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How to Teach Novel Studies Part 5: Assessment

How to Teach Novel Studies Part 5: Assessment

Some of my most vivid childhood memories of school were the novel studies that we read for various subjects. It was my most favorite way to learn skills, history, any topic really! I am a lover of books and getting to read an entire book from cover to cover as a school assignment put me in heaven! I am sure this is a major reason why as a teacher my passion is to create and teach is novel studies! I love to introduce new books to students and as a community, get immersed in the book together. I love for a student to pull us off the schedule with a question or comment from something they read that leads the class in a lively discussion. That’s where the real memorable learning takes place after all!

Novel studies are my largest product line simply because I like to focus on what I love. I want to work with my passion! I often get questions from readers asking how I would set up novel studies in my classroom. I decided to write a small series explaining my methods.  For the most part, all of my novel studies include comprehension questions, vocabulary/grammar skill work, extension activities, and assessments.

Today’s post, part 5, is the conclusion of the series dealing with the assessment aspect of using novel studies. You can read part 1Part 2,  Part 3, and Part 4 here.

Novel Studies Part 5: Assessment

Assessment of a novel study can be a tricky thing to handle. My main objective, in addition to hitting skills, is to hook the student on the enjoyment of reading a good book. Too much assessment can kill that joy, but we need some way to assess that the skills have been met. It’s a delicate balance.

I often get questions from potential buyers asking if there are assessments after every chapter of my novel studies. I kind of cringe when I get these questions because I can only imagine the dread the students have if they are tested after every chapter! Testing is not the only way to assess if a student has read and understood. In my experience, class discussions and the writing in the comprehension answers is more than sufficient evidence of learning and understanding by the student. It is imperative when using novel studies not to lose focus and kill the joy of reading for your students! You want them to voluntarily choose to pick up another book to read when a novel study is over, not run as far as they can from books!

I do understand that assessments can be helpful and needed, but they need to be appropriate. For many of my novel studies, I only offer assessments at the end of the book for comprehension, vocabulary, and a writing essay question. I offer an end of the novel quiz in both a multiple choice or a short answer format for comprehension, a multiple choice format for vocabulary, and a writing assessment so that the teacher can choose which is most appropriate for their students. You can see an example of this from my Hatchet Novel Study.

 

I’ve switched up the format a little in other units such as Where the Red Fern Grows Novel Study that incorporates the comprehension and writing assessments into one format.

 

 

In some of my other novel studies, I have split the book into logical sections and have a comprehensive assessment after each particular section. My Wonder and Tuck Everlasting Novel Studies are created in this format.

 

 

All of my novel studies offer a Google Drive™ format to use with your students in addition to the printable format that is shown above. This allows you to use novel studies in a 1:1 classroom, to save paper, and to easily engage students that are absent. The assessments are included as multiple-choice questions in a Google Forms™ format so that they are self-grading. Here’s an example page from the Google Drive™ format of my A Wrinkle in Time Novel Study.

 

 

The key, in my opinion, is not to overdo the testing. You just need to be able to assess if the students are understanding what they are reading and that can easily be done in so many different ways that aren’t paper and pencil testing. Don’t kill the love the student is developing for the book you are reading!

I hope this series has been helpful to you in the planning to use novels in your classroom. I promise you will not be sorry and you may just be the spark that takes your student on a lifetime love of reading!


You can find  Where the Red Fern Grows Novel StudyWonder Novel Study, Hatchet Novel Study, Tuck Everlasting Novel Study, and A Wrinkle in Time Novel Study that are mentioned above in my store. I also offer over 90 titles ranging from grades 1 to 8 where I am sure you’ll find something to engage your class in some deep reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

To read Part 1: Comprehension

To read Part 2: Vocabulary

Part 3: Pacing

Part 4: Extras!

How to Teach Grammar, Spelling, & Punctuation in the Language of Teens

How to Teach Grammar, Spelling, & Punctuation in the Language of Teens

I used the Daily Oral Language sentences for grammar, punctuation, and spelling practice in my classroom for years as bellwork. I saw a solid improvement in students’ everyday writing. The short morning lessons paid off and translated well to the standardized testing that the students would take during the year too. Even though I felt this method was very effective I have to admit it was fairly boring for both me and the students. I figured there had to be a better way!

