Each day, I begin my ELA class with Reading Time. This is a time for students to access a range of texts. I use this time to conference with students, collect data on class patterns and trends with independent reading and to provide individualized support.
In preparation for our state test (the NJ Assessment of Skills and Knowledge or NJASK), I do some work that highlights the reading and writing that will be on the test. My goal as a teacher is not to get my students to pass a test but to get them to be better readers and writers. Even though that is my main goal, it still is important to prepare somewhat for the test since they reading and writing they will do on the test requires a different skill set. Since we will be moving to the PARCC next year, this unit will serve as a brief review of key concepts and skills that will encounter on this year's NJASK.
I begin the lesson by reviewing the Getting Ready For The NJASK Powerpoint. This powerpoint serves as a review of the major concepts that students will encounter on the NJASK. I have this powerpoint on my web-site that students can access, along with various prep sites as well. This video explains the use of the Powerpoint: NJ ASK Powerpoint Explanation
I pull the Powerpoint up on the Smartboard and go through each slide as students follow along with this review. The first few slides give students the types of writing that will appear on the NJASK: persuasive/argument, explanatory/informative, and narrative. I do not spend a lot of time reviewing the qualities of each as we have done this type of writing throughout the entire year already. The next few slides review the focus of the reading comprehension questions. The focus is on key ideas & details and craft & structure. These area also concepts we have been working with through out the entire year in various genres we have been reading and writing.
There are not many questions throughout this process as they know these terms already. I support students learning by focusing their thinking of what will be on this test.
I know many teachers and administration find a benefit to teach directly to a standardized test. I do not. For me, it is not authentic teaching and it does not teach students the real world skills they need for reading and writing. It just teaches them how to pass a test. My goal for this unit is really just to get students in the mind-set of taking this high-stakes test and remind them of the expectations for the test. It is nothing new as they have been taking it since third grade.
The rest of the lesson is devoted to standardized test practice using reading excerpts from fiction and non-fiction pieces. I do not use direct instruction since students have learned, hopefully, how to read throughout the entire year. Instead, I think it's beneficial to focus on practice so students can show their skills and get their thinking ready for a high-stakes test.
I pass out a packet that includes two different reading passages: one fiction and one non-fiction. This shows the beginning of the selections along with a few of the sample questions: NJASK Practice Reading Test. Students spend the rest of class time working on reading these selections and answering the multiple choice questions that follow. As a teacher, my goal is to circulate around the classroom during this time to make sure students are on task. The sample tests I give students are from a great resource called Academic Workout. This can be used as a diagnostic test as the entire program can allow teachers to focus on specific skills. I have used this entire program for a skills enhancement class in which I can target specific areas for each student. For whole classes, the reading selections can serve as great practice.
After students finishing completing the reading selections and answering the questions I have students review the answers with partner. (This can be done as a second lesson if the reading takes a whole class.) I usually partner students with varied abilities so higher level students can assist lower level students if needed. If there are disagreements on answer choices they can work together to find the correct answer. By doing so, students are able to teach others who may need clarification on certain topics. I then review all the answers as a class. By this point, there are not any major questions that come up since students were already working with a partner.
As a teacher, I make a note of any major topics or concepts that students struggle with overall. Since we are getting reading to take a state test, it's hard to focus on direct instruction but rather general ideas. Most of the conversation I had with students during this time focuses on when various answers could work. We discuss what "best" really means when looking for an answer.