One of the main reasons that I have been so successful in my classroom is that I set my bar high for my students, but at the same time show them that it is possible. Usually during the first week of school I do two things. I place last year’s classroom standardized test scores on the board and tell the students that they are going to beat that number, and the next thing is take out test released items (public questions from previous years’ tests) and go over how even after only one week of school they can already pass 50% of the questions that are on it.
At this point you might be thinking one of two things, yeah right there is no way that they can do that or he must work at a really good school where the majority of his students are already above grade level. If you are thinking those things you would be wrong on both accounts. I currently work in an inner city school that is on 99.9% free and reduced meals we have nearly half of the student population on English second language courses and the majority of the other half has exited the program. We constantly lead the district in the number of referrals written and have been on the national news as well as the local news countless times since I have been teaching there, more often than not it is for a negative thing.
So how do I do it? Well I teach them that if they follow my five simple steps they can answer just about any multiple choice question. I tell them to think of it as testing made easy or a way to cheat the test without really cheating. At that point I start to get a few of them to really listen to me, but when I hand out the released items and show them that it works they start to believe that their teacher might just really know what he is talking about.
I will show them the five steps and then go over selected problems where I know the steps will work. My steps are (and I explain them as I go)-
- Read the Question (it is truly amazing the number of students who are out there that will skip that step- maybe it is just testing fatigue)
- Find the key words (ask yourself the who, what, when, where, and why of the question – what are they asking, who are they talking about, where do I need to look, why are they asking me this, etc..)
- Match up the key words (if there is a chart, a map, graph, quote, passage find the key words included and then match them up to the choices.)
- Process of elimination (cross out the answers that do not match up to the key words)
- Answer the question (once again it is amazing how many blanks I have seen on a test throughout my years teaching)
After talking about the 5 steps I put them in action for example this is an actual question from a state standardized test.
- I have a student read the question then say something like, “wow that is a lot of big words does anybody in here have a clue about what they are taking about it?” I usually get nothing in response. I then ask them do you know what a tariff is or have you ever heard of Andrew Jackson. Once again I usually get nothing in response.
- I then ask them to underline some key words like who are we talking about they say, Andrew Jackson, what are we talking about, Law, State, Union, Constitution. I will say why did you pick those words and they tell me because they were capitalized and also because it says the power to annul a law so they must be talking about a law.
- I will then tell them to match up the words to the A, B, C, D choices. Do any of them match and of course they say no. I tell them to think about it, the words do not have to match exactly it can be synonym or a related word. One student, or if it is going to be an easier year, more than one will say that C and D match because South Carolina and Massachusetts are States.
- I will then have them eliminate A and B by crossing them out and then ask them do you think it is C or D. I will ask the students what is a tariff which they might not know because it is only the first week of class, however most of them will know armed means weapons. I will then ask them does the quote talk about any guns, canons, bullets, or weapons of any kind. They will say no. I then ask them which one do you think it is and they will say C
- Circle C which is the correct answer. I will then point out to them that even though they do not even know what annul, tariff, or who Andrew Jackson is they can answer the question correctly.
I will then go over close to a half a dozen more questions like that and go over the steps each time. By the end they are feeling pretty confident that they can do well on the test sometimes even a little over confident, but that is a good thing. Eventually a student will ask me, do the 5 steps work every time, and I will be honest and tell them that “it will help but sometimes they will not match up perfectly which is what I am there for. I need to teach you all the vocabulary and help you gain knowledge so you will not have to just rely on the 5 steps. By the end of the school year your standardized test will be the easiest test you have ever taken.” At that point they have usually bought in to the idea that I know what I am talking about and reinforce those ideas on them every test they will take for me so it will become a habit. If they truly buy in and practice what I am preaching (and majority of them eventually do) I usually end up with around 90% of them passing the standardized test.
Teaching Tip: Get them to believe in themselves, if you can do that then 90% of the battle is already won because they will not be lazy, they will not give up, and they most certainly will do their best for the teacher that showed them the way to success.