Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Why I Give the Comprehension Test First, Instead of Last

My district uses Pearson Reading Street for Tier 1 reading instruction.  I really like most of the passages in Reading Street, as they are tied to either science or social studies.  I don't like the fact that weekly comprehension tests are not tied to the passage we work with  all week.  So I wrote my own comprehension activity and test to go with every passage in the book. I also wrote my own comprehensive vocabulary tests.  At the end of every week, I test comprehension, vocabulary, and spelling. The comprehension tests are open book, and each one has only fourteen questions.  Even though we have read the story two or three times by Friday, I insist that my students use their books.  This  goes back to the Common Core standard of having students refer specifically to evidence in the text when answering questions.

These weekly comprehension tests have been a great source of frustration for me.  Most of my students would rather guess, or go on memory alone, instead of finding answers in the text.  They do not want to put forth the few minutes of effort that would almost always give them a good test score.  They have been content to get low scores, as long as they don't have to work for a high score.  I have talked, coaxed, pleaded, and explained the reason for referring to the text.  All to no avail.  I have sat next to kids and made them show the answer in the book before marking it on their paper.  I have gone over the test together when handing back the corrected papers, pointing out where the answer is found in the story.  I have given them a certain amount of time that they must spend on the test, and have not allowed to do anything else until that time is up.

This week, I gave the comprehension test first, on Monday morning.  We had not read the story together, I had not introduced the story or the vocabulary words.  I simply told them to open their books to the beginning of this week's story, gave them the test, and told them to use their books.  Guess what?  They used their books.  They had to.  They had no memory of the story to rely on.
Of twenty-three students taking the test, 2 had the same score as on last week's test (which was taken last Friday), 1 had a lower score, and 20 students had higher scores.  My class average last week was 79%, when taking that comprehension test after reading, discussing, and studying the story.  This week, on the first reading, my class average was 93%.

From now on, we will take the comprehension test with the first reading of the story.  This makes sense, because on standardized tests, they answer comprehension questions the first time they read the text, not after a week of discussion and re-reading.  They are in a situation of relying on the words of the text, rather than their own memory.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Family Literacy Night

My school hosts a Family Literacy Night every year during the first week of March.  We invite students and their families to spend the evening celebrating reading and literacy.  The first grade classes usually open the evening with a couple of songs about books and reading.  Then we have break-out sessions.  Each session lasts 20 minutes and there are three different choices during each time slot.  Our evening involves presentations by the students, as much as possible.  They give book talks, present reader's theater, showcase book projects, or share research reports that they've done.  Our kindergarten teachers do a puppet show that is a big hit every year.  We have "Are You Smarter than a . . .(third grader, fourth grader, or fifth grader) where parents compete against their kids in answering test questions similar to those found on end-of-year tests.  The local public library is invited to share resources such as free e-books. One of the big hits of the evening are the free books that are given to each of our students and their pre-school age siblings.  These books are purchased with Title 1 funds.  There is a room assigned to each grade level where student can choose a book of their liking.  This evening also is the culmination of our One School, One Book project.  About a month ago, each family was given a copy of a novel, this year it was "The World According to Humphrey", along with a reading schedule.  Students have been winning prizes all month for correctly answering questions about the book.  At Family Literacy Night, the whole family gets to work together to answer questions about the book.  Prizes are given to the families with most correct answers.  The evening is capped off with ice cream.  As students and their families leave the building, they are all given ice cream sandwiches.  This evening has become an important tradition at our school, and is looked forward to by students and their parents, alike!