Last night, students were to complete an ACT Reading tutorial and 20 practice questions in the ACT-Prepping platform Number2.com. Today we will start off with an informal discussion student reflections about using the platform. I will ask them what they liked, didn't like, found useful, and could still use to prepare better for the ACT. As I've expressed before, I don't love dedicating time to formal ACT prep, but we are required to do so by my district. I use interactive platforms like Number2.com and NoRedInk.com, paired with diagnostic ACT assessments and results individualized for each student, to limit the amount of class-time we spend on prep activities. Discussions like these are integral to meeting the needs of my students, because the feedback from students lets me know what else I can provide them with to make their ACT experience successful. It also allows students to actively practice reflecting on, evaluating, and advocating for their own needs as learners, which will be vital to their success in future academic and professional environments.
In my own experience with the platform, I find it to be highly useful to ACT preparation, and I anticipate that students, too, will see it that way. The items that I think are important and frequently-occurring on the ACT seem to be likewise valued by Number2.com. I've also spoken with teachers in other content areas to see if they think it would be effective in preparing students for the Math and Science portions, and they mirror my feelings. In addition to using this platform, I will also direct students that have the desire for more no or low-cost preparation to the following set of links. These are published on my school webpage year-round, but I reference them often to parents seeking advice on preparing for the ACT year-round.
After our discussion on ACT prep, we will move on to discussing the Chapter 8 reading homework from The Great Gatsby. Since the final portion of our class period will be spent with students working individually on their computers, we will forgo our typical reading quiz and simply discuss the chapter in our normal student-led fashion. Questions and answers that should be addressed during this time are attached in the resources section.
I anticipate that students will be very involved in our discussion today (since the rollercoaster that IS Gatsby is spiraling downward!), but I would caution you to make sure the discussion stays within the carefully framed work of Fitzgerald. While we have been meticulous in evaluating characters' deeper motivations and actions throughout our close-reading and character maps, I have found that the more intense the plot line gets, the fewer students confine themselves to the text to explain the motivations and significance of characters' actions. Especially during this section where there is supposed ambiguity of Wilson's whereabouts, students love to jump to far-fetched conclusions. Likewise, as the saga of Daisy and Gatsby's past is revealed, students like to place their own feelings over the expressed characters' motivations. Check out my reflection for more thoughts on Common Core's major shift away from questions that can be answered exclusively from personal perspective or background knowledge and to a text dependent questioning system.
Next, we will shift gears a bit and take our final ACT English Practice Test. Earlier in the year, I gave the students a "pre-test" version of the ACT. I then analyzed their results using an Excel workbook and delivered them their overall scores, subscores, and a list of their "Top 3" individual skill areas that would benefit from improvement. I always hand-pick these "Top 3" skills based on which skills were most often missed and would generate the highest returns in ACT points if they were mastered, and since the ACT English is filled with comma use issues and eliminating redundancy, these are often the areas that need the most improvement. In addition to giving students the ability to create their own individual targeted practice, I use the overall results to build in activities that address the most common issues of the whole class. This year, I used direct instruction, activities like "The Amazing GRAMMAR Race," and interactive applications like NoRedInk and Number2.com to address these most-common problems.
At this point in time, I will use the final Practice ACT English Test (Form 0964E) to measure the effectiveness of these strategies and to give students another round of their "Top 3" skills to improve upon before we take the state-mandated Prairie State Achievement Exam (which includes the ACT) next week. Because I've made this test digital and collect responses within a Google Form that can be copy/pasted into another Excel workbook for analysis, I'm able to turn around results very quickly. I also use the results to evaluate my own effectiveness in instruction.
Students will have 45 minutes to complete the practice test with their Chromebooks, and they will move on to their homework in the next section as soon as they are finished.
When students finish their English ACT, they will get started on their reading homework, which will be to finish the novel and visual character maps before they return to my class.
They should also check out the materials I posted for them in the Great Gatsby Playlist Handout, including my own sample partial project in Thinglink, about their upcoming project and start thinking about some songs that they feel fit their characters. I will suggest (but not require) that they write down some of their brainstorming in a graphic organizer like the "Gatsby Soundtrack Optional Pre-Writing Template" I've provided in the Resources. I will also suggest that as they are completing their day-to-day activities like listening to their iPods or driving to school with the radio on, they should jot down or text (though NOT while driving!) ideas about this project to themselves as they have them. If they are anything like me, they get stupendous ideas in the car, mowing the lawn, or in line at the grocery store, only to forget them when they go to put them into action! Suggesting a way to overcome this barrier will help them to complete this project with a higher quality.
Next class period, we will wrap up our final ACT practice! We will also begin to discuss the end of the novel.