Reflections and Resources from Tarheelstate Teacher: Ways Teachers Prepare Students for Standardized Tests without Mentioning the Words
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Ways Teachers Prepare Students for Standardized Tests without Mentioning the Words

How do we prepare students for standardized tests without a heavy focus on "THE TEST" and multiple-choice questions ALL-YEAR-LONG? Today, I'm sharing a multitude of ways we teachers prepare our students for end of year state tests.
Good teachers prepare students for standardized reading tests all year long and in so many ways. It's not all about the drill and kill reading test prep in the best classrooms. This blog post celebrates all you have done in your readers workshop and includes ideas and strategies for how you can support your students to grow as readers ALL YEAR LONG. 3rd grade, 4th grade, and 5th grade teachers, read and enjoy!
What inspired this post? A few weeks ago on my Facebook page, I asked teachers this really innocent question.

"When do you start prepping students for state testing?"

And then, I got all bent out of shape waiting for someone to respond, "I prep my students for the test ALL YEAR LONG. That's what GOOD teachers do." 

Word. I agree. 

Someone did respond, "I honestly thought I was doing that since day 1, Lol."

No one responded in a way that hurt my feelings or made me feel dumb for asking, but it did get me thinking...how do teachers really prepare students to be successful on the end of grade, standardized state tests ALL YEAR LONG without actually saying the words "the test."

Because we literally prepare our students in a million INTENTIONAL ways and a million small ways that we wouldn't even think of directly connecting to state testing, I decided to write two lists--one for math and one for reading.

Today, I'm focusing on how we prepare our students for the READING TEST all.year.long without mentioning the words "the test."

{NOTE: Throughout this list, I have linked to blog posts and resources that support that specific reading effort. If something in the list "speaks to your reading heart," be sure to click the link to find out more about my perspective or resources on that topic.}

✔ We are aware of our struggling readers from day 1 and we make it our mission to help them fall in love with reading. (That first link is a blog post that includes a free download of Series books organized by level so that you can match readers to series they CAN READ and ENJOY.)

✔ We help all readers match themselves to books they can read and want to read by teaching them to read "just right books." We know that a focus on time spent reading just right books helps children improve and grow as readers.

✔ We build a community of readers who have learned to love books and can sustain silent reading. Along with this, we also build in accountability for our reading expectations. (One way I do this is through "Status of the Class" share-outs each morning.)

✔ We help our students develop stamina to read for longer stretches of time.

✔ We help our students grow and see their growth as readers--whether in fluency, stamina, a love of reading, being able to choose a book, learning how to make inferences, describing characters, or tackling nonfiction texts! #growthmindset is our test-prepping jam!

✔ We intervene with research-based strategies AND instinct to try to help students who are not reading on grade-level. These include all the things we as classroom teachers do--after school tutoring (usually without pay), lunch bunch tutoring sessions, creating differentiated homework, and more!

✔ We differentiate our stations, classwork, guided reading groups, and word study groups to match the students' level and help them grow to higher levels.

✔ We fight for the kids who need modifications, 504 plans, interventions, IEP's, etc. so that they get what they need to get a fair chance at a year of learning and testing in their best environment. 

✔ We teach character traits and other academic vocabulary so that students have a better vocabulary for LIFE and when encountering words on the test. (Emoji-style character traits)

✔ We use exit-slips or reader response notebooks as informal assessments.

✔ We use student performance to know when to PIVOT our teaching and elaborate on our lessons so that our students are successful. 

✔ We are purposeful in incorporating “test talk” language when discussing or questioning students during read alouds, guided reading groups, and one-on-one conferences. We use similar language as our state tests when reading aloud and prompting students to discuss a story or text. Here are some examples: 
  • How did {the character} change in the story? 
  • What was the main idea of that {second paragraph}?
  • How does the title connect with the text?
  • What is the meaning of the word ____ as used in this sentence/paragraph/story? 
(My "Thinking Through Reading Tests" unit helps teachers and students bridge the gap from "what we've learned how to do with reading all year" to "how that applies to our end of grade test".)

✔ We pause when needed, whether the pacing guide says to or not. 

✔ We maintain a "sense of urgency" within our reading environment. We have no time for wasted time. When students are slacking at independent reading, we show them the math on how many minutes per day, per week, and per year they are losing that could help them become better readers. We make sure students know that focusing during reading time and honoring their reading lives is greatly important. 

✔ We vary the opportunities students have to respond to text so that they have many ways to demonstrate their comprehension (multiple choice, short answer, discussion, illustrations, graphic organizers), but we are purposeful about the use of the different methods.

✔ We have a way to document the learning in reading that has happened throughout the year so that it is a constant reminder of what students have learned and can be referred back to often throughout the year. We do this with frameworks like CAFE walls or Reading Minilesson Menu Boards, I can statements and bulletin boards, or anchor charts.

✔ We know the CRITICAL STANDARDS for our grade-level and are sure that we weave those throughout our year, ensuring that students receive multiple exposures and opportunities to master those literacy concepts. (Some examples might include identifying and supporting themes in literature, describing characters, noticing character changes, making inferences, and identifying main ideas.)

We encourage our students. I believe that teachers who continuously point out how much progress students have made and praise them for their efforts create students who are confident about reading and their skills to show their knowledge about it. We can appreciate the questions they ask during read alouds and guided reading groups, the observations and inferences they make about texts, and how eager they are to continue reading or listening to a read aloud. Encouragement and praise should happen all year long, not just during testing season. Kids who see that their teacher is confident in their knowledge and progress are much more willing to feel confident in themselves and take risks.

It's important that we are able to see our year-long reading instruction for what it is---more than a test score.

Your students' scores on a test ON ONE DAY OF THEIR LIVES should not diminish the hard work that you've encouraged them to put into learning to be better readers this year. It should not diminish your efforts either--the GOOD teaching you have done and the ways you have protected children from methods and madness that do not coincide with the way learners learn.

If you want to learn more about my approach to test prep and how I maintain an environment of normalcy all the while teaching my students to "think through reading tests," the blog posts below may be of interest to you:

→ 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

→ NEW!!! Reading Test Prep Minilessons (an overview and now included in the resource!)

You can also check out the full "Thinking Through Reading Tests" unit in my tpt store. (In March 2018, I added 14 pages of minilesson notes to the resource!)

I'll be publishing "Ways Teachers Prepare Students for Standardized Tests--Math Edition" soon, so stay tuned for that one!

Want to remind yourself of all of these AWESOME things you do for kids? Pin this post for later!
Good teachers prepare students for standardized reading tests all year long and in so many ways. It's not all about the drill and kill reading test prep in the best classrooms. This blog post celebrates all you have done in your readers workshop and includes ideas and strategies for how you can support your students to grow as readers ALL YEAR LONG. 3rd grade, 4th grade, and 5th grade teachers, read and enjoy!

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