Being that I'm a teaching aide this year, I don't have any pressure about fitting in curriculum before standardized testing. This allows me to enjoy the plentiful "snow" days freely. I do, realize, though, that most of you are not in the same boat, and state writing tests are quickly approaching. To that end, I thought I'd offer some of the techniques I use to prepare my students for the writing portion of the standardized tests.
I start by teaching my students the "formula" for responding to a text. I've always used the following:
Idea: TTQA (Turn The Question Around) and provide your answer
Evidence: Direct quote from the text with page numbers
Interpretation: Explain the quote in your own words, relating it back to your own ideas
Extension: Talk about how this relates to the the life-lesson/author's purpose
Ok... let's break this down a little more!
Idea - Since the first week of school, my students are expected to answer everything in a TTQA format so this becomes second-nature. It REALLY helps if students are expected to do this in other subjects as well. In order to write an effective Idea statement, it's important that students learn how to decipher the question. When I first start teaching reading-responses, I can't tell you how many students don't even answer the prompt, which will not get them far on a standardized assessment. I do a lot of practice asking students to write ONLY the idea statement until they prove that they know how to answer the questions fully.
Evidence - This is another skill that I teach from the very beginning of the year. Whenever students make connections, ask questions, etc., they are required to tell the exact quote from the text from where they get their ideas. Even when we're just having a discussion, I always ask my students to "prove it" with evidence from the text. We also spend quite a bit of time learning how to record the evidence with an appropriate lead ("The author says on page 5, "...") and punctuation. We practice this skill when we read both fiction and non-fiction texts. I will ask them to find a place in the text that proves ______, and they race to find the quotes. I am always amazed at how much many of my students struggle with finding strong evidence. Sometimes, they throw out quotes that have absolutely nothing to do with the topic... which usually means they didn't understand the text or the question.
Interpretation - This is an often-overlooked step in a reading response. Students wrongly assume they can just throw out a quote and assume their readers know how it relates to the main idea or argument. This is simply not the case. I tell them that they have to make those connections for the reader. It helps them when I say, "Assume your reader has not read the text."
Extension - This is the hardest part of the written response. We always ask our students to consider the life-lesson from the text and how it relates to the prompt. To teach this, we practice author's purpose and theme, as those skills are very useful for this part of the response.
What I like best about the IEIE formula is that it's easy for students to remember AND it doesn't trip them up to add multiple pieces of evidence because they just add another EI. It's also a reminder to always interpret the evidence because they can't jump from E to another E.
At the middle school level, I know students are expected to make connections between TWO texts as well as their own lives. When I was teaching in Louisiana, this was really hard for my students because they couldn't relate to the topics given on the practice tests. Honestly? I told them to lie. I told them no one knows their life stories, so they fake a connection, if necessary.
Hey... you've gotta do what you've gotta do!
Of course, it's important to give students plenty of practice writing reading responses before the test. I firmly believe the Article of the Week assignments are tremendously helpful in preparing students for the writing assessment.
Another thing I do is practice these reading responses using video clips. When we have to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, I find it helpful to take the text out. They typically take less time, are more engaging, and allow our struggling readers to be on par with comprehension. You have to ask yourself the purpose of the day's lesson. Are you looking for their reading comprehension or their ability to break apart the prompt and answer it with evidence? If it's the latter, they can do so with a video clip. I ask questions like, "How would you describe the step-sisters in Cinderella?" which is a story they can do without having to watch it.