Reflections and Resources from Tarheelstate Teacher
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A 4 Step Process for Answering Multiple Choice Reading Questions

Do your students think that answering multiple choice reading questions is all about making neat, dark bubbles on their bubble sheet? I hope not! But if so, let's give them more multiple choice test taking strategies right away!
If your students think that answering multiple choice questions is all about fancy bubbling, find out about the 4 step multiple choice test taking strategy I teach my students to go through when answering reading questions. 3rd, 4th, 5th, and even 6th grade students need concrete strategies for navigating the confusing, stressful challenges of End of Grade testing. This easy to implement strategy will give them just what they need to develop confidence and a "game plan" for taking their test!

Once you have helped students connect what they know how to do when reading with how that applies to taking a reading test AND taught them to analyze the type of question they are being asked, what strategies can you teach students for actually answering multiple-choice reading questions? Today, I'm sharing my 4-Step process for answering reading questions that I teach my students each year before our end of grade reading test.

Before I teach my 4-step process, we do a lot of work with our sample passages. I choose to review a focused set of strategies and expect my students to use them rather than review every reading strategy I possibly can and have them forget to use any of them.

We review how to preview a text, "how to highlight effectively" (or underline) to note important information, track our thinking as we read, create chunks and add labels to larger texts to break them up into sections, and discuss how to use context clues to deal with unknown words.
If your students think that answering multiple choice questions is all about fancy bubbling, find out about the 4 step multiple choice test taking strategy I teach my students to go through when answering reading questions. 3rd, 4th, 5th, and even 6th grade students need concrete strategies for navigating the confusing, stressful challenges of End of Grade testing. This easy to implement strategy will give them just what they need to develop confidence and a "game plan" for taking their test!
I usually use one or two of the same passages again and again to model each of these reading behaviors and then have students practice with a fresh passage. As they are working, I monitor and take note of who is using the strategies and who is not. We discuss what I saw again and again to encourage students to do what they have been taught.

I have my students go through the reading behaviors with multiple passages before I have them read and answer any questions because I want to make sure they understand my expectations for how they are supposed to read the text BEFORE we worry about answering questions.
If your students think that answering multiple choice questions is all about fancy bubbling, find out about the 4 step multiple choice test taking strategy I teach my students to go through when answering reading questions. 3rd, 4th, 5th, and even 6th grade students need concrete strategies for navigating the confusing, stressful challenges of End of Grade testing. This easy to implement strategy will give them just what they need to develop confidence and a "game plan" for taking their test!

I teach students that their job is to FULLY comprehend the text {yep, see the crazy handwriting on the bottom of that anchor chart}. If you've read other posts in this series, I've said this before, but it is just so important to reiterate. I don't want my students to think that the test is all about answering questions. The test is all about comprehension and they need to use all of their strategies to comprehend the text first.

The 4-STEP PROCESS for ANSWERING MULTIPLE-CHOICE READING QUESTIONS

When it is time for me to teach my students how to answer reading questions, I lead them through a 4-step process that I came up with a few years ago. In this process, I model how to:

  • reword the question,
  • analyze answer choices and mark out 1-2 choices that are obviously wrong (probably because the choice clearly says something different than what is said in the text), 
  • collect clues (or evidence) from the text related to the other answer choices, and 
  • then make an educated decision about which answer is the best.

Day 1 Minilesson: STEP 1-REWORD THE QUESTION
If your students think that answering multiple choice questions is all about fancy bubbling, find out about the 4 step multiple choice test taking strategy I teach my students to go through when answering reading questions. 3rd, 4th, 5th, and even 6th grade students need concrete strategies for navigating the confusing, stressful challenges of End of Grade testing. This easy to implement strategy will give them just what they need to develop confidence and a "game plan" for taking their test!Using the passages that we have read again and again in our skill lessons, I model rewording the questions with 1-2 examples.

This sounds so easy, huh? Well, I sometimes find that when my students try to simplify a question, they change the meaning of what was intended a bit. If the question is more direct, like "What is the main idea of this passage?" Students can reword the question to incorporate our QAR language and to help remind themselves of how they should answer this type of question. A rewording might be, "What is this story/article about OVERALL?"

I also teach students to think about why the test maker/author is even asking us the question. Let's use a question for an example that is a bit more complicated. In one of the passages I like to use, the question states,
"According to the timeline, which of the following statements about Bearden is accurate?"
Why might the test maker be asking us this question?
  • to see if we read/looked at the timeline
  • to see if we know how to read and interpret a timeline
  • to see if we understand chronological order
  • to see if we can make inferences when reading a text feature
  • to see if we can use the information in a text feature to gain a deeper understanding of the text itself
Obviously, we are just hypothesizing here, but I think it's important to get students to realize that someone MADE UP these questions in order to try to get them to do something with their reading skills. I also think that hypothesizing about why the question is being asked helps students reword the question. I may reword this question by asking, "Based on the timeline, which of the choices is true about Bearden?" or "By looking at the timeline, which of these choices is a true statement?"

