How do you build up your kids before state testing begins? Do you post positive messages? Maybe you give out smarties, mints, or lifesavers? Do you have a big kickoff pep rally? All of these options are fun and are intended to relieve test anxiety. However, the best thing we can do for our kids is to prepare them for test taking is share solid comprehension strategy instruction. We need to work on vocabulary developing skills, and questioning skills all year long using a variety of texts that mirror real life. Here are a few secrets to improved test taking.
These tips may not alleviate all the stress that comes
during testing time, but hopefully, they’ll keep you
from feeling like this…
and move you to feeling more like this…
Have a Growth Mindset
Before you can even begin to have success with your class, at the core of teaching and learning is the growth mindset. You have to have the kids believe that they can and will be successful with hard work, a determined attitude, and effort, and you need to believe that yourself.
I recently saw this bulletin board on Pinterest. What a great way to make the talk visible to your students. Throughout the year, we build confidence, increase stamina, practice with more expected from our students (and they will live up to what you set as the goal)
Books that Build Perseverance and Stamina
We also need to utilize texts that echo these themes. too. My go-to author is Patricia Polacco. Thank You Mr. Falker and Junkyard Wonders are two that demonstrate perseverance in real life. There are other real life examples too with Wilma Unlimited, Henry’s Freedom Train, and Salt in His Shoes. These biographies allow you to work on the text structure and other related literacy skills. Finally, I just love Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman for strong character. It’s one I use every year typically in fourth grade to talk about character traits. Secretly, I am using it to demonstrate that my kids just need an I CAN attitude.
One other way to work on building a growth mindset is with writing. It is so fun to share with students work from previous grades, and most of the time, we keep samples in our kids scholastic records. Why not use them to show your students how they have grown as readers and writers.
Analyze Your Students’ Strengths and Weaknesses
Of course in a data age, monitoring your students is a must. Of course the data is meaningless if you don’t use it. Whether we like it or not, we are doing a far better job reaching the needs of your kids. The most important goal with the data taking process though is that it help you in selecting specific materials for reteaching and extension that fill in the gaps.
One set I happened to find for planning is this freebie from my friend, Jennie from JD’s Rockin Readers. Keeping a guided reading notebook with your anecdotal notes, running records, book conferences, and RTI notes is so useful. It helps you ensure you’re moving your kids along without overlooking reading issues that may need attention. Ultimately, you must keep balance and find a way that works for you.
Use DEEP Thinking in your Modeling of Test Taking Strategies
In working with struggling readers, I have learned that using the Think Aloud Strategy with mentor texts to model demonstrates to them the thinking that authors use as they write AND the language often used in our reading assessments. In my classroom, I post a word wall of literacy terms, and as I use the words in lessons and explain the process with real texts, I refer to the word on my word wall, use foldables or anchor charts to explain how we…infer, summarize, justify, etc., and I use the words in question stems as we discuss what we read frequently so that the students automatically recognize and know the processes.
Teach Question-Answer Relationship
Another strategy that is very important to use with your students is Question Answer Relationship. Helping students analyze the questions they’re asked helps them recognize how to tackle the question. We are currently working on QAR with my groups, and this week, I had the kids create questions to go with the Close Reading passage we’d used. We worked with question stem cards to scaffold them a little, but it worked quite well.
With the kids, I begin with an anchor chart to explain how QAR works. The students use a QAR foldable for their interactive notebooks and record the important traits for each question type followed by sorting sample questions and question creation. It’s important that once a strategy has been introduced and practiced to follow up in subsequent lessons. Here is a preview of this part of my Test Prep Toolkit. If you’d like to see what else is included in this yearly bundle, click [HERE].
Use Nonfiction Text Structures to Break Down Texts
In addition to Think Aloud and QAR, teaching students to recognize text structures helps them in content areas, in independent nonfiction reading, and in testing. By teaching text structures, students are able to categorize information according to its importance. Using graphic organizers or foldables with a variety of nonfiction texts helps students see the differences between informational text, process writing, advertisements, and such. We want our kids to apply this information to independent reading, so using a variety of texts in your guided reading block is crucial to reading growth.
Close Reading Strategies
Finally, I highly recommend using Close Reading strategies with your students too. Many of the kids I’ve taught have been considered “word callers”. I believe close reading helps address this issue. Kids are engaged with the text as they read. If they are stop and jot during reading, mark the text with multiple reads, and use this information in extended responses, they reach a higher level of understanding
I use the PROOF technique during close reading. For my kids, it helped to give them a process and acronym reminder. You can download this exclusive preview [HERE] or by clicking the image to the left. This process can be used with articles, sections of tradebooks, and even with a reader’s theater script. I use it with the partner scripts I’ve created which my students really enjoy.
Connect Reading and Writing
Writing, in my opinion, is a way to deepen your students’ understanding of what they read as well as their thinking on many content matters. If you use writing as a response to reading and quick writes, you build deep thinking and writing skills. ln a time crunched day, you build comprehension and work on writing skills. If you look at my last post, you’ll see I am a firm believer in the reading-writing connection.
Weave in Test Taking Practice throughout the Year
I think many schools have a “45 day Plan” where testing practice happens prior to the real deal. In some cases, the students are worn out by testing day. I am not a fan of the 45 day plan. I prefer we continue teaching with engaging lessons that provide deep thinking opportunities. We know how to motivate and keep our students on track. Yes, kids need to practice in the manner they will be assessed. However, if we use a similar format, there’s no need to practice prior to the assessment. Kids get burned out. They see learning as boring work versus fun. It can be counterproductive to our end goals of motivating learners.
Keep Learning Fun…even with test taking strategies
I know I said five tips, but I just have to close with this one. I highly recommend using games and keeping it all fun. Kids love group activities and teamwork.
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What strategies do you use for test prep? Share your thoughts below.