Sunday, March 19, 2017

7 Ways to Make Standardized Testing Less Stressful

The season of standardized testing is just around the corner.  It can be a VERY stressful time for both teachers and students.  Over the years I have tried a zillion different things to help students relax and get through the tests. I was inspired to ask my students what had REALLY helped them to relax and do their best.  Without further ado I give you 7 Ways to Make Standardized Testing Less Stressful:

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

How to Write Amazing Reading Responses with RACES

Teaching students to write a written response about their reading is very important.  It can also be a CHALLENGE.  Am I right?  Some of the challenges I have encountered include:

  • responses that doesn't answer the question being asked
  • responses that answer only part of a question
  • responses with an answer, but no text evidence to support it

This used to drive me crazy, but not anymore!  I implemented the RACES strategy with my students this year and it has made a HUGE difference.
text evidence

Variations of this strategy (RACE, ACE, RACER, etc.) have been around forever. I like RACES the best. It is a really easy way to organize written responses. The acronym RACES stands for the five parts needed to write the answer.
Restate the Question

This is an important part of the process. Students need to understand what they are being asked before they can write an answer. Many questions that students will be asked to answer are not even questions. For that reason, I teach my students to analyze the question. Analyzing the question includes three steps: read the question or prompt, underline the key words, and restate the question as a statement. Here's an example:
Describe how the main character was feeling at the end of the chapter
Use important details from the text to support your answer.

R - At the end of the chapter, the main character was feeling...

Answer the question
Next, students answer the question. If there is more than one part to the question students will need to answer ALL parts of the question. Example:
R - At the end of the chapter, the main character was feeling...
A - The main character was feeling excited.
The answers to the first two steps leads to the topic sentence for the written response.  Easy peasy!
At the end of the chapter the main character was feeling excited.

Cite Evidence
Using evidence from the text to support thinking is so important.  The evidence offers proof to show how they answered the question. I ask my students to cite at least two pieces of evidence unless the question asks for something more specific. Sentence starters can be helpful.  Here are some examples:
According to the text...
The author stated...

Explain and elaborate text evidence
This is where students put it all together by explaining how the evidence supports their thinking. I encourage my students to elaborate or stretch out their writing here, too.  Sentence starters are helpful for this part.  Here's a few examples: 
This makes me think...
This explains...

Summarize thinking in a written response.
I teach my students to end a written response with a concluding sentence.  An easy way to do this is to refer to the topic sentence and reword it to conclude the answer.  Here is an example:
All in all the character was very excited at the end of the chapter.

I introduce RACES at the start of the school year and usually review the strategy in the spring for test-taking purposes. (They create their own RACES organizer when we practice for this purpose.)  We are reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio and the book offers many different topics to discuss.  To review RACES I posed the following question:
Why did Miranda pretend to be sick on opening night?

My students did a fantastic job!  Here are some work samples:

I created some resources that I would LOVE to share with you.  Click here to try out a 3-page freebie. The freebie includes two pages that can be used to introduce the strategy to students. The pages can fit into writing notebooks or folders.  
If you like the freebie you might want to check out my paid resource, too!  You can find that resource here.   

I love, love, LOVE the RACES strategy.  What strategies do you use in your classroom?