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.
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.
INQUIRY-BASED TEST PREP:
My test taking strategies framework for reading is one of those "I can't remember what I did before this" routines.
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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.
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.
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
"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
"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.
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.
Want MORE Reading Test Prep Ideas and Details about Thinking Through Reading Tests?
Grab the materials to make implementing this multiple choice/standardized reading test-prep framework easy!