The Massachusetts MCAS is the assessment that students take to demonstrate their proficiency in the subject area. There are four Open Response questions on the exam which demonstrate the student's ability to comprehend what they've read. When students write it , they are aligning to the W.9-10.2 standard. Therefore I incorporate Open response questions into every unit that I teach.
Open responses may give some students the impression that they are free to answer the question in any format they want. It's not unusual for them to think they can summarize the story read versus answer in the specific format necessary for them to receive points for the answer. Open response questions are not only graded for their content, but also for their clarity and format. Responding to an open response question in a standardized manner will also help students develop a more focused response, which in turn helps them get higher points on the question. I use a template which helps them organize their thoughts and writing which I will share in the Building Knowledge section.
I first want to find out what my ninth grade repeaters remember and know about answering an open response question. I use an activator called "Words That Come To Mind..." Students are asked to fill in the sections with words that come to their mind when they think of Open Response.
Next I ask students to share their words with a partner. If their partner disagrees with a word they will discuss why. As they are sharing I am circulating among the students while listening to what they are sharing. I then pick three or four students to share their words. As they share I will clear up any misunderstandings and reiterate words that are accurate descriptions of an open response such as the students example I included as a resource for this section.
I introduce a template that I want them to use to organize the components for writing an open response answer. Answering an open response requires students to make a Point, find Evidence to support their point, and then give an Explanation. The acronym for this template is P.E.E.
I then hand out the Open Response question and Grading Rubric. I use a docucamera to display the question on screen so everyone can see my annotations of the essential vocabulary in the prompt or question being asked. If students do not understand what they are being asked to answer they undoubtedly will not receive full credit for their answer.
We then discuss the meaning of the academic words: Explain, Relevant, Specific Information, and Excerpt because they will need to understand the words that most likely will be used in the MCAS prompts as well as other standardized tests. Next I annotate the prompt and ask them to do the same.
Because this is the first open response question they have answered so far this year, I will demonstrate how I would begin answering the question using the PEE template and "Think -A-Loud" teaching strategy which is demonstrating how I would be thinking about filling in the template. I begin with the topic sentence and then move onto my first Point, then finding Evidence to support my Point, and lastly Explaining the evidence in my own words. I review how to write the concluding sentence to the open response and then ask them to begin filling in their template as I circulate and check for understanding.
Many of my students need support in clarifying their ideas and finding the evidence in the text. I am always thinking of ways to build scaffolding leading to student success in the lesson's goals of finding relevant and sufficient evidence for the story. For these students I ask them to first write the three points they think will answer the question. After checking for accuracy. I narrow their search for evidence by pointing out the page and for some the paragraph the evidence can be found. This scaffolding makes the assignment accessible to my struggling learners and gives them a requisite framework for future success in writing open response answers W.9-10.2.
I love this template because it makes the format for answering an open response clear to all students. It's important to be clear on what students must know, understand, and be able to do in order for them to grasp the learning objective. All the students used the template and began seeing how their writing begins to "unfold" into a well written paragraph. I needed to prompt and guide many of them in how to find the evidence and ad an explanation of their found evidence. Working with text dependent questions is an important shift in Language Arts. Opinions have their place in persuasive writing but not in open responses. As the year progresses, I hope that as students practice using the PEE template/organizer they will also need less of my prompting and support in filling it out.
We did not have enough time to finish this lesson by writing the final draft of the open response so I did not have a formal "wrap-up" activity. To demonstrate the importance of completing this lesson, students will complete filling in their templates the following day and use laptop computers to type their final drafts.