Testing season for many school districts is upon us. I would venture to say all teachers and parents of school aged children have opinions about student testing. I don’t think the effectiveness of a teacher should be judged by standardized test scores, but I do love to analyze my students’ test scores and compare to the previous year. I calculate averages of the whole group and look for drops and gains. One year, my class average in writing and mechanics improved 14 percentile points. I analyzed the heck out of my daily routine to figure out how to maintain gains like that. Turns out, two sentence corrections per day (DOL to the teachers out there) resulted in big success.
I noticed a drop in something called verbal reasoning. What did I miss in my curriculum during the year that created a dip in the scores? Categorizing words. My students do well with flat out vocabulary because of all of the work we do with roots and prefixes, but when they have to manipulate and compare words in groups, they were not as successful. This year, I spent more time working with word categories, analogies, and sorting words based on a given criteria. It all relates to building a bigger vocabulary and understanding the relationships between words, which creates better readers and writers.
I do not assign last minute test prep work right before testing but build activities into my daily class routine instead. I have several activity ideas that work well for my students.
- Add a reasoning type question to daily language warm-up activities. I complete two sentence corrections a day, and I added an additional section to my bell ringer activity. The students complete an analogy, choose a good title for a group of words, or complete some other “word work” problem. The students complete the activity in their daily journal (a black and white composition book), and we correct together. The students see the correct answer as soon as they finish their work, and since we have a small amount of practice every day, it does not turn into a cram session. It becomes part of the students’ routine and builds a thinking habit. Click DOL and Verbal Reasoning Bell Ringer Samples to see more.
- Add synonym, analogy, word category, and word relationship questions to weekly vocabulary and spelling tests. Students become familiar with these type of questions and analyze how words fit together on a regular basis rather than seeing it one time during the school year– right before testing.
- When completing writing assignments, look for words that are repeated often. Generate word lists in the margins of writing assignments that could replace any repeated words (it’s basically a synonym list or personal thesaurus). When students edit the writing assignment, discuss which words are stronger or weaker. Rank the words in order of importance. Determine why one word might be more appropriate than another. My students just finished writing their American business research essays. The students used the word, business, many times in the essays. We brainstormed a big master list of other words we could utilize (organization, company, group, shop, restaurant, store). We discussed the difference between words like restaurant and store and why one student might use restaurant (the person researching McDonald’s), and one person might use store (the person researching Krispy Kreme). Students should be aware of the connotations different words create.