During the 2010 Literacy Retreat, the Smekens Education consultants and staff participated in a Test LadyTM Style Show. To provide students a stronger sense of audience, the scorers behind the state writing assessments need to be humanized. Giving students a person to write to is more motivating than if they think their writing will be scored by a machine. This is what prompted Kristina Smekens to invent the Test Lady–the old ladies who read and score all the state writing prompts.
As the Test LadyTM Sisters were introduced one by one, they walked up a center aisle as if they were models on a runway. (View video above.) More than just looking “old”, these Test Ladies each represented an essential component in strong prompt writing. Their demeanor, clothing, props, and/or accessories mirrored their favorite parts of good writing. Not only do students need to know there is a person reading their prompt writing, they also should know what the scorer is looking for.
In 2018, a new Test Lady Sister shared four of her tips & tricks for test taking with fourth graders at Adams Central Elementary (Monroe, IN). Her name? Eva Evidence.
Eva Evidence: To prepare for constructed-response writing, Eva passionately shares her tips with any students who will listen. Dressed in her comfortable cardigan with her horn-rimmed glasses in place, she provides teachers with the tips their students need to succeed on the test. She’s the first to admit that sometimes she and her sisters use some pretty fancy “teachery” words, so she wants students to read carefully and think before they pick an answer. She loves it when students include proof from the reading to back up their inferences. And you’ll always see her with a highlighter in hand ready to mark up a reading passage to determine what it’s mostly about. More than anything, Eva wants students to succeed on the test and in their schoolwork.
Prudence Prompt: (pictured with Edith Ending) Dressed prim and proper (e.g., lace hanky, white gloves, cameo brooch, etc.), Prudence is all about being correct. She looks for students who stick to the topic. She is very strict about what she wants them to write about, and following that assigned topic is very important to her.
Penelope Pre-Writing: The foundation to all good writing is thinking before you write. Penelope expects students to do a simple pre-write, but she rarely finds a pre-write done well. Sometimes students write whole sentences. Sometimes they leave it blank. Sometimes they spend too much time on the pre-write. It all drives Penelope crazy to the point of pulling her hair out. (This Test Lady had teased her long hair to stand up as if she’d been pulling it out.) She knows that to achieve a well-organized first draft, students need to think before they write.
Tallulah Title: (pictured with Prunella Purple Words) She may look short and sweet, but don’t be fooled. Tallulah is powerful! She’s like her favorite part of writing the title. It’s just a small little phrase at the beginning of the writing, but it can pack quite a punch! The title is the first opportunity students have to really hook the reader and set the tone for their writing. Tallulah appreciates students who consider the best title for their pieces. Rather than just labeling their writing by using the same title as the prompt, students should use voice and grab the reader’s attention. NOTE: The lady who portrayed Tallulah is about 4′ 11″. Perfect for the part!
Laverne Length: Dressed from head to toe in bling. She’s covered in gold, glitter, jewelry, and every accessory she could find. Laverne is all about the fine details in writing. She is looking for long, developed writing. She doesn’t just want some details, she wants lots of details. (She doesn’t want one accessory, she wants 10!) She loves writing that carries on for several pages and elaborates on every aspect of the required tasks outlined in the prompt. She is looking for students who utilize lots of details, like specific names, sensory descriptions, interesting comparisons, relevant reasons, and significant examples. She values students who explain their ideas thoroughly, not just mention them. Laverne is all about length! She values the fine details in student writing.
Prunella Purple Words: (pictured with Tallulah Title) Prunella can’t wear enough purple. She has her favorite purple frock, with purple sparkles, a purple hat, purple shoes, and her purple purse. She is so excited to mark fabulous word choice with her purple highlighter; it’s become her new favorite color. And Prunella would like all the writers to know, she loves purple words/big words spelled wrong more than plain, boring words spelled right. So she really wants to encourage students to go for those bigger, better words in their prompt writing.
Edith Ending: (pictured with Prudence Prompt) This Test LadyTM Sister loves endings. More than just her clothing and accessories, Edith’s favorite part of good writing seems to have affected her body shape. Get a look at her “rear” ending. (She stuffed her panty hose to make her butt bigger.) She doesn’t want a minimal ending that simply announces THE END, or Thank You, or Goodbye. She wants an intentional ending. NOTE: Edith also had balloons for her chest. Point out that Edith has a pretty good “beginning” too. Edith appreciates intentional beginnings and intentional endings in prompt writing.
Cherry Check-it-Over: Many students finish their writing and then are quick to turn it in. It would be better if they would read it over carefully. Cherry wants students to take that final step of self-editing seriously. It’s all about the finishing touches, punctuation, capitalization, correct grammar. She loves to see signs that students went back into their drafts and made some minor changes. Sometimes it includes striking through weak word choice and replacing it with stronger (purple) words. Sometimes it includes inserting a paragraph symbol where the writer forgot to indent. Maybe it simply includes changing word spellings and/or inserting in missing punctuation. Using her magnifying glass, Cherry is always looking for evidence that the students reread their writing before they turned it in.