At the end of this lesson, students work in partners to practice rewording a few other questions for that passage. I pay attention and pull any rewordings that changed the meaning of a question into our closure for us to discuss as a group. 

Day 2 Minilesson: STEP 2-ELIMINATE "OBVIOUSLY WRONG" ANSWER CHOICES
If your students think that answering multiple choice questions is all about fancy bubbling, find out about the 4 step multiple choice test taking strategy I teach my students to go through when answering reading questions. 3rd, 4th, 5th, and even 6th grade students need concrete strategies for navigating the confusing, stressful challenges of End of Grade testing. This easy to implement strategy will give them just what they need to develop confidence and a "game plan" for taking their test!The next step is all about reducing our answer choices. We read through the choices and decide if any are "obviously wrong."

Given the same passage as we used in the previous lesson, my think-aloud goes something like this...
“Looking at question 7, B and C are obviously wrong because they contradict information that is given on the timeline. For B, the timeline says Bearden was living in New York City, not North Carolina. For C, the timeline shows that Bearden created his most important collages in 1964, many years AFTER graduating from New York University. I can eliminate B and C.”
“Now, I feel like A is the answer, but I don’t have enough proof to mark out D. I need to collect more clues.”

STEP 3-COLLECT CLUES RELATED TO THE QUESTION
If your students think that answering multiple choice questions is all about fancy bubbling, find out about the 4 step multiple choice test taking strategy I teach my students to go through when answering reading questions. 3rd, 4th, 5th, and even 6th grade students need concrete strategies for navigating the confusing, stressful challenges of End of Grade testing. This easy to implement strategy will give them just what they need to develop confidence and a "game plan" for taking their test!
In step three, I teach students to collect clues related to the question and decide if that piece of evidence supports an answer choice or disproves it.
"To collect clues, I ask myself "What clues and information did the passage give me to help me think about this question? Answer choice A says Bearden received the National Medal of Arts the year before he died....The timeline shows me this is true...I'm going to jot that down and put a little check beside of answer A. 
Answer choice D says Bearden received the North Carolina Award for Fine Arts before moving to New York City...Well, he was in New York city in 1935, and it never tells me he moved back to NC.
The passage tells me “Afterward (college), Bearden became a social worker in New York City. He worked as a social worker on and off for more than 30 yrs. In the last section, the author lists a bunch of awards that Bearden received. I think the NC award is just another one he got, but not necessarily when he was living in NC. 
STEP 4-MAKE AN EDUCATED DECISION (NOT A GUESS!)
If your students think that answering multiple choice questions is all about fancy bubbling, find out about the 4 step multiple choice test taking strategy I teach my students to go through when answering reading questions. 3rd, 4th, 5th, and even 6th grade students need concrete strategies for navigating the confusing, stressful challenges of End of Grade testing. This easy to implement strategy will give them just what they need to develop confidence and a "game plan" for taking their test!
So, I am now thinking answer choice D is wrong, and maybe even the distracting answer that might trick me. Another way I may have chosen answer D is if I didn’t pay attention to the question saying “According to the timeline.” Now that I think about it, answer A works BEST because it is according to the timeline."
I go through this think-aloud process with a few of the questions that felt "tricky" to me so that students and I can process them together. I encourage you to go through this process with a few test passages and plan to do a "think-aloud" to model how you would go through the 4-Step process with the questions yourself.

BY THE WAY...

I teach students to jot down notes beside of the answer choices and I make this an expectation when they are completing practice passages. I want to SEE their thinking. I want the text to look like it has been read! 

To enforce this during our test prep unit, I will not check a student's work if he/she has not shown evidence of using the "while reading" strategies and shown evidence for his/her answers. Sure, some students may groan about having to show all of this thinking, but it is my job to teach them strategies and expect them to practice them!

DAY 3-CONSOLIDATE STEPS AND PRACTICE AGAIN
If your students think that answering multiple choice questions is all about fancy bubbling, find out about the 4 step multiple choice test taking strategy I teach my students to go through when answering reading questions. 3rd, 4th, 5th, and even 6th grade students need concrete strategies for navigating the confusing, stressful challenges of End of Grade testing. This easy to implement strategy will give them just what they need to develop confidence and a "game plan" for taking their test!On day 3, I use my minilesson time to consolidate the 4-steps of the process. I choose one more question to model rewording the question, eliminating "obviously wrong" choices, collecting evidence, and making an educated decision.

