Sunday, February 11, 2007

Successful Standarized Test Practice

While I'm not a supporter of teaching to the test, there is some value in preparing students for standardized tests such as CSAP. We are encouraged to do some work to prepare students and despite teacher opinion on the test, it is a reality that we are judged by the test.

My question has always been: how can I make this preparation applicable to learning beyond the test? I've been thinking about what Gee has said in his book What Video games Have to Teach us about Literacy and Learning. Specifically, I'm trying to incorporate his learning principles (based on what he has observed on learning and video games) into my classroom. I like what he says about having a challenge that is obtainable yet takes thought. Also, he states that video games have increasingly more difficult tasks as the player becomes proficient. One of the biggest challenges in our school has been the scores on the extended written response section of the CSAP. I talked with my students about this and the majority say that they are bored with the prompt so they don't care to write much on it. My students are used to writing on their own topics, and often in a genre of their choice, so they feel constrained when they are given a prompt in a situation that they have to sit in silence, not confer with peers or their teacher, and answer a question they don't care about. Here is my attempt at helping students be a bit more motivated on this section of the test AND learn more about authentic writing:

Beat SAP...(cheesy pun I know....see sap give you a test, see sap give you a boring prompt)
Students are grouped into four teams per class. They work as both small teams and as a whole class team. Their goal is to beat SAP for 3 out 4 weeks. In order to beet SAP the class has to earn 100 points each week.
The class is given four prompts that I have either found on CDE's assessment page or on other prompt resources. Each group needs to think of details to answer the prompt. I encourage "creative elaboration" (Lying). After a certain time (I will shorten this as the weeks progress) the teams share out four of their best details. I give them a score for each details from 1-3 depending on originality, use of sensory or figurative details (which are listed on the rubric as an advanced skill). Teams cannot repeat details and will lose points if they go off topic. After four prompts, I tally the class score and the individual team scores. The winning team gets some candy (I know...I know...internal motivation should be enough, but they get excited about a simple piece of candy....) We are discussing a reward if they beat SAP for three weeks.

Here's what I observed:
First, when my fourth hour came in they all asked "Are we going to play the game that 2nd hour played?" This let me know that there was some conversation in the hallways about what I had done during class, and that they were wanting to give it a try. Now, the academic observations. By not leaving the students "alone" with the prompt, and by encouraging them to be creative, they were motivated even after they released a collective groan when I revealed each prompt. Their ideas were creative, on topic, and showed an application of writing skills that we have explored this school year. They were showing pride in their individual teams, but what I enjoyed most was seeing them encourage other teams since they are all the battle to beat a single foe together.

What I plan to do next week for round two:
I'm going to shorted the amount of time they have for each prompt to make it a bit more challenging. For the following week (depending on their level in week two) I will make the scoring a bit more difficult. We'll see if their motivation stays strong the next few weeks. I know I'm enjoying this more than other prep work I have done with students.

1 comment:

LaurenB said...

I think I am falling in love with this idea. Ever since I wanted to become an educator I have struggled with the thought to teaching to a test that I do not whole heartedly believe in. I have been racing my brain thinking of options to teach to the test that are fun, short and are applicable to the students lives at that very moment. I feel that this idea is wonderful. It is also awesome to read about how this lesson is faring in a real life class room at the moment. I would like to hear more about how the students respond to this activity over the weeks.
However, the overriding question is, will this raise their scores and can this rise be seen right away? Is there ways to get more teacher in the school involved in this activity across grades?
I can’t wait to hear more about it.