by Nichole Rozakos, Teacher and Guest Author
If you are anything like me, come March, you start to feel a pull… a pull towards doing the one thing that you said you’d never do when you became a teacher- teach to the test. Sure, throughout the year you’ve talked about “the big test” with your class, showed them some helpful strategies, maybe even used a few multiple choice activities to use as warm-ups with your kids. However, there comes a day when you have to choose to spend your school day focusing on quality teaching or teaching to the test.
After a particularly hard year, and a particularly poor set of scores, I realized that there has got to be a way to teach with quality and teach the test at the same time. It is then that I started to read about, create and later believe this idea that “test taking” can still fit into the category of “good teaching.”
So it is with that thought in mind, I present some test taking tips because after all, (sigh) test we must-so tips we need!
As many of us do, I teach various literary genres throughout the year. I now treat test taking like it is another genre.
Test Taking as a Genre
1) The Genre of Test Taking is Unique.
This genre includes multiple-choice questions, and we need to know what type of questions the test is asking us. This is particularly important when we are practicing reading comprehension. After discussing inferring during Reader’s Workshop, we use test release passages and questions to determine if the question is asking us to: infer, go back into the text and find the answer, or both. If it’s a text question, we use a highlighter to highlight where we find the answer. If it’s an inferring question we know we need to use our brains and clues from the text to find the answer. This really helps students get comfortable with types of questions such as main idea/ and Author’s purpose.
This is surprisingly easy for students to understand and apply. I have seen all levels of learners use this strategy successfully. As an added bonus, during the discussion of each question, students love to debate and “kindly disagree” with each other as they use their highlighters to support why they chose certain answers.
2) The Test Taking Genre has its own language.
While we are practicing with test prep materials, we make sure to identify words we come across that teachers would consider “academic language.” (These words are usually found in test directions-and nowhere else in a child’s life.) I keep track of these words we find on a list. I assign a few students a day to look up these words in the dictionary and read the definition out loud. After hearing the definition and discussing the meaning, other students will come up with a “kid-friendly” explanation to post on the list, next to the “academic language”. This list is posted right next to our testing strategies list in the weeks leading up to the test. Words found on this list would include: determine, passage, comprehend, restate, and objective.
3) The Test Taking Genre is Tricky!
When my students start to get nervous about the test, I let them know that I promise to teach them all the content that is on the test, and I promise to let them get comfortable with what the test looks like. This is where all those helpful strategies come in. We discuss and list all the regular ones: eliminating the wrong choices, a good answer vs. the best answer, etc. Here are some other quick ones to add to the list: During Daily Oral Language and test prep, we look for homophones that are commonly confused. Homophones like “their, there and they’re” or “two, to and too.” My students are taught to beware that these words might be used incorrectly. We use the “Jaws Song” to alert each other to a possible homophone mix up. It is so cute to hear the kids start humming the tune in the middle of D.O.L (closer to the test, we discuss the many reasons why we don’t make noise, but keep it in our minds instead). Likewise we have a jingle for synonyms and antonyms (“Synonyms Same, Antonyms Opposite”) every time this concept is mentioned. It is these little routines that keep common testing material fresh in students’ minds. During math test prep, we discuss how the test makers try to “trick” us by putting an answer that is wrong on purpose. I challenge the kids to “outsmart” the test-makers, by finding the “trick answer.” I identify trick answers as the ones that are listed if a student has made a mistake; maybe a student added when the question asked them to subtract, or multiplied when they should have divided. They put a wink face 😉 next to the solution they believe is there to “trick” them. They enjoy finding the trick answers as much as figuring out the correct ones!
4) The Test-Taking Genre looks different from other curriculum!
This year my wonderful partner and I realized that although our test scores were improving drastically- in one area, our kids were still doing poorly. It was in the area of Writing Strategies. We looked at the test release questions that dealt with writing strategies, and we realized that our kids do so poorly because we don’t teach writing in the way that it looks on the test! It was then that we created a plan. We gathered all the test release questions on writing strategies we could find. We created writing mini-lessons to teach during Writer’s Workshop that would correlate with the questions. After introducing one of these mini-lessons on Monday and having the students practice it all week, we finish the week off on Friday by displaying a test question and having the class discuss the answer. An example of this tip in use would be: teaching a mini-lesson on Monday about unnecessary details in writing, having the students edit their writing pieces specifically for these unneeded details all week long, and finally displaying a test release question on Friday that asks students to choose what detail sentence should be eliminated in a passage.
Phew! By the time March is over, I feel like my students really understand the genre of test taking. Just in time too! Next up, teaching stamina in April!
About the Author
Nichole Rozakos has been a teacher for 5 years and currently teaches a 2nd/ 3rd split at McKinley Elementary in Burlingame, Ca. She credits her mother for her love of teaching. In her free time, Nichole likes to read, dance and travel.