Once you have taught this in whole group, you can have students work independently and then share what they thought for each step with a partner. You can use your small group time to model the process again and again for students who need more practice and you can continue to bring it all back to the point...

→ How do each of these steps help us better answer the questions? 

The first year that I implemented this process, I found that it made an amazing impact on my students. I especially remember an ESL student who had such a big smile on his face and expressed how much it helped him understand what to do when answering the questions. (During this year, I was teaching 4th grade and would loop to 5th the next year with the same students).

I've found that this test taking strategy forces students to refer to the text more and often, students who did not comprehend a text the first time they read it will "fix-up" some of their comprehension issues by going through this process. #worthit

The big point here is that many students think that "reading the answer choices and deciding on the best choice" is what they are supposed to do. The directions given when administering the NC EOG actually say something like that...

"Read each question and all of the answer choices. Choose the best answer. Fill in the circle on your answer sheet with the best answer. Make a dark mark that completely fills the circle....."

WAAAAAIT a minute...
I wish I could express that sound of a record player screeching to a halt through my blog words......

But since I can't, I will just say, now do you see why students think the test is all about reading the choices, choosing an answer, and making a dark circle? I always CRINGE when those words come out of my mouth as a test administrator.

Those are DIRECTIONS, not a process to go through. 

So, as you embark on your reading test prep journey this year, I hope you can make it a little more inquiry based and provide your students with relevant strategies for being smart test takers who can "think through" a reading test and the questions they must answer.

Want to grab my minilesson framework for teaching and reviewing reading strategies, the QAR question analysis handouts, and the posters for the 4-Step process I have my students go through when answering reading questions? Click for my full Thinking Through Reading Tests unit materials!

 Thinking Through Reading Tests test prep framework for 3rd 4th 5th 6th grade

And, Make Sure You Haven't Missed Anything and Stay Tuned for these Upcoming Posts
→ Is Your Test Prep Attitude Broken?
→ A Framework for Preparing for Standardized Reading Tests that Honors Your Teaching Style
→ How and Why to Have Students Sort Reading Questions (to launch your reading test questions unit)
→ "4-Step Process to Answering Reading Questions" Mini-lesson and other Testing Tips

I think I'm finally calling my reading test prep series a wrap for this year, but please let me know if you have any questions! I'd be happy to share more about what I do with my students! 

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Sorting Reading Questions: Launching Your Reading Test Prep Strategies Unit

Last week, I shared my Thinking Through Reading Tests framework for preparing students for reading tests through an inquiry-based process. Today I wanted to share how I get my students thinking about the types of questions they can expect on the reading test through a question sorting activity. This is one of the first activities I use to launch my test prep unit for our NC EOG (end of grade state test).
Teach your students to "think through" reading test questions with this FREE question sort activity. 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students will benefit from sorting their reading test questions and making generalizations about the types of questions they will see on their end of grade state test for reading. Don't miss your freebies!
To prepare for my test prep unit, I get my reading test bulletin board set, the released reading passages, and my question sorting sets all printed out and ready to go. (The question sorting sets are a freebie in my store--I typed up the questions from the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade EOG released reading tests.)
Teach your students to "think through" reading test questions with this FREE question sort activity. 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students will benefit from sorting their reading test questions and making generalizations about the types of questions they will see on their end of grade state test for reading. Don't miss your freebies!
Day 1: Sort Questions with Partners

To launch our study of the types of questions we will be asked on the reading test, I have my students complete a partner sort using the test questions found on the released version of the NC Reading EOG. 

To complete the sorting activity, students work in partners to sort the questions into categories that make sense to them. They look for similar questions, patterns, and other connections as they place the questions into groups.

It is always interesting (and telling) to see what categories students come up with on their own. As they work, I go around from group to group listening to students' ideas and pushing them to reconsider how they have categorized their questions. 

We complete this sort PRIOR to students reading any passages to give students exposure to the types of questions that they will be asked. Based on my experience, I've found we can learn about what we can expect on the test as we make generalizations about the types of questions that keep popping up in the question sets.
Teach your students to "think through" reading test questions with this FREE question sort activity. 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students will benefit from sorting their reading test questions and making generalizations about the types of questions they will see on their end of grade state test for reading. Don't miss your freebies!
When students have finished sorting, they can label their categories with sticky notes. One option for sharing their ideas is to have everyone rotate to one another's work. They can think about similarities and questions they have for the partners.

At the end of the partner sorting activity, I bring students back together and guide them in discussing their findings. I ask each group to share the categories they decided on, discuss any questions that didn't seem to fit a group, and I jot down the different categories they share on chart paper.

Day 2: Introduce Question-Answer Relationships (4 Question Types)

On day two, I introduce students to the 4 Types of Questions that are my own revision of Question-Answer-Relationship question types. If you are unfamiliar with QAR, it basically helps us label questions as certain types so that we know how to go about answering them.

