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During the weeks of January and February, classroom instruction often takes a dramatic turn toward test-prep.
However, focusing on skills necessary for the test doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re abandoning significant learning. In fact, the on-demand nature of standardized literacy assessments is characteristic of much of the reading and writing we do in our everyday, real-world lives.
It’s not test prep—It’s real world.
When is the last time you wrote a final draft of anything? Maybe a graduate paper or grant proposal, but what about everyday writing? My guess is your typical day includes lots of first-draft writing that often is in response to someone else’s prompt–emails, teacher newsletters, online posts, lesson plans, etc.
In addition, if you evaluate the type of reading the average person does daily, you’ll note that much of it is also short and on-demand–Internet surfing, emails, newspaper articles, etc. that can be read in only a few minutes. People read short texts and write to prompts every day.
The ability to execute this kind of reading and writing is outlined in the Common Core (see reference at end of article) and just happens to be the method that standardized assessments often utilize.
It’s not all stories—It’s unique formats.
Students will face both literature and informational text on the typical reading test. But it’s more than just a balance of fiction and nonfiction that you should be putting in front of your students on a regular basis. Consider a variety of text types, too.
Frequently, some of the informational text is presented in a unique format, rather than a traditional article or two-column passage like a textbook. In past years, Indiana students have seen a play/monologue, a Q&A interview, a nonfiction poem, a pro/con editorial, a collection of short articles, etc. And for some students, it’s the format that the information is presented in that throws them. All year long, look for non-traditional text formats that you can weave into your units. (NOTE: Common Core Reading Standard #10 outlines that teachers are providing students with a range of text types.)
It’s not just a text—It’s multiple texts.
In addition to varying the text types, be sure you are asking students to read multiple texts in one sitting. Again, that’s a real-world reader habit. When 14 inches of snow dumps on your city, do you just read one text about the topic? Of course not. You:
- View a weather report on television.
- Surf the Internet for how to keep your kids and pets safe when heading outside.
- Learn from an online blog how people were coping with the cold temperatures.
- Read newspaper editorials about how the road crews are/aren’t doing a good job.
That’s what we do. We seek information from multiple texts about a single topic. And we do it all in one sitting. So, for students to be expected to read and comprehend multiple texts all in one sitting is a real-world skill we have to prepare them for.
It’s not about all the traits—It’s about the “trump” traits.
Other than a simple check & change opportunity, students have to start and finish their written responses to standardized prompts/questions all in a single draft. For that reason, when you look at any standardized assessment writing rubric, the emphasis will always be on the traits of Ideas and Organization.
The scoring criteria typically indicates an expectation of coherence and cohesiveness. “Coherence,” meaning that it’s well-developed, on topic, and easy to follow. “Cohesive,” meaning that it’s complete, with all facets of the prompt addressed in a beginning, middle, and end. These qualities are rooted in the traits of Ideas and Organization. If students are strong in those two traits, they will undoubtedly do well with standardized writing prompts.
And again, writing coherent and cohesive first drafts goes way beyond a test-prep skill. This is important for college and career readiness also.
Since on-demand writing doesn’t allow for major revision and editing, students don’t have ample time or space to improve the traits of voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions. With all first-draft writing, it’s about getting the gist of the ideas down in a logical order. That’s the first priority. Then, the other traits can be addressed. (For more on how the 6 traits fit into the writing process, check out our archived Idea Library article.)
It’s not a 2-week blitz—It’s a yearlong expectation.
The strategies and experiences detailed above shouldn’t just be a part of a test-prep focus. If we truly believe that on-demand reading and writing skills are essential for real-world literacy, then we should weave such opportunities into the entire school year.