How do you build up your kids before testing begins? Do you post positive messages? Do you give out smarties, mints, or lifesavers? Maybe you have a big kickoff pep rally? All of these options help relieve test anxiety, but the best thing we can do for our kids is to prepare them with solid comprehension strategy instruction, vocabulary developing skills, and questioning skills all year long using a variety of texts that mirror real life. Here are a few secrets to …
Step #1: Have a Growth Mindset
We also need to utilize texts that echo these themes. too. My go-to author is Patricia Polacco for deep thinking picture books for upper elementary, and 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. All three of these are biographies, so by using them, you can work on the framework of biographies and other literacy skills found in them. Finally, we have a few with strong characters who over come challenges to reach their goals. I just love Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman for this, and it’s one I use every year typically in fourth grade to talk about character traits, but 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.
Step #2: Analyze Your Students’ Strengths and Weaknesses
Of course in a data age, you have no choice but to do this, and certainly we are tracking and monitoring all the time. Sometimes it can seem overwhelming, but I have you taught long enough to know what teaching was like without using data. Whether we like it or not, we are doing a far better job reaching the needs of your kids than we did back when I first began. The most important goal with the data taking process though is not that you put it in a nice notebook for your administrator, but that it help you in selecting specific materials for reteaching and extension that fill in the gaps. One set that I happened to find that might help in planning for RTI 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 can be a useful way to ensure that you’re moving your kids along without overlooking reading issues that may need attention. Ultimately though, keep balance and find a way that works for you without stressing yourself out.
Step #3: Use DEEP Thinking in your Modeling and Discussion
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.
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 began with an anchor chart to explain how QAR works. The students used a QAR foldable for their interactive notebooks and recorded 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 that it’s followed 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].
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.
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 issues because kids are forced to be engaged with the text as they read. If they are stopping and jotting during reading, marking the text with multiple reads, and using this information in extended responses, they reach a high level of understanding which is what we want. This technique is also quite helpful in testing too. For my kids, I am using the acronym, PROOF as a way to guide them in their close reading. 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.
Step #4: 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 in extended responses (quick writes), then you are not only building deep thinking, but also writing skills. ln a time crunched day, this gets you the most bang for your teaching buck since you’re building comprehension AND working on writing skills. If you look at my last post, you can see I am a firm believer in the reading-writing connection. Enough said.
Step #5: Weave in 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 just plain worn out by the time the real test comes. I am going to go against the grain a little and say that I am not a fan of this. I much prefer continued teaching with engaging lessons that provide deep thinking opportunities that motivate and keep our students on track. Yes, the kids need to practice in the manner they will be assessed, but if we do it all year long in the same format, then there’s no need to spend the time practicing just prior to the assessment. I think kids get burned out, see learning as boring work versus fun, and I think it can be counterproductive to our end goals of motivating learners.
Step #6: Keep Learning Fun…always
I know I said five tips, but I just have to close with this one. Now, go and have a great weekend. The sun is out here in Virginia, and that’s what I plan to do.