To prepare for the minilesson, I post the four question types on my whiteboard. 
Teach your students to "think through" reading test questions with this FREE question sort activity. 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students will benefit from sorting their reading test questions and making generalizations about the types of questions they will see on their end of grade state test for reading. Don't miss your freebies!
"Right There" and "There and There"
These questions require us to look back into the text to find evidence for the answer. The correct answer choice may be worded a little differently that what it states in the text, but it says basically the same thing. We must connect one or two pieces of information in the text to answer the question.

"Inferencing"/"Interpreting"
For these questions, the passage does not come right out and tell us the answer. We have to interpret by using what the text told us and our own thinking to answer the question.

"Overalls"
These questions are our main idea and summarizing questions. We have to think about the text "overall" and connect information throughout the passage or a specific paragraph. We typically have to connect information from the beginning, middle, and end of the passage or paragraph to answer "overall" questions.

"Apply Prior Knowledge"
With prior knowledge questions, understanding the text will help us answer the question, but we have to rely on our own knowledge of reading, the way texts are designed, and language. To answer these questions, we have to apply what we know to what the test question is asking us.

I give students a Question-Answer-Relationship handout. (Grab the bulletin board posters and student handout). As I walk them through each type of question, I have students reflect on the categories they used in their own sort the day before. I ask if anyone had a category that they think they could now call "Right There" or "There and There" or "Overalls" as I go through each one. 
Teach your students to "think through" reading test questions with this FREE question sort activity. 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students will benefit from sorting their reading test questions and making generalizations about the types of questions they will see on their end of grade state test for reading. Don't miss your freebies!
Next, I have students meet with their partner again to sort the questions into these four categories. Again, I rotate the room, probe, ask questions, and make sure students understand the descriptions of the four question types.

Now, not having read the text, there are a few questions that fall between two of the types of questions, but the point is that students learn to "think through" the four question types they will see on the test.

(Modification: If you have the time to spend on increasing the inquiry for this test question exploration activity, you can actually work as a class to categorize all of the questions. As you go through each question, have the class agree upon whether or not the question fits into a category you've already established or needs its own category. Tape them to your whiteboard as you sort them. You can guide students to "discover" the 4 types of questions I've described--it just takes a little more time discussing and working together in whole group.)

Day 3: Sorting Questions together with QAR Categories

In this follow-up minilesson, I give each student two of the question cards and start the lesson with a few questions that I keep for myself. (You can do this totally randomly, no strategic planning needed here unless you want to make sure you have one example of each type of question).

I read aloud one of my questions and we discuss which category it should be placed under. For example, "How are Grandpa Joe and Jake's grandpa alike?" To answer this question, I will have to put together pieces of information that have been shared with me throughout the text. I'd classify this as a "There and There" question. I'm going to assume that the text supports me a lot when trying to answer this question. Based on the things I've been told about Grandpa Joe and what I've been told about Jake's grandpa, I will find a similarity. This is a literal kind of question and I will go back to the text to gather evidence to help me answer it.

Next, I ask students to raise their hands and share if they have a question like the one we've just categorized.

Students read their questions one-by-one and we decided as a class if the questions fit the category that we are discussing. We continued until we've grouped and classified all questions.

You can see the results of this minilesson in the picture below. (We also use a "comprehension stoplight" for our levels of thinking about reading, so you will that we also connected our green, yellow, and red type of thinking to the types of questions in the picture).
Teach your students to "think through" reading test questions with this FREE question sort activity. 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students will benefit from sorting their reading test questions and making generalizations about the types of questions they will see on their end of grade state test for reading. Don't miss your freebies!
Within the 4 categories for QAR, you can also see if students can come up with different types of questions that fall into each category. For example, “overall” questions include main idea, summarizing, theme, etc. while “inferencing” questions also include context clue questions because you use the text and your mind to infer word meaning. 

Further classifying these questions under your 4 umbrella question types will help students continue to make generalizations and connections about the types of questions they can expect on the test.

Here's how some of our example questions fell into the categories:

"Right There" and "There and There" Questions
➥ Based on the selection, how did Roberto get to see the game?
➥ "How are butterflies and mosquitoes different?"
➥ "Which statement shows a way some insects are similar to spiders?"

(The last two are both Compare/Contrast Questions where we will need us to use information in two different places in the text to answer).

"Infering"/"Interpreting" Questions
➥ "In paragraph 19, what is meant by 'Roberto's heart was in his stomach?"
➥ "In the selection, what can be inferred about how the people viewed the old man?"
➥ "What does the word shabbily mean as it is used in the text?"

These questions require interpreting figurative language, using context clues for unknown words, and other comprehension questions that go beyond the literal.