In my quest I came across an article from the Los Angeles Times, about the effects of texting on the grammar skills in tween/teens:

YSK, teens 2 fluent in TXT

This particular quote caught my eye:
“Basically, kids aren’t able to “code switch” — shift between standard grammar and the abbreviations used in text messages, Sundar said. Those abbreviations have essentially become the words for them.

Adults not raised on text-friendly abbreviations in their formative years are able to shift between formal and informal language, Sundar said. Kids consuming a steady diet of “textual adaptations” aren’t.”

We all know that teens use “text speak” to communicate their ideas in the minimum of characters used. This wreaks havoc on conventional grammar, spelling, and punctuation! It is sometimes painful to read! Sadly teens are allowing this “text speak” to sneak into their everyday writing in the classroom. Students need to learn proper writing conventions for application to the real working world. How can we help our students learn to “code switch” so that they can utilize the convenience of texting but still be able to use the proper conventions of grammar, spelling, and punctuation?

I decided to combine the DOL type practice with “text speak”. This way students get to do the practice in a way that seems more interesting and practical to them, in their “language” so to speak. At the same time they are learning that even though “text speak” has its place in casual texting conversations, conventional writing rules need to be applied in the school/work world situations. It was the best of both worlds!

The set up is the same that I used for DOL, approximately 2 sentences per day for bellwork. I have a weekly sheet with 10 sentences written in “text talk” that need to be corrected using the proper writing conventions. Each morning as bellwork the student will correct 2 sentences on their own and then as a class, we go over them as part of the morning routine.

For example:
Passage: n Aug he didnt nvr do gud

Answer: He didn’t do well in August.

As you can see it does look like some kind of Alien language! To tweens and teens, it is their language and a challenge to translate into proper English. It is almost like a puzzle to them to use the familiar text speak to get it back to regular English. It also reinforces the idea that their “text speak” is a valid form of communication and really should be acceptable among friends and casual acquaintances via texting but it is not appropriate for regular writing in school or most importantly, in the working world. This helps to clarify the difference between the two.

Try out a free sample here:

If you are looking for a practical, interesting, and dare I say, FUN way to give your middle/high school students some grammar, punctuation, and spelling practice, check out Alien Text Talk. The full product can be purchased by the quarter, the semester, or for an entire year! Each download includes a printable format, an interactive notebook format, or a digital format to use in Google Drive™!


Adults Find Standardized Tests a Challenge!

Adults Find Standardized Tests a Challenge!

I came across a very interesting article and I think it is worth reading for everyone, not just educators. Actually maybe even more so for non-educators!

 

 

 

When an adult took standardized tests forced on kids.

 

 

I’d love to see a requirement of a passing score of all school board members, administrators and most of all, politicians on any test that they want to impose on any student. I bet we’d see a drastic reduction in standardized testing and a true understanding of what “teaching to the test” really means!

 

Thoughts?

The Answer to Lack of Social Studies Instruction More Tests?

The Answer to Lack of Social Studies Instruction More Tests?

I read a story in the Omaha World-Herald, called Teachers “Say Social Studies Suffers”, and it has me has me riled up.

As I was reading I totally agreed with the thoughts that Social Studies is being put on the back burner to focus more on the numerous amount of state testing that is done. I also agree wholeheartedly with the dire ramifications this will have on the next generation of Americans and what that means to the citizenship of our country.

Then I hit this paragraph, “Several board members agreed that social studies, which includes the study of history and geography, are being crowded out of the classroom. But the only way to put them on a level playing field with math and reading would be to require a state social studies test.”


Really? The answer to the problem is to throw more state testing at the students and teachers? Really?

Teachers and students are already so overwhelmed with state/standardized testing that true teaching and creativity is being lost!

