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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!

 

 



 

 


Are you interested in reading about and sharing ideas with other educators on using children’s literature in your classroom? My goal is to bring together teachers and homeschoolers who teach grades 3-8 and use novels with their students. I’d love for you to join me to learn, share, and grow together!

Click here or the image below to join my Facebook group, Book Talk with The Teaching Bank!

Click to join Book Talk with The Teaching Bank

 

 

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?

Why Are Teachers Leaving?

Why Are Teachers Leaving?

I am a teacher who has left the classroom. My reasons vary from the norm a bit. Why I left and why I have not returned are two very different stories. I would actually really like to return to the classroom but over the past 10 years, my hearing loss has worsened to a point that it would not be appropriate to return. I have a rare type of loss that is not really helped with the current technology of hearing aids and other adaptation technology. I rely very heavily on lip reading and body language and cannot even imagine the disaster that behavior management would be having to depend on that! I do love the education field and really miss being in a classroom. I stay involved with my curriculum creation activities, but when I volunteer in my children’s classrooms I always walk away with a yearning to go back and work hands-on with the kids again. I miss it!

I did not leave the classroom due to my hearing loss, however, I left because of a burnout that was caused by an absolutely worthless administrator that was placed at my school. I had been teaching for years in a high poverty, 100% Title I school. Our students lacked for the basic daily needs and it could be quite challenging but also quite rewarding working with them. For the first few years, I was there our school had an outstanding principal. He was respectful and supportive of teachers. He treated us as professionals and he had the best interests of the students at heart. He helped balance the challenges with the rewards and made teaching there a joy! Sadly he retired and was replaced by a new principal who had no prior experience being a principal. There is no way to sugarcoat it, she was a nightmare! She was disrespectful to staff, students, and parents. As a staff, we went to the upper administration and even met with the superintendent begging for help with her. Our pleas were ignored. Sadly she remained at that school for 10 years and ran it into the ground and teacher turnover was very high. She was finally removed with the help of the teacher’s union. For my sanity and health, I took advantage of a leave program with the district and chose to stay at home with my children. It was a way to get out of the situation with that principal and still be able to return to the district in another position.

I loved being a stay-at-home mom to my children. I also quickly realized that staying home was not as much of a financial burden as we had expected. We paid fewer taxes, saved money in gas, childcare, clothing expenses, etc. One of the biggest surprises was looking at how much I was saving by not teaching. I poured a ton of money into my classroom, at least one full paycheck per year!

I did start to feel that pull back to the classroom, however, at this same time, a mild hearing loss that I developed in my early 20’s suddenly worsened to a degree that took away my ability to return. That is when I started taking the materials that I had created for my classroom and preparing them to sell to other teachers. I tested the market on eBay and Amazon before discovering Teachers Pay Teachers.

I know my overall story is an odd one, but the experiences with burnout and bad administration are all too familiar to many teachers. There are many articles out there talking about just this issue.

“It’s the demands,” said Jamison, who is beginning her third year in the classroom. “There are state demands, district demands, and parental demands. We haven’t even mentioned the needs of the individual student. It’s tough.”

“I’m doing more work, but I’m getting less money every year,” a teacher told NBC News. “Instead of being excited about a job and looking forward to your job, you begin to fear your job. It becomes stressful, tiring and takes a toll not only on your health but on your family.”

There are also many articles that focus on the difference in turnover in a school with a positive working environment versus one with a negative one. I can attest to the truthfulness of this!

Many “experts” feel that changing teacher prep programs at colleges could be a  solution. Personally, I am not so sure. Do we want to better train our teachers so that they are ready for bureaucracies and teaching to a test or do we want them to be focused on opening young minds? It angers me to hear repeatedly about teachers getting bashed for the problems in the education system. I firmly believe we need to stop blaming the teachers and start to seriously look at the administrators and bureaucrats that are running things. I don’t think the general public really realizes how little power the teacher has in the educational hierarchy. There are so many fantastic teachers out there that are leaving, not because of money, but because they aren’t allowed to actually teach which their passion!

Speaking of new teachers:

“And too often, they soon realize that their jobs aren’t what they thought they would be: Teaching to tests and fighting bureaucracies rather than experiencing the thrill of opening up young minds, educators say.”

“While education experts caution that lack of experience isn’t necessarily an indication of a teacher’s ability, student achievement scores do show that on average a first-year teacher is not as effective as a third-year teacher, said Susan Moore Johnson, an expert on teacher recruitment and retention at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.”

Are standardized test scores the only measure of success? We live in a quickly growing district so there are a lot of new teachers being hired every year. My kids have had a first-year teacher several times. It has always been extremely positive. I find that first-year teachers are so enthusiastic. What they lack in experience they make up for in passion. They love their jobs and it shows in every interaction with their students. I know it was true of me in my first year!

As a society, we need to value and retain the passion of those new teachers. If every classroom had a teacher full of passion we would be on the right track to fixing this system.

 

What can we do as educators and parents to retain that passion? What can we do to support our teachers so the passion doesn’t defuse? How do we keep the fire alive?

 

 

 

 

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! 😉