Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Effective Teaching and Test Prep Get Married!

 Effective teaching is the key to success on any high stakes test. If you take away all of the  political nonsense and  "crap" we have to deal with, I am actually in favor of standardized testing. Primarily because it gives you a starting point and an ending point for the students in your class and it allows you to measure growth in the areas of math and reading. The stress that is sometimes put on the teachers to "increase test scores" sometimes does more harm than good....(that is an entirely different post if I start talking about that).  The question is, "when does test prep start and how does it look?" The answer is, test prep looks like effective teaching and it starts on day one.
 I have been in some schools where test prep starts right about now. In actuality test prep starts in September (it starts in kindergarten if you want to get technical). But the point I am making is that it's not about shoving testing terms and practice tests at students a few months before the test and assume that this is test prep. If a child is to be successful on an exam, they must be able to read fluently, apply comprehension strategies or math strategies to process information, and use critical thinking skills to make logical choice. Reinforcing these strategies and skills from the start of the school year looks like read alouds, workshop activities, opportunities to explore inquiries, completing activities that require them to apply newly learned skills to real-life scenarios, rigor in daily instruction, repetition and the drill and practice of basic skills in math, high-interest assignments and projects that encourage thoughtfulness, integration of technology, and cross curricular activities that show how these skills can transfer into other subject areas. If this is done with consistency throughout the school year, preparing  them for the test can be more meaningful. I believe that you must expose students to passage reading and standardized test questions before they take the actual test. But the focus should be making sure that the students can apply those same skills that were taught in reading and math to solving the questions on the test. I do this by making sure that the students can identify the variety of skills that I've taught. For example what does a question that is asking the author's purpose look like? I provide students with a passage and multiple choice questions. We read the questions together and the students are required to tell me what type of question is being asked. This may be a question that requires them to use context clues or identify the main idea....whatever the case may be they have to identify the strategy. This strengthens their metacognitive skills as well as sets their purpose for reading. They now have an idea of what they are looking for while they read when taking the test. I also encourage them to mark up the text (read with pen in hand). Being able to do this not only sets them up for success on the test, it also teaches them how to be active readers and will ultimately set them up for success for the upper grades.

This evening I created a game that will reinforce some of the skills we have learned so far:

Strategies Bingo is a resource with terms and strategies on flash cards and a few activities that I will be completing to reinforce comprehension and test taking skills.  Feel free to download these activities and share any games or activities that you do to prepare for "THE TEST".

(click HERE to download) 


Strategies Bingo: you can play corners, x, or t. Give a blank bingo sheet to each student (printed on front and back). Have them randomly write 9 of the strategies on each side. Have them choose a side to play with. They can switch sides or trade with a classmate at the start of each game.
Run off 2 sets for each pair of students. Students can play Strategies Go Fish or Memory with the cards. They can also quiz each other.
Teacher vs Student: Every strategy that is defined correctly by a student earns the students a point. Every strategy that they answer incorrectly earns the teacher a point. The teacher can establish the incentive at the start of the game.
Strategies Tic Tac Toe: Post a blank bingo sheet on the board. Between activity transitions, give the first group ready the chance to read and define a strategy card. If they get it write they can write their group’s number in the box of their choice. The first group to get Tic Tac Toe can pick from the goodie bag or add a star to their behavior envelopes.

TAG it a 3! 

This is another strategy that I use starting at the beginning of the year. Open-ended questions carry the most weight and are usually the largest area of weakness on the standardized test. Overall students need to know how to respond thoughtfully to an open-ended question. They need to know how to organize this response logically and provide supporting details for their answer. By using the TAG it a 3 strategy, students practice turning the prompt/question around, answer the question and provide 2-3 details to support their answer. We practice this weekly. Students are given a rubric at the top of their writing paper and they must refer to this rubric as they write. The rubric I provide is kid-friendly and is based on the Pa writing rubric (just less wordy). When teaching students how to respond to open-ended questions, I also reinforce how to look for what the prompt is asking you to do (do you have compare/contrast, sequence events, identify the theme or the main idea, etc.). Below I have posted a TAG it a 3! picture of what the chart looks like. The PDF file is in the document link posted above.  Please feel free to use it and share your thoughts and suggestions for other activities that are great for teaching test-taking strategies.


  1. I completely agree with you. Good teaching = test prep. Great game!

    Teaching in Room 6

  2. Ms. Wainright, I love your thoughts on this matter. VERY well said!!! ALL of my work is to better connect teaching and testing! Thank you for such a wonderful post on your blog...and I love the strategies Bingo! Rachel Reyna - Fisher Reyna Education.

  3. I love your ideas about effective teaching and test prep...they are one in the same. :) I've been recently working with my students to identify what the question is asking, and you're right, they are becoming much more metacognitive and it forces them to think critically about the questions. I have also started introducing them to the different types of distractors that are presented in the mutliple choice items. When they have to choose their answer, they must justify in words why it's correct as well as what type of distractors the other choices present. (For ex--close, but not the best answer, detail from the text but not related to the question, etc). I've set it up like in a tournament style using where students complete 1 question each day and compete against each other in teams. Now I'm going to incorporate some of your BINGO strategies into my tournament. Thank you!