Answering an open response question (ORQ) is a complicated process for sixth graders. To do it well means demonstrating comprehension of a text, such as The Sound of Summer Running by Ray Bradbury, in a well-planned, focused essay that includes an introduction, examples supported by direct quotes, explanations, and a conclusion.
The goal of the graphic organizer I created is to keep students on track during the process of selecting what to include in the response. They must tell enough of the story so that someone that has not read it can still understand what’s going on, but at the same time not let the writing disintegrate into a retelling of the story that includes too many details.
We begin by restating the prompt for the ORQ on the graphic organizer by including the title of the text and the author. Then we brainstorm ways to fill in the next section by identifying one of Douglas’s motivations, find a supportive quote, and decide on an explanation, which shows the connection between a character’s motives and actions. Now for the hard part: putting this information into writing with smooth transitions from one idea to the next. To help students along, we review how to integrate quotes and I give them a set of sentence starters for a response to literature. They use it during this assessment and will keep it in their notebooks for future reference. An example can be found here.
During the test, it is important that the students sit apart from one another in order to insure that the work they turn in is their own. In my classroom most of the time desks are arranged in groups of 4 or 5, so they need to be separated during tests. At the beginning of the year, it seems to take forever just for this simple task to be accomplished, but with practice it only takes a minute. It’s one of those routines worth establishing early.
The test has two parts- the ORQ and a set of multiple choice questions. Having already started the ORQ together, students must complete that before receiving the second part. This is a relatively long test and I know most students will not finish it one period. If possible, give the test on a day when you have a lengthier class block or an additional class period that day to work on it.
I make a point of circulating around the room while students are working to make sure things are going smoothly. Often, they are procedural questions like “Do I have to fill out the organizer?” The answer being “Yes, absolutely, you must! It’s your roadmap through the maze of an ORQ.” The students appreciate the personal check-ins and if the same question keeps coming up it may be worth addressing with the class. Many a typo is uncovered this way!
Another procedure to establish is what to do when finished with the test. I place a bin on the counter with a note card next to it listing the order to staple the papers. The next part of the test is placed next to it for students to pick up.
As a final step before turning in their work, ask students to use the rubric to review their work and determine a grade for each area assessed. This will give you important information as to how they well they understand the rubric, the learning goals and where they see themselves in relation to proficiency benchmarks. You can use this information to tailor remarks during individual conferences and, if you see a trend across a number of the tests, a whole class discussion on the specific topic can address the issue. Such a conversation inspired the search for quotes activities suggested in the series of lessons leading up to this assessment. Last year, students let me know that it was hard to understand the difference between choosing quotes that were “highly relevant” that would earn a 4 and those that were “clear” that would earn a 3. A student's completed response appears here and some thoughts on scoring it appear here: