Saturday, April 17, 2010

More Authentic Test Preparation

Sorry to those readers who have kids that aren't taking Standardized tests yet, but I feel it is a timely subject, and your children will be taking them someday, so this information isn't irrelevant to you. You just have longer to prepare! :)

The TAKS test here in Texas has several passages (too many - ok, my opinion) for kids to read, and then several questions following for them to answer. Much like every other state, honestly.

They have different types of categories of questions...

Context Clues/Vocabulary -- word meanings...usually looking for clue words in the sentence around the word or, their favorite, multiple meaning words (i.e. the word "chart" - how is it used in the story -- as in, he had to chart the waters for his boat trip, I looked at the chart, etc.) and they have to select the answer that would fit how it was used. This is a huge area where they trick kids, by the way. Kids will choose answers they know rather than how it is used in the sentence. Kids do this a lot with vocabulary words, especially if they are struggling readers - they will select answers they can pronounce/they know rather than the answer. For example, if a test question asks the meaning of a word, say, elated -- the choices may be A) late, B)raised, C) rejoicing, or D) upset...Kids may choose the first option A because they see the word late in elated, or they don't choose C because they can't pronounce it and therefore, don't know the meaning. They are afraid to choose an unknown.

So what can you do? Make up some questions of your own using their books...TELL them about the tricky test makers who are trying to do that. If you don't feel like you can make up questions on your own, then go ahead and get a workbook. BUT ONLY USE IT FOR THIS SKILL. Remember how I said before...they need the test practice, but the most important thing to remember is that this can be done with authentic literature.

Another question type is MAIN IDEA. This question asks them to select an answer which best embodies the main idea of either the story, or a paragraph or portion of the story. You can practice this with whatever your child is normally reading. Just stop periodically and have them tell you what the big part of what they read is...for more ideas on this, search the blog for main idea. I gave a bunch of ideas before. But what is key to tell your child here is -- if they can come up with a sentence main idea on their own BEFORE they look at the answer choices, they will have an easier time. For example, if Matt reads a passage in the TAKS and then finds a question that says, What is the main idea of paragraph 2? this is what I would tell him to do. Go back first and RE READ paragraph 2 -- then come up with your own main idea sentence in your head. Now he can read all the answer choices, and eliminate those that were way off from what he had in his mind, and select the one that is closest to what he came up with. Here's the caveat to this, however. Your child has to be good at getting to the main idea on their own. If they are giving you details instead, they need more practice.

Inference. This is where the rubber meets the road. These questions are the ones that can't be exactly found in the text -- they can get hints, but the thinking comes from them. For example, this is an inference...

Ken ran into his room, threw his books on the floor, and slammed the door.

How is Ken feeling? Well, angry...we see that. But there is no word angry, mad, upset...we figured that out from his actions. That's inference.

You can do this with their reading. As you are reading, when you see description, or there is heavy clues towards what is going on but it doesn't exactly say it, have them tell you what they are thinking, and then HAVE THEM READ THE PART THAT GAVE THEM THAT IDEA. They need to support their answers.

Summary. This can be similar to Main Idea, but it is where they give a little about the entire piece. Usually tests will give them the first part of a summary and then ask them to select an answer with sentences that best complete the summary. This is where the main idea/detail work helps. Test answers will usually throw in details in the end, or leave out the main idea of the ending as choices. Tell them to think about what the main idea of the last part is. That will make it less overwhelming.

Remember, they are reading a lot. The passages (several different ones -- long and short and different genres) and the answers. That's a lot for their little minds to dissect in the time alloted.

They probably feel like you do right now, my having thrown a lot of info at you.

So I am going to pace us...I will talk about the other types of questions later.

Before I leave you, you need to find out a few things from the school/teacher about your child's testing...Is it timed? Is it broken into several days? Or is it one time, as long as it takes them?

This is important because it will make a difference in how your child approaches the reading test. Fluency will become a factor if it is timed, because if they struggle in that area, there may not be enough time for them to get through all the reading...we need to prepare them in that way.

More tomorrow...and remember - THEY CAN DO IT!!!!

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