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and the Every Child Succeeds Act of 2015, with the excessive focus on testing has depleted the schools of true learning. Teachers are so focused on meeting those test goals and focusing only on those narrowed skills that they don’t have the time to really teach and let students use their minds, imagination, and creativity.

Most states have added the Common Core Standards or standards that are similar but with a different name, creates a whole new dimension to the paperwork and hoops that teachers need to jump through. From various blogs and forums I read I see post after post of exasperated teachers that simply just want to teach again. They are so fed up with the testing and standards that are supposed to “fix” the system!

Also, in a climate of more and more budget cuts, schools simply can’t afford to spend on all this testing. Testing students cost a fortune for school districts (meaning YOU the taxpayer!)! Wouldn’t the money be better spent on additional teachers and smaller class sizes?


These educational bureaucrats are as messed up as Congress is. Sadly, it is the future generations of Americans that will pay for it. As an educator that upsets me, but as a parent that makes me very angry! I am sick and tired of these so-called “experts” stealing my children’s learning opportunities. How many of them have actually stood in front of a classroom for a school year and worked with children? It is outrageous!

The most successful teaching years I have experienced were when I had a principal with the philosophy that as college-educated certified teachers we were qualified to teach. Unless he saw a problem he stepped back and let us do our job as we saw fit. He knew that we knew these kids better than any administrator or board member and he knew we would strive to take these kids as far as we could. In those years my students blossomed the most and they achieved the most.

In my experience the more the board or administration gets involved the less the children succeed! Teachers are trained professionals. We have college degrees, many of them advanced. We take ongoing development courses throughout our career and we are there in the classroom every day, the closest to the student outside of their parents. We are educated, we are qualified. Let us do our jobs and teach! Save the taxpayers money and save the American education system by scrapping all this unnecessary and excessive testing!


The Overuse of Standardized Testing Needs to STOP!

The Overuse of Standardized Testing Needs to STOP!

I am not a fan of standardized testing. I feel that way too much importance is placed on the results which damage students, teachers, and schools.

My first year of teaching was at a school that was a 100% Title I school. Every child qualified for the free lunch program. Most of these students did not have a lot of opportunities outside of their neighborhood. I had a student, “Bob”, that was very smart and very talented. He was able to take a radio apart and totally redesign it. I would have discussions with him regarding a multitude of subjects that were so incredibly advanced for his age. On the other hand, he was somewhat of a class clown and had a history of behavior issues in his past.

After working a couple months with Bob I decided a lot of his behavior issues came about out of boredom. When Bob was being challenged his behavior was perfect. I nominated Bob for our district’s gifted & talented program because I truly felt Bob would be an ideal candidate. I was promptly turned down solely on the basis of Bob’s standardized test scores from past years. I had to beg and plead with the principal, counselor, and G&T teacher to please give Bob a chance. To please look beyond test scores and look at the individual. There was so much more to Bob than those tests if only someone would take notice!

Finally, by March of that year, Bob was allowed in the G&T program on a probationary basis. Most likely to get me off their backs and to prove they were right! Not surprising to me he did wonderfully! He shocked everyone else!

Bob was being allowed to fall through the cracks because of standardized test scores. How many other students does this happen to every day across our country? How many teachers miss the signs and don’t fight for those students? Talent can be shown in so many ways outside of a multiple choice bubble test!

As a parent, I hate the standardized tests just as much as I did my first year of teaching! My oldest son is not an ideal test taker. His standardized scores do not even come close to reflecting the kind of student he is and does not show what his true ability is. I know these test scores are held in such an importance within the district and I absolutely hate the shadow that they have over my son and what he will be allowed to try. I have seen the unnecessary anxiety that the overuse of testing causes in both my own children and my students.

The main focus of assessment should be given by the teacher in direct relation to what is being taught in the classroom. I also really like the idea that the standardized testing only be administered in a few select years of a child’s education. At the rate we are going now it is way too much. In my children’s district, they have been administering standardized tests in both the fall and spring and as a parent, I had to step in and say, This just too much!” and opt them out.

