds like you have a handle on the situation. Thank you!

  9. I love the “old ladies”!!! I am going to borrow that idea for next year (if you don’t mind). The strategy actually makes since to me as well. I tend to have to explain “extra” details when telling a story about work, because some people don’t understand the teaching world. Case and point! Thanks!!

  10. Very well said, your blog says it all about that particular topic.~`

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