"Overalls"
➥ "Which statement summarizes the theme of the selection?"
➥ "What main ideas are supported by the selection?"

Overalls include main idea, summary, theme, generalizations, author's point of view, the overall message of the story, etc.

"Apply Prior Knowledge"
It's hard to classify questions on the reading EOG as "prior knowledge" questions. Almost all of the questions for our reading test are text-dependent. However, students' prior knowledge of word meanings, figurative language, and techniques used in different genres will surely help them understand what they read and influence their ability to answer questions on the reading test.

If you think about the "Roberto's heart was in his stomach" question, I know what this means without reading the text, but I don't want to encourage students to answer questions with referring back to the text to collect evidence for their answer.

WHY TAKE THE TIME TO TEACH QUESTION-ANSWER RELATIONSHIP?

Each of these categories helps students tap into the skills and strategies they should use to answer the questions given. For example, if I have an overall question, I am going to pull from the beginning, middle, and end of the text (or a specific paragraph).

When students get stumped by a question, I always ask them what type of question it is. Then, I follow up with, so what does that mean you should do? 


What’s the purpose of having students sort the test questions independent of reading the text?

Allowing students to closely analyze questions helps them to make generalizations about the types of questions they can predict will be on the test and the questions they can expect for specific genres. Yes, you  as the  teacher can do all of the analysis work for students and hand them a list of questions, but allowing students to come up with generalizations about the test questions takes your test-prep from teacher-centered to student centered and considers testing as “genre” or “type of text” rather than an unpredictable “test.”

Really, a lot of the test is predictable. I'm going to expect questions about main idea and summarizing when reading a nonfiction passage. I'm going to expect questions about the author's message or what the character learned when reading fiction, and based on the number of questions that ask about word meanings and language interpretations, I'm going to expect the test to expect me to understand what I read and be able to re-word that. Review lessons on how to use context clues and perhaps some extra practice will come in really handy prior to the EOG!

These are the kinds of things YOU can learn when studying the reading test questions from your own state test!

Want to grab the QAR handouts, my minilesson framework for teaching and reviewing reading strategies, and the 4-Step process I have my students go through to answer reading questions? Click for my full Thinking Through Reading Tests unit materials!

 Thinking Through Reading Tests test prep framework for 3rd 4th 5th 6th grade

Make Sure You Haven't Missed Anything and Stay Tuned for these Upcoming Posts
→ Is Your Test Prep Attitude Broken?
→ A Framework for Preparing for Standardized Reading Tests that Honors Your Teaching Style
How and Why to Have Students Sort Reading Questions (to launch your reading test questions unit)
→ Two Methods for Thinking Through and Answering Reading Questions
→ "4-Step Process to Answering Reading Questions" Mini-lesson

Stay Connected!

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Preparing for Standardized Reading Tests: Honoring Your Teaching Style

In my last post, I discussed my reading test prep attitude and the testing truths that infiltrate my classroom during testing season. If you are looking for a better way to prepare your students for standardized reading tests, I hope I share one with you today.
Is it possible to prepare your students for standardized reading tests without kill and drill test prep? I believe you can honor your readers workshop and the foundation you have laid all year long with this reading test prep framework. 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers, help your students connect what they've learned all year to the strategies and skills they will need to use for their reading test!
Through readers workshop style minilessons, I believe that you can maintain the integrity of your classroom environment, climate, and student engagement while also ensuring that students are prepared for testing day.

You've undoubtedly spent most of your year helping your students increase stamina, fluency, word attack skills, and their ability to navigate nonfiction and think about literature.

If you've spent your year engaging your students in hands-on, inquiry based learning, working with partners, and discussing ideas in small groups, it can feel really forced to just move on to reading a bunch of passages and answering questions in the name of "test prep."

I believe that spending the last month or two before "the test" having students read passage after passage is not the same as teaching students concrete strategies for understanding and doing better on standardized reading tests.

ABOUT OUR STATE TEST

In North Carolina, our ELA/Reading test typically has 8 passages that students read. All questions are multiple choice. Students can expect to read fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. We refer to it as the EOG (End of Grade test). If you want to see some released examples, you can find them here.

HOW I GET STARTED:
My test taking strategies framework for reading  is one of those "I can't remember what I did before this" routines.

Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Read my full disclosure here.

I learned a lot by reading the book Test Talk: Integrating Test Preparation into the Reading Workshop by Amy H. Greene and Glennon Doyle Melton. The approach described in Test Talk really aligned with the way I had learned to teach writing techniques with an inquiry-based approach where you guide students to

  • notice how the text is put together 
  • make a theory for why it is done this way
  • name it (so that you can capture its essence and talk about it), and
  • connect it to other texts that you know of . {
This inquiry-based structure is the foundation of the writing instruction approach described in Wondrous Words by Katie Wood Ray.

