Test-Taking Skills & Authentic Literature

This time tomorrow, I’ll be heading off to school. Sometime today, I’ll settle down to plan lessons for the five reading intervention groups I teach. These fourth, fifth and sixth graders will all take the PSSA in a few weeks, so I’m duty-bound to facilitate lessons that will provide practice and hopefully, a dose of confidence before the Big Test.

For months now, we’ve been using the PCQC strategy I created (see my March 3 slice)  and I believe it has become part of their reading repertoire. Between their classroom practice passages and the ones we’ve done in small group, most of the kids are familiar with the format of PSSA and could do without one more practice passage. Last week, in order to change it up and preview a book students may want to read , I decided to use the first chapter of an unfamiliar, yet appealing book to practice test-taking strategies and offer a peek into a book students may want to read. This idea kept the students’ interest, and highlighted important instructional skills that I needed to review. Here’s an example of what I did in my fifth grade group.

Using the first chapter of On My Honor, by Marion Dane Bauer, I created multiple choice questions similar to those on PSSA. Each student received a copy of the book and together we previewed it and made predictions based on the title and information we had gleaned from the back cover. After that, we previewed the questions (PCQC). I then asked students to read the first chapter, “chunking” the text and remembering to monitor, using post-its to hold their thinking. After completing the chapter, students answered the questions and checked their work. Surprisingly, (or not) all five of the students in this group incorrectly answered the questions dealing with the main gist of the chapter. Yikes! I definitely had to do some reteaching. I definitely had to help these student slow down, think and find evidence to support their opinion. I did not show students the questions I had marked. Instead, after reteaching,I gave the kids a whole new paper (same questions). This time, four out of five answered the problematic questions correctly. Another interesting development was that the students did not want to read the book after the first read. However, when they had a chance to reread and understand, all of them said they would choose to read this book.

In my opinion, using authentic literature, even when preparing for a test, provides students with a richer, more engaging reading experience. I was pleased with how this worked out and plan to find more books to use this week. Hopefully, many of these texts will wind up on the list of books students want to read. The thirty minutes I spend with these groups that meet four times a week goes by quickly. I need to give serious consideration to how I will balance that time. These lessons allowed me to work on test-taking skills, help students strengthen their thinking skills, and preview a possible read with my students. It was a win-win. Perhaps some of you may find this idea helpful.




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