There are many articles that can be found that encourage backing off the standardized testing or even looking at Finland’s great success and getting rid of them! Our students are failing, our schools are failing, and standardized tests are just not the answer, in fact, I firmly believe they are the main cause!

Pros and Cons of Multiple Choice Questioning

Pros and Cons of Multiple Choice Questioning

To use multiple choice questioning or not, that is the question!

I have a strong feeling about multiple choice. It’s more of a hate/love relationship really. In certain instances (a few) I like the option, but in many ways, I try to avoid it. I find it encourages far too much guessing, and not enough valid data on what a student has truly learned. I saw this a lot in my classroom, usually with the students that are struggling the most.

The students who were secure in their knowledge of the subject area were going to do just fine no matter the questioning format. I see this so much with my own son, who has some struggles in school. If he is given a multiple choice test more often than not he’ll just guess, sometimes not even bothering to really read the questions! In creating work for him I always avoid using multiple choice, except in certain types of situations. He has an IEP, and unfortunately more often than not the teachers have turned to M/C for him as an accommodation and then express frustration at his effort and guessing. If he is dealt a short answer question he is much more apt to look for the answer in the work or work the problem out for himself. If the option to guess it there, he’ll always guess and he’ll keep guessing until he’s eliminated the 3 wrong answers. Yes, he’ll eventually get the correct answer, but does that show he knows it or retained it?

I know multiple choice can be a huge time saver for the teacher. It is much quicker and easier to correct papers with multiple choice rather than written answers. I get it, but is it the right choice? What is our ultimate goal? To know the student understood and learned what we were teaching right? How can we be sure with a M/C that it is retained knowledge and not a lucky guess we got?

There are some cases (when done correctly) where I think M/C is fine. In a math problem for instance:

The reason the problem on the left is the wrong way is that the most common mistake a student will make in this instance is the misuse of PEDMA. They will just work the problem from left to right and end up with 6 for the answer. If this is one of the options in the M/C they will choose that and move on, not having any idea that they made a mistake.  Instead, if they worked the problem in this manner and the 6 was not an option they would know they did something wrong and go back and check their work. Of course, the guesser, who doesn’t even work out the problem could happen in either case, but the majority of the time the student will stop and take a closer look. I am not an advocate for tricking the student, and in this case, that is exactly what you do when you give them a problem like the one on the left. It’s much less discouraging to a child to have to rework to find a correct answer than to get a test back that they failed due to being tricked!

One of the main resources I offer is novel studies. In my novel studies, there are only two places where you will find multiple choice options. First, there is an end of the book vocabulary quiz. A sentence with the word is offered and then there are 4 choices of a definition. Again, there are the guessers who just guess, but most students will be able to know the true definition when used in context after the successful completion of the novel study activities.

The other M/C option I added based on buyer requests is an end of the unit comprehension quiz. I have an identical quiz in a short answer format, this is what I prefer and use with my students. I have had many buyers ask for M/C options so I have provided that, but I personally don’t use it for the reasons that I have mentioned above.

Where I have not changed my product based on buyer requests is in the comprehension portion of the novel study itself, and I won’t be adding it. I feel very strongly that while reading the book the student should be thinking about what they’re reading in a deeper way. Using multiple choice for comprehension during the reading of the novel encourages the student to skim the text for the answer. It also means most of your questioning will be of the lower order of Bloom’s Taxonomy. I use novels to get away from the M/C type skimming that you encounter in a basal series. My goal in using novel studies is to get my student engaged in a novel and to think deeply about the character’s motives, make inferences, etc.  I just don’t think this can be done properly using multiple choice questions. To maintain the integrity and rigor of my novel studies, I just won’t be changing this. I know there are some buyers who are disappointed in this stance and I know that some buy from my competitors due to this stance, and I apologize to them, but it’s something that I feel very strongly about.

Another reason I stay away from M/C is that it is far too much like the standardized testing that I am not a fan of. Mainly for all the reasons stated above. I want my students to be deep thinkers, not guessers. Of course, the whole topic of standardized testing is a post for another day! 😉