When I launch my "Thinking Through Reading Tests" unit, my first task is to elicit students current feelings and memories about state testing in general. I have students jot down reflections on sticky notes or index cards quite a bit during testing season. I keep these for reference and notify the parents of any students who seem to be exhibiting unhealthy anxiety.
Is it possible to prepare your students for standardized reading tests without kill and drill test prep? I believe you can honor your readers workshop and the foundation you have laid all year long with this reading test prep framework. 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers, help your students connect what they've learned all year to the strategies and skills they will need to use for their reading test!
In my first discussion about testing and as we are getting closer to testing week, I want to take students' temperature. I want to be aware of any negative feelings (so I can patiently squash them and make students feel more confident) and I want to be aware of any anxiety that may be keeping students up at night.  


READING TESTS AS A GENRE

Many classrooms sequence their reading instruction with genre based units that build on one another. When testing season rolls around, I prepare myself to help students see testing as a "type of text" and another genre that we will read this year. Our job is to learn how our state test is put together.

When I launch my "Test Talk" test prep unit for taking ELA/Reading tests, my students and I turn our attention to understanding how our reading test is designed, learning what types of questions we can expect for different kinds of passages, and training our brains to remember to do what we know how to do (aka USE OUR STRATEGIES!).

I use a minilesson framework that helps myself and students keep track of and refer back to our test-taking strategies.

The framework helps me take what students already know how to do from our regular reading lessons to why that strategy or way of thinking will be important and helpful on the reading EOG. We discuss how and why they use certain strategies/skills when reading books of their choice and then apply the strategy to test taking.

To visually represent my minilessons, I have created a "Test-Prep" Minilessons Bulletin Board framework that helps us keep track of the discussions and tips for using each strategy. We build this bulletin board together during each "test-prep" minilesson.
Is it possible to prepare your students for standardized reading tests without kill and drill test prep? I believe you can honor your readers workshop and the foundation you have laid all year long with this reading test prep framework. 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers, help your students connect what they've learned all year to the strategies and skills they will need to use for their reading test!

I frame my minilessons much like my "how to think about our reading" lessons that I teach at the beginning of the year--with a B-D-A approach. We consider what strategies and behaviors we should use before, during, and after reading a reading test passage.


"BEFORE READING" Behaviors/Strategies
↗  PREVIEW the text (this includes activating prior knowledge and thinking about what the text will focus on)
↗  Figure out the GENRE
Is it possible to prepare your students for standardized reading tests without kill and drill test prep? I believe you can honor your readers workshop and the foundation you have laid all year long with this reading test prep framework. 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers, help your students connect what they've learned all year to the strategies and skills they will need to use for their reading test!

"DURING READING" Behaviors/Strategies
↗  Jot Down Thoughts/Track My Thinking
↗  Underline (or highlight) as I Read (I teach my students to "highlight effectively" earlier in the year)
↗  Use CONTEXT CLUES strategies for Unknown/Unfamiliar Words
Is it possible to prepare your students for standardized reading tests without kill and drill test prep? I believe you can honor your readers workshop and the foundation you have laid all year long with this reading test prep framework. 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers, help your students connect what they've learned all year to the strategies and skills they will need to use for their reading test!

"AFTER READING" Behaviors/Strategies
 ↗  Use labels to break the text into chunks (Beginning, Middle, End for fiction; add headers for nonfiction that has not been organized with subheadings)
↗   Read the question and decide if it requires Literal comprehension, Interpretation, or Thinking Beyond the Text (I teach this thinking method with a Question-Answer Relationship strategy with lots of modeling!)
↗  REWORD the question if it can be simplified
↗  Go back to the text to COLLECT EVIDENCE to answer the question
↗  Show EVIDENCE for or against EACH answer choice
↗  Mark out OBVIOUSLY WRONG choices
↗  Make AN EDUCATED DECISION about the answer (based on proof from the text)

For each of these strategies, we:
  • REVIEW or learn HOW we do each thing
  • Discuss WHY we've done this with books we want to read
  • Discuss WHY we should do this with reading test passages that we have to read
  • Discuss HOW the strategy/skill may need to be implemented a little differently when applied to reading tests

Let's follow through that line of thinking with an EXAMPLE: 

One thing we should always do when we start to read a book is PREVIEW THE TEXT.

1) How do we do this with a book we want to read?
  • We read the title and any information on the front of the book. We read the summary on the back of the book or on the book jacket. We look for any little "extras" the author has included (a preface, historical information, pictures, etc) and take a look at those. 
  • See how long the text/chapters are going to be.
  • We think about what the book is going to teach us or what the story might be about.
  • We figure out how the text is organized--chapters? subheadings? sections? can we tell if it is sequential or in a step by step order?

