Beware the Ides of March!
Mad as a March Hare!
Why so much warning about March?
Well, here in Connecticut, our students are preparing for the Connecticut Mastery Tests (CMT) in grades 3-8 and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) in grade 10 which are given every March. While every good teacher knows that “teaching to the test” is an anathema, there is always that little nagging concern that there should be a little practice in order to anticipate performance on a standardized test. So, we “practice” to the test.
In English, 10th grade students participate in a Response to Literature section of the test where they read a selected fiction story (2,000-3,000 words; RL 10th) and respond to four questions that ask:
- a student’s initial reaction;
- to note a character change or respond to a quote;
- to make a connection to another story, life experience, or film;
- to evaluate the quality of the story.
Unfortunately, an authentic practice for this test is time consuming, requiring 70 minutes which includes the reading of the story and the four essays, roughly a full hand-written page response to each question. Needless to say, our students do not like multiple practice tests for the CAPT, so developing the skills needed to pass the Response to Literature must be addressed throughout the school year.
When practice time does arrive, students can be “deceived” into CAPT practice through technology. We have been trying two abbreviated practice approaches using our class netbooks where students actively read a text using hyperlinks or use quiz/test taking software. In these practice assessments the student responses are typed and shorter in length, but still cover the same questions. A hyperlinked test practice, including the sharing of results, can be done in one 40 minute class period.
In the first approach, we select a short story that can be read in under 15 minutes and embed questions at critical points in the text that are tied directly to the Response to Literature questions. The students then respond to these questions as they read. The easiest software to use in creating a hyperlinked text is Google Documents using the “form” option to create individual questions. Each question’s URL link can be hyperlinked at specific moments in the text. An example is seen below. Multiple choice , scale or grid question are alternate selections that can be embedded in a story in order to provide a quick snapshot of a group’s understanding by looking at the “show summary of responses” option once the assessment is complete. There are many short stories in the public domain which can be posted on a site such as Google Docs for student access in order to not conflict with copyright laws.
The second approach uses quiz and test taking software, such as Quia, where a teacher can paste sections of the text with question posed at the end of each section. Ray Bradbury’s All of Summer in a Day (under Creative Commons license) is one story we are currently using for CAPT practice next week; the practice test (section seen below) can be taken at http://www.quia.com/quiz/3525412.html.
The use of hyperlinks to monitor student understanding or to practice a procedure that will be helpful in a standardized test is not difficult to implement. Teachers are able to choose the kinds of questions and the placement of questions at critical sections of a text, and students like the ability to respond as they read in short answers rather than in practice essays.
While there is nothing that can be done to stop the onslaught of tests that come in March, the embedded hyperlink provides ways to satisfy that urge to practice and still engage the students. You can even try a hyperlink response to a text by clicking here!
See? Wasn’t that easy?