Using Your Writers’
Workshop to Prepare Students for Standardized Tests
by Allison Demas
In a writers’
workshop students have the freedom to choose a topic, utilize resources
(i.e., word wall, other students), and take their time to complete
their work. During a standardized test situation the students’
are assigned a topic, have a time constraint and must rely solely
upon their own abilities. Standardized tests evaluate the students’
abilities to create a well-constructed, coherent, informative piece
of writing. Since the ultimate goal of teaching writing is to help
students gain the skills necessary to create well-written text,
in a variety of genres, the existence of a standardized test in
our students’ futures shouldn’t limit instruction.
of a standardized test in our students’ futures should also
not strike fear in the hearts of our children. We must always remember
that, no matter what the grade, they are, first and foremost, still
children. We are trying to prepare our students, our children for
the real world. We teach them how to walk, how to read, how to write,
with a great deal of patience and hand-holding long before we expect
them to use these tools independently. Unfortunately, tests and
time constraints are a part of the real world. We need to use the
same patience and hand-holding techniques to teach children to deal
with these aspects of the world long before we expect them to perform
within these constraints.
I suggest that
you begin at the very beginning of the school year, perhaps setting
aside one workshop period each week for test preparation. However,
I do not advise that you tell them it is “test prep.”
Sometimes the very word “test” can create stress. Also,
start out slowly, keeping pace with your students’ abilities
and building toward the structure of the testing situation as your
students abilities grow.
I am not suggesting
that you ask the students to complete a whole test or to do what
hasn’t been taught. You are simply preparing them for the
circumstances that will exist during a testing situation. Once a
week, you could provide a topic and request that the students write
about it within a specified period of time. Follow-up with a “group
share.” You can discuss how they felt about the topic, what
may have helped them write, what they had difficulty with. You can
arrange it so that the test prep is handled in the same, safe manner
as your regular workshop. If the students know what to expect, and
become comfortable in the setting there will be less anxiety as
the real testing dates approach.
First of all
you need to become knowledgeable about the tests administered in
your area. Note the guidelines for evaluation of written portions
of these tests. Then create a rubric which reflects these guidelines.
Use this rubric with your class so the students become familiar
with providing the elements necessary to create a well-written piece.
You might want to slowly build this rubric with your class as your
lessons scaffold and their skills build solid foundations.
As a matter
of course you should be conducting mini-lessons on such topics as
writing an engaging introduction, writing paragraphs and providing
supporting evidence. Your lessons should include staying on topic,
writing a conclusion, and choosing a title to match the topic. You
should be offering lessons on writing conventions, as required by
your students. The writers’ workshop should then provide the
opportunity for them to hone these skills.
frequently provide your students with exposure to and demonstration
of the use of graphic organizers. You should model the thought processes
and strategies employed with these visual tools. Then you should
provide ample opportunity for your students to use them. You are
not “teaching to the test,” you are teaching the skills
students need to help them as writers.
put teaching “on hold” in order to conduct “test
prep” with their students. This is usually done just prior
to the administration of the tests. It is my belief that this only
serves to generate apprehension, which can be crippling.
to providing your students with ample opportunity to prepare for
the tests during the writers’ workshop is that they become
comfortable with the format, the procedure and the process. As I
stated earlier, standardized tests are only evaluating the students
abilities to perform what you have taught them to do. The only new
ingredient is the circumstance of their performance. If you eliminate
the “newness” of this ingredient then they will be comfortable
performing to the best of their abilities - just like they do on
any given day in their writers’ workshop.
comments? E-mail Allison.
Started in Writing Workshop by Miriam Bissu