2) Why should we do this with a book we want to read?
  • Doing a quality preview of a text helps us set expectations for what we are going to read. It also helps us prepare our mind for the topic and may make it easier for us to read the text because parts of it will already be familiar to us.
  • We also use what we have gathered from our preview to try to figure out the genre. Figuring out the genre helps us set expectations for what we are about to read! 

3) Why should we do this with a passage that we have to read?
  • Jumping into our reading without previewing is like jumping off of a building without a parachute--you might survive, but you could have been WAY more prepared for what you were about to do! 
  • Previewing helps us PREPARE for what we are about to read, learn, and be required to think about. It helps you make predictions about the text.
  • Previewing also helps us move on from a passage we just read to the new passage we are about to read.

4) How might we do this differently on a test passage? 
  • Sometimes you may  only have the title and the length of the passage available to preview. Try to look for dialogue, subheadings, or any other information that will help you learn what the text is going to be about.
  • You may have to rely more on the title of the text. Think about different things the title could mean and perhaps preview by reading the first paragraph and skimming through the rest of the the passage to get a better idea of the topic/content.
  • Does your standardized tests give students an introductory snippet? Ours used to, but it no longer does this on all of the passages. We used to have to teach students not to skip over that important information.

Note: I do not recommend that students read ALL of the questions for a passage as a previewing strategy.  I have found that for struggling readers this does 1 or 2 things--makes the test taking process longer for them and/or insinuates that their job is more focused on answering the questions than understanding the text. I preach to my students that their job is to UNDERSTAND THE TEXT. Answering questions about it is just part of what they have to do.

Is it possible to prepare your students for standardized reading tests without kill and drill test prep? I believe you can honor your readers workshop and the foundation you have laid all year long with this reading test prep framework. 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers, help your students connect what they've learned all year to the strategies and skills they will need to use for their reading test!However, if students ask if they should read the questions first, we discuss why they feel they might want to do this. ("Because last year's teacher told us to" is not an acceptable answer ;). )

I let students know that I will be teaching them two ways to think through the test questions and I share with them my reasons for NOT enforcing a "read the questions first" strategy. If students really want to use it as a strategy and feel it is helpful, I recommend that they only read 2-3 of the questions because they don't need to be trying to hold all of the questions in their minds.

I believe that you can honor your teaching style while preparing students to do their best on the reading test. During my test-prep unit, students still read their independent books and I still confer with them about their reading.

Yes, my students eventually work on reading some passages independently, but it happens much later than in most classrooms and after a lot of ground work for what the expectations are and how they can help themselves be successful has been laid.

Before we jump in to reading passages and answering questions, my students have "discovered" how a test is put together with me as their guide. This allows students a much greater opportunity to internalize test prep strategies and increases their mental engagement more so than simply telling them about the test and what they should expect.

I've got a few more reading test prep posts that I plan to share with you over the next few weeks. I know this is on many teacher's brains as they prepare for the remainder of the year and I want to share all that I know about doing test prep in a manner that "feels right" and helps students.

Make Sure You Haven't Missed Anything and Stay Tuned for these Upcoming Posts
Is Your Test Prep Attitude Broken?
→ A Framework for Preparing for Standardized Reading Tests that Honors Your Teaching Style
How and Why to Sort Reading Questions (to launch your reading test questions unit)
→ Two Methods for Thinking Through and Answering Reading Questions
→ "4-Step Process to Answering Reading Questions" Mini-lesson

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Is Your Test Prep Attitude Broken?

It seems that testing season is just around the corner. Honestly, I hope you have another month before you begin teaching test prep strategies and working on reading passages with your students, but I know that many classrooms are already beginning to turn their focus toward end of grade testing.
3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers, test prep and standardized testing season is right around the corner. I believe we can honor our teaching beliefs and style while still teaching our students strategies for taking state ELA/reading tests. Before we get going with our test preparation, let's make sure our attitudes are not broken.
If you are looking towards that season in your classroom with a little bit of dread (or this is your first year administering an end of year test), I hope I offer you some solutions, ideas, and activities that will be valuable for your students in my next few blog posts.

Today's post is focused on attitude. 

Your first job is to get YOUR test-prep attitude in the right state of mind. {As you know, attitude is everything!}

First, we all know that DRILL and KILL is not effective and it is really NOT developmentally appropriate for students of any age to sit for long periods of time reading passage after passage after passage answering question after question after question. This is a sure-fire way to have your students tune out when you need them to be engaged the most!

Students have to do this on testing day, but we can prepare them for testing without putting them through hours of dread every day until the test in the name of "test preparation."

