Saturday, February 4, 2012

State Testing & Picture Books

It's coming! 
Take down those anchor charts!
Sharpen those pencils!
There's no escaping the . . .

Yeah, that's kind of how I feel about state testing.  In New Jersey, my friends have to take the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge, also known as the NJASK.  We will actually take it April 30-May 3.  Four days of testing for my little friends.

It used to be that my district had this sort of cram session where we would essentially spend the week before the test doing test prep.  I was never a fan of that.  By the time the real testing days came around, my friends were fried.  These days, we have incorporated test prep into all our reading and writing units of study.  This way, test prep happens all year long.  However, I think most teachers still kick it up a notch right about now.

Today, I thought I would share one of the ways I test prep with my friends.  It was shown to me at a workshop a few years ago, and I was pretty skeptical at first.  However, having used it over the years I find it really helpful.  It has really helped my friends understand the expectations and improve their writing and extended constructed math responses.  Let me explain.

Here are the rubrics used in NJ for scoring my friends test writing prompts and extended constructed math responses as they hang in my room.

I took a black and white copy of each rubric and enlarged it on regular copy paper.  Then, I took that to Staples (an office supply company) and had them enlarge them to poster size.  As long as you do a black and white poster, it's really cheap.  I took them home and busted out the colored pencils, coloring each grade and criteria a different color.

The next thing you need are colored Popsicle sticks like those in the picture below.  I took one Popsicle stick for each of the five colors in the literacy rubric (make sure the colors in the math rubric are those colors as well) and used a rubber band to make one set for each of my friends.  I got my sticks at the dollar store.

Before I go on, I should mention that I do take the time to go over the rubrics and explain them in kid friendly language so that they understand what the rubrics are saying.
So, how to use all this.  One of the things I find is that my friends don't really have a clear understanding of what a good response is for state testing.  For literacy, I take sample written prompts given to us by the state as examples of each level.  I project them on the board and we read through them together.  Then, I have my friends discuss with a partner if the paper is a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5.  Then, I tell them to hold up their sticks (at the same time) and they hold up the appropriate color/grade Popsicle stick.  We do the same thing with the constructed math responses. 

When we first do this, it's a rainbow of Popsicle sticks around the room.  The grades they give are all over the place.  We then discuss what "the author" or "the mathematician" did, explaining why some gave it the grade they did.  I then tell them the grade the state gave the paper and explain why.  After doing this a couple of times, you start to see that the Popsicle sticks become pretty accurate.  Most of my friends will hold up one color with the other colors that might be up being the grade just above or below what the majority is holding up.  They become much more discerning as to what makes a good writing piece or a good math response.  The Popsicle sticks are important to this.  If I just asked my friends to say what grade they thought it was, you know some would just mumble something or not answer.  Having to hold up a stick forces them to think and commit to a grade. 

Over time, I extend this lesson using their own work.  When we start, I get my friends in the habit of talking about "the author" or "the mathematician" when discussing the work that is done.  I do this so that when I put up their papers, anonymously of course, we talk about what the author or mathematician did, not what he or she did, not what John or Sally did.  I tell my friends that we will be looking at their work anonymously.  Unless they give it away, nobody will know it is their work.  Honestly, I can tell they are a bit wary at first, but when they see it really is anonymous and helpful they are fine with it. 

The helpful part is most important.  When we discuss the paper, we critique what the author/mathematician did well and what they can do to make it EVEN better.  Not fix it, not correct it, but make it EVEN BETTER!  That's the term we use.  It keeps it all positive and makes my friends okay with critiquing honestly. 

What I can tell you is that this works.  I'm sure to show spectrum of work so they see the excellent work to the, let's just say not so excellent work.  My friends who need help always show improvement.  I think hearing how to make their work even better from their friends means more than hearing it from their teacher.  They also get to see the quality of work their peers are generating.  It is difficult for my friends to critique a response that is really good already, but that's where I step in as the teacher and offer some constructive criticism to the author or mathematician.  All done anonymously, of course!

These charts are up all year in my room.  It's pretty helpful because in meeting with my friends during conferencing, I can always ask, "So, where do you think this falls on the rubric?  A 3, 4, or 5? . . .  What makes you say that?"  It forces them to honestly critique their own work and gives us at least one teaching point for our conference.

Speaking of state testing, do you know Testing Miss Malarkey by Judy Finchler?

Just an amazingly fun book to read to your friends before state testing.  It captures the ridiculousness of it all.  Miss Malarkey is the teacher preparing her friends for the state test.  You have Principal Wiggins (who wears a bad wig) screaming on the phone as he orders the #2 pencils with the "good erasers!"  Then there is Mrs. Magenta, the art teacher, who teaches them how to fill in circles completely with no white spaces showing.  While we take the NJASK, these children take the I.P.T.U. test.  It is just a fun book that will make your friends laugh, and really it's a topic we could all use a good laugh about!

Miss Malarkey is a series of picture books.  Another favorite of mine that is great for the beginning of the year is Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind!

In this book, Principal Wiggins promises to dye his hair purple and sleep on the school roof if the students read 1,000 books.  Miss Malarkey goes about finding the perfect book for each of her friends.  Of course, there has to be one tough cookie in the bunch. There's one little boy who only wants to play video games and has no time for this reading stuff!  Don't worry, in the end Miss Malarkey works her magic and finds the perfect book for this rugrat!  I do a 40 book challenge with my friends each year and use this book as an introduction to the challenge.  I also warn my friends that, like Miss Malarkey, I will not rest until I find them books they will love.

So, what are you doing to prepare for state testing? 


  1. Hi Nancy:

    I love Miss Malarky!
    My school isn't always organized about testing. One year, they changed the testing date and said, "We've moved the testing window up. You'll be testing in two weeks instead of four." A few of us almost died!
    I'm already starting to review... and still trying to teach "really fast" because there is never enough time!

    Happy weekend...

    Finding JOY in 6th Grade

  2. Hi! I am a fellow 5th grade teacher in Missouri. I'm your newest follower!

  3. Hello! I love your blog! Thanks for all of the great ideas!

    I wanted to see if you knew about CEIEIO for writing extended response questions. You say it C-E-I-E-I-O. It helps them write a great answer to essay questions or shorter response questions.
    C- Change the question into part of the answer
    E- give Evidence from the story
    I - What "I" think (I think this because; it is important because...)
    E- give more evidence
    I - What "I" think
    O- "OH!" statement (That is how I know blah blah blah)

    My state test often doesn't leave room for all the parts, only one ore two "EI"s. Our reading series test short answer questions is an excellent place for it. Since I've taught it to my kids, their scores have gone way up on those types of questions. Their constructed response questions are also MUCH better!!

    I learned it from a 6 Traits Writing training by Courtney Gordon.

    I promise - it is magic! Enjoy!

  4. i think sense my own teacher tought me ceieio i have done well i hope u write about so everyone can learn

  5. i agree with you anonymous person who seens to be very smart :)