Monday, June 15, 2015

How To Get Struggling Readers/Writers Engaged In Test Prep

This week, I am spending my mornings tutoring students in Reading and Writing to prep them to retake the Ohio Graduation Test.   These students took the OGT previously and did not receive proficient scores- here in Ohio, they must pass with a proficient score in order to receive their high school diploma.   Some of these students admitted to me that they just did not put their full effort into the first test; however, many of these students are missing reading, test taking, or writing skills to pass.   As I prepped each day, I kept the following engagement strategies in mind.

1.  Modeling   

Students who are missing skills are in serious need of a model to follow, whether it be writing, reading, or test taking strategies.  This week I spend time doing think-alouds with students as I brainstormed for writing prompts, discussed sample test passages/questions, and practiced using test taking strategies.  Some modeling was done as a whole group while other modeling was done in individualized ways based on what students needed.  

Modeling is one of the most successful strategies I've used as a teacher because think aloud are a research based instructional strategy that helps students move through their cognitive zones of proximal development to a new zone of actual development.  During think-alouds, I model a task for students explaining my thinking as I work.  As the think-aloud progresses, I ask the student, or students, to begin to practice their own thinking aloud with us as a class (or with a partner).  Students take their prior skills and then build upon this by adding the new strategies I have modeled for them.  I almost immediately see an increase in student confidence after completing a think-aloud with them. And, confidence is one of the biggest things that needs built in a struggling student.  

2.  Group work  

Group work and/or paired work allows students to practice their skills in a more active way.  I always try to make group work go beyond a worksheet and often want students out of their seats to help get my kinetic learners more engaged.   

One way I utilized group work for test prep was an activity that required students to practice test taking skills.  I took sample passage and questions from the OGT Success site.  After pairing students, I gave each of them a piece of chart paper, two copies of the sample passage, and one question from that passage.  Students had to decide on the best steps to take to answer the question and outline that on the chart paper.   Student then had to answer the question and be able to explain to their classmates how they answered the question.   This activity took place after I had spent significant time modeling how to answer questions and practicing test strategies together.   Students were engaged in this activity because the chart paper got them out of their seats, they had to work with another person, and explain their thinking.  This group work time also gave me time to gather formative assessment on students and give immediate feedback.   As we went over the sample passage and questions together, each group explained the answer and how they came to it.   This helped chunk the large passage and questions because struggling readers often become disengaged with a large passage.   After this activity, I had students practice another passage on their own.  

3.  Vocabulary Games 

Vocabulary games are another way to engage students in test prep.  Vocabulary is something that teachers often create worksheets for students to complete; however, current studies show that just looking up the definitions of vocabulary terms do not help students retain the new knowledge.   While I do believe there is a time and a place for vocabulary practice via worksheets to make connections for the student (i.e., concept maps, connections to another text, the world, or themselves, etc.),
I try to incorporate more active learning into vocabulary, especially with test prep, such as the following.. 

  • Skits: Give students an environment (i.e. the hallways at school, a football game, a newscast, or pretty much anywhere else) and tell them they must write and act out a script that uses so many vocabulary words.  The first time I did this I allowed students to choose their own environment and four girls made a hilarious skit that took place a "deh club."  They kept the skit appropriate, used all of the vocabulary words correctly, and had the whole class engaged!  
  • Memory:  Have students create a memory game set on notecards for this game by writing the word on one card and the definition on another.  Students will then pair up and play the classic game of memory trying to match the definitions with the terms.   
  • "I have... who has?..":  This is an new game that I just tried this week.   Before class, create a card set one side with the terms and one side with the definitions. Be sure that the term and definition do not match on the individual cards.   During the activity, each student gets one card.   The teacher starts the game by saying "Who has ______________" reading a definition to a term.  The student then says "I have ___________" reading the term on their card.  They then say "who has ________________" and giving a new definition on the back of their card.  The student who has that term then says "I have ____________".  The process repeats until all cards are done.  

-- Feel free to comment below with other ways we can engage our struggling readers! -- 


Scholastic's Resources on Think-Alouds

My Pintrest Vocabulary and Grammar Board

A great video from The Teaching Channel to help with vocabulary instruction: 

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