If you've read about my approach to reading instruction and how I help my students build a reading life, my attitude and approach towards End of Grade testing shouldn't surprise you in the least.

However, I do want to say that no one really taught me a better way to prep my students for testing and maybe you have not been exposed to a better approach towards test prep either. Please don't take my words as judging. Testing and the expectations from our school leaders, district, and state departments put us all in tough positions when it comes to testing.

But, you know I believe we all are a part of the #changemakers movement, so we can do this and we can do it BETTER!

Make this your mantra: Reading passage after passage IS NOT TEACHING STUDENTS STRATEGIES FOR TAKING THE TEST. 

I want to encourage you to find another way. 

My first job as a test administrator and a classroom teacher is to ensure that the attitude around the test remains positive. I believe that children are very impressionable and look at us to show them the way. If our test-prep attitudes are broken, our students will mirror that.

Let's make sure our students mirror our positivity towards those things that we must do and that we spend our test-prep time helping them feel knowledgeable and confident towards the test.

These are "testing truths" in my classroom:
  • State testing is not something we are trying to survive. A survival attitude sends the message that something is being done to us. It sends the message that if we do not pass, we did not survive. It also sends the message that the test is just something we are trying to get through. Is that how you want your students to take "THE TEST" on testing day?
  • Students do not need to "GET USED TO" the real EOG. We WILL NOT TAKE A LONG PRACTICE EOG a few weeks before the REAL EOG. No one needs to learn to "get used to" sitting for 3-4 hours without a snack or drink of water. Really, what's the point? Should a marathon runner run a full marathon before their scheduled race? This article says no
  • I have built a community of readersMy students are wild readers. They have been wild readers all year. We have had sustained silent reading daily. (That was their "preparation," by the way.) They have developed stamina and a strong relationship with books and texts. Because of this strong relationship, they have grown as readers. EVERY SINGLE CHILD in my classroom has grown as a reader--I tell them all this and you should tell your students too! (Isn't that right, kids? Aren't you a better reader today than you were in August?) Therefore, every single one of us has already shown growth--whether in fluency, stamina, a love of reading, being able to choose a book or learning how to make inferences, describe characters and tackle nonfiction texts. Every single one of us will try to have the same attitude about the reading passages that we do towards our own books.
  • I teach my students that they should approach the test with a "What do I get to read about today?" attitude. They can actually be excited about the test. (Okay, I know not overly excited because, well, testing, but I definitely encourage students to think in their mind "What do I get to read about today?" on the day of testing.) 
  • Groaning about test prep (having to reading passages and answer questions, etc) is not acceptable. Just like with any other classroom assignment, I have made the decision that it's what's best for us to do at that time. Complaining is not allowed, it's not helpful, it's not productive.
On the pressure of being "the" teacher during testing season
3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers, test prep and standardized testing season is right around the corner. I believe we can honor our teaching beliefs and style while still teaching our students strategies for taking state ELA/reading tests. Before we get going with our test preparation, let's make sure our attitudes are not broken.
I've always tried really hard to diffuse my stress towards state testing. It can be really hard. I know I've almost hyperventilated plenty of times when I've discovered my students forgot how to do something in math or they seemed to be incapable of completing their work with carefulness and accuracy.

I know that having some wine on hand is a must during this season. So is going out to dinner with friends and not taking too much work home. You need to take care of yourself and your stress level during this season.

Here's the real reason why, though--if you are stressed about testing, I truly believe it will be hard to hide that tension from your students. And, we really don't want students to sense that testing is stressful to us when we are trying to encourage them to "chill-out."

I always tell my students,
"Your teacher is not stressed. She knows you are going to do well. You should not be stressed either. We have worked hard all year and we are going to do the same on these tests."
Now, if I'm saying that, I have to ACT like I'm not stressed. And what's the easy way to act unstressed? You got it--BE unstressed!


In my next post, I'm going to show you strategies for preparing your students for standardized reading tests that will allow you to honor your reader's workshop style of teaching, encourage student inquiry and collaborative learning, and keep testing from being something that is "done" to kids.

Make Sure You Haven't Missed Anything and Stay Tuned for these Upcoming Posts
→ Is Your Test Prep Attitude Broken?
→ A Framework for Preparing for Standardized Reading Tests that Honors Your Teaching Style
How and Why to Sort Reading Questions (to launch your reading test questions unit)
→ Two Methods for Thinking Through and Answering Reading Questions
→ "4-Step Process to Answering Reading Questions" Mini-lesson

Stay Connected!

Free_qar_bookmark_test_strategy_optin
Grab your free QAR bookmark and question sorts!


Powered by ConvertKit

Grab the materials to make implementing this multiple choice/standardized reading test-prep framework easy!
 Reading Test Prep framework for standardized reading tests for 3rd 4th 5th 6th grade

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